World of Words: Brokenness as being in ‘There Is an Anger That Moves’

Published Feb. 22, 2024, 12:05 a.m., last updated April 13, 2024, 4:20 p.m.

In “World of Words,” Breanna Burke reviews international books as a way to explore different cultures and perspectives on life.

Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.

As I sat cross legged in the chair by my study desk, engrossed in Jamaican writer Kei Miller’s first book of poems, “There Is an Anger That Moves,” I couldn’t help but think, “Wow, someone actually understands my love for plantains!”

Growing up in Jamaica, my literature curriculum was mostly composed of books by British and American authors. When I started seeking out authors who could voice my experience growing up on my tiny but mighty island, Kei Miller fell into my lap like a gift from Heaven.

Reading his critically acclaimed third book “Augustown” was the first time I saw the colorful words of my native dialect speaking to me, from rough coated off-white paper that had previously made me feel isolated and foreign.

The title of this book, “There Is an Anger That Moves,” raises a question about the cause behind this seething anger. The poetry collection, consisting of six sequences, is not Miller’s attempt to answer it. Rather, it is a reflection on his home country, love, heartbreak, racism, religion and the social constructs that diminished the dreams of his family. 

Miller, having moved to the U.K. to pursue his master’s degree in 2004, is a fish out of water in the first poetic sequence: “In this country you have an accent; / in the pub, a woman mocks it. / You want to ignore her but wonder / how many hearts is she being bold for?”

As I read, I reflected on how I would go over exactly what I wanted to say in discussion-based classes like COLLEGE before I even dared to raise my hand, taking all safety precautions to ensure my Jamaican accent kept hidden, and my heart softened. Alongside Miller’s homesickness, which he amusingly conveys through his being “desperate enough to buy plantains online,” the poignancy of his heartbreak is tangible through his blunt but tender style of writing.

Miller does not shy away from the complexity behind the meaning of home. “The Broken (I),” the second sequence of the book, is composed of a series of poems that aggrandize this very brokenness: within his home, his family and even himself. I was moved by Miller’s style of writing as he created a delicate interplay between the fragile nature of our humanity and our desire to be “whole” when we cannot. For Miller, brokenness is a way of being. Whether reflecting on his mother’s “sleight of hand / that made [her] crowd the verandah / so visitors overcome by blossom and green / would see no flaw in [their] house,” or the initial struggle between him and his lover to “fit [their] legs and [their] chests together,” I was awed at his point.

Love is brokenness.

Like Miller, I felt as if the way I viewed my own “broken” relationships was being rewritten: “Love is how our skin breaks against each other, / how we bleed into each other; / how we heal.” 

But what happens when the brokenness of a place you love is so horrific that it cannot be made beautiful? How can you be so inextricably linked to a place that breaks your heart? It’s a question that Miller keeps coming back to as he transitions to life in the U.K.: “Some days you want to forget / it is your choice to be here – that, hard as you fight to break in / was as hard as you fought to leave.”

He makes clear that it’s complicated, especially as a gay man raised in “the most homophobic country on earth,” as Jamaica was named by Times Magazine in 2006. “I would write about the love / of men and the fear of stones / which in my country is the same thing.”

Like Miller, I have had to reckon with the fact that my beautiful island home with its tender warmth is also a raging bull, inciting homophobia and violence. It is the echo of a gruesome truth that Miller is reminded of whenever the “chorus of a reggae tune” rises in his house or the memories of “sipping cocoa back home” spring into his mind: “I cannot completely love in this country.” 

His is a world where not only is love forbidden romantically, it is also forbidden internally. Much of the collection is meticulously spent liberating the women in his family and his community by giving breath to the untold stories of their lives.

My usual wariness of men attempting to “free” women immediately dissipated as I read his poems, addressed to the women in his life like a love letter of sorts. In one of the last poems of the collection and one of my favorites, “An Allowance for Ula May,” Miller unshackles his staunchly religious great-grandmother who “believed only in laws that forbade, / none that allowed.”

He proclaims that “the page of this poem is a space” where she can “let [her] hips go where they have wanted” and turn love “towards [her] awful self.” Here, the delicacies of life, “the love of skin, the love of what we bring to this word, are no longer forbidden.”

The pages of Miller’s poems are also spaces he has created for us, as readers, to free ourselves. As a Jamaican now living in a foreign country, his words hit home. Whether it’s my own unceasing craving for the delicious goodness of Jamaican KFC or the curious, pitiful glances I see whenever my broken accent seeps through, the feeling of being “the other” is embedded in his words. As I navigate my own feelings towards Jamaica, amid the heartbreak there is an effervescent and undeniably broken love that rises within me.

For anyone attempting to navigate their connection to home and the various loves and fears that make them who they are, Miller’s words are a call to action, a gentle but firm push on the shoulder: “You may.”

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