A Healing Flight:
Antoinette Brim's Icarus in Love
Antoinette Brim writes like Etta James sings. Her second collection, Icarus in Love, is compelling testimony to that fact. It is the testimony of a woman who knows the turbulence of blues—a courageous black woman, and highly skilled poet, overcoming the storms of living. Brim bears her soul with wrenching power in poems of love, heartbreak, and church-like revival. The poems are masterfully composed, adorned with wings of intelligence, and bathed in sunlit imagination.
Icarus in Love is divided into four sections. Liftoff begins with “The Heart Wants What it Wants,” and chronicles heartfelt revelations of love lost and pain found as the result of a relationship's meltdown. Brim gives herself over completely to the writing of fresh poems that journal her rough and rocky quest to find that living, full, love. In her lyric poem, “Falling Out of Love With Love,” forged in carefully crafted couplets, she sings:
So many calls to make: the photography, the venue, the caterer and such,
the bridesmaids, the groomsmen, the jeweler, the hotel. Cancel it all:
the clouds awash the sunlight, the peony's scheduled blossom,
the waves arrival on the waiting shore, the delicate, but distant ship. (18)
What do they know that Icarus came to know
in the brief moment that he flew? Is it wise to want the wind and
sun so much that you forget your father's warnings—
that you are willing to embrace the clouds and be broken just for the joy (19)
The poems in this section grieve, and yearn for healing to rise like Lazarus from the grave. However, as they grieve, a definite sense of healing—arguably, the author's healing—also rises here. Arguably, the resilience and strength of all women stands as the primary thematic subtext of Icarus in Love.
Though Brim addresses the highs and low-down lows of love in section one of the book, the quality of her writing takes flight, and never dashes to the ground. She allows the path of her pen to travel wherever creativity instructs (no doubt, as a result of conversations she has along her poetic flight with Elizabeth Bishop, Li Ch'ing-Chao, Sylvia Plath, Pablo Neruda and others).
Section two of the book, “A Meditation on the Film Killer of Sheep” represents an unexpected subject matter shift in the collection. Brim moves higher in her blues focus, traveling from a personal blues outpouring to observations regarding the life/love blues of others. The Charles Burnett film that this segment of her volume is inspired by (Killer of Sheep), depicts hard-working black folks trying to make it, hold on to hope, and raise a family in Watts in the 1970s. Under the weight of systemic racism that plagues Watts—and all black communities—that is not an easy thing to do. The nobility of that survival-quest is a compelling feature of Burnett's film and Brim's meditations regarding it. In a poem whose title mirrors the name of the second portion of her book, she writes:
In the bedroom, light dares to break through
window panes whose paint has bubbled into scabs
and whose glass has become smeared with the slow,
laborious passage of time. Can a beam of light be a
misguided message, a gleam of hope for a woman
who cares nothing for heavy pockets—who only
wishes for a simpler escape into the heart
of a man whose lot she has chosen to share? (35)
These open ended questions about what it means to love, to fly life's course with courage, and to chase the sun of hope, make Brim's meditations magnetic. Any expression of empathy is a healing exercise. To have a heart for the pain of others, while we are in the throes of our own suffering, makes our suffering less—heals us more. The author's choice to step outside of reports regarding her own suffering is deliberate. As is the case for any great writer, Brim makes us feel what she feels, and we heal as she heals with both internal and external examinations of the blues.
In the third section of the book, “We Are the Bread,” exquisite odes to womanhood—especially black womanhood—abound. One such poem, entitled “Tell Mama,” makes the speaker's platform of self-worth and self-healing self-evident. Once more, it calls Etta James to mind both in its epigraph and in its tone of survival. In this poem, delicately accented with anaphora, we find the lines:
dry your eyes, again
lonely life, a song
don't cry (51)
my own thrill
rest my cheek
hear in heaven
“Soon,” the fourth, and final division of Antoinette Brim's captivating book, features a poem by the same name (as all of her sections do). It is a piece that is intricate, and finely composed, like literary lace. The joy in reading this poem is in its haiku-like feel and explosive proclamation of hope and love. Indeed, “Soon” makes it clear that it's speaker, and arguably its author, cannot be constrained by the spiritual wing melting efforts of others. She writes:
I will pad quietly into your rooms
wrap you in quilts made from old men's suits.
Come, we will trace the constellations
with our fingertips.
You will be amazed at how
close the stars really are. (63)
Brim's work serves a literary bruising back of any blues that ever considered binding her spirit in tethers of despair. It is the poetry of miracles and overcoming. If you breathe, I'd recommend it. If you long to experience the intellectual and emotional updraft of a master poet's work, I'd highly recommend it. Icarus in Love rises to the sun in literary appeal, and makes its home there on the surface of enlightenment.
 Killer of Sheep is a 1979 American film written, directed, produced and shot by Charles Burnett. It features Henry G. Sanders, Kaycee Moore, and Charles Bracy, among others. The drama depicts the culture of urban African-Americans in Los Angeles' Watts district. The film's style is often likened to Italian neorealism.
Truth Thomas is a singer-songwriter and poet born in Knoxville, Tennessee and raised in Washington, DC. He is the founder of Cherry Castle Publishing and studied creative writing at Howard University under Dr. Tony Medina. Thomas earned his MFA in poetry at New England College. His collections include: Party of Black, A Day of Presence, Bottle of Life, My TV is Not the Boss of Me (a children's book, illustrated by Cory Thomas) and Speak Water, winner of the 2013 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Poetry. A former writer-in-residence for the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society (HoCoPoLitSo), his poems have appeared in over 100 publications, including The 100 Best African American Poems (edited by Nikki Giovanni). Thomas has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.