AFRICAN AMERICAN POETRY

From the Poetry for Young People series

A sampler worth sampling, despite pallid illustrations and a roster entirely made up of dead or veteran poets.

Kitted out—as usual for volumes in the Poetry for Young People series—with biographical headers and an outstanding introductory overview, the 33 short selections follow a generally chronological course. Atypically, the editors steer largely clear of explicit racial or religious themes in their selections. Phillis Wheatley’s pointed “Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain, / May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train,” and James Weldon Johnson’s “The Creation” stand as exceptions. Along with contributions from James Baldwin and Richard Wright (both better known for their prose), notable additions to the standard African-American poetic canon include 19th-century writers George Moses Horton and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper. More-recent meditations from Melvin Dixon (b. 1950) and Elizabeth Alexander (b. 1962) also help to freshen up the collection. Sadly, what vivacity these poems retain is sucked dry by Barbour’s monotonous successions of sad, big-eyed faces and drably colored collages. Well-intentioned, and at least as valuable for its editorial additions as its lyric contents. (index) (Poetry. 10-13)

 

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4027-1689-8

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Sterling

Review Posted Online: Dec. 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2012

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It may take readers a few rounds to fully appreciate and understand the loose, unassumingly sophisticated narrative that...

OVERHEARD IN A TOWER BLOCK

POEMS

This slim volume of more than four dozen poems of varying lengths charts the narrator’s course from childhood in low-income urban housing to adolescence to young adulthood and fatherhood.

The unnamed narrator personifies the unforgiving public-housing tower block as a “zombie” hungry for human lives and memories. He dodges a bully in “Smashing Snails in the Rain” and overhears an “Argument”: “The monster / With a roar made up of shouts,” whose “jaws snap / Like slamming doors” and whose “claws clatter / Like kitchen drawers.” His father gives him the perfect pair of red sneakers in “Trainers.” These shoes return many times across the collection, acting as a possible symbol of the boy’s hero worship of his often absent father. As the boy enters his teens, he goes from confident to awkward to embracing the changes his body experiences in “Man…I Had It Made.” In later poems, he has his first kiss, gets exam results, and leaves home for the first time. He becomes a father, “whose heart thumps solely for his / daughter.” Poetic forms vary, with some rhyming and others not. Readers may have difficulty understanding the trilogy of sophisticated poems based on the myth of Prometheus. Race is not mentioned, and the flat, unemotional black-and-white sketches provide few clues.

It may take readers a few rounds to fully appreciate and understand the loose, unassumingly sophisticated narrative that joins the poems. (Poetry. 10-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-91095-958-9

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Otter-Barry

Review Posted Online: Aug. 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017

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BEAST FRIENDS FOREVER!

ANIMALS IN RHYME

Forbes tenders a curiously wayward collection of animal love poetry.

“For soon they’ll grow up and want to go play / With game skunky guys for a sniff and a spray.” Sure, if educated fleas do it, then skunks do it: They fall in love. But Cole Porter might have framed it differently, as it seems a little rich for 7-year-olds, the starting audience for which this book is disingenuously pegged in its marketing: 7 to 70. Elsewhere, readers will find “a pig whose name is Squig,” a “camel named Kim” and a “doe gazelle named Mellow”—not to forget “[t]wo raccoons, Liz and Rick” (whose name suddenly turns to Dick in the last stanza), none of whom will tickle too many 60-year-olds. And for such a handsome production—the paper is lovely, and the reproductions of Searles’ illustrations, with their wonderful spidery, anarchic linework and trails of color that leave afterimages, are terrific—it is jarring to find “unfatihfulness” and “morning dove” (though the last occurs in one of the better poems, about a sea gull leaving home—the beach—because he is tired of the soggy French fries). Of the 27 poems here, Forbes best hits his stride in the longer pieces, especially “Down at the Old Mill Inn,” with its cast of unsavories kept in check by the headwaiter. Unfortunately, the extended poems are too few and far between, though Searles’ artwork (he died in 2011) saves the book’s bacon. (Poetry. 10-12)

 

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-59020-808-3

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Duckworth/Overlook

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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