Crooked Smiling Light by Alan King (Plan B Press 2021)
Reviewed by Devon Balwit
Alan King’s newest poetry collection, Crooked Smiling Light, (Plan B Press, 2021) moves from punch to caress, offering the lie of easy and sudden transformation, but in the hard-fought, zig-zag feint of everyday effort. Along the way, the reader encounters metaphors from boxing and marathon, giants of history like Nelson Mandela and Amiri Baraka, Whitman’s Learn’d Astronomer, the Bible’s Goliath, Roy Hargrove and the Black Lives Matter protests. All illustrate a man’s life as he moves from son to father, seeking what we all do—love and a meaningful place in the world.
Seeing the Body by Rachel Eliza Griffiths (WW Norton and Co. 2020)
Reviewed by Margaret Anne Kean
“…her body was the only home/I cared about.”
Poet Marilyn Nelson has said “when you go to listen to a poet read, you leave having learned not only about the poet’s reality but also about the reality you are living.” She calls this “communal pondering.” Through Rachel Eliza Griffiths’ exquisite fifth book, Seeing the Body, we are invited into communal pondering about the physicality of grief, silence and absence, as the poet grapples with her mother’s death, its effect on the poet’s body and psyche, and the necessity of living beyond such a monumental loss.
This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins (Harper Perennial 2018)
Reviewed by Janyce Wardlaw
Morgan Jerkins has put her crafty finger on everything it is to be a black woman in her collection of essays, This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America. Each essay is a raw anecdote revealing to the untrained heart what the world has infused into a black girl to make her want to be white, question all she knows to be true, or doubt her worth. All the hot buttons are pushed for us in these pages, as Jerkins pulls back the curtain on sexuality, men, hair, Black Girl Magic, and much more.
The Tradition by Jericho Brown (Copper Canyon Press 2019)
Reviewed by Elizabeth Kudlacz
…I am ashamed of America
And confounded by God….
It was these lines from the poem Foreday in the Morning in Jericho Brown’s third, Pulitzer Prize winning book The Tradition that captured the emotion I, as well as many other Americans, felt as we watched George Floyd die by asphyxiation when a police officer knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds while three other officers stood by. Ashamed and confounded not just by this singular outrageous and gross injustice, but by the fact that this sanctioned atrocity, involving another black American male, is a pervasive and persistent malady. This powerful book is built upon a foundation of poems in which Brown repeatedly forces us to confront the issue of racism in this country and the grim, indeed fatal, consequences that so often accompany it.
Some Are Always Hungry by Jihyun Yun (University of Nebraska Press 2020)
Reviewed by Lane Berger
I think the worst must be finished. / Whether I am right, don’t tell me. —“The Leaving Season”
In 2020, the year of things we tried to abolish, let us at least rid ourselves of this: ‘The Debut,’ held as a foray; the Debut Artist’s contrition, inevitable. Not since Slow Lightening, My Private Property, or The Collected Stories of Grace Paley have I dog-eared anything like my copy of Some Are Always Hungry, a debut poetry collection in which Jihyun Yun brings the reader—spoonful by shattering spoonful—into awareness of the near-unbearable state of being.
I’m Telling the Truth but I’m Lying: Essays by Bassey Ikpi (Harper perennial 2019)
Reviewed by by Michele Matrisciani
There is an entire library full of memoirs, one that grows greater every day, concerning issues surrounding mental health. Over the course of my twenty years in nonfiction book publishing, I’ve acquired, edited, and ghostwritten numerous such books, all of which I hope have contributed to the robust dialogue and much-needed de-stigmatization of this topic. Nothing I have worked on or read over the years has accomplished in quite the same way what Bassey Ikpi does in her memoir essay collection, I’m Telling the Truth but I’m Lying: Essays.
Deacon King Kong by James McBride (Riverhead Books 2020)
Reviewed by Allison McCausland
During such turbulent times, it is important to have a sense of humor. The juxtaposition of comedy and tragedy has never been as eloquent as in James McBride’s latest novel, Deacon King Kong. McBride’s follow up to his National Book Award winning The Good Lord Bird draws on the same wit and humor as the author observes and records the human condition.
The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory (berkley books, 2018)
Reviewed by Katie Centabar
Every once in awhile there is a book that makes you giggle, flush with embarrassment and curl your toes. I remember them from reading as a teen. Specifically, Sarah Dessen whose books always promised a teen new in town who 1) meets someone who is misunderstood, 2) experiences a traumatic loss and must start over, or 3) both – and drama and hilarity ensue. Jasmine Guillory writes those books for an adult audience.