Review: Reacquainted with Life by Kokumo

By Nicholas Alexander Hayes

The titular poem of Kokumo’s collection Reacquainted with Life ends with the lines: “then find pride in where I lay/ wounded but alive.” It would be simplistic and patronizing for me to call this collection a book of survival although it deals with issues tightly entwined with that subject. It would be vampiric for me (a gay, white, cis male) to say that this book is inspiring since it would be once again someone from a relative position of power feasting on the suffering of another. But I did find aspects of this book inspirational. Instead, I will say that Kokumo documents complex experience with equal measures of humor and gravity in poems that seamlessly code switch.

W. E. B. DuBois revealed the necessity of the double consciousness for black folk in Unitedstatesian society. Kokumo reminds us of the even more nuanced, multiple consciousness of a dark-skinned black transwoman. To fail to mention that the wounds from the titular poem are the figurative and literal result of colorism, racism, transphobia, and misogyny would be to reenact the violence she addresses in her Fuck U’s (which she provides in lieu of Thank You’s.) Kokumo holds light-skinned, dark-skinned, white, non-black POC, feminists, womanists, cis-gender individuals and many others accountable for the violence and micro-aggressions they have committed. Underlying calling out these groups is an understanding of how they have either tried to edit or submerge her narrative and existence.

Yet it would be another mistake to label this book as angry. Yes, in “Ursula’s Lament”, the speaker does say, “I’m not angry. I’se anga!” But playful and serious, this statement reflects the expansiveness of the poet’s identity. Whitman has no monopoly on containing multitudes. He may have been large, but Kokumo claims an even greater magnitude. In the About the Author section, she claims, “She eats planets like jawbreakers. / Keeps dinosaurs as pets. / Turns asteroids into sex toys.” Her claims to creativity and destruction are protean and existential. If at times her claims seem grandiose, they are not trivial. They are imperative urges to speak when she is not permitted at various cultural intersections. Her creative urge opens these spaces to her and her scrutiny.

Kokumo approaches the page with bravura and bravado. She speaks as a way of maintaining the sense of herself despite the stress and hostility of the world inflected by multiple oppressions. She does not play the game in which she argues for her humanity. Instead she demands we acknowledge it. She does not need us to find her a sympathetic figure. She has no disingenuous gratitude that the privileged often expect from the oppressed. She does not play to mainstream society or to normative minority communities. She is in and of herself the central figure of her narrative space from there she addresses herself as a figure sui generis and capable of surviving without soft peddling her beauty or intelligence. These poems reflect this stance and are sturdy while being moving.

Reacquainted with Life
Kokumo
Topside Heliotrope
ISBN 978-1627290166