motherworld: a devotional for the alter-life
by Destiny Hemphill
ISBN-13: 9780900575174 | $18 | 96 pages | March 1, 2023
“we bury ourselves like cicadas. upon the unearthing, the first instruction is to weep”
Praise for motherworld: a devotional for the alter-life
“mama say this earth will outlive this world,” Destiny Hemphill writes, and in this gleaming collection she gathers what of this life might bloom into another. Through rituals, hymns, memories, murmurings, chants, and psalms, motherworld convenes the women and waters whose routes mark an otherwise from the brutal arrangements of the here and now. This transformative practice is not for the faint of heart. Toni Cade Bambara asks: “Are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well? . . . cause wholeness is no trifling matter.” And here is a poet who answers with a resounding yes—her affirmation a root system, fortified by all the nourishment of blood and earth. Hemphill’s motherworld shimmers with that brightdark joy that is grief’s marrow. What luck and work to carry the instruction of these poems. I will be holding them close and pressing them into many hands.
— Claire Schwartz
motherworld transforms language into something map-like, topographical, somatic. A vast heredity speaks out in this beautiful collection of poetry—it is the multifarious self and all those that came before. A hymn of continuous death and rebirth is here. It is prophesy in a voice that is arresting and fierce. “i am trying to remold my mouth to speak more bravely,” Hemphill writes. She examines the past, but is not mired by it. Grief and love are emotions that are processed through the body, which is painful, but a means towards tangibility and revolution. This language-driven reality gives us something living to hold in our very mouths, and transform. These poems feel godly. And shared. This book shares a secret with the reader: “the earth will outlive this world.” And I for one needed very much to hear it.
— Bianca Stone
Destiny Hemphill summons us to poetry as ritual, and ritual as reminder. Reminder: “you are not alone.” Reminder: “we bonded to each other.” Reminder: “made boundless and bountiful with each other.” We are reminded that “this earth will outlive this world,” and that our abolitionist task is “to make the world come undone.” In this undoing, we are reminded “that when it / is not easy, this makes it even / more necessary to be sweet.” For this gift of poetry as sacred work, I am incredibly grateful.
— k’eguro macharia
This powerful collection compels us through the poetics of the matriarchy: “baby, you better feast!” and these poems nourish and sustain outside of time, and within it, fixed to the page through urgently inventive form and sonics that bring us breathe and listen together. Readers of Hemphill’s motherworld will remember and be convinced: “may we remember that we do not have to open up our wounds / just to prove that we have been wounded / may we speak that which is ours to speak” that language interfuses is as it disturbs and heals and transforms the world so that we may survive, if through language, we are also with it.
— Joan Naviyuk Kane
Destiny Hemphill’s motherworld: a devotional for the alter-life stuns with an incantatory power that heals, transports, and transmutes. It’s as if every poem has been tenderly and intensely embedded with an intention to raise a vortex of love while confronting the shadows that languish within personal, familial, and collective histories. From channeling an earth in distress to the summoning of ancestral lore, Hemphill proves herself to be a high priestess of language and a poet of oracular wisdom. This is a book to place on one’s altar.
— Mai Der Vang
My goodness. How long we have waited for the spirit, perception, compassion, wisdom of Destiny Hemphill. Conjuring the tough grace and interstellar knowledge of foreparents like Octavia, Audre, Reginald, Sun Ra, Gloria, Essex, Destiny’s work envisions a world of telling it p(l)ain, of tenacity, of permission to “remold [the] mouth to speak more bravely”. The generosity of Destiny’s work is to be revered. Let’s bow to this talented writer, let us raise this name in song, let us take a page out of Destiny’s book and say “we got you. we always lookin out. we see you”. Thank you.
— Metta Sáma
motherworld: a devotional for the alter-life is a masterful collection of afrodiasporic spells, memories, and invocations where “the first instruction is to weep.” Grounded in a Black feminist tradition, Destiny Hemphill’s poems teach us that dreaming is a discipline that structures of supremacy attempt to govern and erase. To combat this violence, Hemphill summons the poem as a cartography of imagination, reflection, and speculation where escapes into alternative worlds become tangible. What I love most about this collection is its invocation of community. In these pages, mama, grandma mabel, grandma nellie, and mama’s mama’s mama come together as if to chant at the rhythm of a heartbeat: “empire can’t catch us,” “empire can’t catch us,” “empire can’t catch us.”
— Alan Pelaez Lopez
Destiny Hemphill is one of my favorite poets writing today. The poems in motherworld: a devotional for the alter-life achieve a level of form and content that make me feel like I am learning a new language. The language of the community. The language of “mama-n-em.” The poems are full of desire and repetition, a desire to heal, to shed that layer of hurt like a cicada. The repetition becomes a vehicle in which the poem, reader, and speaker are transformed. Hemphill turns the “we” into a question in this beautiful collection. “When you hear us say we—that may mean you, yes. but mostly, it means who are you? who’s your mama? for whom have you been refuge?” So the “I” of these poems becomes too large for the page to contain, and we are made to look closely at our lineage.
— Tyree Daye
About the Author
Destiny Hemphill (she/her) is a ritual worker and poet based in Durham, NC. A recipient of fellowships from Naropa University’s Summer Writing Program, Callaloo, Tin House, and Kenyon’s Writers Workshop, she is the author of the poetry chapbook Oracle: a Cosmology (Honeysuckle Press, 2018).