Rapturous rumination that’s sometimes dazzling and at other times, dimmed.


The impact of light on the human spirit is examined from religious, philosophical, and poetic perspectives in this debut literary meditation.

Babbitt (English/Hobart and William Smith Coll.), a co-editor of Seneca Review, arranges this text around a series of essays on books of hours—a genre of medieval Catholic illuminated manuscripts containing prayers, Bible excerpts, and sacred calendars. His loose-limbed commentaries explore the devotional content of the books and their tangible artistic features, including the feel of the parchment pages. (Babbitt also includes gorgeous color photographs of manuscript illustrations.) Threading through these essays is the story of Ireland’s Saint Columba, who illicitly copied a psalter belonging to St. Finnian—an ethical lapse that seemed blessed by God when Columba’s fingers started glowing with light. Babbitt takes this legend as a celebration of the divine union of light and language in “illuminated” religious literature. The essays, and especially their marginalia, wander into tangents, such as Babbitt’s boyhood memories of serving as a Catholic altar boy; the Norse god Odin’s quest for secret knowledge; and an anecdote about a British scholar who got so excited at deciphering an ancient Sumerian account of the Great Flood that he ecstatically tore off his clothes. Apart from a few lapses into academic jargon—“Scripture is the Lacanian symbolic. God is the Lacanian real”—these meanderings are erudite and engaging. Babbitt fleshes out the prose with separate poems. Some of these have religious themes, inspired by the canon of the books of hours. There are also landscapes, vignettes about birds and dogs, and intimate looks at relationships. Light imagery features prominently in most of them. The poetry is heavy going—dense with allusions, obscure asides, and untranslated Latin and Greek. Occasionally, as in “De Sanctissima Trinitate,” a stanza gels into a well-shaped poetic proposition, in this case about the mystery of the Holy Trinity: “some mysterious, reasoning thing / puts forth the mouldings / of its features from behind / an unreasoning mask.” More often, poems unfold in disjointed sprays of impressionistic imagery. In “All Along the Reservoir Road,” these form a coherent tableau to catch a traveler’s eye: “pile of bones, bag o’ bones / sun bleached scattered / progress is a winter / and no one planted the flowers growing in the lawn.” But sometimes, as in “Ad Laudes,” the jumble is so cryptic as to defy parsing: “something is a light—sun helps us / somewhere by taking / the eye’s capacity—quo ferrea primum / desinet ac toto surget gens aurea mundo / he might even constitute / the abyss—tuus iam regnat Apollo—.” One notion Babbitt discusses in a prose section is that, rather than light's existing to illuminate objects, objects exist to register the efflorescence of light. One may be tempted to take an analogous approach to much of his poetry here—basking in the washes of vividly visual language without worrying overly much about what mere things it may signify.

Rapturous rumination that’s sometimes dazzling and at other times, dimmed.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-944682-89-7

Page Count: 90

Publisher: Spuyten Duyvil

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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


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.


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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