Book Review: Equilibrium by Tiana Clark
Julia Kristeva’s Powers of Horror refers to a type of language turned into “a quill, a fleeting and piercing one, a work of lace, a show of acrobatics, and a mark of death.” In her breathtaking chapbook Equilibrium, award-winning poet Tiana Clark performs just this sort of complicated, precarious high-wire dance. She walks a poetic tightrope over the chasms of personal history and experiences of being Black and female in America. Along the way, she balances and vaults over and between the topics of geography, food, sex, and religion while she balances conflicted multi-layered memories of an overworked mother and absent father.
At once sharp quills and delicate works of lace, Clark’s poems engage with traditional and non-traditional formal poetry in exciting ways. There is a ghazal for Walter Scott, there are psalms, and there are algebraic formulae. The split line—crucial since Beowulf—is her preferred formal tightrope. She does awe-inspiring things with this form in the agonized question posed in the chapbook’s title poem:
………………………………………………what is left
whispering…………………..in us, once we have
stopped trying……………to become the other?
Or in the devastating observation about white people in New Orleans in “Flambeaux:” “they want to dance / to black music but not with / black people.”
Elsewhere, Clark presents the reader with unrhymed hanging indent quatrains, and she makes free verse and the prose poem feel fresh and newly dangerous.
These poems demonstrate the beauty and monstrosity of memory as well as the power of language to preserve, perform, and celebrate vibrant identity, despite loss, pain, and systemic and not-so-systemic racism.
Stephanie Barbé Hammer is a 4-time Pushcart Prize nominee as well as a published novelist, poet, and literary scholar. She has published poems, fiction, and nonfiction in the Bellevue Literary Review, CRATE, Pearl, Apeiron, The James Franco Review, and The Hayden’s Ferry Review. She is currently working with Spout Hill Press on a book about how to write Magical Realism and she lives in Coupeville WA, but escapes to Los Angeles whenever possible.