on Yearn By Rage Hezekiah

Yearn is a potent verb. With just five letters, Rage Hezekiah invites readers to appreciate the urgency of her poems and the world they inhabit. Yearning transcends simply wanting something; it is a deeper, more existential state of being. This title also introduces the collection’s stakes: will Hezekiah be able to realize her desires? Yearning is an emotion more than an action, but these poems use written language to memorialize her innermost feelings. This preservation is a tangible movement cementing the importance of Hezekiah’s most intimate existence. These poems are thus an action in their own right.

Hezekiah’s poems hauntingly contemplate power, control, and identity. The collection follows a woman moving through the experiences of being objectified to becoming an autonomous person who can own her longings. Acknowledging her wishes allows her the possibility of being left unfulfilled, and this recognition realizes the collection’s central tension. Yearn is gripping as it charts Hezekiah’s singular mission to regain power over her own body and narrative.

Although Hezekiah is a successful poet—Yearn won the 2021 Diode Editions Book Contest, and she is published in several literary journals—her work is in many ways a meditation on seeking approval. Most strikingly, “Not for Us” is comprised entirely of sentences lifted from rejection letters she received when submitting the poems in Yearn. When form letters from editors tell her that her work “does not meet our needs,” she unapologetically examines her own needs, and in her poems’ specificity manages to capture a struggle for both bodily and authorial agency. Her collection is a success precisely because it achingly considers her lived experience, and the literary world is improved by her decision to persevere and refine these pieces for publication.

The collection’s three sections structurally reflect the fracturing and unification necessary for Hezekiah to come into full understanding of herself. The triptych structure allows the collection to mark evolutions in her journey while also affirming that some tensions are omnipresent. For example, she includes one cento in each section—“Cento for My Mother,” “Cento for Longing,” and “Cento for Surrender”—indicating how she is consistently drawn to reframe other writers’ words to contextualize her own experiences. Several of her other poems, including “Not for Us,” also borrow language from outside works. This choice allows Hezekiah to position herself within the broader literary tradition while simultaneously proving the necessity of her unique vision.

Her reflections on race, gender, and motherhood control her potential for growth. Specifically, she reclaims her power in each of these topics of personal identity. Hezekiah subverts external oppression and asserts her bodily authority. “On Anger,” “In June,” and “Practice” directly confront race—both in terms of how she is perceived by others and by herself. In “Practice,” she writes, “I’ve forgotten the threat of my black body.” The poem allows ambiguity here: is the threat to herself, or to others? “On Anger” also explores this duality. She says, “My white therapist calls it my edge, I hear / Angry Black Woman.” These disparities indicate their inherent power dynamics by forcing readers to contemplate which interpretation of her body will prevail. “In June” proposes the answer. She mourns George Floyd’s murder allegorically, examining animals gathering at a “lily-padded pond.” She writes, “I think, what a bright day / god has given, what a way to live / without a knee on your throat.” Even though Hezekiah recognizes that racism is a constant danger, she presents some hope for a more peaceful world order, one where all people can enjoy nature without fearing for their safety. Embracing this dream is its own type of power; Hezekiah refuses to maintain the status quo, and encourages readers to join her.

Control has long defined the ways in which she moves throughout the world. This is especially revealed in her gender commentary. Many of her poems reflect on her sexual relationships with boys as a teenager. Each is grounded in the conflict between her desire to control the encounter and the boys’ entitlement over her female body. In “Eighth Grade Field Trip,” she notes “boys can take & never ask.” She seeks to guide these encounters to fulfill her own needs, despite her understanding that she ultimately does not have ownership over her body. In “Sex Education,” she explains, “I held him hard like the stick / shift of my little red Jetta, / my thirst for control a vibrato.” “I Grab You Hard,” though, illustrates how her quest leaves her unfulfilled:

Do you swallow? I want

your praise but not to please

you. Your cock slips

from my lips, while

confusion penetrates

your face. You are bare

& hard & wanting, I am

suddenly disarmed.

These encounters are tarnished by patriarchal power dynamics that inhibit Hezekiah’s ability to thrive. Eventually, she ends up pursuing relationships with women, ultimately marrying one.

Finding romantic happiness creates a new challenge for Hezekiah: motherhood. Yearning is a constant state. She desperately wants a child, but she faces fertility issues. To interrogate this suffering, she finds parallels between herself and the natural world, and it is in these moments that her poems are at their best. “Sudbury Community Garden” describes the moon as “full hunger.” In “Evidence,” it is “pregnant & / milkless.” These observations provide rich imagery and amplify Hezekiah’s emotions by reframing them on a larger scale. “Barren” finds Hezekiah lamenting “An empty nest & bread that didn’t rise” and stuck “attempting to rescue what I’d already destroyed.” This frustration is palpable and builds to “Capricorn Season,” when she pleads, “Goddess, do not free me from desire, teach me to want only whatever this is.” Of course, this wish is impossible, and the distance between Hezekiah’s desires and reality is what makes Yearn so urgently “for us” as readers. Hezekiah seems to understand this. She concludes the collection with “Poem to My Uterus,” begging, “show me / what you need / to make a life.” She will always thirst for more; to do otherwise would only diminish her overwhelming humanity.

Yearn works so well because it mediates an effective balance between chaos and order. Hezekiah’s traumas are sprawling; so too are her hopes. She couples expansive feelings with tight lines and stanzas. The short poems allow readers to activate their imaginations. Furthermore, the succinctness points to her gaining control and indicates her ability to capture intense moments in few words. Even the shortest poems have a meaningful effect. “January” only takes up two square inches of the page, but its attention to “calm and still” invites readers to pause and reflect on what they have read before proceeding. Creating an expectation of short lines also makes poems that deviate more powerful. “Illusion of Control” is the single prose poem in the book. This form perhaps points to her ceding authority and control from her mind and back to her body. She and her wife want a child, and Hezekiah is trying to carry the pregnancy. The poem ends, “I pretend not to know the difference between spotting and bleeding. Convince myself I’m a stranger to blood.” She has earned these longer lines, and her sadness is pronounced when readers compare it to the tightness defining the rest of the collection.

Hezekiah’s voice is unique and agonizingly intimate. The details she shares—often ugly—create a sensory experience so rich that readers can almost imagine that the stories are their own. The poems have a cumulative effect; it is impossible to stop reading this collection. She deftly turns her emotions into language, finding control over her body in the process.

Yearn. By Rage Hezekiah. Richmond, Virginia: Diode Editions, 2022. 65 pp. $18.00.


Margaret Carlton is a recent graduate from the University of Georgia, with degrees in English and psychology. She will be attending the UGA School of Law this fall.