Evocative and lyrical free-verse poetry.

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THE LOST POEMS OF CANGJIE

THE XIAN SCROLLS

A translator offers two poem cycles—supposedly uncovered in two scrolls—that involve the politics of love and reading in ancient China.

This book includes a mysterious explanation about the unearthing of the Xian scrolls. The translator of these poems from Old or Classical Chinese into English, known only as E.O., relates that the anonymous archaeologist who found the two scrolls died under “mysterious circumstances.” This requires “circumspection” about the details of the scrolls’ location and the identity of E.O. and his contacts in China. These two collections of verses—“The Poems of Cangjie” (circa 2650 B.C.E.), by the Chinese historian, and “Visions of Cangjie” (circa 213 B.C.E.), by a poet and translator called the Sculptor—share vivid styles and themes. Both poets write in shimmering free verse about Cangjie’s forbidden love for the Yellow Emperor’s favorite courtesan and the consequences. The “furious emperor” forbids Cangjie to speak to the woman, and the historian, to circumvent the order, invents the written word to deliver his message to the object of his affection: “What you hear / is not what I hear. / I grieve / as at death.” Over 2,000 years later, the Sculptor demonstrates a similar ingenuity when he translates Cangjie’s poems onto a silk scroll. He hides that treasure, along with his own poems on a second scroll, in one of the hollow bodies of the terra-cotta army figures he labors to create. He thus saves both his and Cangjie’s work from the First Emperor’s massive book burning. Cangjie’s images are more concise (“Like your lashes / your hands flutter— / quails in a bush”) than the Sculptor’s: “One woman walked / as a falcon in soar.” The parallelism of the two collections remains pleasing in its symmetry. For readers who can let go of their need for undisputed proof that these are indeed lost poems, gems await, including this line from Cangjie: “Sly slip / of moon, / you made me wait the night / to see you.”

Evocative and lyrical free-verse poetry.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9848403-4-2

Page Count: 82

Publisher: Risk Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2017

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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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