Well-crafted, sensitive poems that movingly convey liminal experiences.

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THRESHOLD DELIVERY

This collection examines tradition, family, mahjong, and more in lyric poems.

Seyburn (English/California State Univ., Long Beach; Perfecta, 2014, etc.) has previously published many of this collection’s pieces in literary journals. The title refers to delivery services—generally for large, heavy objects—that stop at one’s front door. This concept connects to “Davenport,” one of several prose poems in this book, which begins: “When I asked the men to bring my couch inside, they shook their heads: threshold delivery, ma’am and I pictured them lovingly carrying my movable the way a bride once was hoisted.” The image of a couch being lifted recalls a Jewish bride being elevated in a chair amid celebration. From here, the poem, as if to take over from the deliverymen, lifts each image forward and links it with new ones. Finally, says the speaker, “I cannot run as fast now but have much better endurance,” suggesting what eventually lies over the threshold. This poem is in the first of the book’s three sections, which is often haunted by themes of night, memory, and loss, and the speaker’s mother is a recurring figure. Despite these serious associations, the poems also show sly wit, as when the speaker imagines her mom impatiently waiting in the afterlife’s anteroom: “Lend a mirror so she can put on / her face and bring a little artifice / with her.” The poem closes by considering the temporary nature of liminality and of crossing from life to death: “If you never had a foyer, // you’d imagine it / more grand than it was: really, it was / just a threshold, a place / to arrive, pause, abandon.” In the middle section, “Mah Jongg: An Homage,” the poet reflects on a game that’s popular with older Jewish women, examining mahjong’s images, rules, history, and lingo as well as the nature of luck. She links these elements to a problem that Jewish people have often been forced to confront throughout history: how to handle the cards that are dealt to you. These thoughtful, smart poems unveil layers of imagery and significance: “Every mahjj tile, symbolic. / Sometime you wish they, along with everything else, could mean less.” But the tiles don’t mean less, requiring constant vigilance: “The goal is to improve your hand. // The goal is self-improvement.” The final section’s poems again conjure the speaker’s mother as well as painful memories, psychic scars, and the need to speak out: “I do not forget, this is one / of my great gifts,” says one poem; in another, even “the angel of silence…wants to live aloud.” The urgency of this need comes out in several poems, as in the final piece, in which the speaker’s mom, Shirley, is given the closing lines: “no sound is dissonant…which tells of Life.” Fittingly, “Life” is the closing word of this collection—an affirmation that the poet earns by honestly engaging with the specifics of memory, both collective and personal.

Well-crafted, sensitive poems that movingly convey liminal experiences.

Pub Date: May 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63534-929-0

Page Count: 86

Publisher: Finishing Line Press

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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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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