A promising, if uneven, debut from a poet whose work will continue to mature and evolve.

The Merit of Light

POEMS BY STEPHEN RIFKIN

A debut collection of poetry inspired by the author’s relationship with his wife and their time living on an island in Maine.

Rifkin’s poems are heavily influenced by nature. In the preface, the author notes that he and his wife lived on an island when he was writing, and he meditates on everything from the changing seasons to the tempestuous tides. His often melancholic musings communicate both the beauty and isolation of island life, and his wife’s simple but lovely sketches enhance the poems, making them even more evocative. The illustration of birds flying over a moonlit ocean, which accompanies “Tides For the Moon,” is especially pretty. Although the collection contains some love poems, including the very romantic “In Love,” many are more impressionistic than overtly emotional. In the beautiful “Of Irises,” the author displays his playful, creative skills with language: “in a garden / at dusk / blades stem and bud or now stars / bluish and blush.” His attempts at more colloquial expression are less successful. In “Arabic Calligraphy,” he writes, “There is much that is silly about Arabic / calligraphy / And a lot that isn’t.” Such lines sound a bit clumsy, as if the same thoughts could be conveyed more artfully and economically. The collection’s closing series of three poems, together titled “Views of Italy,” strikes a more satisfying balance between a narrative style of verse and rich, thoughtful word choice. In “A Fury in the Trees of Tuscany,” Rifkin writes, “Yet there was beauty, too, to be fair, / the fat-cheeked children, and the young mothers, / fair-skinned and dark, and not just blood on / the walls, / the tatter of a flag stuck to a dying horse.”

A promising, if uneven, debut from a poet whose work will continue to mature and evolve.

Pub Date: May 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-1499350289

Page Count: 88

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

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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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