The bleakness may be hard to take, but Sexton’s talent for social commentary and character sketching marks him as—in a title...

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Relentless pessimism about the state of the nation infuses Sexton’s (Paper Moon, 2013) accomplished poetry and short fiction about down-and-out drifters and starving artists.

Though also a surrealist painter, Sexton proves adept at delineating character portraits through short fiction and verse. In this mixed-genre collection, most poems and short stories are only a page or two. The title piece, about hard life and untimely death in the ghetto, introduces the book’s dark atmosphere: “Being and begetting, struggling and / enduring…as gunfire crackles and sirens wail / and her fate is sealed with coffin nails.” Sexton’s characters—Nowhere Men as much as Everymen—are war veterans, hobos, sex workers, and blue-collar employees facing job losses and financial ruin. His settings are urban wastelands, often Chicago or Detroit. For instance, in “The Penworn Papers,” one of a handful of longer stories, an impoverished artist recalls his degenerate life as he moves between a freight-yard shack and a laundromat. Reversals of fortune go both ways: in “The Gift,” a Jewish satire redolent of Shalom Auslander, a young man reverts to emptiness in his old age, while “The Pawnshop” awards the child of Holocaust survivors millions of dollars to give away in scholarships. The palette is Edward Hopper’s, the ironic tone O. Henry’s. Black humor appears in nursery-rhyme refrains (in “Jack in a Box”) and sarcastic snarls, in “Valentine Rhyme”: “Another dandy day in the good / ole USA.” Indeed, Sexton questions American supremacy and the certainty that “in the USA, the bad guys lose, truth wills out, the righteous win.” In “Mount Money,” he undermines America’s self-identification with Switzerland’s rich neutrality by exposing an essential lack of social conscience: “I guess we’re a lot like the Swiss. / Except, of course, for the social programs / they have to take care of their citizens / from cradle to grave, which goes against / our grain.” “Our Town” playfully affirms Thornton Wilder’s morbid vision through gloomy imagery. The poems—rich with alliteration, internal rhymes, assonance, and puns—slightly outclass the stories here. They have broader application, universalizing human depravity and the daily fight for survival in an age of austerity.

The bleakness may be hard to take, but Sexton’s talent for social commentary and character sketching marks him as—in a title he gives a character in “Chop Suey”—“the Modigliani of the Mean Streets.”

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-1500502485

Page Count: 306

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 13, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

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A volume of poetry and prose that offers heroic visions of urban African Americans.


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.


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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