The Waxing and Waning Poetics of A-lan Holt’s Moonwork

September 22, 2016 · Archives, Artists, Featured, Poetry + Short Stories

A response to A-lan Holt’s collection of poems on falling in and recovering from love.

Moonwork is for the lovers, skeptics, and alchemists. It’s for the ones who keep trying.

Do you remember that time when you fell in love? Maybe not the first time (or second), but that one time. The one you entered into more seasoned and self-aware but somewhat hesitantly, with an ending marked by blazing heartbreak. The end could have been like thunder or the quiet burn out of a flickering flame–either way, it changed you and is probably etched into your memory. Do you remember what it smelled like? Their skin, their hair, their sweat on the pillow, or the clothes they sometimes left behind? Do you remember what it felt like? Hand to hand, cheek to cheek, chest to back, lip to lip. How did it taste? Do you remember the sound of their voice or the rhythm of their breath as they slept? Do you remember when the love shifted or what their absence felt like? And do you remember the process of finding your footing again?

A-lan Holt’s Moonwork is as much a story of restoration as it is a story of love. The deep indigo covers on the 28-edition handmade hardcover version are marked with gold and grey lettering, colors that become metaphors for the celestial highs, lulls, and ocean floor lows of her progression through a tidal bond. Written like a hybrid between a journal and a series of love letters in real-time, Holt pens a series of poems about the charming newness and unshakable tenacity of relationships set to the soundtrack of the cycles of the moon.

Moonwork Hardcover by A-lan Holt

The limited edition, hardcover version of Moonwork, produced by Candor Arts, 2016. Photo courtesy of Candor Arts.

Honest and unrestrained, Holt’s openness makes it difficult to know whether she ever expected anyone other than her to read these words. It unfolds in a voice that left me wondering how I was granted access to some of her most private and vulnerable thoughts. She writes about the the glorious awkwardness of her earliest encounters with a new love and the persistent uncertainties in the back of her mind as her feelings grew. She revels in the magically mundane moments. She discloses the calibration that was necessary and the process of picking herself up while and after the love waned. And with the stamp of an Indigo hand, she speaks to the unforeseeable transformation that comes with motherhood.

Lovers know this story well. We’ve heard it before in films, poems, and songs. Our mothers, our sisters, our friends, and we, ourselves, have lived some form of it. But even so, what makes this book deserving of a slow read is how exquisitely the story is delivered. Holt enters the territory of all the world’s love, joy, and pleasure scholars–from the well-referenced to the undefined writer whose thoughts remain locked in notebooks or envelopes holding pages never sent. Within that house, she finds a seat at the table built particularly by women who have traversed love’s terrains, survived to tell the tale, and have dared to do it all again. And those who, like Holt, recognize that a situation which seems like a curse could, in fact, hold a cure.

I read the book cover to cover several times before going to her Chicago reading and release at In House this summer. When I left that night, I did what I always do. I mined the contents of my personal library and pulled a stack of books, essays, songs, articles, and notes that I often come back to. In this case, they were writings by those love scholars who had put into words the things about love that are hard to pour onto the page because they’re wrapped up and wandering in countless other emotional pathways–happiness, pain, privacy, vulnerability, honesty, desire, trust, preservation, parenting. When the difficult task of putting this emotion into words threatens to leave a page empty, these writers are ones who provide inspiration and reassurance by letting us know that we weren’t the first to land here, in love. They tell us, through careful, critical thought or emotive spills, that many have been here before, many will come after, and there’s a good chance that love isn’t finished with you yet.

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 8.32.43 AM

A-lan Holt at the reading and release of Moonwork at In House, Chicago, June 2016. Photo courtesy of Candor Arts.

I could write, overwork, then destroy sentences trying to give you a glimpse of Moonwork. But I truly believe that the work belongs to each of us individually, as readers and, hopefully, as lovers. You just need to read it. But prepare yourself. Reading her memories might force you to confront your own. If you are one who loves fiercely, you owe yourself the chance to reflect, dig deep, and potentially find your cure in the resonance of Holt’s experience. Shake off the residue of heartbreak. Use your alchemy skills to create a healing elixir.

Until then, I offer you the words of women who have waxed, waned, and experienced the tide. This is the space that Holt enters into. And hopefully, with the help of these other fire-writing lyricists, you’ll be compelled to relive A-lan Holt’s journey, and your own, for yourself.

For Moonwork
Excerpts and and writings in full.

And I would be the moon
spoken over your beckoning flesh
breaking against reservations
beaching thought
my hands at your high tide
Over and under inside you
and the passing of hunger
attended, forgotten

Darkly risen
the moon speaks
my eyes
judging your roundness

Audre Lorde, from On a Night of the Full Moon

Why can’t I remember
The day I melted before your charms
Oh was it way back in September
When you held me in your arms
Now that I see that you’re the one for me
It’s no more a mystery
Love has fallen down on me

Chaka Khan, from Love Has Fallen On Me

I did not just fall in love. I made a parachute jump. No matter which way I probed him, I found something more to admire. We fitted each other like a glove.

― Zora Neale Hurston,
I Love Myself when I Am Laughing…and Then Again when I Am Looking Mean

Take my trembling hands
Kiss my busy head
And I will hold your hand
And we can paint our story red
We can paint it together
And I’ve been waiting for you

Laura Mvula, from Kiss My Feet

and I forgot to tell you
I have heard you calling across this land
In my blood before meeting
And I greet you again
On the beaches in mines lying on platforms
in trees full of tail-tail birds flicking
and deep in your caverns of decomposed granite
even over my own laterite hills
after a long journey
licking your sons
while you wrinkle your nose at the stench

Audre Lorde, from Meet

Don’t try to blow out the sun for me baby
I’m not asking for what I know can’t be
All that I ask is a kiss a day
And I’ll give you love that’ll never go away
Yes I will
I wouldn’t ask you to lift up
This great big world little baby
I’m not that kind of a girl

All that I ask is a smile or two

― Nina Simone, from That’s All I Ask

Last night
I conquered my fears
put out waving flags
smoking flares
road signs
and flashing arrows
pointing you to the secret places
where my passion waited feverishly
only for you.

