The Animated Universe is the long-awaited debut of a seasoned poet who has traveled the world honing her craft and, in the process, settling into the assurance and confidence in her voice. These poems reflect her movement, but above all they speak to her core belief in the power of empathy and compassion as aesthetic markers. In “signs” she writes, “Everywhere I go/ I see the people I love in the faces of strangers, ..”
Her poems range across three modes of seeing: the ode that reveals her penchant for finding beauty in the unusual, in the ordinary and in the disquieting things of the world; her legends, which are the mythologizing of daily life that only great calypsonians and natural storytellers are able to achieve; and finally, her lyric disrobing of her heart, her soul and her body–a sacrifice she makes with heart because of her strong conviction that the sharing of self is a healing quality of poetry: “I am a figment/ of God’s imagination. / I am more than/ I say. I am./ I am who I am/ becoming.” If there are echoes of Ntosake Shange here, it is because, like Shange, Thornhill understands the deeply spiritual function of the poet, and she embraces the role of the poet as a a priestess in service of the community.
And yet, in all of this, we find in Thornhill the splendid tensions and graces of an immigrant’s imagination and language, rooted as she is in her Trinidad birthplace, and her uneasy American home. There is a throw-back quality to her rhymes, invoking in the long-breathed journey to the satisfaction of rhyme, the “def” stage, the spoken-world space during its emergent height. But this is the beginning of the formal exploration. Thornhill, the poet, was made by the energy and immediacy of the stage, a poetry willing to improvise through elliptical leaps while being grounded in sound, rich sound, and the satisfaction of the rhyme’s reliability, and above all, while grounded in the story, the tall tale, the myth-making.
Samantha Thornhill is a globally-traveled poet, educator, and children’s author from the twin island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. After graduating with an MFA in poetry from the University of Virginia, Samantha served for a decade as poetry professor at The Juilliard School in New York City.
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