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Literature > Lit Up

Book slam

Area authors gracefully (and clumsily) bang on

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Published 6/3/2009

Hilarity
by Patty Seyburn
New Issues Poetry & Prose, $15, 75 pp.

Poet Patty Seyburn, a Detroit native who now teaches at Cal State and co-edits the Los Angeles-based poetry journal POOL, offers a new collection of playful but sharp ruminations on Detroit, Judaism, insomnia, mythology and humor in Hilarity. And it's good stuff. 

Seyburn's poetry connects on two levels: First, she's a bit academic, so some pieces engage a denser sense of poetics and form, which she employs with restraint and in a manner that makes for an easy out-loud read (see: "Your Name in the Title"). Second, the universality of the subject matter takes the edge off all that schooling and makes for a collection that's a sturdy bridge for readers of poetry who flirt with slightly more demanding reading, but nothing too out there (see: "Two Nineteen A.M.") 

From "Hope Street":

Where I grew, roads named for their distance
from the river: 6 mile, 7 mile, 8 mile—
and the solemnity of numbers showed
resistance to artifice. Where I live

are neighborhoods of streets named for precious
gems—ruby, sapphire, pearl—and flowers—
poppy, camellia, lilac—displays plush enough
to harbor a felon, should the getaway car

expire

—Travis R. Wright


If the World Becomes So Bright 
by Keith Taylor 
Wayne State University Press, $15.95, 104 pp. 

The stuff of everyday life always takes on new glimmers in well-crafted poems. Michigan-based poet Keith Taylor keeps everything — from the mortgage payments to front-yard hostas blooming — buoyant, afloat above the mundane by constantly questioning the conditions that shape the smallest experiences. 

This collection begins with a series of "If" poems — "If I jumped" … "If I'd chosen" … "If I forget everything" — and from there, he takes off on an expansive journey, unfolding everyday moments like letters, picking out secret messages inside them. 

He has the toughened, awestruck reverence for nature similar to Jim Harrison. He has the self-deprecating sadness of Charles Bukowski. The title of Taylor's poem, "What's Needed Now," even echoes a line from Bukowski's whiskey-bathed ode to a landlady, "The Tragedy of the Leaves." 

Taylor's poems are solid, seasoned and honest, unafraid to wander off-path or ask the same old questions. His lines feel like they rise from years of reading and thinking — of pressing an ear to poetry's heart and listening closely. —Norene Smith


Getting Ghost
by Luke Bergmann
The New Press, $28 (hardcover), 315 pp.

As an intern at a juvenile detention facility in Detroit, white grad student Luke Bergmann befriended and connected with a few of the young African-American drug dealers confined there. After eventually befriending them and their extended families, he's intertwined their family sagas with a condensed history of Detroit in this new book. Sure, with his background as an anthropologist, there are the expected references to Michel Foucault. But, for the most part, Bergmann stays away from the jargon and sticks with the people, especially westsider Dude Freeman and eastsider Rodney Phelps. After they eventually open up to him, Bergmann often simply lets them tell the story, using a novelist's ear for vernacular to keep the language true to the street. As the stories progress, Bergmann is no longer a mere observing researcher, and by the time Dude and Rodney's stories turn tragic, he must grieve like a friend. Detroit can break your heart, but Bergmann probably wouldn't say that. Instead, as one of Phelps' Dexter Avenue friends says of his tough main drag, "It's just a street. It's just a sign at the end of a pole. It's been there for over a hundred years and never did nothing to nobody." Foucault would be proud. —Michael Jackman


Drama Queers!
by Frank Anthony Polito
Kensington Press, $15, 352 pp.

Written with biting humor and girlish enthusiasm, Polito's Drama Queers! gives readers a thoroughly detailed and equally enjoyable account of growing up gay in Detroit's own "Hazeltucky" circa the '80s.

It's senior year, Class of '88, and Bradley James Dayton, the reigning king of the "Drama Queers" and "Band Fags" (also the title of Polito's first novel) has high expectations for his last year at Hazel Park High. It's a time when brand names and Aqua Net hair were a must for any self-respecting teen. Butt-enhancing Guess jeans, GASS loafers (sans socks, of course) and crisply pressed button-up Polos, these — and hot jocks and thespians — are but a few of Bradley's favorite things. "Calvins or Jordache? … Fuck those! I like Sergio Valentes better because they make your ass look hot!" 

Distraught at the loss of his best friend, at losing out the starring role of the Christmas play to the frustratingly hot sophomore, at his crappy Big Boy job, at being poor, attending "Hillbilly High" and living in Ferndale — "we do not (repeat, do not) live in Hazeltucky" — Bradley, the "Drama Queen," is forced to re-evaluate life as he knows it and the result plays out like the performance of a lifetime.

Drama Queers! delivers a multi-scoped microcosm of Americana and '80s pop culture in a neatly packaged time-capsule, complete with witty dialog interspersed with era-appropriate slang (remember "Bum Fuck"?), quaint localisms and every TV show and movie that shaped the lives of every teenager of the '80s. —Christa Buchanan


Detroit Cracked/Midnight Sex in Detroit
by Mojo
Rosedog Books, $26, 304 pp.

The author of this two-books-in-one novel is Mojo — yep, just Mojo — the same guy who brought us such gems as Detroit Street Gang and Detroit Nympho, books about the ghetto aimed at people living in the ghetto. He dedicates Cracked to luring away people who are thinking of "experimenting with crack." Come on, who experiments with crack? Anyway, deeply rooted in the introduction then splayed not-at-all-discretely throughout Cracked, Mojo writes on how to make crack cocaine, how to go about portioning it up, how to sell it and how to get girls hooked on the stuff to prostitute them out. Throw in wads of dough and dully exploitative sex scenes and you got true blue ghetto glorification goin' on. It reads like a true idiot wrote The Idiots Guide to Losing Your Morals & Hustlin' in the Hood

Subjects aside, the piece of writing is embarrassingly executed, with misspellings, grammatical and tense errors running rampant on nearly every page. In either Cracked and Midnight, the latter an equally weak and messy effort to explore the grim reality of prostitution, I was at least expecting some grit and grim of the urban drug game, but Mojo tries to stretch his vocabulary while writing the same sentence again and again, stumbling through dialogue, tripping over his story line. After reading this I'm seriously rethinking the whole First Amendment thing … —Travis R. Wright 

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