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Jelani Thomas didn’t want to wait for a publisher to accept his poetry manuscript, Straight From the Heart of a Native Son, and he didn’t have enough money to pay a professional bookbinder. So he did what many resourceful young poets do—he went to the copy shop and printed it himself. The resulting volume deals with such themes as living in D.C., politics, and relationships; its 18 poems are well-suited to oral presentation, and Thomas hopes to perform them soon at local venues.

Thomas’ aspirations for his book are high but realistic. “If I can take it nationwide, that’d be great, but if not, I’ll be happy to have a local audience, friends and family, reading it,” he says. Although his distribution is “purely grass-roots right now,” he plans to spend more time publicizing the book once he finishes graduate exams at the University of the District of Columbia. Thomas’ field of study, social work, informs several of Straight From the Heart’s selections; in “Imaginary Numerals,” he uses elementary math to indict the school lunch program (“if Eboni receives 2 meals per day and we subtract 1 meal,/how many meals is she left with?”). Yet his attitude is not always so bleak: “what does the poet do when his soul is up for grabs?/carefully, I dip my quill into the ink/And then I laugh,” he writes in “Liberation.” Straight From the Heart of a Native Son is available for $5 at Pyramid Books, or by calling (202) 526-1682.—