Photo from rachelelizagriffiths.com
Rachel Eliza Griffiths is a poet and photographer, with a keen ability to capture the essence of a subject’s character in both mediums. Griffiths is also a reader, and her book of poems Mule & Pear is for readers, created by a reader. Griffiths said in an interview for The Rumpus, “I read all kinds of things. I have to be reading several things at any given moment. Reading centers me, opens me up. And I think Mule & Pear is as much about my identity as a reader as it is about my identity as a poet.”
This collection is unique, because it embraces characters from novels through persona poems and lets them tell the story. Many of these characters are from the novels Their Eyes Were Watching God and The Color Purple, as well as others, focusing mostly on the experience of African American women. As a reader, it is not a prerequisite to have read all of these works – these poems are welcoming and captivating on their own. Griffiths discusses the writing of Mule & Pear here, which is thoughtful and fascinating because of her sincere love for each one of the characters she has invoked within her poems.
Griffiths has said that while these are fictional characters, they are very real and very familiar to her, and even that some of these characters have “raised her.” These strong female voices are creating a view of the world through these poems, often with a counter-cultural skew that is in response to the actions of men, or society – in defiance of the world. They are not their conditions any longer, they are not painted by what has happened to them. These women know something the world doesn’t know. From “Consolata Dreams of Risa”:
A blade is far softer than a woman’s mouth.
I live in their world but I exist here. Silent, serene enough
my wounds have no boundaries. Scabs mark
the territories of a woman’s war.
Griffiths is allowing a perspective and an inner glimpse into these characters, what she called their “B-sides”. The result is a captivating series of exchanges that often feels part novel, part poem, part biography, part letter. These characters, and Griffiths, are dealing with the conditions of slavery, death, and objectification, through these poems in a beautiful way. From “Reba at the Funeral”: “It’s about a mother, stitching closed / a child’s eyelids. It’s about throwing // out a broken tube of new red lipstick.” These women are writing their own stories of the world, taking that power back and exploring what it means to be an African American woman in the world.
There will be more purging, altars
of flesh, without worshippers.
There will be another honeysuckle girl
who rides bareback, into a pink-limned
afterlife, anchored by her mothers.
from the poem “Evangeline Beach”
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