Kevin Powell’s Grocery Shopping with My Mother (Soft Skull) is a powerful poetry collection of 36 poems that are riddled with themes of healing, empowerment, and raw emotion. Powell’s poems in this collection utilize short lines, include repetition, and have a fresh rhyme scheme that works to captivate the reader by allowing them to grab onto every word.
As the title of this collection implies, Grocery Shopping with My Mother includes poetry about Powell’s mother. The way in which Powell brings us to his mother’s past and comes to terms with his own feelings about her will touch your heart. The first poem in this collection, “Grocery Shopping with My Mother” greets us with the tone for this collection and highlights his relationship with his mother, who is extremely stubborn, especially in old age. This poem subtly shows the struggle Powell has between wanting to care for his ill mother while trying to navigate a stable relationship with her.
my mother and I have never hugged
have never kissed
have never said I love you
This poem also dwells on the way Powell finally finds love for his mother by witnessing her love and connection with food. The lines, “I see your beauty and your genius/ in the way you boil the water/ in the way you season the food,” demonstrates Powell’s admiration for the joy his mother feels when cooking.
The majority of Powell’s collection focuses on poetry written like letters to iconic figures throughout the ages. People like Miguel Algarín, Tupac, Biggie, bell hooks, and many other well-known public figures each have their own individual moment in this collection. Powell pays homage to these people in an exciting way, such as in the poem “Dear Kobe,” which is about the late basketball player Kobe Bryant. In this poem, Powell not only highlights Kobe’s successes, but compares them to accomplishments that have unified our country, such as that of civil rights activist Malcolm X. He also praises Kobe Bryant for being a role model, not only to him, but to all people.
Perhaps one of the most impactful poems throughout this collection is “Brotha Man.” Powell uses repetition to signify racial injustices and sprinkles it with cultural notes, making it accessible and moving. Another poem worth noting is “Enough.” This brief poem has a rhyme scheme that ends with, “They even/ shoot us/ when we/ dead-.” The magnitude of these lines signifies the oppression that Black people have faced and continue to face today.
The poem “we them people” can be considered the heart of this collection, with Powell providing a voice to all people who have seen any form of oppression. Through repetition and beautiful language, his poem leaves the reader with a sense of unity and hope for the future of mankind. Mentions of people such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor give this poem a modern feel that makes its reader feel connected to it in a real and impactful way. He repeats, “we are protesters pepper-sprayed with knees on our necks” three times to signify the resilience of The United States as a people in the face of inequality.
An important aspect of Powell’s poetry in this collection is that he refers to God as a woman, using “she/her” pronouns. There are several examples of this throughout the collection, such as in “For Miguel Algarín” and “Our Mothers.” By changing the widely accepted “he/him” pronouns of God, Powell transforms what the true meaning of this higher power is by placing it in the hands of women instead.
In the end of this collection, we are brought back to Powell’s mother. The journey of poems has led the reader back to the beginning, except in this final poem, “Son2Mother,” Powell has truly reconciled with his mother. He comes to understand the hardships she has faced, which reflects the hardships he himself has faced:
I know that you are,
In your own wildly unpredictable way,
The greatest love I’ve ever had in my life—
The final lines leave the reader inspired and optimistic for Powell as well as themselves. Overall, the emotional language and distinct structure in Kevin Powell’s collection will leave you with a new perspective on love, injustice, and devotion to your people that will make your sorrows soothed and your soul uplifted.