“Of all the rooms in my home, My closet was a mess.  Not my kitchen or my living room, But space I did not share. Why was it that my own spacepure reflection, was in disarray?”

-Denise Sarkor, “Clean Closet,”2016

So begins the titular poem “Clean Closet” in Denise Sarkor’s debut collection of poems published through New Roots Development. Sarkor, a contemporary Liberian poet, writer, and entrepreneur, expertly weaves together a journey of self-care, coming of age, rebirth, and redemption as she makes us privy to the project of spiritual cleansing. With each turn of the page, the mission becomes clear and one can vicariously enjoy the weightlessness and triumph of a cleared mind, body, and heart.

The book progresses chronologically, punctuated by chapters which mark integral periods in the author’s journey from sanctuary to sanctuary. Throughout the book we are invited to explore places, people, and things the author has called “home.” While one can easily start anywhere, a cover to cover read allows readers to truly appreciate the evolution from girlhood to womanhood as home is found in both inanimate and animate things along the waywhether it is in love or pain, one’s mind (closet) or thoughts, Africa or North America, or in the joy of cooking and self-nourishment.

The opening poem is written as a memorial to the Liberian Civil War and the author’s first journey away from home, as a refugee fleeing war with her family. In the  poem titled “Double Dutch,” we follow the author to her new home in the United States as she enjoys the simple pleasures of being a young girl in New Jersey. “Home” in this instance, is found in the ability to just be again. In the poem titled “Breath is Life,” Sarkor offers us an existentialist declaration of purpose and triumph. “To breathe is to err, Fall down, rise again, Lose your footing, Then stand, my friend.” The closing words of each first stanza easily a rubric for life“live,” “love,” “err,” “triumph.” The poem ending prophetically with two words that seem to hang in space and time“Try again.”

Sarkor’s voice rings strong and resilient as we continue through a poignant self investigation. In chapters entitled “Choices and Consequences,” “Know Thyself,” and “Love’s Gym,” there is celebration, introspection, and scrutiny. There’s also the welcomed and powerful ownership of the entire human packageflaws and all. “African Queendom” and “Whole” resonate with strength and conviction as the closet is slowly brought to order and the author arrives at a clearer vision and creation of herself and her place.  

In the end it’s the irony of the spaces we create for others juxtaposed against those we create for ourselves that seems the overarching moral. The things we hide and the things we show. The things that can build up in a closet while working to make others comfortable in their spaces, while possibly sacrificing the sanctity of your own. Spaceswhether in Liberia or New Jersey, whether in the comfort of a mother’s home or perhaps within a lover’s liesbecome the recurring theme. The author finally finds “home” within her own space and cleared closet. A space, finally, just her own.

As we reach resolution, readers also find peace in the home Sarkor eventually defines in chapters entitled “Abundance” and “Coming Home,” with poems so vividly descriptive one can taste the finely chopped collard greens and peppers. The sensory beauty of her words allowing one to even smell the glory of “a mean fish gravy” or thyme. The book concludes with poems entitled “Air” and “White as Snow,” leaving readers with the weightlessness and triumph of eventual spiritual redemption. We arrive together at the “Sanctuary” and are left inspired ourselves to “Clean Closet” and to never fear beginning again.

In this first book of “The Clean Series,” Denise Sarkor arrives in a space on her own and invites readers to continue on with her as well. One is left anxiously awaiting the next book in the series, “Work + Love.”  An overall pleasure to read and a book that can be picked up time and time again for motivation, self-reliance, recovery and empowerment.

In the Author’s words:

Ezibota: When did you first consider yourself a writer?

Denise Sarkor: I started writing at a very young age; generally speaking, I’ve kept journals since middle school. “Peace of Mind” and “Ode to Mangoes” were published in 2001 and 2002 when I was in high schoolboth by the International Library of Poetry. I wrote those poems, however, a few years prior at the age of 12.

Ezibota: How do you think you’ve grown as a writer since then?

Denise Sarkor: I think the major way in which I’ve grown has been in my contentthrough living, through life experiences such as my first job, getting married, going through divorce, etc. These key moments in my life have allowed me to write on topics that more people can relate to. Interestingly enough, I still love the lens of innocencethe perspective of a child, which I will be bringing back in the 3rd installment of the poetry series.

Ezibota: How difficult was it for you to decide to publish knowing that this was a very personal work?

Denise Sarkor: When I released Clean Closet, it was with purpose and so, it wasn’t difficult. Timing is everything. Once I understood the power in my experiencesonce I embraced the fact that on any given day I receive a call from someone asking how I got through personal challenges, I realized there was a calling for me to sit with others as they heal and chart their paths forward. In that moment, I decided to publish Clean Closet, poetry I had been writing mostly throughout the past three years. Surrendering to this reality, I’m presently working on becoming a certified life coach so that I can walk alongside others as they recreate themselves and open up to love again; I want them to know that a better life is very possible with a plan and that in the grand scheme of things, a few stumbling blocks are not enough to prohibit them from a fulfilling life.

Clean Closetfor mehighlights how challenges in our lives force us to truly see ourselves. Although not always easy, this is necessary.

At some point in life, we will all face a stop sign when we think we should be moving forward.  I want readers to know that it is okay to be still in that moment and when the time is right, start again.

Clean Closet is now available wherever books are sold, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble. For more information on the author, you can follow her blog at www.denisesarkor.com. For information on future publications by New Roots Development, visit them online at www.newrootsdev.com.

This post is part of our quarterly theme “Contemporary African Stories.” Click to learn more about this series.

Freda Koomson
Freda Koomson is a Healthcare Management Professional of Liberian & Ghanaian descent, born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. She enjoys writing, West African dance, food, cooking, travel, learning new languages, and engaging in civic activism.
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