Sometimes, all I need are the small reminders in life to let me know I’m still living and grateful to be alive. Sometimes . . . this is what I love most about living–the little things.
Firstly, I would be amiss if I did not state how honored I was to be asked to review this wondrous work by Devika Mathur. From what I have come to know of the writer, she is steadfast in her talent, dives into the raw and gritty surfaces of her feelings, and has no trouble sharing them with the world. With a style not akin to many writers I have read, Devika expresses herself with poetically sound language and a definite strength in her prose.
The aptly titled debut book, Crimson Skins, begins with “Olive Skin” which is a surefire opener, with power-packed phrases such as “My mother has a concave slippery mouth, untouchable with the slick tunes of time” and “She stitches her concrete bun as a belt of Ganges.”
The first section of poetry gets even better as the writer continues to deeply express herself using a style I like to call “raw surrealism.” “A fixation” is a good example of this. Two lines I found myself reading multiple times because I loved them that much are: “I have seen the postcards of vintage ink our lotus bodies sinking like air” and “You step on to my body, peeling layers of SCARS.” She is no stranger to poignant line breaks and metaphorical stanzas. Many of her poems, from what I have learned, are meant to be absorbed slowly–savored. It would not be wise to rush through them. And really, why would you want to?
“A swan of longing” is another favorite poem of mine. Devika uses a few nature images in this piece, however, the raw and gritty feel is still alive. “Climb up my knuckles, rest on the mount of flaky skin” says so much while not using many words. It’s succinct and compact yet still sends a punch straight to the gut. Another line that held my attention is, “Sew and move up. Climb to my cheekbones, now”–the imagery is intense and active. Reading it took me to another place, one where I would not mind venturing to more often.
Crimson Skins has a variety of work any reader will enjoy. The book isn’t basic and will be able to go the extra mile for years to come. I will be so bold as to say many of the pieces featured in it has the staying power of words by a few greats such as Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, and Virginia Woolf. It ends just as it began, with an intense piece of writing showcasing the writer’s talent.
“The art of silence” is placed exactly where it needs to be–the best for last. “Quietness, comes to me like sex, wild hum in the lost arid air” caught me off guard and I doubled-back to make sure I read the opening line correctly. I did and it is perfect in every way. The ending lines are as follows: “Cities often collapse while searching another one, and here is my tombstone, polished gold grave, beneath twigs of moth.” I read those lines and I know what poetry is. I feel what poetry is. I will remember what poetry is.
Crimson Skins comes as no shocker to me with its high caliber of writing and a plethora of poems and prose to choose from on which to connect. Devika Mathur shows that she is no novice to the world of writing. I look forward to its debut in June of 2020 and will be one of the first to purchase my copy. If you are a lover of poetry and writing that seeps into your skin and rattles your bones, then you should too.
I will be purchasing the Kindle version before the weekend is out, however, I also am going to purchase the paperback version when it is available too. I had the grand opportunity of diving into this work of art prior to its publication and I assure you, it’s worth every accolade it will amass within the first few weeks. Let’s support a fellow WordPress writer, shall we?
“Quintessence” is a literary magazine to be published yearly in the Spring. The writers you see featured in this literary magazine are contributors to A Cornered Gurl and have been faithful in their support, encouragement of others, and submitting strong and poignant work to be read freely on the platform. This is the first issue.
I am fighting back a few tears at this moment because what I envisioned for A Cornered Gurl is finally here … A Cornered Gurl Presents QUINTESSENCE: A Literary Magazine of Featured Medium Writers is published and ready for your purchase, perusal, and praise. We will take your constructive criticism and pointers too, as we intend to grow each year. I always knew I wanted to start a literary magazine, however, one to be shared annually. It is not lengthy and does not include more than fifteen writers. I knew it would not be an anthology or a journal. I plan on keeping the published writers in each issue to a minimum of around sixteen to eighteen.
In this first issue, there are fifteen writers, including myself. The magazine has three sections: Fiction, Non-Fiction, and Poetry. It is an “8 X 11” full-color and glossy print layout, consisting of 42 pages. It includes four of my original photography prints as the images accompanying the beginning of each section.
We have worked incredibly hard on this as we wanted to give our readers something special.
Currently, Quintessence is published through Lulu and is awaiting possible distribution to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online notable sellers. The current price is $17.00 (USD) for a paperback which is at the discounted rate of 15%. It will remain $17.00 for three weeks in paperback form. After that three-week period, it will revert back to its normal price of $20.00 (USD) per copy.
Because this is the first issue and we want the word to get out as widely as it possibly can, I have also included an e-book copy at $6.50 (USD). However, with this format, you do not get the full aesthetics of the beauty of this magazine. My copy came this morning and I have held it so much that if the magazine were a person, I am sure it’d demand that I unhand it.
Below, you will find links to both the paperback form and e-book (to be sold only on Lulu) form of Quintessence. Now, that I have cried a few tears and seem to be a little overwhelmed with happiness, I want to thank this issue’s contributors:
Anto Rin, Anthony Cloe Huie, Elizabeth Helmich, Crystal Lady, Gladysdaeweeks, Roxana Ștefan, Sam Kimberle, Tien Skye, Terry Barr, Ngang God’swill N., Sara Weaver, Wild Flower, Willow T. Lovelace, and Barry Dawson IV. Thank you guys for your wondrous words, your tireless efforts in A Cornered Gurl, and for your ways of encouraging others.
Peace and blessings
Addendum: I have created a direct link to Quintessence and also if you go to the site directly as opposed to viewing from the Reader. If you look to your right, directly under my “gravatar” is the tab and image for Quintessence which will also take you directly to its page. It is also populated as an additional page via the navigation bar.
