Praise and Press
UNSAY THEIR NAMES, the starred review from Kirkus:
A powerful photographic testament to a series of inspiring protests.
Poet, playwright, and photographer Kannemeyer’s book opens with a compelling preface on the “great American rift” after the 2020 murder of George Floyd and goes on to present six months’ worth of images of the author’s home city of Richmond, Virginia, from June to November 2020, as well as two appendices following up on events in 2021. Across eight chronological chapters, anchored with expansive notes throughout, Kannemeyer presents an astounding photographic catalog of changes that were happening in Richmond, centering on statues of Confederates and other historical figures. The book opens with an image of the Robert E. Lee monument, Richmond’s statuary centerpiece, and readers see its marble facade covered in inspirational art and messages that offer celebrations of Black Lives Matter and criticisms of policing. Kannemeyer’s eye is also drawn to many people who stand up against monuments to White supremacy, showing them protesting the statue’s “Lost Cause” legacy. Kannemeyer intersperses notes throughout that give the collection a diarylike feel—noting, for example, how daytime gatherings were peaceful but that ones at night “hardened the tone.” He also includes historical commentary, such as a passage dispelling the oft-cited myth that Robert E. Lee was opposed to slavery. Later chapters include powerful photos of a toppled edifice of Christopher Columbus as it was fished out of water; the removal, by crane, of a statue of Stonewall Jackson as people look on in a blustery rainstorm; and the Jefferson Davis Memorial, covered in graffiti condemning his racist legacy. In closing appendices, Kannemeyer offers thoughtful reflections on ongoing questions about how Americans memorialize their history; he writes of his hope to find “other ways, and other places, to pay tribute.”
A stirring record of anti-racism in a Southern city. —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
MUTT SPIRITUALS, the blurbs
As Derek Kannemeyer writes in the poem that gives his ambitious, wide-ranging collection its title, “[when] our little mutt spirituals rise to the choir lofts of the seraphim, / how may they be heard, ragged as they are, except as prayer?” Mutt Spirituals manages to connect, with elegance and insight, the ragged, earthbound qualities of our messy lives to all that is transcendent. This is writing that travels across history and geography—from South Africa to England, from France to the United States, and literally into outer space. Though Kannemeyer looks at the hard topics of racist and ethnic discrimination, he never loses sight of the beauty that is at hand, praising, in one poem, “the fierce, sweet grace-made-flesh of oranges.” Many of these poems and prose pieces are autobiographical, but Kannemeyer writes with such generosity that his personal history connects with our own, making us realize that like him, we need “To tell our stories over till we matter.” I will return to this book again and again, always grateful that Kannemeyer is “alive, telling the tale.” Margaret Mackinnon, author of The Invented Child
Here comes Derek Kannemeyer, “aiming [his] kapows like kisses,” aware that love can injure, but temperamentally incapable of emphasizing pain over the joys of love—perhaps especially love of language and of the transfixing textures of the physical world. Not many poets can grasp and then depict “the pullulating slither / of tentworms in their see-through creels.”
As a mixed-race kid from South Africa and London, Kannemeyer documents the bewildering complexities of insult and oppression (“Old Moon in whiteface fingers his inventory”). Still, in this carnival of language, Kannemeyer’s entertaining pieces often prefer to click consonants like castanets and unfold suspenseful progressions of delicious vowels. In these poems, yes, black pulls against white, as does pensive remembrance against the urgent here-and-now. Like children tussling gleefully, fact also pulls against fantasy, quotation against creation, narrative against lyric. Thus, tussle becomes frolic, conflict becomes concord. In Kannemeyer’s poems we find a “redolence of memory . . . / and a succulence of lust / for the fierce, sweet grace-made-flesh” of the word and the world. Ron Smith, Poet Laureate of Virginia 2014-2016, author of Running Again in Hollywood Cemetery and The Humility of the Brutes
In Mutt Spirituals, this long-awaited wonder book of rhapsodic poems by Derek Kannemeyer, the poet lives in language as if it were a country, a province, “a polychrome of world."
In “White Noise and Hiss”, we feel his early ache of having to leave his birthplace, Cape Town: “In a corner I’ve begun to stack what I don’t want shut away just yet… / In the corner park, I lie and watch the sky. / Light’s threading through like film. Remember by the swings, / how I’d take off my sandals and forget them… / Now it’s morning… / Dew pearls on the thongs. / At my wrist, my chest, my neck, rising like a voice, I feel the sun.”
From poems of joyful play in which childhood is fully inhabited, to poems of self-conscious race embrace, we watch as the maturing poet immigrates to a London suburb and then eventually to Virginia, making over and over the request with which he ends the sonnet "For My Book Of Hours": "Grant me what I have. / Teach me to have it." This is a poet to remember. Susan Hankla, author of Clinch River.