“I pictured the demolition crew tearing the house apart, only to find my
Bratz canopy among the wreckage.”
- “from Matt Hammond (2004-2006)” by Magi Sumpter
What we might make of a room is infinite; what might we fill it with? What memories hang in the air? With “stanza” originating from the Italian word for “room”, poetry has never been too far from the physical space of a home. “Little Rooms With Bad Lighting” by Magi Sumpter (Ghost City Press, 2021) explores the variety of ways that poetry and memory can create and inhabit our spaces.
“Little Rooms With Bad Lighting” is a home of winding hallways; rooms filled with eclectic and interesting neighborhoods with lives as complicated as your own. Each poem acts as a space that was once inhabited with the speaker or those they hold dear. Each poem holds a period of time.
“from Parkwood, (2020-present)” explores nostalgia, family, and what we cannot put into words. The poem chronicles the ending of a relationship between mother and stepfather from a child’s perspective. Though the couple’s interactions are not physically violent, “the walls shook with volume each night”; their children have seen this coming. As the poem develops, the mother buds into the “Witch of Parkwood Drive” in a place of her own decorated with “mismatched furniture and psychedelic drawings she had made.” The speaker notes that their mother’s apartment, where their mother was free to explore, “always felt like home” – a stark juxtaposition against the rumbling walls of the earlier sections. “from Parkwood, (2020-present)” beautifully shows the impact our space can hold on our happiness.
As I reflect on Sumpter’s chapbook, “from Altamira II (present)” is a poem that I keep coming back to reread. This poem presents the room as something to leave – as something that confines. This poem is a room that is too cold. The heat has been shut-off. The bill has not been paid. The speaker is “shaking, shivering, huddling for warmth” as they reflect on the snow days of their childhood, steeped with excitement. Now, the snow has begun to suffocate the speaker, “trapped inside their four walls.” The speaker’s series of events following this realization are a portrait of escapism and hope. This poem is a piece that will be familiar to many: when everything surrounding us is wrong, almost nothing feels better than crawling into your bed, pulling the covers over your body, and reminiscing about a warmer, different life.
Sumpter’s exploration of family, trauma, and memory is touching and unforgettable.
An ode to “the good, the bad, and the little rooms,” Sumpter’s chapbook “Little Rooms With Bad Lighting” is poetry in its truest form, reverberating between its four walls until somebody dares to open the door into the endless possibilities of home.