Book Review – Forest Primeval

            Who is Vievee Francis? I wondered. She was at the Vermont Studio Center, the largest international artists’ and writers’ residency in the United States, at the same time as me. Yet, I was confused why poets around VSC were doting over her. I had never heard of her. But once my ears heard her words I was intrigued. Then, after reading Forest Primeval, a 2017 Kingley Tufts Poetry Award winner, and a collection of poems about beauty and abuse; city and nature; reimagining fairy tales I was wowed.

            Her poems have the ability not only to make you feel—but think. Her poem, “Taking It” about abuse in a domestic relationship was powerful. She writes, “I never remember the knuckles, though his hands was bare, though their hands were bare. I remember the impressions left of this skin, the wilting and the welting.” Those words and many others made the pain in this poem come alive.

            In the poem, “Fallen” she grapples with not being seen as beautiful when she writes, “But I was never the light of my father’s eyes, or any brother’s (that deep-hushed choir) so there was no height from which to fall.” A heartbreaking reality for her and realization how many of us black men don’t see the beauty in black women. How foolish we can be.

            Her poem “On the last day” was my favorite. She writes, “Those who were wronged will not be righted,” “Those without empathy have already perished.” “Monsters will feast upon beauty as they have always done,” & “You will remain exactly where you are.” This poem stung! It was a reminder that most of us will not change.

            Forest Primeval is broken down into six sections each representing a distinct change in the pieces. In section four several of her poems took on fairy tales like “All The Fuss Over A Rose…” which created a prose poem around beauty and the beast— trying to understand the beauty within the best. And the poem “Wolf” which was a play-off of little red riding hood.

            Forest Primeval had 54 poems that covered about 93 pages. After reading it, I’m left wanting to reread it again and dive deeper into the poems. Each poem I read at least twice and each time it offered me a different impression than before. She utilized different poetry forms to create a poetry collection that can’t be summed up with one word. Instead, I offer three: Subtle, shocking and sincere.

Rashaun J. Allen is the first Fulbright scholar in SUNY Stony Brook’s MFA in Creative Writing & Literature program history. A Vermont Studio Center and Arts, Letters, and Numbers residency recipient whose three independently published poetry collections: A Walk Through BrooklynIn The Moment, and The Blues Cry For A Revolution became Amazon Kindle Best Sellers in African American Poetry. He has been a 2019 Tupelo Press 30/30 Project Poet, nominated for Sundress Publication’s 2018 Best of the Net Anthology in Creative Non-Fiction and was a 2017 Steinberg Essay Contest Finalist in Fourth Genre. His writing has appeared in TSR: The Southampton Review, Tishman Review, Rigorous, Auburn Avenue, Poui, and River Styx.

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