Gumbs seems to be able to hold time in her hands
by Deb Pickford
these reviews are part of the undergraduate class Black Public Intellectuals taught by Duchess Harris at Macalester College, Spring 2018
Freedom, possibility, and accountability. These are the three words that Alexis Pauline Gumbs uses to encompass her works of poetry that are included in the triarch that begins with Spill. Gumbs use and play with words throughout the work shows her strength as both an artist, and as an oracle of the struggle for freedom that black women have endured: past, present, and future. Gumbs’ work of poetry is an homage to black women and how they have navigated their way towards freedom. This freedom is multifaceted and shown in different capacities. At times in the work, it can be seen as reaching towards physical freedom, freedom from a circumstance, freedom from a person, or even freedom from oneself. Gumbs’ work is both universal and individualized; her scenes paint a picture that the reader can picture clearly, as well as even picture themselves in.
Spill may be difficult to read at first, the scenes are not in a continuous order and they do not tell a continuous story. Gumbs urges her readers to stray away from the habit of reading Spill as a novel with a traditional beginning, middle and end. She describes it as a work that is indicative of the collectivity she demonstrates through the abstract interconnectedness of the short works of poetry that make up the larger work that is Spill. Though, the author says that this work is descriptive of the work black women have put towards freedom from slavery up until the present, Gumbs seems to be able to hold time in her hands through the way she is able to paint the scenes as transcendent through time.
Gumbs’ emphasis on connectedness to other black women is also shown through her use of punctuation. The author does not capitalize the letter, “i” even when it stands alone. Gumbs uses this style of punctuation to emphasize how important collectivity is within the characters she creates. There is no individual, only the collective. The few times she does capitalize the letter, it is to indicate the collective speaking. This playful touch of intentional punctuation reinforces Gumbs’ brilliance in creating a ceremonial space for her black women collective to celebrate and recognize both difference and commonality.
Gumbs’ Spill is in its entirety, an homage to Hortense Spillers, a black feminist scholar who Gumbs said has “greatly influenced” her work. The reader will note the citations present in Gumbs’ work. Gumbs says that this inclusion of citations is a direct protest to the uncited work of black women that goes largely unnoticed in both popular and academic works. Through her use of citations, Gumbs once again shows her respect and gratitude towards the black women collective. By not only repeating the name throughout the work through the use of citations, but also using the title as a play on Hortense Spillers’ name, Gumbs subtly reinforces the importance of simply saying the name of other black women in order to have their work recognized at equitable levels. Gumbs uses her work to not only share these struggles of freedom that are able
to span age, experience, and at times even identity, but also to showcase the importance of recognizing the work of black women on a public scale.