Stern’s (Dancing with the Moon and the Stars, 2016) debut poetry collection travels the natural landscape and the inner pathways of mood in quiet, reflective verse.
Comprised of several thematic sections, this set includes short poems that depend heavily on end rhymes for their sound and sense. But within this patterned structure, there’s room for revelation. The poet often proposes, for example, that insight springs from everyday moments; the danger lies in not recognizing them: “We often notice grandiose, showy, and noisy display, / And miss out on what the quiet and small have to say,” she writes in a lovely poem that features the “fireworks”of fireflies even as Fourth of July celebrations light up the larger sky. The poet highlights touches of beauty in the natural world, offering up pictures of quiet morning walks or the effects of moonlight on otherwise familiar fields: “wherever I walked, it was covered in cream.” Difficult as it is to arrive at fresh locutions for the four seasons, the “salt shaker top” of the red poppy catches the eye in a summer garden, as do the intimations of autumnal crows, gathered and noisy. Crows appear more than once in this book, as the poet seeks to understand the voice of nature, although she acknowledges that it’s beyond human translation. “Oh November, November, you have a lot to say” sums up the raucous bird voices without obliterating their mystery. Mostly, nature comforts and instructs in these poems, and even a crow’s behavior can teach us to be resourceful and watchful. Much is made of the similarity of the words “sun” and “son,” and many poems have an explicitly religious aspect of prayer: “Oh, Son of God, shine down on this earth,” the speaker pleads, eager for a lightening of earthly worries. As the poems draw on spiritual belief for sustenance, they articulate an optimistic perspective. No matter the dark spell or the rainstorm, light on the other side of it saves the speaker from uncertainty; she walks on, stronger for the test.
Gentle, soulful poems that shine a soft light on the human tendency toward wonder.
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.
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.