“From Chains to Freedom: A Journey of Freedom for the Black Male” is a quintessential example of Michael’s singular ability to distill his most private emotions onto paper in a way that instantly draws the reader into his shoes. In a recent interview with NPR, film director Barry Jenkins noted the potential for movies to become “empathy machines”; mechanisms by which total strangers are effortlessly pulled into the lives of others with very difference experiences than their own. To Michael J. Robinson, poetry is his “empathy machine”.
Take for instance, “Being Black”. There, he dives the reader straight into a world of sorrow, paranoia and pain (all based in reality and the poet’s own personal experiences) before yanking the reader back out of a bleak depth like a fish reeled from the ocean when “he remembers his mother’s kiss.” The line “He sees himself as others don’t” stands out as a note of defiance in this weary world.
“From Chains to Freedom” is not a comfortable read. “Comfort” is not the point. Removing the readers from their comfort zone is. Yet for all Michael J. Robinson’s description of a struggle shared by far too many and perpetuated far too long, the poet concludes on a remarkably hopeful note. Indeed, my favorite line out of the entire work comes from the second to last piece, titled “Some Place Special”: “There is a place where the sun speaks to the moon”. It’s this beauty amongst the pain, sorrow and death that would be dizzying or worse, exploitative, in less adept hands. But Michael J. Robinson doesn’t just know how to use his words, but he understands why he uses them.
I believe that makes all the difference because Michael’s ultimate message to his readers is that despite the pains of today, hope exists all around us should we heed it. Afterall, he reminds us, “there is a place where the sun speaks to the moon, while the mountains listen to the winds’ singing. Life is found in the trees as the sun whispers[…].
Fay Pappas is a practicing attorney and the former editor of Brushing, the literary magazine of Rollins College (Winter Park, FL). From Chains to Freedom can be ordered directly from author Michael Robinson by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org