by DW McKinney
shine through our shade: an evolution of self love by Tiriq R. Callaway
Independently published, 2019
132 pages (Kindle) / Amazon
A white in-law asked me to watch a movie about an interracial couple whose Black teenage son goes missing during a traffic stop. She wanted to “talk easily about the themes” with me. I ignored her request. There was a time when I could talk easy about racism and its influences, carefully toeing the line of professionalism and respectability. Now, I’m more interested in disemboweling the rot nestling inside me because of it. And even then, shouldn’t Blacks folks’ pain and anger be part of the associated civil discourse? Acknowledging them is crucial to reckoning with America’s history of racial inequity and journeying toward reconciliation. When we’re able to confront the whole truth, we can finally achieve the freedom that comes from healing. shine through our shade: an evolution of self love offers a just response. The debut poetry book by Tiriq R. Callaway perfectly blends emotion and rhetoric while still talking about the themes—racism, violence, poverty, police brutality, love, and more. Though, it’s never easy.
Callaway’s perspective is a welcome change in an industry dominated by white authors. In shine through our shade, he grants us his perspective as a Black man living in America. Given this country’s history with Black men, Callaway’s words aren’t laced with uncontrollable rage even though he is righteously justified to do so. From talking about an absent father (“i missed you”) to surviving hatred from a country that makes him consider suicide or murder (“hate me, hate you”), readers aren’t swept up in emotion but are able to sympathize while examining their placement in the collective social landscape.
The poems are deceptively uncomplicated and quick to read, but at their core, they weave together an underlying message of empowerment. Callaway leans heavily on rhyming verse that is a call back to traditional poetry and breaks from more contemporary forms. His words guide the reader into rhythms that build slowly and tap along each line before falling staccato when transitioning between emotions. Poems with looser forms, where words and phrases read like frantic thoughts and scattered feelings specific to the poem’s topic, occasionally detract from the poem’s overall lyricism and impact. Yet those that read more straightforward, like “church” and “don’t matter,” are Callaway’s sharpest knives that draw the most blood.
shine through our shade is divided into six themed sections. “shade,” the second section, is about reconciling the self. It challenges the tension society interjects in creating one’s identity. These poems pointedly address the fears and delusions people entertain to their own detriment. A damning example is the poem “insecure,” which flays the narrator, who could easily be Callaway or the reader, by replaying common insecurities then revealing that the narrator is often their own stumbling block.
“good grief” is a particularly poignant section that illustrates Callaway’s ability to relate grief to many subjects. He grieves the loss of relationships due to time, personal choice, or death. He grieves the status of Black men and the Black community, while giving credence to the suffering of both. Callaway also plays on the section’s double meaning, using it to distill the frustrations of Black men (“hope or dope,” “same old story”) into tangible vignettes. This section is antithetical to ideals historically propagated in the Black community—to be strong, to endure, to keep our chins up and backs straight. Callaway recognizes that these ideas have value, but he gives us space to mourn as well.
“good grief” and the subsequent section “hope” serve as a turning point in the poetry collection. Acknowledging pain and struggle shouldn’t end in self-hate or feelings of worthlessness. It should instead be an act of revolution. An act of self-love. Thus, the poems featured in “hope” are a directive to the reader to confront and then heal from whatever holds them back (“the storm,” “push through”). Moreover, the later sections in the poetry collection (“hope,” “faith,” and “light”) complement the earlier ones. Where Callaway once delved into trauma, struggles, and pain, he now emerges on the other side, allowing for the poems in the book’s second half to be the agents of the transformation he eluded to in the first.
The last poem in the collection, “i am me,” is the narrator’s expression of who he is, the changes required to make him, and what lies ahead. The narrator informs the unseen audience that he exists both in spite of and because of his past. “i am me” could be Callaway’s final statement of self—whole and confidently moving forward. Yet, it could also stand as a declaration of triumph for readers once they heed the collection’s encouraging poems.
Reading this collection, I initially wanted more evocative language and description that unnerved me or spirited my imagination away. However, that’s not Callaway’s style. He writes in an unambiguous manner that lends to his poetry’s universality. He removes confusion from his overall message, speaking with absolute clarity about what he’s saying. And what he’s saying is that while we can talk easily about themes like violence, hate, and racism, finding room for healing is critical to understanding Black narratives in America.
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.