Exuberant, uncensored and wise free verse informed by a benevolent relativism and populated with social outcasts.
Hill’s poems may surface from the depths of a savage city, but savage is hardly the adjective that comes to mind when reading them. Rendered in careful but vibrant language and filtered through Hill’s gently self-deprecating wit, even the grittiest of his poems evince a nonjudgmental candor and a tender concern for human foibles. East St. Louis pervades these poems, not merely as a setting, but as a sort of code, a paradigm and sometimes as a character itself. East St. Louis is the place to find a one-legged prostitute for $10; “a city of immorality and deception / where looking at the wrong woman / can get you killed” and “[taking] one in the leg” is just part of “an ordinary night.” Yet it’s also the place where “taxes are lower” and “people got soul,” where “Glamorous Candy” will pull you into the bathroom and “make life interesting.” Here, you’re part of “a dangerous, exciting, chaotic place.” Hill’s characters are not characters in East St. Louis; they’re characters because of East St. Louis. In fact, amid the scattered topics this collection covers, the one steady theme is the essentialness of context, which Hill explicitly addresses in “Fritangas,” a poem about a Colombian street food, a “beautiful food that comes / with children and dogs and flies / with dirt and smoke / with grease and hoke.” However, when the mayor attempts to clean up the street vendor operations—no “dogs and flies, / no dirt, no smoke, / no grease, no hoke”—the decontextualized fritangas “taste simply awful…clean as a virgin’s kiss.” Comparisons to Bukowski and his dedication to the down-and-out of Los Angeles are inevitable and accurate; Bukowski fans will be hooked immediately. Undeniable, too, is the Beat influence—jazzy rhythms and narrational confessions that echo Gregory Corso, or the long-lined, epic free verse shot through with barely contained eroticism and Eastern religious figures that calls Ginsburg to mind. Hill’s strengths are as varied as his topics. He has the eye and the sensitivity to convey a raw experience without compromise or condescension.
Intoxicatingly fun; disturbing yet hopeful.