Diehl’s debut poetry collection showcases the arduous search for human connection and self-understanding.
In free verse poems that combine strong metaphors with prosaic passages, the poet wanders along a lifelong path of self-knowledge. She first describes it as a “pilgrimage…to accept what’s been deemed unworthy inside us,” and the trail leads to important insights. In a plainly stated yet necessary reminder, the author asserts that being human, despite the loneliness one may encounter, “is not a solitary pursuit.” Above all else, the book voices a desire for transparency in the self and in others. In “Clear Stream,” moving water illuminates objects within it, even as mystery waits at the bottom, and the water’s clarity corresponds to the speaker’s offering of his- or herself to view: “Here I am. // Come see me if you want.” Sometimes the tumble of words in these short stanzas suggests a pouring forth of injury: “It’s the show-stopping blow of loss upending a heart pain over pain till capacity for love regulates its beating.” Readers will understand a back story involving love and loss, difficulty in communication, sadness, and acceptance of children growing up. The poems gain strength from well-chosen accompanying images, including sketches and paintings by Dimenichi and colorful works by Jamaican-born painter Powell that enrich the verbal landscape. Several full-page images by each artist appear, suggesting a thematic connection or amplifying an emotion in a given poem. A richly textured, grand illustration of a tree by Dimenichi, for example, appears alongside a poem that celebrates the inspiration of such towering entities. A poem concerned with self-reflection joins a Powell painting of floating, twinned female forms. The figures seem to both depict and satisfy the speaker’s need to be seen, with their emphasis on mirror images, body doubles, and echoes of shapes. Even the windshield of a car can be a “two way mirror” behind which the driver is “invisible to life outside.” An explicitly female body is glimpsed in the sketches, and the warm, dreamlike compositions give it substance.
Poems and images that ask readers to appreciate a searching body for its beauty and grace.
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.