The unapologetically Black voice used in Kemi Alabi’s Against Heaven is not a plea, “please listen to me,” rather, it is “my words are a gift. Receive it.” It’s no wonder that with this being their debut novel, they won the First Book Award through Poets.org. Against Heaven is an ode to blackness with a question mark to Black Christianity. It is a tribute to queerness and transness. It is a love letter to polyamory, and the lovers had and yet to have, all written with their unmistakable voice that is so forward yet so enchanting.
It is clear in their debut poetry collection that Kemi Alabi understands how to bend language into whatever line or spiral or coil they please. They understand that language is a particular kind of staff that heals and wounds on either end. I was astounded by the verbiage used in “Dendrochronology of this Want,” and I found myself picturing want itself personified and measured ring by ring like some sap seeping tree in the wilderness. It moved me to my core that Alabi made me feel so deeply only four words in.
Let me not forget the cherry on top of Alabi’s beauteous prose, their unabashed notions (and defenses) of polyamory. In Polyamory Defense #324, their words capture desire better than orchids on Valentine’s Day.
“But where’s the love poem for me, my partner/ their partner, our lovers and their rented doms?/ No hymns, no church. Shoulders our altars/ Like everything we need, impossible/ Then imagined. Then desired/ Then made by trembling hands/ Gods bless the houses this love builds” (66).
Against Heaven is a must have for every writer, but specifically, the Black love in this collection resonates with every stanza, even seeps through the erasures on pages 38 and 52. It goes without saying that if this isn’t on your bookshelf, it should be, and if not, what are you waiting for?
Lyra Taylor is a black nonbinary poet from St Louis, currently in their first year of their MFA at Southern Illinois University Carbondale