by DW McKinney
HoodWitch by Faylita Hicks
Acre Books, 2019
112 pages / Purchasing link
Faylita Hicks has written a hymnal. HoodWitch, her debut poetry collection, is not a book of worship but a recitation of who we are—madwomen, broken women, discarded and disregarded things—that excises the truth of us down to the molecular level. The collection is also about reclaiming what has been taken from us: our dead, our identity, our bodies, and our self-love. From the moment Hicks introduces us to herself, she implores us to counteract erasure, weaving the memory of murdered Black femmes into her own story with #SayHerName and #SayMyName. With the breath we have left we can’t help but take a moment to acknowledge ourselves and say our own name. Through it all, Hicks says, “You must remember that you are a Gawd.”
Hicks subsumes us by verse and voice. Her poems are a mix of sorrow, strength, violence, and love. We intimately feast on death and life, sit at the altar with witchy women, and raise our voices in praise to God. The poems pierce earth and sky, dank hoods and Corvette hoods, tense nights full of longing and crowded parking lots. Hicks’ oiled words flow so freely that it takes some time to realize we are metaphorically slick with sweat, not feverish, but perspiring from the emotional work of confronting our truths. It’s a bit of an overindulgence at times, but for me, it was very welcome.
Everyone should read this poetry collection, but HoodWitch specifically uplifts those that are ignored. It is for the Black girls, hood girls, yelling and silent girls; girls who twerk and dance in ecstasy, and girls who gaze at the stars. It’s for femmes who fight, who run away, and who let fun trill across their lips. The poems are for those who’ve had their power stripped and refashioned into a weapon that draws blood from them. To read HoodWitch is to discover the parts of the self that have been locked up and dissected under someone else’s gaze. This book is
Hicks properly unzips and examines Black (or Blxck, as Hicks occasionally denotes for those like herself who have a mixed background or identity as other than Black) women, femmes, and nonbinary folks. She gathers and removes our insides, then lays them out for ritual cleansing. This cleansing occurs in three parts: “The First Rite of Water,” “The Second Rite of Flesh,” and “The Third Rite of Smoke.”
Hicks explores the baptism of the body through pain in “The First Rite of Water.” She digs, nearly gouging out her own experiences, as she depicts motherhood, childbirth, and Black childhood. She shows us resiliency, but it comes at the price of difficult transformation. We see this in the first poem, “Wolf,” and in other variations in later poems. The wounded become witches that control their fates, cyborgs and machines, stalking predators and enactors of justice. The pain is inevitable but does not define one’s ending. Instead of becoming spoils, we become Gawds.
“The Second Rite of Flesh” features poems that permit us more intimate introspection on womxnhood, sexuality, and the ways our bodies betray us. Some poems reflect on the consumption of the body, especially the Black body (“The Kardashian Curse,” “The Daughters of Samuel Little”). While in others, Hicks interrogates the way that consumption is mutual (“whoever.”), reluctant, or a thing that must be done (“Dog Catchers in Texas”) because, what else is there to do? And then there are poems like “The Battered Woman’s Prayer for Power,” “wanted.,” and “Tinder” that illustrate the emotional complexity that resonates with people, like myself, who have struggled to comprehend the warring need of their bodies to be filled and emptied, wanted and tossed aside, all while trying to reclaim an intangible loss of self in the process.
“The Third Rite of Smoke” is about mourning and reckoning a violent past with an unstable present. When we reach this point in the book, we’re left with the impression that we’ve finished exorcising malevolent influences in our lives. We’ve rattled along, verse after verse, experiencing revelations and altercations and we deserve a respite. Yet, there is no fairytale ending. The last poems leave Hicks settling into an understanding of who she is becoming and an impartation of power to the rest of us.
Hicks uses a complex layering of image, language, and culture in her poetry collection. The imagery is electric and the language is cunning. At times it is earthen or sharp in its mocking references. I sometimes believed I could taste the words and smell the sweat, or look up from my couch and see the embodiment of poems like “Featuring Tonight at the Street-Hustler’s Circus: The Girls” because the language is so alive. This is what makes each poem feel like an incantation that conjures power from the atmosphere, bringing in vibrant shades of life. The poetry occasionally veers into the abstract, but the reader can’t possibly understand everything, especially the more personal histories and memories Hicks weaves into them. It’s an ironic kindness that she empowers historically erased populations by using her own life as a template, allowing the rest of us to reconcile ourselves. We trust that Hicks is taking us someplace magical. And for many of us, we are led through our lineages, where we reclaim and rebirth long-forgotten blessings.
DW McKinney is a writer based in Las Vegas. Her work is featured in Bitch Media, Linden Avenue Literary Journal, Stoneboat Literary Journal, TAYO Literary Magazine, and others. Her essays have appeared in HelloGiggles and Elite Daily, and she currently serves as creative nonfiction editor at The Tishman Review. She holds an MA in Anthropology from Texas State University and a bachelor in Biology from Dominican University of California. She has essays forthcoming in Narratively and Road Grays. Learn more about her at www.dwmckinney.com or follow her on Twitter @thedwmckinney.