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Poetry that tells stories is good when you can find it. But it’s not always easy for that kind of poetry to tell interesting stories. Local poet Alan King’s narrative poems are the rare ones that hit that high marks. In his new collection, Point Blank, he keeps the tales interesting but adds elements of the culture and cuisine of Trinidad that his parents brought with them when they immigrated to the United States in the 1970s. Many of these poems are linked memories, narratives of his parents. These poems telegraph a story, a plot, and a lifetime in just a few lines.
In “The Watch,” which tells of a Timex watch King’s father handed down to him that was later stolen, he lays bare what it means for simple objects to have sentimental value: “The absence of it/still popping up years later/haunting the replacements.”
His father appears in several poems, most memorably in “The Champ,” about King’s relationship to his niece and brother: “He quit school for the Air Force/and I can still hear Dad yelling:/‘I didn’t bring you into this world to be a pawn/on a battlefield.’”
But the most powerful poems deal with racism. “Bugged” presents justified paranoia about the police: “But what kills the black man quicker/patrols in government-issued rides.”
In the collection’s introductory poem, “The Hulk,” King elaborates: “I forget that because I’m black/this late hour says/I’m up to no good…/I forget that/in America/I’m not a man/just one of a herd/the police are sent/to corral./Wind bends/the branches above me/as if I might swing from them.”
The poem “Sure You Can Ask Me About Hip Hop” punctures white stereotypes about black men with lines that interrogate the gross assumptions white people often make about black men. Then there’s “Brink,” which illustrates the humiliation of what it’s like for a black man to experience rude service in a restaurant, likening the experience to feeling like a cockroach in the kitchen, or a grease spot on a white wall.
In “Striptease,” King narrates the experience of his nephew being mistaken for a thief at Target, with the irony that the chief of security is black. It only underlines the pervasiveness of racism.
King’s poems on racism sometimes shift to observations on class. “Don’t Tell Me” is about what it’s like to grow up poor, with a visceral political message about what it’s like to feel undermined by the arrogance of people who clearly feel as if they’re superior. In “The Vigilante,” the poet narrates the revenge he’ll take on the rich: “looking for the Georgetown doctor/who screamed at my wife for saying/‘I don’t think I need surgery,’/‘I’m the doctor,’ he spat.”
These poems have more than just an edge. They angrily articulate stories about oppression, humiliation, and disrespect. They tell what is not always found in poetry: the truth.
Silver Birch Press, 102 pages. $15.