In this winner of the May Swenson Poetry Award Series, Hutchins (The Stranger Dissolves, 2011, etc.) explores the impact of memories in emotionally and linguistically complex poems.
With heart-rending images, Hutchins uses the power of the ordinary (“How dare the ordinary be brutal and needing us”) to create textured connections. She moves from highly personal experiences to shared histories. Worn shoes epitomize the effect of a father’s Alzheimer’s disease and death in “Cleaning Out The Garage in 1968”: “and it was an old shoe / dried into the same stiffness / laces untied and dangling and / shadow where your foot should be / the leather tongue / still molded to the known / curve of your high instep.” In “Linseed,” she stands witness to the persistence of nature in the face of the evil of the Holocaust: “Who knew at Auschwitz the grass would be/ so very green?” Her attention to language adds to the intricacy of her poems, whether by exploring language itself in “Between Pages of the Dictionary” or playing with it in “The Music Inside”: “ ‘Ring,’ I said. / I sang, ‘wrangle, wrung.’ ” She expertly weaves melodic language with references to nature, music, history, nursery rhymes, mythology, religious tracts, and more, which gracefully and pointedly guide readers through her themes. However, the intended depth of some references is not always obvious. In “Eye of the Storm, Pescadero Coast, 1972,” readers easily feel the plight of farm workers, “Along worn cliffs / in the farm workers’ small-windowed shacks, stoves / burned into the dark of the day. / It was Sunday, but only the storm made it / Sabbath. In flooded fields, unharvested / Brussels sprouts clung to their stalks.” Only through endnotes, which aren’t used for all references, do readers discover the poem alludes to California’s record 1972 rainstorms when Cesar Chavez fasted to support the United Farm Workers’ boycott and the 1939 farm workers strike led by Filipino labor leaders. The collection will be of interest to all readers, but it will be best suited to academics and serious poetry lovers.
An elegantly crafted, dense work that invites readers to travel on spiritual, philosophical, and historical journeys.
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.
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.