In the Event of Full Disclosure
By Cynthia Atkins
CW Books, 2013
REVIEWED BY CHERYL R. HOPSON
Cynthia Atkins opens her second collection of poetry, In the Event of Full Disclosure, with a meditation on family love by early twentieth century poet, T.S. Eliot, who writes of such unions as “love that’s lived in, but not looked at, love within the light of which all else is seen, the love within which all other love finds speech.” “This love,” continues Eliot “is silent.”
Enter Atkins, the poet/family woman (sibling, daughter, mother, wife), to break said silence and offer something of the same love, by which she herself sees and writes.
In “Family Therapy (I)” the first of five poems demarcating the book’s themes of family, mental illness, love, shame, and centering, Atkins writes,
I hold the secrets. I am the writer.
I am the sister of a schizo-
phrenic. My elder split—
I’m learning how to be a member
of my family, of my society.
I’m wanting a text book
on the matter.
With this framing poem, Atkins shines a light on what it means for her/us to be a part of a particular biologic (and national) family, but she also reveals what is referred to in the collection as the insistence of chromosomes – e.g., doom.
And yet, there is a willingness to construct an alternative experience for herself and the family/love she creates and shelters,
I’m looking for a cure, because anguish
is harmful to live with. And yes,
I am a little pregnant. Set another
Place? Erase another place?
I am my child’s child, doomed
Atkins’s poetry has the urgency and righteousness of June Jordan’s, but it is unlike anything I’ve read before. The collection is dedicated to the poet’s siblings, two sisters and a brother; and the sisterly/fraternal connection is felt. In the poem “Picture This” Atkins writes of
Three sisters just from swimming,
bathing caps, fresh cut bangs –
sitting at the pool’s edge. This safe notch
in time hailed like a taxicab in the rain,
and memory makes it sedate
as a lawn chair, quelled
and awash in Technicolor
The poet’s revelation that the three sisters’ girlhood was not easy is underscored, as the poem continues:
At home, two muddy shoes
depressed or manic at the back door?
Life offers possibilities—a kiss with
a fist or a salesman’s pitch? Now tinctured,
with time, bereft of manners
Atkins writes in “Family Therapy (III)” that “the mind’s pain / is the last inconsolable extra gene,” and in “Family Therapy (IV)” that “Our shame is seasoned / and matter-of-fact.” But it is also in the context of family love and its inheritance (e.g. ,mental illness), that the speaker has come to understand the necessity of shelter for herself, her loved ones, and her art. In “Nest,” Atkins writes of home as a “kind of grace / nestled in, to protect us from / the elements and the answers.” Home, in the context of In the Event of Full Disclosure, sits astride a river in Southwest Virginia – it is a place where the poet/speaker can be and not be, a quiet calm where she can “…spend the rest of my days / telling [my] story” in verse.
Atkins is a seasoned and gifted poet, and In the Event of Full Disclosure is a must-read.The collection showcases what nineteenth-century poet Emily Dickinson might refer to as the white heat (e.g., intense and affecting, often painful, energy) of family and family love: the changeling sibling (or parent); the mother’s/sisters’ speaking and silence; the father’s death; and the mental illness presenting itself time and again in the family as, “Brick and mortar, a nervous disorder / marriage, divorce, work to lay-offs” and “…the one window / light that calls us home.”
Cheryl R. Hopson, PhD, is an assistant professor of African American Literature at Georgia Regents University in Augusta, Georgia. She has published essays on Zora Neale Hurston and Alice Walker, as well as on U.S. Black feminist sisterhood. Her chapbook Black Notes was published by Finishing Line Press in 2013.