“I am not fixed and there is nothing to mend” – Chérie Taylor Battiste launches Lioness

“I am not fixed and there is nothing to mend” – Chérie Taylor Battiste launches Lioness

by Althaea Sandover

Lit by the golden glow of fairy lights in a snug back room at The Tetley, Chérie Taylor Battiste performs poetry from her new book, Lioness.

The book launch is supported by Leeds Big Bookend, and features a reading of ‘He Remains’, a poem written by Chérie in memory of David Oluwale. On the night, we are each of us riveted as the poet abandons her mic to address the audience with her own fierce voice.

Hers is a story of interracial adoption, discrimination, partner abuse, and single parenthood, but the woman who stands before us is not cowed by these experiences. She speaks with the voice of the lioness; she is the unabashed namesake of the book which bears an enigmatic portrait of her own face.

There was a time when Chérie believed “people like me don’t write books”, which is why she chose to use her portrait. Her face radiates from the cover of Lioness as a signal to black women writers who might be inspired to follow in her wake. It’s a celebration of melanin, she explains to me during the book signing.

Kintsugi (金継ぎ, “golden joinery”) is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver or platinum.
— from the epigraph of Lioness

Lioness embodies the philosophy of kintsugi, a practice in which the metallic fault lines of repaired pottery are considered to add to the piece’s beauty, value and history. In a similar way, poetry allows Chérie to illuminate past traumas as a means to celebrate the strength of the survivor, rather than as an inventory of damage.

Despite a lifetime of reckoning with the disruption of being an adopted black woman who is disconnected from her roots and the target of racist abuse, Chérie is still full of fight. Reading with the percussive rhythms of spoken word, her poetry is her recovery, an act of narrative reclamation.

When asked about the title, Lioness, the poet points towards the nurturing and ferocious nature of female lions. It’s true that a certain tenderness is evident in her reading of ‘Strid & Chez’, which is about a lifelong friend to Chérie who is sat with us in the audience.

we cupped our hands around everything
found warmth in all the winters
and being there all along
— 'Strid & Chez'

‘Strid & Chez’ is a poem and a love letter; a grateful tribute to supportive, female friendship. As Chérie reads, pairs of women in the audience turn to each other with knowing looks, recognising their own enduring comradeship in her words.

Listening to Chérie speak frankly about her experiences, it’s impossible not to be stirred. Lioness is the culmination of a life forged in love, hardship, and hard work. It is the roar of a soul pieced together by kintsugi.

Here is a poet who shines like a beacon for women like her, and we can’t wait to hear more.

Read more about Chérie Taylor Battiste and buy Lioness on Valley Press. Follow her on Instagram (@cherietaylorbattiste) and Twitter (@LionessPoet).

Find out more about events associated with Leeds Big Bookend, and what’s on at The Tetley.

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