The moving self-portrait of a young artist coming into her own, both spiritually and poetically.
Irish was born in the British West Indies but came of age in London. Like the many strangers in strange lands before her, Irish often found the immigrant’s experience challenging. English schooling felt foreign, and maturity didn’t necessarily bring with it certainty as to what her future would hold. But all that changed in her 20s, when two new influences began to give shape to her life: First, the religion of Rastafarianism—taught to her by two new friends—offered a spiritual foundation, and then poetry gave her a voice. The present volume features many poems written during this period; thus, it is a record of Irish’s development that demonstrates the poet’s growth both as an author and as a young woman. As Irish admits, Rastafari informs much of her verse, and the faith provides a key to understanding some of her project. Though Rastafarians don’t have a single creed, many believe that much of the world is like Egypt before the Exodus or Babylon during the chosen people’s exile; Rastas often see evil and feel compelled to condemn it. Irish, too, voices her frustration at the ills that wrack society. In “Brain Deficiency 11,” she excoriates rappers for their “derogative” lyrics, fast-food restaurants for their worthless food, technology for drawing children away from the wonders of the real world: “We have got serious issues in this our community,” she concludes. But as many other Rastas do, she takes solace from the belief that God dwells inside her. In “Falsehood,” she writes, “You cannot stop the God in me.” Even Irish’s pseudonym, the Lion Queen, comes from her faith; the lion is a key symbol in Rastafari. Yet if much of the content of Irish’s verse derives from the religion she loves, her style is truly her own. She stacks short lines one on top of the next, building sturdy poetry that may well stand the test of time. Her diction is unpretentious but never simplistic, and her voice is a clarion call.
Listen to the lioness roar.