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The Seventh Town of Ghosts

by Faith Arkorful

Faith Arkorful (Sarah Bodri)

Faith Arkorful’s debut book, The Seventh Town of Ghosts, is a collection of lyric poems suffused with a heart-centred intelligence. These poems move through grief, memory, and joy with the insight of “a black girl [who] learns to worship herself very early. Tends to her own burns.”

The opening poem, “Origin Story,” begins with a dream in which the speaker’s mother tells her about herself and hands her a grapefruit: “the flesh pulls apart in my hands like a / yawn in a quiet room. she wraps her hands every year / around her face and closes her eyes, insisting stars / into calendars.” Arkorful’s unique poetic images set the tone for a collection that is deeply attuned to joy.

Autobiography is storied with a reverent voice that embraces complexity and interdependence with the non-human. In “The Seventh Town of Names,” the speaker declares: “My name, a shiver indexed / as breath. . . . beyond category.” Arkorful dwells in the liminal, where what is as-yet-unspoken comes into being. A lighthearted voice carries a similar note in “Quiet Time”: “We are a single potato growing / out from another potato, / held together by a flower at the stem. / If I give up on this, I give up on it all.”

The tenderness of these poems turns into a fiery confrontation with cultural appropriation and violence. In “Justin Trudeau Dreams in Blackface,” the poet riffs on a quote from the Canadian prime minister who admits he is wary of being definitive about how often he had painted his face black. Arkorful inhabits this voice, interrogating it to humorous and damning effect: “I am wary of this parade of a body not mine. Kidding! Kidding? Not kidding. . . . I am a kingdom of bodies. Indeed, many will have to stand throughout my performance.” A similar interrogation is reflected in the looping language of “Hyenas”: “To police: I called you and I was killed. To police: I am called for and killed.” The word “police” is transformed into a verb, unmasking the irony and contradictions of structural racism in a system meant to protect people.

The Seventh Town of Ghosts is a deeply felt and insightful book that does not linger on the hope of shiny transformations but uncompromisingly honours the self. With intimate turns of phrase, these poems weave in Biblical undertones and erasures of Joseph Conrad’s work as easily as chats with friends.

Writers such as bell hooks and Audre Lorde have claimed self-love to be a political act and ultimately, Arkorful joins this necessary chorus. In the title poem, she writes, “All my love, all my happiness, / my sweetness, was never / just spent speaking with my ghosts.” In the final poem, she concludes: “This isn’t the life I sought out to live, / but I thank it, I’ll anoint the day in fragrance and oils, all parts of its soft / and delicate shell.”

The Seventh Town of Ghosts is a book of self-knowledge, about love in its many forms, and the “fury of togetherness.”


Reviewer: Shazia Hafiz Ramji

Publisher: McClelland and Stewart


Price: $22.50

Page Count: 104 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 978-0-7710-0445-2

Released: March

Issue Date: April 2024

Categories: Poetry, Reviews