In Fearful Beloved, Khadijah Queen braids various poetic forms, including letter, prose poem, and erasure, to explore the nature of fear and its effects on the female body. The result is a polyphonic and ambitious collection, one that circles wide registers of feeling and experience.
Vignettes of erotic encounters are foregrounded in the book, with the line between violence and want often blurred. Consider the poem “Coronado,” which bluntly opens: “Ask a woman who has had her nipple bitten off if she liked it.” Other poems, especially in the recurring series “Dear Fear,” function as open surfaces that allow the speaker to pause and reflect, or even plan her strategy, as in the lines: “When I write it also feels like listening,” and “I sharpen the leaden blade of my voice.”
Among the most powerful poems in the book are first-person narratives touching on Queen’s service in the navy, like this section from “Bodies of Water”:
Because of our son, we were not in Yemen
when the tug pulled up—men smiling
as they waved, then exploding—
turning 39 people to steel-grey
ash and more into zombies, the lucky ones
only breathing in the midship blast
flattening their lungs, or losing their feet
to the crumbling deck below them.
Many of the titles in Fearful Beloved borrow place names: Manhattan, Louisiana, Tulare, Upper Peninsula. In this way, place begins to read as a secondary body, the book as a map of remembered scenes in which the speaker has lived, loved, and feared. Against these geographical guideposts, Queen positions a voice that seeks to pinpoint the body’s internal, shifting landscape:
What was between them is vanishing. She wonders why, just now, she begins to feel
the bruisable monument in her turn into a bouquet of red lilies.
One way this book creates meaning is through its radiant layering of pain and beauty, these intersections always at the center of Queen’s gaze: “blue-tongued / & sharp-mouthed, I stood / between beasts & thorn trees & waited.” A reader looking for clear emotional distinctions will not find them here. Instead, Queen writes toward the complexity of lived experience, seeking a poetry that moves, through the power of clear voice, toward a self “loved openly and without shame.”