Friday, 23 November 2018

Book review: Point Blank, Alan King (2016)

This is a publication from a small press in Los Angeles and Alan King lives in Maryland where he works in communications. His parents migrated to the US from Trinidad and Tobago in the 1970s.

I especially liked 'The Hostess' and 'The Listener'. In these two poems, I felt that the narrative had a soundness and strength that allows the writer to carry emotions across to the reader. Both poems are about women and both involve looking back over the past. They also both talk about food. As a general rule, however, I didn't feel that the same level of success was achieved with the other poems I read.

What impressed me about the two poems singled out above was that King is able in them to use particular instances of memory to convey something of universal applicability. Toni Morrison does the same thing in her novel, 'The Bluest Eye'. I reviewed this book on 11 March 2006 but I don’t remember much about it now. Morrison is particularly interesting because as an African-American writer she still managed to anchor her stories with details that have universal applicability. I have found with some contemporary writers who have a strong sense of their ethnic identity, such as Bonnie Chau (2018’s 'All Roads Lead to Blood') and Claudia Rankine (2014’s 'Citizen: An American Lyric'), that the ability to carry meaning across to a reader who comes from a different ethnic background is severely limited.

What strikes me in many of the poems in King’s book is that there is a striving for effect that sometimes does not succeed very well. Also, on occasion the referent for the words used is not clear. I think that the degree of poetry in general is good but not all of the poems are as successful as the best of them.

‘The Hostess’ paints a domestic scene that involves the writer’s mother, who is cooking curry, and his father, who comes home tired from work. The words his mother uses have a powerful weight that brings her character alive in the poem, and you can see the young boy looking at his parents as they cement their relationship with humour and mutual respect. The home described in this poem is a healthy place where a child can grow in an ambience of tolerance and love.

In ‘The Listener’, the writer remembers his aunt Mops when he hears a woman laughing in a supermarket aisle. She is standing next to the spice section so, as in the poem described above, curry enters into this poem as a locus of meaning redolent with signification, something that represents goodness and peace. The “listener” in this poem is Mops, who has always supported her talented nephew, who wants to be a writer. The creole she uses adds a flavour of authenticity to the poem, and you feel the tug of a foreign culture anchoring the writer to ancestral roots in the Caribbean.

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