Mimi Tempestt: queer poet's 'The Delicacy of Embracing Spirals'

  • by Laura Moreno
  • Tuesday October 3, 2023
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Poet Mimi Tempestt (photo: Salima Allen Lani DeSota)
Poet Mimi Tempestt (photo: Salima Allen Lani DeSota)

The new groundbreaking poetry collection "The Delicacy of Embracing Spirals," Mimi Tempestt's second book, is being released October 3 by City Lights Books. Since 2017, she has been an integral part of the Bay Area poetry scene and is known for her highly creative, exquisitely visceral performances.

"I try to break the status quo as much as possible." Tempestt sees her poetry as nuanced, eccentric "but in a cool way."

A Los Angeles native, Tempestt is a multidisciplinary artist and writer with an M.A. in literature from Mills College. She currently lives in Berkeley and is a doctoral candidate in Creative/Critical Literature at UC Santa Cruz.

Tempestt is a warrior poet who pulls no punches. She explores Black queer womanhood, the truth about relationships, our daily struggles, our histories as well as critiques on the wider society, always seeking to "transcend the spiral." It is a survival guide of sorts for women of color, her own unique approach to writing her way out of the darkness and into the light. "the path of faith & love reaps greater reward than the method of brute force."

Mimi Tempestt (photo: Instagram)  

Highly Innovative Poetry
Writers in particular will love this book for its highly innovative poetry formats. For example, "i've been an addict much longer than i've been myself" omits all stanzas and punctuation. Yet reading it is a lot less challenging than you'd imagine.

"i adore the old people they know the secret to life i can't even fathom...i know i was taught how to love myself mama loving is hard in a world who refuses to love me back the new song i wrote was about another girl that song wasn't about me mama...mama just promise me the day i leave this place will be the day you know peace promise me that mama promise me to move on mama promise to forgive me mama promise promise me promise me mama promise me promise me mama promise me please please please"

Another innovation is Tempestt's striking use of spacing on the page. She repeats the word "again" for nearly a full page and a half, and ends up going beyond the ordinary limitations of printed words on the page. I had no idea the creative use of spacing and symbols could be so eloquent, so expressive as to even convey screams, tangled emotions, despair and anger.

And there is reason, humans being what they are, for the anger poetry, art and music have the power to transcend: "fish for compliments in a sea of sharks, dress finely only to let the wolves rip you to shreds."

Excerpt from casting call #1 "Black (LA) woman":

to discover you are
a transcendental
accident manifested
through light speed
of what the soul's been yearning for millennia
is the hardest throat slicing pill to swallow

"The Delicacy of Embracing Spirals" ends with "the wanderer's confession," a riveting and innovative play in which every character is an aspect of the author herself. She prefaces it with a verse that makes clear we wrestle not with flesh and blood: "this ain't about you. this ain't about me."

The play contains many insights, such as when Jesus Christ and Emmett Till commiserate about how exhausting it is to be constantly "Used. Ventriloquized. Idolized." The scene is prefaced with wry humor:

"we so damn backwards as a society that niggas who are alive are dead & niggas who are dead are alive. we have more value being dead than alive. just look around you. how the fuck can a hologram of tupac cripwalk on stage with snoop dogg at coachella? ...the t-shirts read GEORGE FLOYD FOREVER. i still can't tell if that's better or worse than a t-shirt that reads WHITE LIVES MATTER."

Intelligent, raw and radically honest, Tempestt's poetry is above all intimately human.

"I'm not a fan of popular rhetorical redundancies. I loathe perfectionists," Tempestt said in a recent interview with KQED. "I'm interested in nuances, complexities, contradictions, chaos, experiments, discomforts and ideological confrontations, art that makes you take a second glance or forces you to look away."

Mimi Tempestt launches her new collection at City Lights Bookstore with poet Truong Tran on Thursday, October 19, 6pm. 261 Columbus Ave. www.citylights.com

'The Delicacy of Embracing Spirals' by Mimi Tempestt, City Lights Books, $12.57 www.citylights.com

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