A raw, insightful collection that evokes the detritus of war.

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TERMINAL LEAVE

Blake reflects on the cost of war in this debut collection of poems.

War is a famously difficult subject to capture. As Blake notes in one early poem, “I didn’t keep a diary because it was too late to start / So much had already happened.” Blake examines the ways war discombobulates the soldier, taking the familiar and making it unfamiliar or shifting the expectations of object or place. In “New Bullets,” for example, the narrator describes how important keeping track of bullets and their casings had been during training; even one unaccounted for round could shut down a shooting range. In war, this punctiliousness went out the window: “with careless speed and gluttonous greed / we stuffed our pockets and filled stiff pouches / more than could be missed or counted.” Likewise, in the poem “Shrapnel,” the soldier muses on the ways a metal object is transfigured by an explosion, fragmenting into bits that suddenly have neither a recognizable shape nor a purpose. “I feel like you now,” confesses the soldier, “Because since we met / In the hot Arabic dry space between two ancient emerald rivers / I’m changed in a way I can’t explain.” Up close, war is all fragments. The notions of precisely executed strategies and maneuvers are a product of distance, but the poet reveals how different things look on the ground: “to observe war is like a pair of scissors cutting a paper clean / to those in the spot the image is magnified / not a clean cut / but actually tiny fibrous strands being ripped apart / they see and live each decision.” It is an affecting, destabilizing lesson that lingers long after the soldier has returned from battle. Blake’s writing continually toggles between muddled and sharp. The lines are sometimes choked with too many monosyllabic words (though even these seem to mimic the unwieldy, dispassionate euphemisms of military language): “Hours of restless convoy daydreams / Anticipations voltage a constant power source / Whirring into motion the minds ability to escape / Transcending mechanized journeys through ancient orchards.” More successful are the moments when Blake allows himself to slip into the short, tight pattern of vernacular speech, adept as it is in expressing anger, fear, and boredom: “There were loud explosions in a nearby distance / So I grabbed some war things and opened a door.” Blake captures, in both the book and its title, the sneaky way that the war ends (or doesn’t end), lingering long after the flight home. The last few poems are set along the American coast, where beaches and surf no longer offer the relaxation they once did. A late poem, “Footing,” describes the inability to acclimate to life after war: “I didn’t move / no desire to wade deeper or retreat to the dry grainy beach / but the world paid no respect to my position and made me move / by removing every fleck beneath my heavy feet.”

A raw, insightful collection that evokes the detritus of war.

Pub Date: Nov. 25, 2018

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 409

Publisher: Finishing Line Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

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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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