By Michaiah Samples
A Brief Biography of My Name, Yalie Kamara, a Sierra Leonean American, explores the theme of self-discovery through a series of reflective poems by drawing from her past, her family’s experiences, and her cultural heritage. Her words capture the joy and loneliness of trying to find one’s true self. On the chapbook’s cover is a metal statue of a bare-chested, African woman, with a lifted chin and a proud stance. This cover image reflects the determination needed to find one’s identity and the hard-won pride of its discovery.
She devotes her title poem to an exploration of her names, Yalie Saweda Kamara. She uses beautiful imagery to capture not only the significance of her names but also the significance they have for her identity: “I wouldn’t have sought the sound of whiteness, / if I’d known I was a song strained from indigo. / a note wrapped in lapis lazuli.” She even reclaims a lost name, Masuba, a name her grandmother took from her, and imbues it with her own meaning to complete the picture of herself.
In “Space” she writes about a time when she left off the “i” in her name on school assignments and no one noticed. By the poem’s end, Kamara writes, “Nobody else played the game, so there’s no / record of the joyful sound that was made when / the long-lost me, found the small, brown, I.” This clever twist at the end emphasizes the close connection between a name and an identity. When she restores her name, she also restores her perception of herself with new significance.
In “Pest Control,” Kamara reveals the nature of liars and flatterers by comparing them to the long mot arata, a kind of rat that munches on the heels of sleeping people. The story of the long mot arata teaches her “to doubt the admiration of anyone / who loves me without good enough reason / to look for punctured heels following any / explosion of praise leaving a familiar mouth.” Kamara describes the pain of falling under their spell, “seeing a bit of myself hanging / from your smiling lips,” and also the triumph of moving past its pain to see that deceivers destroy themselves when they destroy others.
Yalie Kamara also draws from the words of her family. “Mother’s Rules” is a tribute to her mother’s instructions on how to live. Her instructions alternate between a sarcastic playfulness, (“Never order me a meal that is spelled with silent letters. I came to eat, not / to explore”) and a hardness that reflects reality (“You laugh at me now. Like I laughed at my mother”). “I Ask My Brother Jonathan to Describe Oakland, And He Describes His Room” is a tribute to her brother. The poem shows her brother “creating a new town” in his imagination, “where his body is unfettered by the terror of others’ imagination.” Each of these glimpses into her family provide a place for Kamara to reflect on the lives closest to her, yet she does not directly connect them to her own search. She allows the reader a clear view into her family, and she lets those poems stand alone because her family is part of her identity.
Through her poems, Yalie Kamara provides the reader glances into her journey of self-discovery. Her beautiful imagery and her unflinching stance towards the pain of reality make this chapbook a necessary addition for anyone searching for their own selves.
You can find the book here:
Michaiah Samples is an undergraduate student at Lee University, where she is pursuing her Bachelor of Arts in English. She has a forthcoming interview with Yalie Kamara on the website, Speaking of Marvels. She likes to crochet scarves and study Hebrew in her spare time.