In her debut poetry collection, i shimmer sometimes too, Porsha Olayiwola shares powerful odes to the world that has shaped her identity through the use of honest and suspenseful imagery, creative form, and relatable motifs in today’s society.
Olayiwola’s book is an important depiction of surviving in a world full of harsh realities. Her writing is honest and personal. Take the book's opening for instance:
"Had my parents not been separated after my father's traffic stop, arrest, and deportation from the United States of America / we might all be sitting about the pink kitchen table with the white legs."
She uses concrete language to create concise images that depict her life at home as a child, while also making it clear that it’s no longer this way without her father. The poem is written in six verses, so it also visually acts as an aesthetically pleasing opening piece on the page.
Olayiwola experiments with form by using tactful spacing, line breaks, and indentations. One favorable poem called “God is Good All the Time” uses specific line breaks and indents to pace the reader into a rhythm that enhances the poem’s impact. In this poem, she uses and repeats specific words, such as “god,” “good,” “time,” and “ain’t”—changing their placing in the sentence to create a new meaning each time.
Another highly recommended poem titled “Footnotes” uses a unique form to convey a message that is much more powerful having used that form. Olayiwola incorporates five footnotes in the poem, drawing your eyes all over the page when you're reading. It’s an extremely effective form for the piece because parts of the poem talk about protecting yourself from stray bullets, and how important it is to not run in a straight line. So the indents, footnotes, and line spaces force your eyes to make the zig zag running movement that’s described in the piece "home taught me to run."
Olayiwola explains how she uses Afrofuturism and surrealism in her work during a recent interview with Glassworks, to be published soon:
“Afrofuturism has granted me the space to insert my magic, more joy, more imagination into the stories I tell. I’ve also used it to latch on to painting the horror/sci-fi realities of living life in a marginalized body. There is freedom in that. If I could classify, I’d say that’s where this poetry collection exists, it's a dystopic Afrofuturistic poetry collection. Who would have thought?”
One piece titled “Brunch with Twelve Black Phantoms” is a play and poetic verse with characters such as Malcolm X, Biggie Smalls, Aaliyah, Aunt Jemima, and even Mufasa, “king of pride lands, simba’s father” all seated at a table “at malcolm’s house on summer sunday noon in the after afterlife.” There is even a labeled “seating chart” that shows readers where each character is sitting.
Olayiwola also uses the vertical bar symbol ( | ) in some of her pieces in various meaningful ways. One poem titled “My Brother Ghost Writes This Poem” talks about her brother being in jail, so the bars almost seem to symbolize the prison: “the phone clanks its chains | my younger brother is on its other end | the court ruled that he bed at a residence.”
The vertical bar symbols give the poem a different feel than a typical end stop. The piece is in five verses with significant space in between each verse. So looking at the poem visually, the large spaces also seem symbolic to the space in between her and her brother.
Another poem titled “Notorious” opens with how someone compared her to Biggie Smalls when she finished a performance: “After I read, the boy with the long, blonde, shaggy ponytail says, ‘your set was great, like, don’t be offended when I say this but, you remind me of biggie smalls’.” In the poem, she quotes some of the rapper’s songs while reflecting on the comment, giving an intertextual element. She quotes the songs “One More Chance,” “Big Poppa,” and “Juicy,” by Biggie, very briefly, while also adding her own unique spin in the mix:
“it’s a wonder | how we heave | and heave | and weave | and stand | behind a mic at all | we all | black and ugly as ever | however we spell well | B | I | G | all rhyme and good time | we both love it when you drive by | and call us | big | poppa | ain’t you ever been popped off | been shot at | been blown up like the world trade | don’t you like your meat center medium | brown skin rift | red nectar running off the curb of the plate”
The use of intertextuality along with the vertical bar symbol adds a different sort of feel to the piece, unlike the vertical bar symbols used in “My Brother Ghost Writes This Poem” which feels more confined. Instead, “Notorious” feels empowering, seemingly indicating that the poet has lyrical bars too. Additionally, the imagery in the lines: “don’t you like your meat center medium | brown skin rift | red nectar running off the curb of the plate” is very interesting, and the vertical bar symbols almost seem to sharpen those lines even more.
Olayiwola’s poems are raw and real. The unique form and strong imagery makes them even more powerful and memorable. Another poem “Ursula :: Hotel Poolside” uses two colons to break lines. The poem depicts a poolside vacation scene. The two colons ( :: ) together are definitely a unique choice. Four dots and a lot of open space is the visual readers get. I think the two colons together represent a feeling of exposure—and not necessarily in a bad way, but in the sense that one typically feels either comfortable or uncomfortable with themselves while wearing pool attire, and that open space represents the openness involved with being at a public pool.
The last two poems circle back to the beginning, giving the feeling of a really effective full circle ending. Overall the collection is an ode to loving and accepting yourself as you are. Through all the labels, judgments, and confinements, we all shimmer sometimes; that’s what keeps us going.