Drawing inspiration from the life of Harriet Tubman, Cynthia Parker-Ohene’s poetic narratives follow a historical arc of consciousness of Black folks: mislaid in potters’ fields and catalogued with other misbegotten souls, now unsettled as the unknown Black denominator. Who loved them? Who turned them away? Who dismembered their souls? In death, they are the institutionalized marked Black bodies assigned to parcels, scourged beneath plastic sheets identified as a number among Harriets as black, marked bodies. These poems speak to how the warehousing of enslaved and somewhat free beings belies their humanity through past performances in reformatories, workhouses, and hospitals for the negro insane. To whom did their Black lives belong? How are Black grrls socialized within the family to be out in the world? What is the beingness of Black women? How have the Harriets—the descended daughters of Harriet Tubman—confronted issues of caste and multiple oppressions? These poems give voice to the unspeakable, the unreachable, the multiple Black selves waiting to become.
“In poems full of oracular fire, Cynthia Parker-Ohene proclaims the beauty of Black life across complex terrains of time and space. These intimate, yet wide-ranging lyrics move with virtuosity from the remembered ‘sheen of buttercups’ in a beloved grandparent’s garden to the ‘disturbed wavelets’ of the Middle Passage still resonating, as collective memory, in the Black body. Daughters of Harriet is a work of deep remembrance and song-craft, drawing innovative poetic language from the luminous, multidimensional network of Black consciousness. Richly textured and keenly observed, these are poems to keep close.”
—Kiki Petrosino, author of White Blood: A Lyric of Virginia, Witch Wife, and Black Genealogy
“Daughters of Harriet captures the ongoing traumas of Black life in the aftermath of slavery, Jim Crow, and the racial injustice foundational to the experience of Black Americans—the ‘collateral of skin.’ Here, too, is the Black legacy of dogged resilience in the face of struggle, our unwavering determination to persist. How we go on, how we must, how we be and be, despite: here is all of it, given unflinching. Here is history and its pocketful of receipts.”
—Lauren K. Alleyne, author of Difficult Fruit and Honeyfish
“These poems sing in the key of Harriet, an aria for all of us—daughters and mothers—both ancestral and contemporary. Daughters of Harriet is a book that balances our collective mothers’ legacies—joy, trauma, history, and emotional landscape at once. The Black South comes alive and is shone new in these poems—our grandmothers’ very existence shimmers; their bodies held up in sacred homage in the sure hands of Cynthia Parker-Ohene. These poems are bright and stunning and allow us to see and touch and be touched and remember.”
—Crystal Wilkinson, author of Perfect Black: Poems and The Birds of Opulence
“Cynthia Parker-Ohene’s ‘mad song’ is sung from one place that touches everywhere. The ‘Black clarities’ that build the song occur not purely as a sonic happening, but as a private world of being, a moment to swoon and sashay amongst the pines. Daughters of Harriet is an anatemporal cistern for pleasure, irreverence, and memory that invites the reader to enter into the wild lineage of those who walked on water, whose crossing meant a rupture in language. Ohene speaks from that rupture with righteous derision and humor, though the speaking is more akin to an incantation that reanimates those Black stories lost in the slip of time.”
—Taylor Johnson, author of Inheritance
“With a messianic gift for image and history, Cynthia Parker-Ohene is a once-in-three-generations mind on the page. Virtuosic images and living histories bearing down on your pulse, expanding the potentials of your consciousness. I cannot imagine a future without the canonization of these poems. Beyond the altitudes of accolade, Cynthia Parker-Ohene is on track to become the most important writer in your life.”
—Tongo Eisen-Martin, author of Blood on the Fog and Heaven Is All Goodbyes
“Daughters of Harriet is both praise song and eulogy, as Parker-Ohene explores the continuum of Black women’s survival. Although her regional touchstones might briefly locate readers in place, she collapses time to show how past horrors still live in the present, how ‘savageBlackgrrrls [may] buckle’ no matter where they are in history. In these poems, Parker-Ohene paints these fraught narratives with imagery as fragrant and delicious as ‘sweet peas butter beans . . . and sachets of lavender,’ creating a striking juxtaposition that will keep readers returning to this debut collection.”
—Chet’la Sebree, author of Field Study and Mistress
“Parker-Ohene writes me into a past as rich and immersive as Octavia Butler’s writings of the future—a past when I taste, smell, and feel underfoot the labor to live. Harriet Tubman makes the bone of this book. She is the embodiment of ancestry, the “trace and aura in the head of my head.” Blackness is not hidden in this book but celebrated—’Forgotten Negroes: Hospital for the Negro Insane’ announces Blackness by listing the contents of a suitcase: ‘negro baby shoes, negro starter gun, 2 negro letters to kin in West Virginia.’ Parker-Ohene provokes me to ask: what do I carry when my Black body is endangered? This poet gives me a historical guide to follow on my way through, if not my way out of, others’ designs.”
—CM Burroughs, author of Master Suffering
Cynthia Parker-Ohene is an abolitionist, cultural worker, and therapist. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Saint Mary’s College of California, where she was the Chester Aaron Scholar for Excellence in Creative Writing. Her poetry has appeared in such journals as Black Warrior Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Kweli, and Green Mountains Review, as well as in the anthologies Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry and The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South. She has received fellowships and support from Tin House, Callaloo, the Postgraduate Vermont College of Fine Arts, Juniper, and the Hurston/Wright Foundation and elsewhere.