Gloria Wade-Gayles, Discoveries

I’m in over my head.
I don’t think of you
as bits and pieces.
I think of you only
like a miracle.
Loving so deeply
I feel it through all my past lives.
It feels good.

Brittany Howard, from Over My Head

i found it
of all places
under the bed. . .

that hug
you left

i thought by mistake
until it
curled itself
around my toes

then i knew
left it there
on purpose.

Saundra Sharp, (hug)

I could stand out in the cold
grow gray before I’m old
have my story told, but I just wanna love

it’s all you.

I can dance myself to bed
get songs stuck in my head
drive my daddy mad
but I just wanna love

it’s all you.

Sye Elaine Spence, from You

I ask the impossible: love me forever.
Love me when all desire is gone.
Love me with the single mindedness of a monk.
When the world in its entirety,
and all that you hold sacred advise you
against it: love me still more.

Ana Castillo, from I Ask the Impossible

Okay, we didn’t work, and all
memories to tell you the truth aren’t good.
But sometimes there were good times.
Love was good. I loved your crooked sleep
beside me and never dreamed afraid.

There should be stars for great wars
like ours.

― Sandra Cisneros, One Last Poem for Richard

You can trip, flick a switch negative,
break the circuit between us.
But electricity lingers
in our fingers

You can burn every fuse and refuse,
turn your positive minus.
Electricity lingers
in our fingers

Wasn’t it kind of wonderful?

― Lianne La Havas, from Wonderful

It used to feel like heaven
Used to feel like May
I used to hear those violins playing our strings like a symphony
Now they’ve gone away
Nobody wants to face the truth
You won’t believe what love can do
Till it happens to you

Corinne Bailey Rae, from Till It Happens To You

we used to talk all night
and do things alone together

and i’ve begun

(as a reaction to a feeling)
to balance
the pleasure of loneliness
against the pain
of loving you

Nikki Giovanni, Balance

We are not lovers
because of the love
we make
but the love
we have
We are not friends
because of the laughs
we spend
but the tears
we save

I don’t want to be near you
for the thoughts we share
but the words we never have
to speak
I will never miss you
because of what we do
but what we are

Nikki Giovanni, A Poem of Friendship

The heart of a woman falls back with the night,
And enters some alien cage in its plight,
And tries to forget it has dreamed of the stars,
While it breaks, breaks, breaks on the sheltering bars.

Gloria Douglas Johnson, from The Heart of a Woman

Occasionally the child, too, is a pleasure, though mostly she is a joy, which means in fact she gives us not much pleasure at all, but rather that strange admixture of terror, pain, and delight that I have come to recognize as joy, and now must find some way to live with daily.

[cont…] It hurts just as much as it is worth. What an arrangement. Why would anyone accept such a crazy deal? Surely if we were sane and reasonable we would every time choose a pleasure over a joy, as animals themselves sensibly do. The end of a pleasure brings no great harm to anyone…

Zadie Smith, from the essay Joy

I am grateful to have been loved and to be loved now and to be able to love, because that liberates. Love liberates. It doesn’t just hold—that’s ego. Love liberates. It doesn’t bind. Love says, ‘I love you. I love you if you’re in China. I love you if you’re across town. I love you if you’re in Harlem. I love you. I would like to be near you. I’d like to have your arms around me. I’d like to hear your voice in my ear. But that’s not possible now, so I love you. Go.

Maya Angelou

It’s so much better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
I know that’s some easy shit to say
but I’m still gonna try to live by it
I’m still gonna try to put my faith to rest in it
I will sleep on dry pillows now
In a bed big enough to love myself in

Mayda del Valle, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before

It’s a difference from loving somebody and being in love with somebody. You can love anybody, but when you in love with somebody, you looking at it like this: You taking that person for what he or she is no matter what he or she look like and no matter what he or she do. You might stop being in love with them, but you is not gonna stop loving that person.

From the Interlude between Doo Wop (That Thing) and Superstar on
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

I won’t pretend that I intend to stop living
I won’t pretend I’m good at forgiving
But I can’t hate you
Although I have tried

I still really really love you
Love is stronger than pride

Sade, Love Is Stronger Than Pride

In my heart I can fly
and I cannot disguise my love.
There is no time to.
And I wouldn’t know how.
The constellations tonight
are so fiercesomely bright, my love.
I have no fear left.
I am Atticus now.

― Shingai Elizabeth Maria Shoniwa, from Atticus

And despite it all I still believe in magic.
I believe magic teaches us to break spells.
Tonight the spell is broken, is shattered into
pieces I still find sometimes when I am in bed, alone
tonight is one for forgiveness
I mean
yes, tonight is one for

A-lan Holt, February 4, 2014


Purchase a hardcover or paperback version of Moonwork here.

All photos courtesy of Candor Arts.
Listen to the referenced songs here.

Processed with VSCO with m3 presetTempestt Hazel is a curator, writer, artist advocate, and founding editor of Sixty Inches From Center. Her writing has been published in the Support Networks: Chicago Social Practice History Series, Contact Sheet: Light Work Annual, Unfurling: Explorations In Art, Activism and Archiving, on Artslant, as well as various monographs of artists and exhibition catalogues.