We Were All Someone Else Yesterday – review + quotes

Author: Omar Holmon
Publication date: May 12, 2020
Genre: poetry
My rating: 4/5 stars

In his quick, lively debut collection, poet Omar Holmon delivers a rollercoaster of emotions chronicling everything from the death of a parent to racism to love to the pride in being a nerd. This is a book that will make you laugh, but will also make you think, often in the same poem. It may not be hugely advertised, but this is a solid addition to Button Poetry’s catalog, as well as an excellent testament to the experiences of a Black nerd trying to navigate family and this complicated world we live in.

In many ways, Holmon manages to pull off some truly impressive writing. His style is accessible and conversational, but filled with clever turns of phrase that underscore his linguistic artistry. In one of my favorite examples, the poem, “Having THE Talk with my nephew,” he sets up the entire poem sounding like an adult lecturing a child on the importance of paying attention and not causing trouble, only to pull the rug out from under you and reveal in the last line that he is actually talking about Super Smash Bros.

And this brings up another major strength of the book: much of Holmon’s poetry is informed by experiences with his family. His mother’s cancer diagnosis, his strained relationship with his father, and his efforts to be a good role model for his nephew all help to sculpt the narrative, immersing you in not just his personal narrative, but also in his family life. The poems involving his nephew are particularly impactful, as they give a venue to explore racism at a more fundamental level, be it a discussion of police brutality in “While helping my nephew assemble a toy city ice cream parlor and construction site for his city” or the blunt answer to questions about race in “My Nephew Learns About Race.”

I will say, there were a couple times where the writing just didn’t quite land where I think he intended it to–lines that felt redundant, poems that beat around the bush without fully reaching the point, and so on–but that is not uncommon in collections, especially in debuts. As a whole, this was a fantastic start to what I hope will continue to be a successful poetry career.

And now, because I always struggle with reviews for poetry, I’ll give you a taste of the book with some of my favorite quotes, sorted by thematic category:

Quotes

On race…

Yet we’re still in an age where people believe
Such a skin color means they’re already dressed for a
funeral

“Copper”

We said Black lives matter
they talked politics at the wake

and then
have the savior of a solution
to say,

“All lives matter…”

“Ever Wonder What Happens When Someone Says ‘All Lives Matter’ Five Times While In A Mirror”

meanwhile in Middle Earth
me and my n***as tying bandanas
around the horns of our unicorns

There’s a horde of macro-aggressions
headed towards us
And we ready to ride out

Cause I’ll be god damned
if they gentrify our homeland

“N***as In Middle Earth”

On humor as a coping mechanism…

We all face our monsters differently
just because I smile when I do it doesn’t make me any
less serious

“New Ways to Smile”

All along laughter…is what the anatomy of my prayer
looked like
this is how I pray, at the altar of strangers.

“Anatomy of a prayer”

the way I see it
If heaven has a sense of humor
I’m so in there
and if it doesn’t, well

I had a good run

“Jesus Christ Super Toaster”

On love…

You are scientific proof
that there are still new ways to smile

“New Ways to Smile”

and how do you describe this texture of God?
This chorus of coarse?
A thick quilted hymn?

When a Black woman gives you permission
to touch her hair, it’s a front row seat to so much sky.

“The 4C Complex”

On perseverance…

I believe
the color human that God bleeds is compassion
and I believe
the will to live is not privilege or birthright
it is fight
it is instinct

“Anatomy of a prayer”

Miscellaneous…

My Jesus is delicious as a mutha fucka
with some cream cheese

“Jesus Christ Super Toaster”

Batman’s superpower
is generational wealth and stock options
That has nothing to do with the rest of the poem
I just felt it really needed to be said.

“10 Things I Want to Say to a Black Nerd”

And if that last one didn’t seal the deal for you, I don’t know what will. This was a great collection by a great debut poet. Especially now, in a time where there is an even greater push to understand the Black experience and support Black authors, I would definitely encourage you to give this one a shot.

Thank you to Button Poetry for providing me with an eARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review!

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