Strong, moving poems of reflection in a fine collection.

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This poetry collection searchingly considers the ambiguous role of the poet as a mediator between soul and nature.

In the title poem, which also stands as an epigraph, Collins (Psalmandala, 2014, etc.) establishes his stance: because “Soul never presents in its own shape” and “can only stalk sunfaces from their shadows,” the soul’s presence must be discerned from clues, as a hawk’s flight reveals the wind that it rides on. But the observer also creates, so that clouds, for example, make him or her “imagine horses / become horses: horses become gods.” The way that the soul mediates the divine doesn’t, however, get us any closer to the soul, as our “similes bleed out.” And because “entropy claims / every dawn,” we’re left to figure out a way to live, “to imagine / wandering on” in a world of appearances. For the poet, this means long walks around the harbor, which serves as a central image and metaphor throughout the collection. Although the word “harbor” has connotations of haven and safety and is said to be a place that calls out our authentic selves (“We are each ourselves at the harbor: / Runners run, readers read, children play”), it’s also depicted as a constantly changing threshold, a route to the mythic “Underworld.” The speaker’s longing for spiritual connection is constantly tested by the harbor, with its oil spills and stench of death. Collins’ use of language in this collection, and especially of verbs, is fresh, and he employs forms that help to convey the feel of his speakers’ daily walking meditations. In several poems he writes of the impulse to render the world in poetry and the natural world’s resistance to being reduced to metaphor. In “Ars Poetica,” for example, a nest-building bird momentarily “seems my soul,” teaching a poet to move between worlds as fledglings are taught to move between nest and sky. But, looking up after writing his poem, he sees that “She is gone.” Collins also addresses how imagination can interfere with one’s ability to discern realities, such as the cycle of life and death. For example, a speaker remembers how, as a child, he saw a caught fish gasping out its life—now he “hear[s] myself think look, the fish is playing”; on the harbor ice, gulls are shown dropping clams to shatter their shells, “again, again, again, again, forever.” Still, though his poems are often serious, melancholy, or rueful, Collins can also sometimes laugh at himself. One especially strong poem, for instance, is “The Sacrosanct Mallard of Mamaroneck Harbor,” in which the speaker satirizes his own tendency to epiphanize, claiming that it’s not his fault: “Listen, Jesus, it wasn’t my idea / for this mallard to stand on the dock / stretching his wings out all crucifixiony.” In the final section, the speaker becomes willing to live in mystery, guided by the soul’s “impossible eyesight” that discloses other worlds "by what imagines to contain it.”

Strong, moving poems of reflection in a fine collection.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9969074-5-3

Page Count: 82

Publisher: Saddle Road Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 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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