Why I Chose Kamilah Aisha Moon’s Starshine & Clay for the Rumpus Poetry Book Club


Kamilah Aisha Moon takes the title for her most recent collection from Lucille Clifton’s poem “won’t you celebrate with me,” which includes the lines: “what did i see to be except myself? / i made it up / here on this bridge between / starshine and clay,” and Clifton’s influence on Moon’s work is evident throughout.

Before I tell you more, a quick reminder that in order to receive your early copy of Starshine & Clay, read along with the Poetry Book Club, and participate in our exclusive chat with Kamilah Aisha Moon, you’ll need to to subscribe by September 20!

It’s some later lines in the same poem mentioned above which stuck with me as I read this collection:

come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

Because while the book does celebrate that survival, it also requires the reader to remember those who weren’t so fortunate, those who were taken too soon. I wish I could say that this is only on my mind because of the recent acquittal of Jason Stockley, the former St. Louis police officer who shot and killed Anthony Lamar Smith, but the truth is that we live in a world where it is unusual for a police officer to be convicted of killing a person of color. The early poems in Starshine & Clay remind us of that. The poem “Angel” begins with an epigram quoting John Eligon of the New York Times where he says Michael Brown “was no angel.” “Staten Island Ferry Ride” has the speaker on her way to a march for Eric Garner, and in “Imagine,” Moon asks us to:

Imagine a blonde daughter with a busted car
in a suburb where a brown homeowner
(not taking any chances)
blasts through a locked door first,
checks things out after—
around the clock coverage & the country beside itself
instead of the way it is now,
so quiet like a snowy night
& only the grief of another brown family
around the Christmas tree, recalling
memories of Renisha playing
on the front porch, or catching flakes
as they fall & disappear
on her tongue.

We don’t really have to imagine what would happen in this scenario, not if we’ve been paying attention. The homeowner would have been imprisoned, talking heads would have used the word “thug” more than once, and a million think pieces about the problems inherent in the black community would have found eager consumers across the landscape. That Theodore Wafer was found guilty and sentenced to prison for Renisha McBride’s murder doesn’t change that.

The other sections of Moon’s book also explore life and death and grief in what we might think of as more “natural” ways, though that term doesn’t really do the job for me. Cancer, for example, may be natural but it’s no less violent to the body than a gunshot, and the grief one feels from losing a friend or family member to it is just as intense. Moon also writes about her own health problems in these poems, and those intimate moments recall Clifton yet again.

Starshine & Clay is a beautiful book and I’m looking forward to talking to you all about it in October, as well as talking to Kamilah Aisha Moon about it at the end of the month. Subscribe to the Rumpus Poetry Book Club by September 20, get your copy of Starshine & Clay before anyone else, and participate in our exclusive chat with Kamilah about the collection!

Brian Spears is Senior Poetry Editor of The Rumpus and the author of A Witness in Exile (Louisiana Literature Press, 2011). His poem “Upon Reading That Andromeda Will One Day Devour Triangulum and Come For Us Next” was featured in Season 9 of Motion Poems. More from this author →