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These Pearls Are Real is a beautiful, tragic, uplifting and colorful collection of poetry, but its more fascinating feature is that it is absolutely pulsating with life. Carla M. Cherry's 2018 collection, published though Wasteland Press, is a living, breathing creation.
It is just as the speaker comments in "Security," "Why mask my penchant / for living fully, / eating vigorously, / sometimes laughing / or talking as I do?" Each word has transformed into droplets of blood. The poetic lines have become intricate veins, the stanzas they weave through are muscles rippling over paper white bones—all housed by the flesh of its cover.
There is no stagnant moment in this work because it is a body in constant motion, whether it is doubled over in laughter as it is in "Naughty Girl" or gripping itself in terror when "adding / taking out one's own trash / to the lengthening list / of things I cannot safely do" for fear of an attack by the police. The entire emotional spectrum coexists in this collection without any sense of forced creation or clumsiness.
Cherry's work is filled to the brim with love poems. These pieces are delightfully romantic and erotic without being over the top. The poems not only sing the praises of the speaker's romantic partner but laud the speaker herself. Her readers are granted permission to witness the massive growth in self-confidence in the speaker's sexuality as her body's "ridges and valleys," "her natural aroma" are praised by her partner, a character who does not seem to demand sacrifice of the speaker but rather wishes to add to the speaker's blessings. As it is demonstrated in "Something New," their "vigorous work" leads not only to one partner's sexual satisfaction but to a "simultaneous eruption, / simultaneous roar". As they read through "Day Shift/Night Shift" or "Raw," among others, the readers will find themselves basking in "love's glow."
But love is not just reserved for the speaker's partner in this collection. Love is also shared with many of those killed due to police violence in "Blue Funk." The poem begins, almost wary of itself, with "Warning: / this poem is ambitious," but its execution is ultimately successful. Not only does Cherry name these victims, but she adds a history to each name, making the victims more than just their title. She sketches quick portraits of Saheed Vassell, Keith Vidal, and Deborah Danner on the page, so others may not forget them or lose sight of these people so quickly in this whirling era of 24-hour news coverage where, it seems in only minutes, one tragedy is replaced by another. She embarks on this emotionally exhausting task this because "...hope is a mustard seed. / It blows far and wide in the winds. / Sets itself down with mighty roots."
Carla M. Cherry's These Pearls are Real is a fantastic collection of poetry. It is, and this is an odd thing for a poetry book to be, a page-turner. This timely poetic work is both a great gift for current poetry lovers and those looking for an introduction to the world of verse. It is such a full-bodied work that when it is not directly connecting with its readers, it deftly engages with the readers' empathy, encouraging them to learn more about particular situations they do not fully comprehend at first glance.
If readers are desperate for more of Cherry's work after reading this collection, they will be able to satisfy themselves with her previous publications Gnat Feathers and Butterfly Wings (2008), Thirty Dollars and a Bowl of Soup (2017), and Honeysuckle Me (2017) until a new work is (soon, hopefully) released.