A stark, striking collection of inward-looking theological poems.

TOWARDS A NEW PIETY

Bussan (This Is Me, Not Robert Creeley, Speaking, 2017, etc.) stakes out his vision of religiosity in a collection of short poems.

Faith presses up against its limitations in Bussan’s poems, whose abbreviated lines and sudden line breaks seem to struggle against their own boundaries, as in the opening “Towards a New Piety, X,”: “The challen- / -ge of that t- / -wo-fisted pr- / -ayer, and b- / -arrel-chest- / -ed faith, th- / -e times are / calling for, I / am answe- / -ring.” These strained, stuttered lines illustrate the deliberation that’s required to speak even short statements simply. In other poems, in which words aren’t split, the syntax is still fractured and reordered, creating a puzzle to be reassembled: “As, / on water, / Jesus did, / one step / at a time, / desire paths, / on dry land / I’m making as / I go along.” The poet also develops a self-centered theology in which he reworks prayers and Scripture to place the speaker in the role of God or other religious figures: “The godman in me, / 3 times before the sun sets, / I will not deny,” reads the haiku “Daily Affirmation.” The speaker wryly sets terms for a deity in which he can believe in “Deal Breaker, IV”: “Any god who’s never / experienced betrayal, / is no friend of mine.” The overall result is an empowered, individual theology—one that’s often found in the modern world. Bussan’s poems are short—frequently fewer than 30 words in length and sometimes in the neighborhood of 10. Even in these Spartan spaces, he finds humor, as in “Alpha and Omega,” in which the speaker sees a bit of himself in Christ: “An ageless hipster, / Christ, the first, and last, hipster, / liberates in me.” The poet grapples with his influences as well as with deities; references to Robert Creeley, Charles Baudelaire, Søren Kierkegaard, Stephen Crane, and others dot the pages’ cemeterylike terrain. The vision that emerges is not a groping or questioning one, as one often finds in poetry that touches on God and religion, but rather confident and firm. Despite his rejection of so much orthodoxy, Bussan ends up positioning his speaker as a sort of holy man. Poems such as “Structural,” which is shaved into slender columns, offer the speaker as a stylite, rejecting the world from atop his pillar: “When I, / from my / faith, / the orna- / -ments, re- / -move, / I see how / it st- / -ands.” It’s a book that reads very quickly and yet invites rereading; one wishes to return to dismembered words, which take on greater importance the more that they appear. It can be difficult to come up with new poetic approaches, particularly when tackling religion, but Bussan’s fragmentary efforts—which feel simultaneously of the current moment, of 70 years ago, and of 2,000 years ago—stand out in a landscape of undercooked verse.

A stark, striking collection of inward-looking theological poems.

Pub Date: July 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9726884-3-7

Page Count: 60

Publisher: PSB Publishing

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 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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