salt. is a collection of poems by Nayyirah Waheed—the fourth collection of poems I’ve read to the end but the first to approach topics as deep and as heavy as history, culture, the effects of colonization, slavery, and the African America experience. I’m enthralled by how Waheed bleeds life into her words; the rawness of her poems leave footprints in my mind. However, I’m afraid that these footprints are made on sand, not drying cement.
My problem with salt. is not the way the poems have been written, though I do admit that the constant periods annoyed me for a few pages (writing style, I’ve contributed this to that since artists have their distinct styles—and my own Creative Writing lecturer goes on and on about finding one’s own unique writing style as well). My problem with this collection is how literal it is (clear examples would be ‘fresh’, ‘by the time we are seven’ and ‘circumstances’), though the ‘literal-ness’ does work at times (like in ‘i will break your hand, do not ever touch me | every time you touch my hair my ancestors place a curse on you’ and ‘dowry’). When you’re an English student, not only are you constantly exposed to poetry written prior to the 21st century, but you’re also exposed to ones hailed as the greatest of the greatest. From William Shakespeare to Maya Angelou, Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, T. S. Elliot, Langston Hughes and so many more, I’ve begun to see what constitutes to “good poetry” and unfortunately, Waheed’s poems in salt. does not reach that level. In fact, I find that some of Waheed’s poems (‘nafsi’ and ‘fresh’) are rather typical as well.
I understand that there is a theme to this collection of poems and that writers have certain words they’ll always return to. However, the repetition of those certain words such as “salt”, “flowers”, “tongue” and “waves” in multiple poems have turned many of them slight variations of a previous one. In other words, they’ve lost the stamp of uniqueness.
Even so, I love most of the imagery Waheed creates in salt. Lines and poems such as “whales in the bodies of tiny fish”, ‘the ritual’, and ‘muscle (how many hours i spent reading his skin)’ left me in awe.