Kantor (Shadow Sounds, 2010) explores the dreams, dementia, and death of her mother in this memoiristic volume of poetry.
Poetry can be a path to closure, and closure is what Kantor seeks in this collection about her mother, Miriam Gants. From the prologue poem, “I Only Saw the Stars,” Kantor reveals that her father was a louder presence in her childhood than her mother. Addressing Miriam, she writes: “Daddy / was excitement, / fear / and fun. // You / were safe.” Yet Kantor sets out to better understand this quieter parent, gleaning what she can of her mother’s life from old family photographs and memories from her own childhood. One affecting poem, “Irony,” tells of how Miriam finally attempted to assert her individuality after the death of her husband. Then come poems dealing with Miriam’s slide into dementia and the strain it put on the mother and daughter’s increasingly one-sided relationship. Grief-filled poems deal with Miriam’s death and Kantor’s attempts to move forward with an honest, loving memory of her mother. Dancing through the book is an image of Miriam’s ballet shoes; an aspiring dancer from early childhood, Miriam forever damaged her feet by spinning on her toes when she was 5. This didn’t keep her from a lifetime love of the art, which she and Kantor would watch together on TV. Her bittersweet passion became a metaphor for the unrealized dreams of her life, and her shoes are now a treasured (if tragic) heirloom for Kantor to pass on to the next generation. Kantor is a minimalist when it comes to verse: plain language, simple syntax, no distracting conceits. A poem, for her, is often the exploration of a single, pared-down image, with no superfluous information or detail. The narrative forms like a necklace of beads, with the truly inspired images shining like gems. In “Back To Before,” dementia-plagued Miriam feels the textured paint of a museum seascape with her fingers: “There’s no point in telling her / not to touch. // Compelled, // she’s rediscovering / the beginning // at the end.”
An evocative, concentrated rendering of a complex relationship.
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.
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.