Simone White’s Dear Angel of Death (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2018)
Review by reek bell
Last June, during my 12-day stay in an inpatient psych ward, I met a fellow patient, a black woman who didn’t speak except to warn us when our behavior was about to get us in trouble. The first time I really saw her I was crying and yelling, feeling confined without control. She mouthed the words “the quiet room.” I was confused at what she meant but then remembered that if you’re too loud, too upset, too intense, make them afraid in anyway, they put you in the quiet room and sedate you. She reminded me as quickly as she could. I shut up as quickly as I had started to cry. She didn’t talk to me much during the rest of my time there, but I loved her enough to make sure she had enough iced tea boxes at lunch. My angel of psychotic malaise. I thought of her often while reading Simone White’s new poetry collection Dear Angel of Death. I hoped she was okay, missed her quiet love, wondered if she was tired – if she ever actually felt rested. I thought of the Black mothers whose children live beyond their blood, and their body, but of their love and care. I thought of how often our expectations in relationships can be non-consensual, due to the social obligations that come with a role, or a perception of identity. But sometimes, sometimes, we get to choose who we share our care and support with. I’m grateful she shared some of that with me.
“…Its paradigm is the burning bush; psychosis matériel, madness of cause…”
Dear Angel of Death opens up with tender revelations from a new mother mourning the ends of relationships and the beginnings of so much unknown; the chaos of hope in times of uncertainty. The book transitions from poetry to prose through “Dollbaby,” “Endings,” and the closing essay, which has the same title as the book. The essay is essentially a dissertation about what White questions as the role of music in the “contemporary thought project of blackness.” The position of music as a gathering stone, what we gain, and what we overlook within that.
“I’m asking whether the music we have today, not the music we used to have or the music we imagine, costumes to offer up, as it actually is, something we might look to as a prophecy of being different in blackness, some impossible writing on the air like thought balloon” (Dear Angel of Death)
The movement from intimate poetry to theory and cultural critique can feel a bit daunting, yet it all makes sense as a collection. I had to take some breaks, in which I found myself drifting back to poems like “Stingray,” and “We are Here to Slow Time.”
my own being
is the new law” (“We are here to slow time”)
White’s poems left me thinking of birth, death, what to leave behind, what to hold on to. Being Black under the state’s shadow of violence. Divesting from what we think vs. what we know, what we’re uncertain of, but we hope to explore. The crash of it all. The fight for what we love and the bits of culture we’re allowed to claim. The exhaustive repetition of pushing against structural chaos.
“Is Stingray the atomic principle of gigantism
Make my whole mouth move around the fire
Make the fire everywhere or cold” (“Stingray”)
Re-reading the poems that resonated with me felt like sitting with a stinging sensation. Like when you rub sanitizer all over your hands and forget about all your small cuts. Just sitting there quietly in pain, waiting for the release.