Spare, compact poems with rich allusiveness.

THIS IS ME, NOT ROBERT CREELEY, SPEAKING

A set of poems that often pay homage to other poets in their explorations of love, memory, spirituality, and desire.

In his latest collection, Bussan (A Rage of Intelligence, 2013, etc.) shows his engagement with Robert Creeley’s work in terms of that poet’s compressed style, enjambment, and playfulness with word order. As in Creeley’s 1979 collection Later, Bussan emphasizes themes of time and memory. Bussan’s opening, titular poem speaks of “A new labor, not / entailing sweat nor death.” This appears to refer to Creeley’s work “Heroes,” in which the speaker quotes the Cumaean Sibyl’s reply when Virgil’s Aeneas asks about visiting his father in the underworld: “hoc opus, hic labor est” (“this is the task, this is the hard work”)—getting there is easy, the poet seems to say, but returning is difficult. Creeley’s poem continues: “That was the Cumaean Sibyl speaking. / This is Robert Creeley,” concluding that “death also / can still propose the old labors.” Here, Bussan proposes a “new labor” that has nothing to do with sweaty hard work (per the Sibyl) or with death (per Creeley). Just as Creeley goes beyond the Sibyl’s words, Bussan goes beyond Creeley’s, speaking for himself in this poem and in the book as a whole. It is, itself, a labor—a task he’s set for himself whose production could be said to relate to a return from an underworld. Like Creeley, Bussan employs subtle internal rhymes (“only I”; “Delphi”) and increases the poem’s impact with unusual word placement. Several other poems in the collection effectively play with word order in this way, such as “The Test,” which begins “Tired of, / before the swine, / casting pearls, I….” Bussan’s allusiveness can sometimes be confusing, however; for example, “At the Tubes of Liberty” will be a puzzling phrase for those who are unfamiliar with Pittsburgh. It’s not unusual for poets to write after a respected poet, and this book does include some examples of this. However, Bussan’s bolder stance is to write beyond them, as in “Beyond W.C.W,” “Beyond Robert Duncan,” and “Beyond Lew Welch.” This stance doesn’t always lead to an engaging payoff, though, as in the William Carlos Williams–referencing piece: “So much does not / depend / on fountain pens / that are / disposable / when they / are all out of / black ink.” Although this mimics the structure of Williams’ 1923 poem “The Red Wheelbarrow,” it kills its engine—Williams’ insistence that something that seems insignificant requires attention and demands memory. Also, readers already know that a disposable pen is insignificant and replaceable. Similarly, “Fairmont Hotel, SF, CA” is “Inspired by Donald Hall’s ‘Gold,’ ” but it’s a much lesser piece. In other poems, however, Bussan’s compression works well, like pressure that creates diamonds; “Bonnie and Clyde” is one such jewel, reading in full: “Other than / the robbing / and the killing / and the running / and the ending, the way / it should be.”

Spare, compact poems with rich allusiveness.

Pub Date: April 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9726884-2-0

Page Count: 53

Publisher: PSB Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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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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