A free-form, often thought-provoking verse confessional in the tradition of Leaves of Grass.

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RAISON D'ETRE, I

An epic, multipart poetry cycle about the nature of life and the transience of relationships.

James breaks up this debut poetry volume into six long segments: “a few letters,” “a new place,” “a new time,” “in distance, be,” “from ocean, sea” and “her song of legacy.” In each, he presents dozens of blank verse ranging from longer, sonnetlike constructions to much shorter, almost koanlike pronouncements (“is a man now? / is a man ever? / and (far more importantly) / is a man ... at all”). He delivers them all in a direct, clean voice with a bare minimum of standard poetic diction. This is plainspoken verse, often trying to capture very simple, fleeting, common experiences of life: “(just lying there, breathing) / (just lying there, feeling).” The poems frequently evoke the incredible power of literature and art to stir the emotions (“i have read the meditation of aurelius / and the hidden words of machiavelli / i have stood before the paintings of kandinsky / and cried with da vinci’s sketches”). However, the narrator is also a realist; time and again in these poems, actual, lived life pushes aside even the most enjoyable forms of art, as in one telling scene: “sitting at the cafe and reading dumas / a scalding cup falls on a boy / and dumas / be damned to hell.” Throughout, the poetry describes the seductive power of illusions, most often reflected in the discrete moments when they are shattered: “with one toe / he breaks the surface, / and fish swim away.” All along, the narrator observes everything with a storyteller’s sharp eye—“let me tell you / a short, little story / single man / in a single city / at a single point in time”—and a sometimes-urgent need to understand: “what are the four hidden truths? / tell me—and tell me quick.” A recurring hint of deep personal loss fills the final segment, “her song of legacy,” helping to make it the most involving, satisfying section of a collection that can sometimes be rather aphoristic.

A free-form, often thought-provoking verse confessional in the tradition of Leaves of Grass. 

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4935-0357-5

Page Count: 424

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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A volume of poetry and prose that offers heroic visions of urban African Americans.

SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR

A debut multigenre collection of short pieces presents vignettes focusing on the lives of African Americans from a variety of perspectives, both real and fanciful.

This eclectic anthology begins with an autobiographical sketch, “P Is for Pride and Perseverance,” in which King traces his early years from his 1979 birth to a 16-year-old mother to his incarceration for attempted robbery and his subsequent determination to do something positive with his life. “Baby Girl” reprises the story of King’s birth from his mother’s point of view, a girl whose teen pregnancy seems predestined by both her grandmother’s clairvoyant dreams and her own limited expectations. Other narratives are linked by shared characters, such as “Posse Up, Ladies First!” and “Thug Angel,” which provide somewhat idealized portraits of street gangs as building blocks of the black community. “Battle Kats” is an SF work about a group of humanoid felines from another planet who work undercover to defend Earth and its alien allies. The central section of the book is occupied by a collection of 21 poems. Some, like “Hold on to Love” and “Away From Home,” focus on romance while others, such as “The Rent Is Too Damn High!” and “Blockstars,” illuminate the experiences of working-class African Americans in inner-city neighborhoods. “Remember Me?” calls up the spirit of LaTasha Harlins, a young black woman shot by a Los Angeles shop owner in the early ’90s, speculating “I wonder what you could have been LaTasha?” King’s efforts to describe his personal struggles and the vibrant characters who populate impoverished black communities are ambitious and dynamic. His prose narratives are too short to feel really complete, but they deliver glimpses into a world mainly familiar to the urban poor, where drug dealing is one of the few available career choices, incarceration is a rite of passage, and street gangs view themselves as community leaders. While the author does have a tendency to romanticize life on the street, as in “Posse Up,” in which a girl gang maintains a strict “code of principles,” his writing presents a vision of what could happen if people worked to “play a part in the improvement of the community.”

A volume of poetry and prose that offers heroic visions of urban African Americans.

Pub Date: March 10, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4568-8093-4

Page Count: 124

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: Jan. 6, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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A nihilistic poetic remembrance that will appeal most to older teens and 20-somethings.

THE KING OF FU

Davis recounts the confounding pressures of his 1990s childhood in this debut memoir-in-verse.

When telling the story of your life, one might as well start at the very beginning. That’s exactly what the author does in this memoir, which he describes as “a thing like a very long lie to yourself.” Specifically, he tells of how “The White-Gloved Sheriff / kicked in the door / and / Pulled me” from his mother (whom he calls his “Supervisor”; he later calls her “the Computer Science Major,” “the Waitress,” and other occupational names). Unusually, he had horns and a lot of hair at birth, he says. He was immediately at odds with the people and other living things around him—his parents, his brothers, his family dog. As a toddler, he created an imaginary world for himself known as “FU,” which was “Filled with things that looked like me / And where things made sense / I was King.” His earliest years were characterized by horrible discoveries (school work, isolation, crushes, problems in his parents’ marriage), but his teen years proved to be an even greater series of highs and lows, involving confusion over geopolitical events, friends, computers, pornography, and marijuana. Like a novice who can’t quite figure out the rules of a game, Davis bumbles forward—all horns and fur and misunderstanding—inadvertently angering authority figures as he seeks an adequate method of self-expression. The poem is composed in short, direct lines, enjambed to emphasize particular words or phrases rather than establish a consistent overall rhythm. Davis’ idiolect is inventive in its names for things (siblings are “life partners,” pets are “prisoners,” teachers are “Part-Time Supervisors,” and so on), and his outsider’s observations of society are shrewd and often funny. However, the combination of snark and self-seriousness causes some poems to come off as petulant and cloying; as a result, it’s difficult to imagine anyone over the age of 22 finding the work emotionally affecting. Even so, the tone and style, coupled with debut artist Klimov’s truly engaging black-and-white illustrations should captivate readers of a certain anarchic mindset.

A nihilistic poetic remembrance that will appeal most to older teens and 20-somethings.

Pub Date: May 25, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-71806-449-2

Page Count: 143

Publisher: Nada Blank Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2018

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