Thoughtful, sincere, and full of witty phrasing but sorely in need of a thorough edit.

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To Life: The Extraordinary Adventure

A sprawling poetry debut that touches on everything from heartbreak to hobbits.

In his first collection of poetry, author Bedian (A Long Cold Lonely Winter, 2013, etc.) draws on his personal experiences of mental illness and spiritual seeking to examine a vast array of subjects. Bedian himself states, “[I] simply published the text of poetry I had written without editing,” and the book reflects that laissez-faire approach. Some poems are deeply personal accounts of flawed relationships, while others are pointed political criticisms on topics including the Sochi Olympics and civil rights. Still more surprising entries crop up as well, such as a whimsical series on food and even a handful of poems about the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Bedian sets almost every one of these disparate subjects into a straightforward scheme of rhyming couplets, which he often packs with clever wordplay and rhythmic phrasing. The author’s strongest lines intertwine those structural elements with keen thematic insights, as with one poem that opens: “The errant hasty cavalcade of cavalry in splendid taste, / Parading shades of chivalry, a macho parody of waste.” However, the sophistication of Bedian’s verse varies as much as its content does. For every tightly crafted poem, there’s another that seems sloppy and unoriginal in comparison; e.g.: “I hadn’t been with a woman in years, / All I had left was a lifetime of tears.” In those weaker poems, Bedian’s rigid adherence to rhyming couplets lends his work an amateurish quality, and the lack of rhythmic and structural variation grows grating as the book progresses. While the author’s commitment to leaving his work unedited results in an unusual—and, at times, exciting—degree of thematic variety, it also allows these less successful entries to distract from the stronger ones. Ultimately, the collection feels diluted and unfocused. Still, Bedian’s energy and enthusiasm remain palpable throughout, and his debut contains a number of insightful poetic gems for those readers patient enough to search them out.

Thoughtful, sincere, and full of witty phrasing but sorely in need of a thorough edit.

Pub Date: April 2, 2015

ISBN: 978-1511550093

Page Count: 204

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2015

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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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