A writer begins building his poetic oeuvre 14 lines at a time.
To his own surprise, debut author Rodriguez fell in love with sonnets in an acting class. The course was designed to help thespians make the most of the poetic form, but he just couldn’t get enough of the verse, so he had to start writing some of his own. Sonnets are those 14-line rhyming blocks that test even the most seasoned verse-maker’s mettle. Making a book of them is a daunting task, but the author’s devotion to the form is admirable. Shakespeare, whom many still consider the master of the sonnet, wrote 154 of them; Rodriguez gives readers 121. The author’s debt to the Bard of Avon is apparent throughout. In “Of Fate,” Rodriguez channels both Shakespeare and Poe in a thoughtful meditation on destiny and the perils of choice: “Such indecision harshly plagues the mind. / Which path to take, for both do seem quite sound. / Came Shakespeare, Poe, and others of like kind. / Perplexing souls for answers, but none found.” Here and elsewhere, readers will see Rodriguez settling comfortably into his scheme; when he’s at his best, his rhythms feel effortless and his rhymes natural. The finest sonneteers can make audiences forget they’re reading verse that’s so rigorous, and the poet pulls off that trick repeatedly. Elsewhere, the going is not so easy, and some of the pieces are less smooth. Take, for instance, the opening lines of “Allegory of the Cave”: “So many times I rue the horrid day / When born was I, this world to occupy. / Into such realm, my birth had I, no say. / So oft, ‘Why me?’ is my remiss reply.” Here, Rodriguez’s syntax is overcomplicated; his diction is archaic; and his content repetitive. Or in simpler terms, he fights the sonnet, and the sonnet wins. But such misfires are few and far between, and the poet delivers many potent, deeply moving works.
Form comes first in this effective volume of sonnets.
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.
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.