Family Reunion by Grace C. Ocasio
"'Show me how to play my hands like an overture to ballet.' Over and over again, in her second collection, Family Reunion, Grace Ocasio invites the reader to become voyeur to an honest unraveling of identity and personal perspective. Family Reunion reminds us that the well-traveled heart always returns home and so does the poet in her presentation of a journey that dives into the depths of the human condition…personal loss, love, dreaming, redemption, and reclaiming. Each line is measured with metaphorical precision; reminding us that every emotion is valid.
"These poems are powerful whispers, incantations, and benedictions. Ocasio weaves spirit-charged and relevant heirlooms into a historical tapestry that spreads memory beyond constructs of elusive time and space. Her execution of well-honed poetics delivers seasons of unmatched skins, out-of-step footsteps, ripe whimsy, and unmeasurable sorrow. The distinct unpretentious sensibility of Family Reunion proclaims, amplifies, and sharpens our imaginations."
—Jaki Shelton Green, Poet Laureate of North Carolina
"A documentary in verse, Grace Ocasio’s Family Reunion details one family’s history as America’s past and present in a beauty rare and emotionally heart-felt. Family Reunion is an aria of accuracy and promise."
—Shelby Stephenson, former Poet Laureate of North Carolina
"Not a history, not a photographic album, not a scrapbook; this book is, as the title directs, a family reunion. A gathering of extended family, a congregation of individual people whose stories inscribe pivotal points in the narrator’s life. Packed with hard truths and disquieting observations, Grace Ocasio’s Family Reunion is an intimate, unapologetic discussion. Detailing tenacious, heartbreaking, resilient, tender recitals, these brilliant poems shine a light on the ties that bind a family while also making us consider who we are amongst the people we love, live. In small moments of devotion, moments of privation, memories of death and moments frozen in memories of protests, we understand many spheres of existence. Through marriages, motherly knowing, garden parties, and even washing dishes we discover the foundations of a life fortified through the heartache, pain, growth, and transformation scaffolded around an unsafe world. This is a brilliant book; I urge to you read it."
—Geoffrey Gatza, author of Apollo and A Dog Lost in the Brick City of Outlawed Trees
Family reunions are special occasions, a time for connections, reflections, for meeting new members, remembering those no longer with us, more than a little gossip (a good reason not to miss one if you don’t want to be the one talked about!) and (mostly) good-natured kidding, occasional recriminations and grievances aired or confined to knowing side glances, and perhaps most importantly, the chance to pass on and keep alive the history and lore of the family from one generation to the next. Grace C. Ocasio’s Family Reunion is all of these things, and in reading this book we are privileged guests at just such an event, invited to hear the stories of her relatives across multiple generations.
Because this is an account of an African-American family, it is necessarily in part a chronicle of racism and injustice and thus a contribution to the poetry of documentary witness. There are moments of tragedy (a child permanently brain damaged by being dropped by a nurse at birth) and indignity (a woman denied a Ph.D by Harvard because of her race), but also triumphs (one man becomes a celebrated physician, and many in the family graduate from college and go on to successful professional careers—including the author). These poems speak candidly of the experience of being Black in America. But that is not all that they do. What they reveal most of all is how this one family’s story manages to be both uniquely their own and simultaneously universal, because we can all recognize ourselves and our own messy histories in these pages, whatever our race or origin.
We’ve all encountered that uncle, that grandmother in our own families; we’ve heard the lectures (or given them ourselves) on hair and clothing, behavior and expectations, the suitability of suitors, all the friction at generational boundaries. Now, more than ever, we need to be reminded that we are all one family—however dysfunctional. To say that Ocasio does this with grace may be an obvious pun, but it is also the truth. The book ends with a brief prose account of a family reunion that is hilariously chaotic, leaving the author with "hysteria welling in my throat." Well, that’s family for you! But what a treat it is to get to know this one.
A two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Grace C. Ocasio’s second full-length volume of poetry, Family Reunion (Broadstone Books), received an honorable mention in the Quercus Review Press Fall 2017 Book Award Contest. She also placed as a finalist in the 2016 Aesthetica Creative Writing Award in Poetry and was a recipient of the 2014 North Carolina Arts Council Regional Artist Project Grant. Her first full-length collection, The Speed of Our Lives, was published by BlazeVOX Books in 2014. She has published poetry in Rattle, Court Green, Black Renaissance Noire, The Chaffin Journal, Minerva Rising, and many other journals. Her chapbook, Hollerin from This Shack, was published by Ahadada Books in 2009. She is also a member of the Carolina African-American Writers’ Collective, a group founded by distinguished author, Lenard D. Moore.