Reviewed by Ellie VerGowe | February 13, 2019
I first heard of salt. by Nayyirah Waheed at a gathering of Seattle artists. The speaker for the evening was an artist and activist whom I look up to, and I asked her how we could take the painful parts of our stories and create art from them, with the aim of healing ourselves and the world. She recommended that I read Waheed’s poetry as it helped her do that very thing. As soon as I cracked open the pages, I knew I had what I needed. These words have sunk into my bones. Each poem is brief. You could read through salt. in one sitting, but you’ll want to sit with the rich words and savor them.
Waheed is known for her short Instagram poems (@nayyirahWaheed, with more than 670,000 followers). She describes herself as a “quiet poet,” but her poems addressing pain, relationships, race, feminism, colonization, and much more bring truth and sensitivity to the wounds of our lives and give us what we need for the journey. Her words challenge me and bring me to spacious places—of grace, peace, vulnerability, courage, and strength. I lead contemplative services in our church and neighborhood, and I’ve often used Waheed’s poetry for these meditative practices. I also sit with these poems in my own devotional life.
Much of the church culture I’ve experienced in the United States has told me to always be happy because of God’s saving work on our behalf. While I do experience deep joy at being in relationship with God, I also need permission to grieve what has come my way and what isn’t yet as it should be.
Waheed’s poems give readers permission to sit with their pain and hold themselves gently in it. Readers are given permission to listen to the Spirit and work for their own thriving and the thriving of all in the spaces God has placed them.
The short poems gracing the pages of salt. invite me to do the inner work of listening to myself and to the Spirit within me. They give me courage to run after my wellness and go outside into our neighborhood and build good and hopeful things. I recommend the treasure of these words to adult or teen readers and even to friends who don’t love reading poetry. Waheed’s masterful work could make contemplative activists out each of us.