The city takes away but also gives in this reflective collection.

Riding By

COLLECTED POEMS

In this debut compilation, a seasoned poet thinks back on a full life in the city that never sleeps.

Harris, like Walt Whitman, Hart Crane, and John Ashbery before him, is most decidedly a New York poet, and the throb and hum of the metropolis beat persistently underneath his best work. He was born in the city, and many of the poems in the early sections of this collection tell of his youth in its northernmost of boroughs; “South Bronx” opens, “The apartment a railroad / in a tenement barely / less old than the Civil War. / Long narrow hall leads to / windows that overlook / backyards overgrown…. / Dogs with bristled fur / sulk between scratches, growl / at short-cutting yard crossers / and one-eyed cats.” There is grit here—and abandoned pets—but the delicate attention to detail betrays Harris’ obvious love for the seedy homes and haunts of his younger days. The poet wouldn’t stay in the tenement, though; his working years would see him serving as an assistant district attorney, a criminal court judge, and an executive director of a city commission to combat police corruption. The geography of the collection reflects the author’s rise; “Sudden Squall at Church and Chambers Streets,” for example, is set near New York’s halls of power—the high courts and municipal buildings of Lower Manhattan: “The wind-whipped rain is / no respecter of freshly dry-cleaned suits / nor buttons loosely sewn.” Yet ultimately, New York is simply a backdrop for Harris’ deeper reflections on greater, more elusive themes: love, work, aging, death. This book is, in the author’s words, a “late-in-life compilation,” and an air of wistfulness (or is it regret?) fills the volume’s many corners. There are elegies here, and remembrances, but there is beauty, too. “Terrace on Central Park,” for instance, opens hopefully: “I sit in the shade and / savor the scent of / sun-lit street. / The pond that peeks / through leaf-laden boughs / adds an aquatic aroma.”

The city takes away but also gives in this reflective collection.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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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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