Rehema Njambi’s This House (The Emma Press), features poems about Black and African womanhood and the ways in which it is interwoven with deep admiration and respect for faith; the poems reminded me a little of Lucille Clifton’s poems––especially because Njambi’s faith and culture is something tangible in This House. Njambi’s work, like Clifton’s leads with an authentic voice; whether she is doing so through couplets reminiscent of Ars Poetica or stanza’s recalling marriage and family, readers can feel the love the speaker feels for their home and the promises of family.
Njambi’s poem “Found Wanting” was particularly jarring. The speaker assumes a confident––almost commanding––voice with a delicate but haunting tone. As a reader, I found myself locked in a place unwavered by time and brought to a space of peace and wonder which few poems can bring us.
Say tomorrow will make it better, or it will be okay
Lay down and wrap yourself around her like this
Feel as lost as two people in a house can feel (lines 2-4, p2)
In these lines, we see that delicate yet haunting timbre manifest, and it helps to set the mood for the entire book.
When we write about family, we tread a complicated tightrope between sentimentality and honesty; The way that Njambi writes about family is what pulls each poem together. “Confession” tells the story of someone leaving a toxic relationship. Most readers can likely relate with the idea of a certain member of a family being “the glue” that holds a family together; essentially, if “the glue” were to break, the family would fall apart. When reading “Confession” we read an honest poem about an apparent traumatic event.
She laughs when she remembers.
No one could have guessed it was her.
I took the biggest knife, she says,
steady hands curving round the black handle.
I pointed it at his bloated stomach
and told him: Out! (lines 15-20, p4).
Something thematic in this poem and threaded throughout the chapbook is generational trauma; “I don’t want to be glue” because we can see how much pressure they’re under, and they are almost begging in six small words for the cycle to end (line 22, p4).
At the core of the collection is a persistent “returning” to womanhood. The subjects of each poem vary between marriage, motherhood, and faith in such a clear and accessible way. If you want to sit with honest poetry that unashamedly embraces the clean and the bloody––Rehema Njambi’s This House should be in your hands and at the front of your mind.
Caitie L. Young (they/she) is a poet and fiction writer in Kent, Ohio. Their work has appeared or is forthcoming in Scapegoat Review, the Minnesota Review, the Santa Fe Writers Project, and others. Caitie’s work is concerned with generational trauma, politics, and queer and transgender issues. They are studying creative writing in the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts program (NEOMFA).