Each poet’s voice is as unique as they are, and poems within a collection are varied too, like a region’s weather, with trends and ranges, but ultimately, hopefully, both predictable and unpredictable. Diana M. Raab’s fourth collection of poetry was rich in variety of styles, common threads, and the unpredicted.
Listening to Africa emerged during a trip to Africa which Diana initiated around learning of a second diagnosis of cancer. For all the life saving advances we’ve made, the announcement of cancer can still freeze the breath of even the most courageous, even as Diana has already faced and survived breast cancer. Her courage conveys, in part through the clarity of her fear and vulnerability, and largely through choosing this very journey to Africa.
Several of Diana’s poems set a full chill on my skin, hair raised in the reminder of the fragile edge that is this life.
It was “I’m Wondering” that I read before sleep, laying down in the quieting of the night, that moved me so strongly I sat up. Reading about her deep impulse to help, inspired by one of the great compassionate ones, my heart quickened. Such a desperate moment she witnessed, a man being kept from a dying loved one. Such a sweetness to be able to unlock the gate for another. However short either’s life may be.
“Amplified Melancholy”, is another poem that set chills rising on my arms. With phrases like, ‘this season’s melancholy slipping through my veins’ and ‘stabbed by a second diagnosis’, her experience is palpable. Woven like a double helix, the poem twists towards Africa and its fight for survival, and entwines her father’s life and death with her own.
Listening to Africa is rich reading, some poems light, others intense. I found the collection affirming of the connection of family, those passed, and the next generation. Exciting to touch the aura and mythos that surrounds the African continent, and to be reminded how this informs and influences our spirits. Satisfying to read about the minute awakenings in the face of the foreign, feeding us readers vicariously without risking the cost or dangers of flight and foreign lands.
The journey to Africa, for Diana Raab, is spiritual. It is clearly a pilgrimage, seeking healing from witnessing the raw fight for survival that Africa is the emblem for in both its wildlife and its peoples; and it is also a journey and rite of passage for her sons; leaving them an indelible memory together as a family in earth’s heartland.
I measure fiction by how fast it carries me away from daily life. I measure poetry by how deeply it brings me home, making me present within my own life. Listening to Africa makes me feel more deeply and cherish my moments more preciously. It is a book with poems I’ve already read several times, and still find myself wanting to read again; and that’s my measure of a book of poetry worth owning.
Anora McGaha is a poet, writer and author, and the editor of Women Writers, Women Books this online literary magazine for women writers.