The award-winning manuscript, She Tries Her Tongue, is a book-length linguistic and feminist odyssey in which Nourbese Philip documents her triumphs over the uni-voiced, uni-verse-all, white forces of the English language, Christianity and tradition. At the book’s core is a chant that should become famous for its music and bravery.
–Phil Hall, Books in Canada
Â Philip asserts herself at the intersection where South meets North, rupturing words and concepts…in search of a new path to redirect and rearrange the logic of her literary tongue.
When Haitian born author Danielle Legros Georges was asked which books had had the greatest influence on her. “She Tries her Tongue” and “Looking for Livingstone” were the first two books she named.
“This slim volume conceals an enterprise of epic proportions. Caribbean-born poet M Nourbese Philip has undertaken the difficult post-colonial dialogue with English, the conquering language, â€˜a foreign anguishâ€™. The challenge is colossal â€“ to weave between the poles of â€˜standardâ€™ language and dialect, exposing the history of inevitable oppression when a new world is grafted upon an unwilling people by means of an alien tongue. Then there are the hierarchies of gender and capital which are ingrained in language. Philip asks, â€˜in my motherâ€™s mouth shall I use the fatherâ€™s tongue.
… a thoughtful and resonant collection.”
–Urvi Patel, Wayne Ellwood and Louise Gray, New Internationalist
The brilliant audacity of Marlene Nourbese Philip’s language supports the potent images that give this book a level of lyrical intensity attained by only a few poets.
A haunting, intelligent poem about Black loss and exile, About the wombs of language and culture. About being whole, about resistance,..a ‘must read.’ –Claire Harris
“This…is more than a book of poems. It is a shamanistic medicine bundle in which she wraps the mother tongue of ancestral speech”.
— Elizabeth Anthony, Kingston Whig-Standard
By wedding two different kinds of English, Philip creates a new musicâ€”a paperbound cool jazz or dancehall reggaeâ€”in Canadian poetry.
— George Elliott Clarke, The Daily News
“â€¦Philipâ€™s poetry encompasses an all-inclusive verbal awareness.”
— Mark Ford, The Guardian
She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks is a political statement of the tenacity of black female livelihood, of our rebellion against our colonizers, of our defiance through speech”
— Rozena Maart, Fuse magazineÂ
The poems do not flinch; they indict and admit incredible pain in order to cure and grow. Nourbese Philip’s questions are difficult, and of an intensity of insistence rarely achieved in poetry….read this book and know.
— Erin Moure, Books in Canada
Urvi Patel, Wayne Ellwood and Louise Gray,Â New Internationalist, 1995.
“(Nourbese Philip) defines her language as â€˜Caribbean demoticâ€™, and is principally concerned with evolving a literary style that fully reflects the speech habits of both her native land and inner thought patterns. Many of the bookâ€™s poems directly confront the dilemma she encapsulates in a bitter pun -Â â€˜language l/anguish anguish -a foreign anguishâ€™Â â€¦Philipâ€™s poetry encompasses an all-inclusive verbal awareness.”
— Mark Ford, The Guardian -June 16 1995
This, the third collection by Marlene Nourbese Philip, a black Caribbean-born Canadian, is more than a book of poems. It is a shamanistic medicine bundle in which she wraps the mother tongue of ancestral speech, that blackened stump of a tongue / torn / out / withered / petrified / burnt / on the pyres of silence.
— Elizabeth Anthony, Kingston Whig-Standard
She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks is a political statement of the tenacity of black female livelihood, of our rebellion against our colonizers, of our defiance through speech, of our commitment to talk and verse and the continuity of our history through the verbal tradition, of our clenched fists raised in salute to the continent which gave birth to human civilization, of the uncut umbilical cord with the continent from which we were forcibly removed, of the knot tied tightly and still bursting with speech.
— Rozena Maart, Fuse magazine
She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks, is a multi-voiced poetic exploration of language, gender and racial identity…writing in and against English, Prospero’s imperial tongue. …(It) is a text haunted and obsessed by language but Philip brings to the concern with language a feminist conflation of language and gender….Philip’s takes a lot of risks as she pushes language to its limits, questing and questioning through etymologies, grammar, linguistics, history and mythologies.
— Nadi Edwards, University of West Indies
“Discourse on the Logic of Language,”(5) a poem that although sculpted out of the colonial experience — exploitation of peoples, destruction of mother tongues — manages to reconfigure poetic conventions to do away with notions of objectivity and universality….Â Like the women represented in this poem , writer Marlene Nourbese Philip discovered that she could not challenge the history without challenging the language she has inherited, and ultimately “without challenging the canon that surrounded the poetic genre” . Her redefinition of the word margin as frontier, for example, indicates precisely the struggle Caribbean writers face at decolonizing self, language, and history: “And when we think of ourselves as being on the frontier,” she writes, “our perspective immediately changes. Our position is no longer one in relation to the managers, but we now face outward, away from them, to the undiscovered space and place up ahead which we are about to uncover — spaces in which we can empower ourselves” .
— Maggie Ann Bowers, Wasafiri -No 23, Spring 1996.
— Julia Deakin, Everywoman, -August 1995.