Speller explores the intersections of race, sex, violence, and art in this experimental poetry collection.
The author attempts to show the effects of gender and racial injustice by weaving together anecdotal and linguistic expression. Many of these poems use dialogue as their centerpiece. Conversations are sometimes staged between prominent political or literary figures such as Angela Davis, Crazy Horse, Picasso and Eldridge Cleaver, while others serve as archetypal characters, constructed to showcase specific societal ills. These interactions yield miscommunications, sexual discoveries and unlikely alliances. For example, “Transition…,” the shortest poem in the collection, reads: “In the body of Christ / Dubois looked at Martin, / ‘Martin, what do you think?’ // Martin looked down / tried to suppress a certain cry / reaching, he wiped a tear / from Du’s eye.” While readers gather that these interactions are meant to demonstrate the speaker’s stance on various political phenomena, this position is sometimes lost in abstraction and florid phrasing. One grandiose evasion is found in the poem “Chinatown”: “Shall we stand here with our mouths gaped in astonishment when life reinforces love and death?” Strewn with broad questions, big declarations and exclamation points, many lines might register as melodramatic. While the poems aim for concrete details and scenarios, images tend to be vague and disorienting. Lines in which an image clicks into place, however, are unmistakable. These phrases convey an idea or metaphor in a unique way or have a particularly strong sonic value. In the poem titled, “Picasso ~ The Bohemian,” readers will find one such moment: “riding the fugitive cube / with the wasp waist and black aft / eucharistic grapes and the curl of the rind….” The poem, “Queen” also contains the shimmering description of a “coca cola coochie,” and “Triptych Some Syncretism” is endowed with the gem, “the exploding heart of the vulva.” Even though these poems are collected in a book, readers will immediately wonder how they sound aloud, as they often possess the rhythms and cadences of performance poetry.
Confident and indelicate; goads readers to insert themselves in difficult discussions about relevant cultural matters.