Things I Have Witheld by Kei Miller
Sometimes while reading this book, I did find myself in awe. I have been impressed with Kei Miller’s writing before but Things I have Witheld is a completely different avenue from his fiction. Even as I finished the introduction, I knew I was reading something I would come back to. Once again, I was given an opportunity to admire that Kei Miller never wastes words in a book. There is a beauty in being able to build harmony through all your ideas and display that plainly in your sentences. In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a fan.
Things I Have Witheld is a collection of personal essays that examine the significance of silences in personal, societal and racial contexts. There are spaces filled with what we do not say- What is implied and whose interpretation matters? Why were we silent? Through 14 brief essays, a nuanced set of experiences are explored: Trinidad Carnival, family dynamics, colonialism, sexuality, Liam Neeson. In “This Is How We Die”, even an eerily impactful recount of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder. There were a few moments when the silence can even become the readers’
Vulnerability in witholding
I really appreciated Miller’s vulnerability in weaving his own personal silences into the book. Kei Miller is speaking as his true self here, its evident even in his direct language and his movements into Jamaican dialect. I really like that he made these switches without explanation- the contexts spoke for themselves. Throughout the essays, all aspects of his person- His physicality, his Blackness, his queerness, his gender privileges are examined through his own experiences of witholding thoughts, feelings, words, information. You realise how important that is to Miller when reading his letters to James Baldwin (essay 1). He notes that Baldwin spoke of the “Poetic Trick” of a writer being the ability to be “within the experience and outside it at the same time” to write about experiences but not be broken by them. Things I have Witheld definitely has that impact- its undoubtedly poetic- deeply personal without being drowned in sentiment. Enough to move a reader
As Miller moves through the Caribbean, England, Canada, Ghana and more, there is an effective element of travelogue that reminded me of Emmanuel Iduma’s A Stranger’s Pose . It speaks to what is immutable , even when the body is transient. The body is moving across the globe but histories, the crimes, the perceptions that haunt it remain.
My only fear in writing reviews for books I love is that I am never sure I can do them justice so I’ll just say this: Read this book
Things I Have Witheld by Kei Miller published by Canongate in 2021