H.E.L.P. Hurt, Empower, Love, Praise by Alicia Bonaee Williams is a book of rhyming poems, all set in quatrains, and expresses Williams’ thoughts and feelings about life.
The book is divided into four overall subjects, as the title indicates. The author explores being hurt by a lover in the first section, empowered by her African American roots in the second (“Black and beautiful/ Like an African queen”), the pain and pleasure of love in the third, and the centrality of God in her life in the fourth.
Throughout the collection, Williams seamlessly weaves in the use of African American Vernacular English (AAVE), which gives the book liveliness and cultural personality. The first poem sets the tone of the collection through its use of dialect to express a proud female attitude: “Y’all [males] think y’all can approach me/ From all angles all slick/ But I got something for y’all slackers.”
Overall, these poems can feel stylistically monotonous because they don’t vary much in form or rhyme scheme. Many words, such as “heart,” “gift,” “ soul,” and “happy,” are used in predictable ways that don’t evoke fresh revelations about human emotion. Some poems are so prose-like, with the bare minimum of imagery or lyricism, that they are really sentences broken into lines, such as “Connection with Myself,” which begins: “I saw myself through the eyes of a man/ And I didn’t like at all what I saw/ My feelings, emotions, and what harbors within me/ I saw a woman that I didn’t want to be at all.”
Still, in a world that often misrepresents and stereotypes African American women, a book of poems that seeks to elevate their status through affirmation and self-acceptance may be welcomed by readers who share the author’s cultural background or interests. Others will want to look elsewhere for more polished or inventive verse.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.