Hemming the Water by Yona Harvey is the recipient of the 2014 Kate Tufts Discovery Award, a finalist for the 2014 Ohioana Book Award, a nominee for the 2014 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in Poetry, and a finalist for the 2013 IndieFab Award for Poetry.
Hemming the Water
Channeling the collection’s muse—jazz composer and pianist Mary Lou Williams—Hemming the Water speaks to the futility of trying to mend or straighten a life that is constantly changing. Here the spiritual and the secular comingle in a “Fierce fragmentation, lonely tune.” Often mimicking fairy tales or ancient fables, Yona Harvey inhabits, challenges, and explores the many facets of the female self—as daughter, mother, sister, wife, and artist—both on a personal level (“To describe my body walking I must go back / to my mother’s body walking”) and on a cultural level (“A woman weighs the price of beauty—”).
Harvey employs a variety of voices in embodying Williams’ tenacity, spiritual devotion, and love of music, each speaker a vibrant part of the whole: “I’ve trembled among strangers / & lovers turned strangers, my small voice collapsed in solitary song.” We always come back to song—“Black-winged bird, / you’ve become / lyrics layering air”—until the repetition used throughout becomes incantatory. Every page is rich with Harvey’s rapturous music, in which “even disasters // wear white & turn / to honey.”
“Ocean Song,” from Hemming the Water:
Who dreamt of drowning in the blue robes? (Not stars blanketing beaches, not striped fish lapping water, flapping their golden tongues.) One of them searched the numbers & wrote a Zodiac suite. She found a monk in Arizona, her desert water, her black cactus, her handsome faith. She found Martín de Porres too. Children starved as the ocean sifted its salt. Who knows what to pray for? Who's guilty of beginner's mind? What life is this where even the strange feels cyclical: the roar of waves in a seashell, stingrays, pregnant corpses washed ashore.