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La Kalima ~ A Fourth Collection of Poetry
by Sharmagne Leland-St. John
Reviewed by Ed Bennett
ISBN: 978-0-9764244-3-7
65 poems, 84 pages
Publish date: November 2010
Price: $15.00 U.S.
Quill and Parchment Press, USA  and Wynter Blue Publishing Canada, Inc.


As mentioned, this is Sharmagne Leland-St. John’s fourth collection of poetry and,  like her previous collections, she  ranges  widely across the terrain of love, need, longing, family, friends, nature and, for good measure, a prose piece. Each poem is shaded subtlety and cut with the precision of the geometric shards of glass in a kaleidoscope. Turn the pages and the poems fall into magical, mysterious shapes that strike at some Jungian nerve in the reader. It is difficult to take this book in a single sitting since the reader will find themselves putting it down and running over the words again, fitting them into their own personal memories.

Before I go any further I need to state that Ms. Leland-St, John has been a friend for the last two years. We have shared and critiqued each other’s poetry and have collaborated on one that appears in this collection (Feminicidos). When she requested that I review this book, I was quite thrilled and jokingly asked her in an email how obsequious she wanted me to be. Her response was swift, terse and blatantly obvious: “be honest”. And, that said, I am charged to review this work as it was written.

A significant portion of this book consists of poems dedicated to friends and family. The number of them (10) creates a microcosm within the collection where the poet explores the themes she covers in the book but from the standpoint of her relationship with each of the people mentioned. There is an intimacy here that is shared with the readers. Her poems “Things I Would Have Given My Mother Had She But Asked” and ”Autobiography of a Young Girl: Chapter 1” are either about or reference her mother yet the dedication is “For Rosebud”. Many of these dedications are elegies like “I Might Come Home Someday” dedicated to her husband, the late Richard Sylbert. While the sadness is palpable the reader feels the push from sadness to celebration of the life that was shared. What seems at first to be a straightforward and simple emotion becomes more complex as one reads each line until the final line where the full weight of many emotions are laid out before the reader. This is the subtle shading of the passion in Ms. Leland-St. John’s work.

Sharmagne Leland-St. John is known to many as a Native American poet and her poems “Spirit”, “Grandfather Wind Song” and “Indian Corn” definitely echo her heritage. Even more, however, she reaches beyond her past and her lineage into the broader issues where poets should be. Her poem “Lorca” recreates the last few moments of this martyred poet’s life with a wistfulness that almost allows one to hear Lorca’s words whispered by the wind. “Feminicidos”, mentioned above, deals with the wholesale murder of young women working in Mexico’s maquiladoro corridor who are unmourned except for Ms. Leland-St. John’s words. There have been articles in some of the poetry journals mourning the dearth of social protest in modern poetry. I am pleased to announce that it is alive and doing quite well in this collection.

Her greatest strength is her love poetry, possibly the most difficult type of poetry to do well. She writes of love bravely, allowing each vulnerability to be cataloged, each pain documented. In “Without You” she writes:

I miss your
as I sink

In “June 22, 2010" she asks:

it’s not even
a lover’s moon
so why do I cry?

Lennon and McCartney may have told us that “All You Need Is Love” but Ms. Leland-St.John shows us how it is done. Her poem “Things I’ll Do Now That He’s Gone” shows that she is no shrinking violet as she creates a “to do” list of arcane and somewhat addled items that need to be done now that her narrator’s lover is gone.. Those of you who have read her work will see the reflection of her Pushcart Nominated poem “I Said Coffee”.

La Kalima is more than a collection of poetry – it is a tour de force covering the world we all live in. It is not just a set of descriptive poems with clever imagery and metaphors. La Kalima turns the universe on its cosmic axis and shakes our perceptions out of their assigned pigeon holes so they fall at our feet and we need to look at each one carefully to understand its new place. Her vision is not handed down to us, as with some poets, but shared with an intimacy one finds in Whitman at his best. This collection is not a lecture, it is a conversation with a lady possessed of a unique vision and a true feeling for her audience.

Editor's Note:

Sharmagne will be presenting her poetry and signing books at the following venues in November:


11/07/10 with  Dean Pasch ~ Stories Books n Coffee n Stuff  ~ 1716 Sunset Blvd ~ Echo Park,CA ~ 90026 ~ (213) 413-3733

11/14/10  with  Dean Pasch ~ Beyond Baroque, 681 Venice Blvd ~ Venice, CA ~90291 ~ 310 822-3006


Please check with each venue for times.

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