Smith-Mackall’s second book of poetry continues to explore her faith and identity.
Like the author’s first collection, this one explores her relationships with faith and family. It also ventures down new avenues with themes of betrayal, broken promises, forgiveness and time, and the breadth of her subjects is impressive. Her faith buoys her throughout each of life’s challenges, yet her most successful poems are those that address issues of identity as something beyond faith. However, some verses from her first collection, such as “What is a Negro?” and “I am a Negro,” show more heart and social relevance than many of those here. For example, she strives unsuccessfully for a similar honesty and spirit in “We All Have a Voice,” apparently inspired by Maya Angelou. Smith-Mackall notes her inspirations, but they aren’t well-articulated in the poems; for example, “Piece by Piece” is inspired by Kelly Clarkson’s music, and although ekphrasis (graphically describing a work of art) is a compelling technique, readers unfamiliar with the titular song will gain no insight into its importance. Often, the poems waver between being too generic (“Beginnings are just what they are— / The start of something new”) or too personal—not by revealing too much, but by being esoteric. Many pieces evoke emotion, but they would have benefited from more metaphor and imagery, rather than staid overexplanation. Too often, the last line of each poem is also the title, and the elementary rhyming is also a letdown. Smith-Mackall is a more natural songwriter than poet; some poems are explicitly labeled as songs and include choruses and rhymes that work. She also writes powerful prayers: “Lord, Thank You,” for example, is strong in its simplicity and earnestness, and it doesn’t use rhyme as a crutch.
Fans of the previous collection will warm to this one’s subject matter, although some of the prose seems amateurish.