Reviewed by Gabino Iglesias
Khadijah Queen’s Conduit was published by Black Goat, and independent poetry imprint of Akashic Books. Black Goat was created with the purpose of publishing experimental and thematically challenging work mainly by females and African/non-American authors. In a way, it’s a perfect example of the reverse gentrification of the literary world that makes Akashic so special. However, it’s very important to keep this in mind when reading and discussing Conduit.
Queen’s poetry is very short, painted with inscrutability, and, while not entirely removed from all common/universal themes, at least very far from cliché territory. The poems in Conduit lean toward the dark side of life, away from celebrations, laughter and philosophical days at the beach. This is not to say that the writing is depressing, just that the places the author visits are not entirely comfortable for the reader and the writing that emerges from them speaks of things lost, broken, misplaced, resigned:
East is a crashed line of heaven,
A row of dusty lanterns. The west shore, half-lit with wreckage.
The rare filigree –
A name not taken away, but resigned.
Despite the abundance of gloom and the obscurity that comes from deeply personal verses that refuse to easily reveal their intended meaning, one of the best things about Conduit is that which is not there. Love, sadness, memory, guilt, and many of the other classic themes that we can find in most poetry are absent here. In fact, loss can be said to be the only formulaic theme treated in the book. Instead of classic subject matters, what the reader experiences is a barrage of interesting themes (i.e. anthropology, displacement, disappointment, anxiety, endlessness, abandonment). The author seems to be aware of this and there’s even a hint of that in the text, something that could arguably be considered an excuse or instructions for the reader:
A way to make an overturned bowl of the sky.
As often happens with poetry that’s difficult to understand, Conduit can be a challenge to read. Thankfully, Queen has offers a few short highlights that are just enough to make the reader keep at it. Some are simple statements:
There is no mercy
Except that which you grant yourself
Others are metaphorical flashes that offer the only rays of light in the collection:
A red cloud is a hymn of descent,
A string of red guindillas,
A crushed cloud-heart.
Ultimately, Conduit is not for everyone. The gloomy, impenetrable prose might be too much for some. However, the poems have a uniqueness to them that invites further reading. At only 72 pages, Conduit is also short enough to be devoured very quickly, so exploring Queen’s work and deciding if you want to read more of it only requires a few minutes. If you’re up for a little challenge, give Conduit a chance.
by Khadijah Queen
75 pp., $15.95
Gabino Iglesias is a writer and journalist currently living in Austin, Texas. His work has appeared in The New York Times, the Austin Post, Business Today magazine, San Antonio Magazine, Bizarro Central, CultureMap Austin, Divergent Magazine, MicroHorror, El Nuevo Dia and a few anthologies. He’s also a book reviewer for HorrorTalk, Horrorphilia, the Lovecraft eZine and most recently joined Black Heart Magazine as its new Poetry Editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or via Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias.