Seeing Voices: Poetry in Motion, by Kelly Sargent
Published by Kelsay Books, 2022
Review by Sharon Waller Knutson
Kelly Sargent’s powerful memoir in verse, Seeing Voices: Poetry in Motion is a profound love story of twin sisters, Kelly, hard of hearing, and Renée, deaf, born in a world they didn’t understand and that didn’t understand them, and the loss felt when they separated at the age of twelve.
I met Kelly when she made her debut on Verse-Virtual in February with two poems about her twin sister and I emailed her to tell her how much I enjoyed the poems. She sent me a copy of the manuscript and I was charmed and impressed with her wonderful writing.
Abandoned at birth in Luxembourg and adopted at age three months by an Air Force couple, Sargent writes about deep feelings of responsibility for her younger, smaller twin who cannot hear her own cries because she is born deaf. Kelly takes on the roles of teacher and sign language interpreter.
With exquisite imagery, striking symbolism, and spellbinding storytelling, Sargent expresses a range of emotions, from helplessness, frustration, and sorrow to delight, pride, and joy as the twins become mirrors and learn to rely on each other. When Renée enters the Austine School for the Deaf in Vermont when they are twelve, Kelly feels a loss as deeply as a death and must search for her own identity.
Each poem is powerful and poignant with lines as sharp as a slingshot that propelled me into each one, beginning with “Seeing Voices”:
My twin sister used to shut her eyes
to shut me up when we argued.
Born deaf, she held the advantage in any girlhood fight.
I had no choice but to be instantly
a remote control when static sounded like me.
I was mesmerized by an introduction to another form of communication in “Her Voice”:
One day, she would hear
with the nut-brown eyes, then lidded shut,
and speak a language that was already foreign to them.
foreign because they had four ears that weren’t broken,
they had four ears
that were broken.
In “Fruits of Labor,” I was fascinated by Sargent’s demonstration of how she taught her deaf twin to form speech:
I wrap your tiny hand around my throat,
size identical to your own,
for you to feel the sounds vibrating within.
In “Rumors of Spring,” there is the bittersweet letting go and pride as Sargent watches her deaf twin find her place by attending a special school for the Deaf:
Sunlight illuminated you
and struck you
I watched you play in teal-tinted rains
and marveled as your auburn hair
absorbed autumn’s last dusk.
“Kissing the Horizon” tantalizes with exquisite imagery as Sargent experiences separating from her twin:
Barefoot on the beach swings,
we used to watch the horizon bob —
where sunset unfolds in sleepy, dusty-rose hues
and sunrise yawns,
stretching golden limbs to greet the day.
Cradled in wispy silver threads
cast by a spool of smattered stars, we were
wrapped securely in a vast, uninterrupted galaxy.
Rich in symbolism, “The Quaking Aspen” powerfully speaks to Sargent’s mourning the loss of her twin and beginning her journey of self-discovery:
Dawn curtsies, and I weave the woods, recalling the ghost of my twin sister
by my side, gauzy fingers fluttering in a brittle breeze.
I shuffle at stubborn crabgrass long covering trails
once carved by four leather sandal soles.
She always wore red.
Parents too easily hoodwinked by identical, ten-year-old imps
had colored me blue.
I seek her still.
I seek it, still.
“My Voice” is stunning as Sargent shows the beauty in deaf self-expression:
I am Deaf.
My fingers speak
A coiffed paintbrush in my grasp,
my voice streaks turquoise and magenta
across a parched canvas.
In her swan song, “Poetry in Motion,” Sargent reveals the utter joy and excitement of the twins’ reunion and reveling in each other’s company:
Sipping from crystals imbibed
with rosé for me and white for you,
we grow giddy between samples of moonlight,
creamy and smooth on crisp linen.
Fingers spin tales before firelight
as silver-bangled spools unwind syllables
and pastel-polished nails paint on invisible canvases.
Seeing Voices: Poetry in Motion enlightens on the profound power of love, what it means to hear and be heard, and the mirrors through which we see, lose, and find ourselves again. I didn’t want to put the book down, and will be begging for the sequel.
Born hard of hearing and adopted in Luxembourg, Kelly Sargent grew up with a deaf twin sister in Europe and the U.S., and worked with deaf students in educational settings. She also wrote for SIGNews, a national newspaper for the Deaf. She is currently a Vermont writer and artist whose works, including a 2021 Best of the Net nominee, have appeared in more than fifty literary publications. She is the author of Seeing Voices: Poetry in Motion (Kelsay Books, 2022), also a finalist in the Cordella Press Poetry Chapbook Contest. She also authored Lilacs & Teacups (Cyberwit, 2022), a book of modern haiku, and a poem recognized in the international 2022 Golden Haiku competition was on display in Washington, D.C. She serves as Creative Nonfiction Editor of The Bookends Review, as well as a reviewer for an organization whose mission is to make visible the artistic expression of sexual violence survivors. Visit at http://www.kellysargent.com.
Sharon Waller Knutson is a retired journalist who lives in Arizona. She has published several poetry books, including My Grandmother Smokes Chesterfields (Flutter Press, 2014), What the Clairvoyant Doesn’t Say and Trials & Tribulations of Sports Bob (Kelsay Books, 2021), and Survivors, Saints and Sinners (Cyberwit, 2022). Her work has also appeared in Black Coffee Review, Terror House Review, Trouvaille Review, One Art, Mad Swirl, The Drabble, Gleam, Spillwords, Muddy River Review, Verse-Virtual, Your Daily Poem, Red Eft Review, The Five-Two and The Song Is…
Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.