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Overwhelming in the Best Way

A review of ‘Freedom House’ by KB Brookins.

I am Black which is history, personified

KB Brookins, “Good Grief”

Freedom House by KB Brookins is a fiercely honest exploration of Brookins’ life as a queer, Black individual, and the way that identity affects every part of existence. The poems are separated into four sections, each named after a different room in a house, with each room connected by the overpowering emotions conveyed.

The poems in the first segment, titled “Foyer,” seem to portray a quiet sort of acceptance of the day-to-day struggle of inhabiting a Black, queer body. Throughout all of Freedom House, but especially in this section, Brookins draws quite a bit of attention to the body and the feeling of depersonalization that can often be felt by members of marginalized groups—knowing that one stands out visually, and being equal parts proud and ashamed of that fact; resenting the fact that you have to make your existence into a political statement, but still feeling that it is a better alternative to hiding. Brookins’ descriptions of their relationship to their own body are blunt, occasionally bordering on crass, but always powerful. There is a sense of pride depicted in these poems, but it is a quiet, almost hesitant pride; like coming to terms with the idea of being proud.

In “Dining Room,” the pride grows into rage. This segment is where Brookins is at their most overtly political, referencing Derek Chauvin, the 2020 election and the banning of abortion in Texas following the overturning of Roe vs. Wade. While the poems are perhaps less personally-focused than those in “Foyer,” that reinforces the interconnectedness of members of marginalized groups. Brookins’ entirely justified rage radiates off of the page in ways that are uncomfortable, but deeply affecting.

“Bedroom” shows the exhausted depression that comes when the rage runs out, when one has felt so much for so long and cannot find the energy to care any longer. “Good Grief,” which deals with the aftermath of Texas Winter Storm Uri, is the standout poem of the entire book, giving an intensely poignant portrayal of the sort of numb confusion that often follows devastating events. Finally, “Living Room” depicts a quiet, hope-adjacent sort of acceptance; the acceptance that things can get better, even while acknowledging the awfulness of right now.

As a whole, Freedom House is emotionally exhausting, which is meant as the highest compliment. Brookins beautifully conveys a wide array of feelings with a straightforwardness and intensity that feels like a physical force, ensuring that their thoughts and experiences are impossible to ignore.

This review is part of our coverage for National Poetry Month. Freedom House will be out on June 6, and you can pre-order a copy here. Read the poem “TattleTale” from Freedom House here.

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