Source: Milkweed Editions
Paperback, 96 pgs
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Vessel: Poems by Parneshia Jones is a stunning collection that explores the vessels we are given to travel through the world in in a literal and figurative sense. We are born and given a name, but what do those names come to mean to us and how is that different from the meaning of the name to our parents? Jones explores the meaning of her own name in “Definition,” after the poetic narrator introduces the girl she believes herself to be at the beginning. She effectively juxtaposes this carefree and fun-loving girl with the expectations of the name she is given.
From “Girl” (pg 3-4)
daydreaming, pretend out loud
Singing off-key, flowing T-shirt hair,
microphone brush and missing front teeth.
From “Definition” (pg.7)
a. the world of poetry
b. a center of poetic or other creative activity
I. 1980–daughter of high school sweethearts (prom queen and football captain).
a. rooted in her Midwest, in her poetry
b. growing up in Mama’s kitchen and stacks of dusty books
3. (Woman/Poet) twenty years later, the Poet searches the
definition of her name … who knew
While she is young, the narrator is content to just be, but as she grows older, she seeks a part of herself that she was unaware of, only to be surprised by how connected she already was. And as the collection continues through its stages, so too does the evolution of the narrator from a child seeking a fair trade with her friend to switch names because her friend’s name is shorter, until she realizes that names often reflect who we are on the inside. In this tale of growing up, the narrator becomes a young woman who fondly remembers those who helped her grow, like her grandmother who “lifts the quilt/sewn fifty years ago by her mother, signaling me to join her.” And that girl slid “into the pocket of the quilt,/letting my grandmother’s hands/cradle me back to child,” ultimately “creating a human quilt.” (page 14-5) These are the memories she can hold onto when the reality of life hits her hard, and she begins to realize that love and other things are not as they are in the movies.
Jones includes poems that explore what happens when we come of age, but also what we remember about our pasts and how important it is to keep the patchwork of our own family histories intact, just like those in a quilt. While the larger world remembers the bigger stories of poets pushing the envelope and Blacks who became president, we have to be the ones to record our own histories and remember that we, as vessels, carry all of those stories inside of us and that they are part of who we were, are, and will be. Vessel: Poems by Parneshia Jones is beautiful, nostalgic, questioning, and lyrical. Like in “Legend of the Buffalo Poets,” “There is a rumble in his roaming./ Part bison, part thunder,/ he is a stampede of words,/ raising mountains from rooted earth.//” and we should “Love our delirious souls/running wild in this concrete jungle.” (Litany: Chicago Summers, pg. 60-1)
One of the best poetry collections I’ve read in 2015.
About the Poet:
After studying creative writing at Chicago State University, earning an MFA from Spalding University, and studying publishing at Yale University, Parneshia Jones has been honored with the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Award, the Margaret Walker Short Story Award, and the Aquarius Press Legacy Award. Her work has also been anthologized in She Walks in Beauty: A Woman’s Journey Through Poems, edited by Caroline Kennedy and The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South, edited by Nikky Finney. A member of the Affrilachian Poets, she serves on the board of Cave Canem and Global Writes. She currently holds positions as Sales and Subsidiary Rights Manager and Poetry Editor at Northwestern University Press. Parneshia Jones lives in Chicago.