This collection came as a surprise.
Coming to ‘Everything But a Smile’ I couldn’t help but notice that there was an almost cartoon quality to the cover art, and that the dedication was one of upbeat hope. The pieces also had simple titles, so I was expecting an easy read. But as I delved into the anthology I realised this was a body of work that would be challenging and confronting.
The subject matter poses multiple questions about the experiences of ‘othering’ through gender, class, ethnicity, and religious and political affiliation. The author does not preface the works with ownership, but whether these are her personal experiences, or cleverly mastered observations of the world, they tell a powerful and often highly political story of what it means to walk in the shoes of the ‘other’. It was easy to see the truth of suffering in these works, the torment it creates, and that there will be many who will identify with the experiences that Candace explores.
The themes I captured included her observations of those around her, in particular those who hurt others. I read about empathy (her own; amplified more than most), struggle and overcoming, going against the grain, being the listener and never being listened to, self-analysis, sexuality, rape, suicide, attempted murder, misguided youth, politics, colonisation, voyeurism, social media and trying to find love.
There is a lot of great storytelling in this book, an interesting exploration of form and structure, and a lyrical flow to the words themselves, however I did find it hard to get through. As an empathetic soul myself I felt heavy after reading a few pieces and needed multiple breaks to allow myself to be ready for what was next. This in itself is an example of the artistry of this poet, because she truly did make me feel.
Stand out works were: The Undertow for using a more upbeat rhythm to bring a story to life; and Like Me, for its current and ongoing political relevance.
Best for: Raising questions about the world that we want to live in.
Buy for: Someone who has struggled in life. Knowing what others have been through and seeing it expressed on paper can be a cathartic experience.
Buy it if: You need to know that you are not alone.
Reviewed by Kelvin Lloyd ǀ @heartwrds
Currently living, loving and writing in Melbourne, Australia, Kelvin has a passion for poetry and the planet. He is also working on a soon-to-launch blog on ethical consumerism.