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The Goddess of Gumbo

by Kendra Hamilton

ISBN: 1-933456-34-5
Review by: Moira Richards

January 2009

I googled ‘gumbo’ to learn that it is a typically New Orleans dish and I’ve found that Kendra Hamilton’s poetry in The Goddess of Gumbo also evokes the rich flavours and fragrances of that old town. As for example, in this poem that begins with a woman’s weeping and winds passion and heartaches all through its stanzas,

Voulez-vous dansez, douce cher?

You bet your sweet ass, cowboy.
But it’s so hot–
The Frenchman’s AC broke down
by the heat from so much flesh,
steam within the stuccoed walls like the heat
rising from the bayou: too thick, laden
with a perfume of things too ripe, too sweet. (At The Frenchman’s 16)

And I loved Hamilton’s poetry that reads like so many love gone wrong songs, that reads as if its yearnings should be sung from the pages of her book. Here, a sestina that begins,

been so long since i been to Canaan
i ain't been since i fell in love
my man be gone by seven a.m.
too tired, he say, to talk last night
i want to spend just one night less lonely
want to get drunk in love's rose garden

and gets more smokey, more bluesy for another five stanzas before ending, 

so i’ll drink to Canaan, to falling in love
to the pink pill a.m, but don’t come home tonight
let me be lonely – let me burn down that garden
just let me be lonely – let me burn down that garden (Canaan - pgs 28/29)

 Ooooohhh …!

Those two poems are from the first half of The Goddess of Gumbo in the section entitled, ‘The Break Heart Road'. The other half of the book comprises ‘Section II. The Spanish Moss I Call My Hair’ with poetry that widens its gaze out over the southern states of the USA and to the people who live there. Some of the poems even have a happy ending :-)  

To close this review I share a couple of extracts from a sensuous ode that I can particularly relate to even though I am practically on the opposite side of the planet to where Kendra sets her poem.

I am cut and bruised, my nails broken.
I have found my love and my lover is ungentle.
There’s a many-hued bruise beside my left knee,
three on my right leg at the ankle and the thigh,
a new-formed scar on my left shin where she cut
me – she didn’t mean to. But I fear
I grow obsessed, neglect my looks – my hair
grows wild. This is what it is to love in middle life
and I praise God that She has blessed me
with a love like this before I die.

To love a garden is to be in love with words:
with potageries and racemes, corymbs, hispids, and corms.
To love a garden is to be in love with possibility
for it can never, almost by definition, ever be complete:
To love a garden is to be in love with contradiction:
ravished by order yet ever open to the wild.
But more than all these, to love a garden is to find
your one true lover, for a garden can’t survive its maker,
will die with the one who loved it, … (Southern Living 59-60)


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