You can force me to sign up, but you can't make me label myself.
About a month ago I received a chapbook from a local author, Alan King, and I've finally had a chance to read it over. His collection is called Transfer, referring to both the literal bus pass and the larger transitional mode, and a majority of these poems--with titles like "ritual" and "template"--are concerned with social flux. Specifically, how do we define our relationship patterns? And then, how do those patterns begin to define us? The contexts vary from the romantic to the political to the neighborhood; the speaker definitely has a DC voice, and it's satisfying to see casual references to local fixtures like Ben's Chili Bowl or Tryst.
My favorite poems feature a cast of guy friends who make cameos throughout the book:
every Thursday at Tryst--
over a back table--
Jati starts up a dominos game
Fred rolls up his sleeves
the clinic's open, yo
...who tryna see the doctor first?
cellophane serpents rise from
Newports, Derrick shakes his head
at flesh flashing over Lowrise
bruthas yall see that!! whole lotta
Diaspora on that one
Jati shuffles the bones
knocking each other
hanging off cornrows
i palm my dominos
Fred, i got a FOR SALE sign
to put in frontcho clinic
There is rich music here--"cowries / hanging off cornrows"--and it is refreshingly unforced, as is the humor of their dialogue. These vignettes of local life really came alive to me. In some other poems the use of language feels a little overly formal or self-consciously arty: ""her mouth, a sumptuous oval split / into horizontal hemispheres // testosterones lead an air strike on / my cerebrum...." But overall this is a collection of great promise, and I look forward to seeing more of King's poems in print.
Speaking of anticipation: I can't wait to come home from Atlanta with books--lots and lots of books--and having put faces to names I've been reading in books (and on blogs) for the past year. I'm not tabling anywhere, so just look for me hanging around the Hilton. I'll be the one with a flask of scotch.