Monday, March 5, 2012
Microreview: Kevin Simmonds' "Mad for Meat"
In Kevin Simmonds' first book Mad for Meat, you can't help but feel the jumpy lineation of Sonia Sanchez and the condensed linguistic play of someone like Kay Ryan or Thylias Moss, especially in her earlier work like Small Congregations. There's a healthy self-contentment in Simmonds' poetry which is missing from many of his peers' work. Simmonds doesn't try to capitalize on phony urgency.
He is largely a talented poet of reminiscence, and it doesn't feel like its in any way a default position. In poem after poem, he transports himself (and us) to intriguing places, like hearing Leontyne Price on TV ("the black fan of your voice/on primetime/Turbaned goddess of my Zenith/the way God struck your soprano..."); Emmett Till ("a mansion of a boy whose rooms we must fill"); Dolly Parton ("How did you know it was love enough/for a cinched waist and a blond wig/an alter of pentecostal breasts/and their rising hallelujah...). His language is almost invariably fun and alive.
A few of the personae prose poems don't measure up to the rest of the book. It feels occasionally like Simmonds doesn't know what he wants to say about them, or allow them say about themselves--he offers a series of facts that could be gleaned from a fine history book. For example, in his poem "Bayard Rustin," Simmonds has Rustin present the obvious biographical facts ("The Movement. That's what I work for. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. It's going to make an impact.") Which would be fine if it didn't take him almost three paragraphs to arrive to the poetry: "Homosexual. Such an antiseptic sound to it. Yet I rather that to other names, names I'm called between my teeth."
This is a very minor flaw in a wonderful book full of tenacious "sequined despair" and the self-confidence that teaches us to "wait out the truth" through the protracted retelling of old stories.
Kevin Simmonds' Mad for Meat is available through Salmon Poetry.