Verses that could benefit from fewer references and more fresh air.

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GRASS THAT LEAVES GREENER

NEW ESCHATONS AND EGRESSES

A collection of poetry that spans centuries but that remains fixed in a single moment.

In this debut work, Hays creates an environment that’s heavily influenced by the writings of poets that came before him, including those that forged our contemporary understanding of poetry. The book opens with “Inscriptions,” a section in which the author has collected a series of quotes from various works. These serve as epigraphs, setting the tone for what’s to come— elegiac proclamations about the natural world, the oneness of man with nature, and the unpredictability of passion. Hays then divides his book into three sections. In “Great Are the Myths,” he uses a series of references to explore what constitutes a literary character (“the parable process of becoming more sensitive more / Artistry is the transitory fragile vanity of fleeting beauty fleeting”). The second section, “Song of Myself,” spins off of Walt Whitman’s famous title to provide readers with a more contemporary voice that resonates for readers living today (“like when I almost cried / because you cried / when we got high and saw The Jungle Book, / the one where the animals / didn’t have city words / and was about true love”). Finally, the third section, “Song of the Answerer,” functions as a reflection on love and on how it helps shape identity and language (“love colors all and covers all, / and all the variants of unlove / discolor and uncover all, / efficacious making fault thick / when love unmade is thin”). Although thematically, Hays’ project has promise, it’s overly burdened by the weight of its context and allusions, which the author pays very close attention to maintaining. For instance, the poet’s incorporation of epigraphs to launch his poems is at times helpful to situate the persona’s framework; however, it also throws off their autonomous dynamism and makes them depend too much on the creative landscape of the lines of the poem above. The work often shines in the more contemporary language of the second section, as it’s less weighed down by allusive connotations: “I scout the sky / for the approaching clouds, / our stoic supporting cast– / artists / staggering in with hangovers / after a hard day’s night / to droop around and glisten glib lines.” Nonetheless, it’s not until this section that the work gains momentum. Before this, readers are asked to navigate poems that feel like amorphous iterations of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. Although that may be amusing for some readers, it also, and more importantly, causes the work to veer off course. When the text gets more personal, as it does in “Like Escaping into Similes,” quoted above, or in “I. ever seized and seizing” (“and it is none / that can live / and die and live / again / but man ungiving, / man, I, plantless”), the poems burst with story, making the overwrought references found in other poems unnecessary.

Verses that could benefit from fewer references and more fresh air.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 195

Publisher: Rilke Hopkins Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 29, 2017

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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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