Black Firsts: Octavia Butler
The “Queen Mother of Science Fiction”
Octavia Butler, born on June 22, 1947, gifted us with a genre of writing we had not experienced from African-American artists and writers before her or alongside her. Her work transcended time, broke down universal barriers, and shifted the category of “science fiction.” She wrote with a vigilance that somehow felt oneiric yet quite real while reading her work.
We could have been her characters. We are her characters.
The way she beckoned a plot and described her settings could pull you from wherever you were while reading her books, short stories, and essays and deposit you to that very spot. She was mythical yet real. She was defiant yet obedient. She was skillful yet willing to learn more about her craft.
She was a writer I simply had to read. My first book by Octavia Butler was the enthralling and still incredibly popular, Kindred which was given as a reading assignment in my African-American Literature class when I was in college.
It is a story of a young writer (Dana) shifting through time, traveling from her current period of the 1970s in California back to the days of antebellum slavery in Maryland. There, in the throes of thriving slavery, she meets her ancestors (Rufus and Alice Greenwood) and experiences the life and times of what it meant to be enslaved, but in temporary doses brought on by dizzy spells that initiated the time traveling.
She was mythical yet real. She was defiant yet obedient. She was skillful yet willing to learn more about her craft.
Butler depicts just how painful the shifts in time can be by bringing on dizzy spells that land Dana in various places during the antebellum slavery days where Rufus always seems to be in some sort of trouble and Dana arrives in the nick of time to help him.
By her third trip shifting, she and her white husband Kevin are both placed at Rufus’ home where they had to prove to the young master that they are indeed from the future and their stay in that time gets longer and even more intense.
It is an invigorating and impressive read as well. However, I did not expect anything less given the reviews I read before diving into reading the book for the first time. Plus, my African-American Literature professor gushed openly about it and was sure it would change our lives after we read it. It changed mine.
I wanted to know more about this writer who was unafraid to test the waters and completely transform the way I looked at science fiction. Thus, over time, I bought Parable of the Talents, Parable of the Sower, and Fledgling. I was not disappointed. Butler shares her gift of diving into the unknown, encountering mystics, and the push and pull of spiritualism with every read. I read her work and want to know what was growing in her mind — how did she come up with the talented work she gave us?
Butler became a receiver of firsts. She was the first science fiction writer to earn the McArthur Fellowship, class of 1995. She was forty-eight years old when she received the award. A few accompanying her within this class was journalist Alma Guillermo Prieto, writer Sandra Cisneros, and filmmaker Allison Anders. Butler also won the Hugo Award and Nebula Prize respectively, for not one, but several of her written works; Bloodchild and Speech Sounds, and Parable of the Talents and Parable of the Sower.
She is also known as the “godmother of Afrofuturism” which is a title never bestowed upon anyone else. Much of her vision for her work can be seen in videos by Beyoncé, in episodes of Black Mirror, and in movies by Ava DuVernay.
Butler shares her gift of diving into the unknown, encountering mystics, and the push and pull of spiritualism with every read.
When I mention my favorite writers, she is on that list. I have written a few pieces that toe the line of science fiction, spiritualism, and fantasy because of reading her work. She inspired me to push the envelope and never be afraid to try new genres in writing.
Octavia Bulter died at the age of fifty-eight on February 24, 2006, from a stroke. It is hard to believe that it has been nearly fourteen years since her death, however, the work she produced lives on. I will always remember her as the “Queen Mother of Science Fiction.” Butler’s body of work, the way in which she devoted her time and skills to encourage young writers via workshops, and public speaking about her personal growth in the sci-fi genre (which was traditionally dominated by white men) are symbols of Butler’s willingness to help writers hone their craft.
Also read: Sky’s Falling Girls
At first, I thought Butler’s work an esoteric brand, but as time passed, that view has changed. Not only is her legacy a strong one in the African-American community — she is widely known and acknowledged for her efforts and accomplishments as an African-American science fiction writer.
To Octavia Butler: the first to do so many things in the world of writing. There will never be another.
a haibun, 3 parts
The wonders of the world lay deep beneath her hair. The very essence of what there is to gain from a stressful day full of anguish and the sounds of beasts rapping at closed doors is nothing. I tell her to press forward and find her strength in the pulse of a tiger’s breath, but she is not interested in climbing up the optimistic ladder tonight. I smell safety around the corner. She runs for cover. I stand with my hands held high — raised above my head. I surrender to the depth of this defeat. She claims my trust.
beneath her red locks
is a star-spangled blue moon
a wondrous new world
Broken babies and haunted Mamas wield their way into our midst. We shield ourselves from their pressure. The room is ice. There is no fire for warmth. I rub my hands together and watch the steam sift in through the cracks. She takes two steps forward, purses her lips against the air, and lets out a sigh of relief. The floor is empty. Patients are packing up — discharged by their residents or attendings. We dance alone. A tango. A foxtrot. A waltz. I simmer in the darkness with her.
lonely in this place
of impatience and patients
dancing the foxtrot
Big Pharma called the shots on the drug saving his life — it’s no longer covered. He’s in room 213 of the ICU. Death is standing by his door. She pulls a mask on to her face, laces her hands with gloves, and walks in to oversee the cleanliness of his space. He is barely breathing. The sun skips on the open blinds — his hair never touches the pillow. There, in the silence of the room, she prays to a God who walks the halls but forgets to open the doors.
on-call patient care
fills up her nightly duties
death is still coming
Author’s Note: I wrote this piece as a reflection on the most recent book I read which was In Shock: My Journey from Death to Recovery and the Redemptive Power of Hope by Rana Adwish, MD. If you’ve not given it a read and you’re interested in knowing what a physician has to say about being the patient who dies, is brought back to life, and lives to see just how medicine needs transforming — this is a book I’d recommend for you. Peace.