Publisher: YesYes Books
Dog Eared Review by Lindsey Lewis Smithson
In a sidestep from my usual reviews, this time around I am featuring a full length collection of poetry instead of a chapbook. Now, you may think that reviewing either length would be the same, but that would be a sad misunderstanding of each form. In a chapbook most poets explore a single theme, or style, or image, using their roughly 25 pages to put a spotlight on one thing. A full book, much like a novel compared to a short story, can dip its toes in many forms, emotions, and images. For me personally I find chapbooks to be a more intellectual experience while a full length collection to be an emotional one. But that, again, is just me.
Aziza Barnes has demonstrated many forms, ranging from blocky prose poems like “the mutt debates what it might come down to:” to the slim and streamlined left justified pieces, such as “descendants.” I’d go out on a limb and say the the signature style is the breathless free verse that is peppered throughout to great effect. On this train of thought the poem “a good deed is done for no good reason” is a wonderful example of the form and the key substance of the collection as a whole. There are many shades of the political within, be it the government pushing in, or society horning in, but in the end the reader needs to remember that “industry of human hands/you are just/ yourself & no one has made you.”
The personal and sexual sides of politics, how the world as a whole and the individuals specifically, are incessantly pressing their ideals and expectations onto us, trying to shape us, is so key to this collection. Another key theme, one that shapes almost all discussion, is race. No poem better encapsulates racial politics better than “brown noise;” the pieces travels over stereotypes and realities so deftly, and with such a restrained hand, making it all the more effective and devastating. There are also visual moments that support the content, with the poem “down like a shot” coming to mind. The physical structure of the poem matches the content, with the lines quickly diminishing like a shot. The lines also mimic that wordless slip into passion and the abrupt stop out of it with the second to the longest line “don’t start something you can’t finish is maybe the worst advice” coming after the shortest. It is all these careful content and style choices, this blurring between the art and the reality, that allows many of the poems to transcend the words on the page.
Dog Eared Pages:
14, 15, 18, 19, 25, 27, 29, 30, 33, 34, 36, 39, 40, 43, 44, 49, 50, 61, 62, 64, 65, 70
Lindsey Lewis Smithson is the Editor of Straight Forward Poetry. Some of her poetry has appeared on , , , and