Book: The Secret of Sugar Water by Feminista Jones (2017)

Reviewer: Jeriann

Age/Genre: Adult Poetry

Reading Accoutrements:A Bath, Tissues, Wine or Tea, All the Comfy Accoutrements

Content Notes: Discussions of Racism, Sexual Assault, Misogony 

I had a hard time deciding what books to read for September. I’d just read a couple longer works, and nothing on my to-read list was inspiring me. Then, Feminista Jones’s The Secret of Sugar Water came in the mail. I’d ordered it because I follow the author on Twitter, and I (as I’m sure many other people) have been a little more apt to impulse online buys recently, most likely because I’m not going to random stores and art fairs and the like. 

This is a short collection of poetry, compiled from Feminista Jones’s poems from 2004 to 2017. I love that approach, because it really makes me imagine a writer using poetry as an outlet first and foremost, then going back and picking the poems that still ring truest to them or portray the message they want to get across. If I were to ever release a poetry collection, I think this would be how I would go about it, since I would definitely need lots of “not-fit-to-be-published” poems in between the few I’d write and want others to see. 

On the back, The Secret of Sugar Water is described as “a collection of poems exploring Black womanhood from love to protest, trial to triumph.” 

Reviewing poetry is always a challenge, and I’m going to start off by saying I highly recommend you read this yourself. It’s great for when you want to read an entire book in an afternoon, or for picking up to really dig deep into one or two poems. I also see this being a great read to facilitate book club discussion. A few of these poems are emotionally difficult to process. Jones responds to police killings of black women, and relays experiences of childhood sexual assault. 

The title poem, “The Secret of Sugar Water,” is also the first poem in the collection and was the one I enjoyed the most. The language is straightforward, depicting a scene between two people. It shows how entitlement can be met with care for community, and how different attitudes and perceptions affect what we put into the world. I think this poem should be taught in schools, because I can see people taking many different messages and having unexpected discussions inspired by it. 

Jones explores the ramifications of having children who the world will treat poorly, and shows us the generational pain that she carries.  She shares her journey with religion and relationship to God. She uses food as imagery to portray relationships, showing the pain of being cheated on, and the desire to believe it won’t happen again. I love food poems. They make me want to keep reading, while also inspiring me to cook. 

A large percentage of the poems discuss protest and racial injustice. “In Protest (2016)” reads like a hymn or protest song. I can see this being chanted on a march or read at a rally. It comes right before “Haiku for the Forgotten,” which is made up of 10 verses in haiku form, each with a woman’s first name as the title. Each haiku briefly and poignantly depicts a trait or fact about the woman and a little bit about the circumstances of her death. This poem took me the longest to read, partially because I just sat and thought after each one, and partially because I looked up the women I was unfamiliar with before I moved on to the next poem. Both of these poems together provide an opportunity to really sit with this subject, rather than quickly moving on to more “comfortable” subject matter.

Many of these poems depict hardship, though there are also moments of hope and determination to make the world better than it has been. I like to read poetry as a palette cleanser between novels, and this was definitely like initiating a hard reset. While it did not serve as an escape from current events, it allowed me to view society and specific experiences through the lens of art rather than news. This is a great collection for a nice long bathtub cry, which we all need once in a while. 

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