An ambitious poem with a nice environmental message.

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HUMPHREY'S LONG JOURNEY AWAY FROM THE SEA

A humpback whale leaves the sea for a trip up the Sacramento River, causing a stir among the locals, in this debut book-length poem.

Inspired by the true story of Humphrey, a humpback whale that left San Francisco Bay and swam up the Sacramento River in 1985, Leplin’s poem is a fun and frolicking journey, at least until humans arrive on the scene. Humphrey, a young and innocent whale, follows a salmon one day, curious about her destination. He unwittingly ends up in the river, where other animals, such as ducks, are unable to give him directions back to the bay. Traveling up the river, he befriends and listens to the stories of various creatures, including a raccoon who tells the tale of how he and his cohorts acquired their trademark masks. Humphrey also comes across a heron, frogs, and a wild dog named Ralf, who relates shocking information about science experiments performed on animals. Distressed by the revelations, Humphrey continues until he meets some humans in the flesh. Jake and Steve, two yokels with shotguns and a flask of Wild Turkey, see Humphrey on the news and arrive to shoot him, apparently to prove the superiority of humanity. A young girl named Sooky is also in the area, concerned for the whale’s well-being. As Jake and Steve prepare to aim, Sooky also becomes a target, causing Humphrey to realize “The tragic irony: / The human race was dark and light— / Complete duality.” As Humphrey tries to make a speedy escape, the Coast Guard, the Navy, the media, and a crowd of spectators are waiting near the bay, unsure of whether Humphrey is a friend or foe. Leplin’s sizable work of poetry is enjoyable to read, with a mix of lighthearted and serious tales told in an easily digestible rhyming scheme. Humphrey’s simple inquiries aren’t enough to justify a work of this length, but the action does increase in the second half, after the shooting incident and when the media reports and military activity become a frenzy. Unfortunately, there are a lot of human beings, and the poetry format makes it difficult to adequately describe that many people, organizations, and entities, and their various locations and motives.

An ambitious poem with a nice environmental message.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-105-75797-6

Page Count: 422

Publisher: Lulu

Review Posted Online: Jan. 11, 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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