The pause and the breath starred book review
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STARRED Book Review: The pause and the breath

THE PAUSE AND THE BREATH by Kwame Sound Daniels is a tender perspective of a singular yet universal human experience. Check out what Samantha Hui has to say about this Atmosphere Press poetry collection.

The pause and the breath

by Kwame Sound Daniels

Genre: Poetry / LGBTQ+

ISBN: 978-1639884124

Print Length: 64 pages

Publisher: Atmosphere Press

Reviewed by Samantha Hui

 A tender perspective of a singular yet universal human experience

The pause and the breath is honest and authentic. This poetry collection feels like it is breathing. Lines roll into the next. Lyrics jump from the page. Daniels exudes the rare ability to give true language to complexity.

“When / I was a child, I had wanted better / for myself than a body, unable.”

Kwame Sounds Daniels’ poetry delicately reveals the vulnerability of the speaker as xe navigates the battlegrounds of the tension between the feminine and the unfeminine, the gendered and the ungendered. This book is both an examination and a proclamation of the self, prompting readers to look inwards to try and find their own authenticity.

“Words from an ungendered / spirit: I barely know how to speak them. / When will I be fluent in my own tongue?”

Daniels’ collection takes comfort in the contradiction. In some poems, the speaker’s existence is described in the minutiae of everyday life, such as in “Pronouns:” “I am school cafeteria pizza. / I am an unstable decoction. I / am ice in a mug. I am cooling tea.” Poems like those feel filled to the brim with detail and life. On the other hand, other poems feel eerily empty such as the poem “Absence:” “Womanhood doesn’t touch / me here. There is a chasm within my / waters deep. Unfathomable. And I / can’t explore it. It was not meant to be known.” In the contrast between these poems, the speaker exists in the small details and the empty expanse. 

“When / I was a child, I had wanted better / for myself than a body, unable.”

In taking the form of a sonnet, the poetry acts as a love song to the self. It captures the intricacies of the speaker’s lived experience and how formative those moments were for the speaker, whether positive or negative. Not only does the content of the poems beckon for the readers to lean in close and listen closely. The poet’s use of enjambment also draws the reader’s eye from one line to the next, pulling the reader deeper and deeper into the speaker’s psyche and xir struggle reconciling the body with the soul and the eventual freedom that comes from embracing the ambiguity.

“Commodifying my form / for sex-hunger and love, trying to look / appealing as a child. Black girls transformed / into women by the gaze of sick men.”

There is so much I love about this collection. Daniels’ writing makes clear that this it is not a “coming to terms” but a “coming of age” of the body and self; the speaker does not mourn who xe once were but flourishes in becoming who xe always needed to be. In the speaker coming to understand that they are trans, the speaker both rejects and reclaims the feminine. 

“My truth was in / the absence. Falsehoods were the feminine, / until the feminine satisfied the / appetite I cultivated for love.”

The pause and the breath is electric and deeply personal. The poet is able to capture the anxieties, social pressures, and self-consciousness that comes with having a body that has become so heavily politicized. There are moments in this book where I wanted to thank the poet for allowing me to have access to such intimate feelings and experiences. 

I highly recommend this collection and encourage readers to reread the poems multiple times over because, as is the case for true human interaction, the honesty behind the language reveals itself the more effort that is put into it.

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