Perceptive and honest, Newton manages to be profound without being abstruse. Though stylistically unremarkable, this is...

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Londinium Poeta

VERSES FROM THE INNER CITY 1980-2000

Short, free verse poems on the psychological and sociological complexities of life in London.

Wendell Berry once suggested, “If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are.” In this tightly focused collection, Newton (Tales out of School, 2009, etc.) seeks to demonstrate the difficulty of knowing either half of that conditional. With a nod to Dickens’ famous opening, Newton launches his tour of self and city with dichotomous uncertainty: “London is old and new, good/bad, / great and small…/ It is rich and poor, work/play, dull and / vivid.” Later, he suggests that “LA is the city of angels, Paris the city of light; / London is toy town, with puppet rulers/ raggedy / dolls/tin soldiers / upon painted sets…set in / motion by clockwork make-believe; it is magical / and comical, silly and daring.” Like Bukowski, whose influence is unmistakable, Newton is most interested in the social divides and tensions that define the city, with a clear sympathy for the ordinary, workaday resident. London is a place where the “Princess waved/smiled/gestured” at a narrator taking a walk and is the place “where cats and / such can look upon a queen,” but it’s also the place where narrators stumble across absurdly petulant and oblivious royal correspondence, where the social pressures weigh so heavily that those who fail are apt to fall “thru the modern world to a stone- / age period in full view of everyone” and where death is “shocking, raw and / untold.” Despite London’s many charms and majesties, Newton resists the allure of topographical verse. London is too perilous: “The taxis— / a heavy black mass running / across my paths, across all / the ways of my days. / Quiet and ugly, ugly and / dangerous; tearing past my / shins as I slip past.” It’s also confusing, as the traveler looking for Talbot Gardens finds when a local points him to Talbot Court, Talbot Road, Talbot Avenue and Talbot Crescent before admitting, “Sorry, can’t help anymore.” At least for those readers confused by all the specific references, Newton provides an arbitrary, but helpful, set of notes.

Perceptive and honest, Newton manages to be profound without being abstruse. Though stylistically unremarkable, this is clear-voiced and self-aware poetry that any city dweller will appreciate. 

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1907140044

Page Count: 88

Publisher: emp3books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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