In The Gospel of Breaking, poet and spoken-word artist Jillian Christmas invites readers into a world of sacred identities. Combining delicate imagery and rhythmic verse, these poems blend the personal with the political to yield truth.
Three themes are present throughout this debut collection. First, Christmas explores family and its roots, however intricate. Mommy is a recurring character, serving to teach but also to shift perspective, producing at times gentle dissent or reinforced reverence: “after the first telling I thank mommy for the lesson / on second / I / protest / I am fine just as I am.” Food and cooking often accompany these lessons; other times, warnings come in the dark – about men, about history.
Second, Christmas expertly wades through the politics of the body, speaking on queerness and Blackness. In “Just How Some Folks Learn the Blues,” the poet explores relationships with women: “When she asked me with saxophone tongue if I’d ever kissed a woman, / I wanted to be just as smooth and twice as brave, […] I didn’t want my mouth to quiver and crack.” In “and still you cannot touch it,” Christmas confronts racism and white feminism: “and what is it you think you will find in my hair? some secret / weapon, or a wisdom you know you can reach for but never touch.” Her words contain the passion, honesty, and insight often seen in her performance art and slam.
Third, Christmas explores a variety of losses – loss of friends, of lovers, sitting in the experience of loss itself – in uniquely raw and delicate ways. The loss comes with longing: “pink yukon sunsets / stretch so late that skies miss night / I miss you like that.” Loss, in Christmas’s work, also results from choice: “you suddenly so hard to reach / became a mountain / I could no longer climb.”
Imbued in each poem is a generous thoughtfulness, as well as an indisputable love that does not sacrifice confidence, integrity, or respect. Christmas richly expresses the revered and the intimate, handling readers with care.