Thought-provoking, incisive and entertaining; a remarkably well-rounded debut.

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Love Poems for Cannibals

Startling, cynical, satirical free verse about life among the postmodern ruins.

Keen’s debut poetry collection arrives at the party already a little drunk, a bit raucous and talking a mile a minute, but the longer the night goes on, the more sense it seems to make. After all, he’s not out to hurt anyone; he’s just trying to figure out where it all went wrong for all of us. With considerable energy and tightly coiled wit, Keen ranges across the political, spiritual and pop-culture landscapes only to find them all a little disorienting and largely bereft. “There is no sadness,” he writes, “But the fear of sadness. / There is no despair, / But the distraction from despair. / There is no suffering, / But the avoidance of suffering. / We’re living in bad times, / Biochemically speaking.” Regardless of where he looks, nothing essential remains. Love is sold “in bottles now, / and smells like aftershave,” Christ is “lost in all the traffic” and “so far away from now.” Even your sense of self is suspect: “In this cellular moment, / This eternity / Among strangers, / You see / Yourself / In bits / And / Pieces, / Impossible to describe.” Trapped by the postmodern condition and yearning for the teleologically secure time “before the world was shattered,” Keen’s narrators respond in seemingly the only way available—playing their own language games, answering absurdity with absurdity and papering over fragmentation with pastiche. Meditations on death are peppered with popular advertising slogans, and the apotheosis of Western civilization is reduced to Michelangelo’s David infested with maggots. With no certainty, even of the self, the poems join in the cannibalizing of culture, seeking irony in unexpectedly ironic situations. Amid the brutality arises humor, and Keen ably joins a long tradition in American avant-garde poetry of lampooning demagoguery with poems like “The Demystification of Henry Kissinger” and “Even at Night All Snakes Swallow Their Prey Whole: Looking Back at Arafat & Some of His Peers.” Supporting the politics, satire and social commentary is a more than capable, sometimes beautiful verse that relies heavily on repetition—from anaphora to choral refrains—and startlingly precise imagery (“sway-backed surgeons, / Peeling human skulls like eggs”) for great effect.

Thought-provoking, incisive and entertaining; a remarkably well-rounded debut.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2013

ISBN: 978-1470182687

Page Count: 166

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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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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