Exclusivity by Assia Lau’ren | Book Review

Author: Assia Lau’ren

Publisher: Self-Published

Published: January 2023

Genre: Prose Poetry

Pages: 133

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Former U.S. Army Veteran, actor, and poet Assia Lau’ren has written her second poetry collection Exclusivity on the concept of boundaries. Her prose poetry dissents with a progressively perverse reflection and declaration on the use and abuse of these transgressive and liminal states. Love transposes her poems and, in all its definitions, serves as a means for diverse, equitable, and inclusive discourse. Lau’ren places the subconscious follies and fallacies of people on a conscience plane of discernment.

She faces the dissonance of her own beliefs and problems with those of societal expectations and limitations. The challenge she poses does encroach thoughtfully albeit into a diatribe at times, but it is done out of a genuine need for reformation and stability. Her self-talk or stream of consciousness questions the status quo of relationships, politics, and individuality through prescient post-modern self-awareness. Exclusivity is an aperture and exposure, capturing the half-truths, setting them on the path towards truth, and reconciling the false truths that separate and condemn with understanding’s light and darkness.

Final Rating:

Red/Blue Pill

The Sound of the Broken Wand by Tiki Black | Book Review

Author: Tiki Black

Publisher: Self-Published / No Sugar Added Records

Published: May 22, 2022

Genres: Fantasy, Magic Realism, Poetry

Pages: 84

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“We are… as we should teach our children, in the image of life.” – Tiki Black

The Sound of the Broken Wand is a triage of finding, deciphering, and unlearning the bias filters through which conditioning entraps and indoctrinates us. Cameroonian-French poet and musician Tiki Black writes her emancipatory poetry collection in six parts: the blood (life and death), the cage (prison and refuge), the mirror (reflection and deflection), the crown (power and duty or debt), the shoe (journeys and unbeaten paths), and the wand (bewitchment and magic). The human condition is a catch-22 made of comforts and challenges. Black shares a thoughtful recognition of the dangers of living a life with an imbalance between the two.

In her poem “The Wound,” Black speaks of “the source” or the promise and pain of existence: “So, here I am hugging my wound / To dig deeper than who’s to blame.” Relying on comfort or sameness is willful ignorance in “In the Arms of Morpheus” and choosing power before self and others, as well as being speechless or powerless to injustice, leads to circuitous cycles of moral decay in “But I…” A healthy self-awareness paints this collection and each facet of life a different color, a new enlightened direction towards accountable posterity and away from declension.

However, most of the poems, idyllic yet grounded (the first more prevalent than the latter) in delivery, are whisked away in its rhyme scheme. The structure deflates and inflates the ideas until they have no more elasticity to breathe or extend into truth. They compartmentalize the feelings of these visual and cognitive biases but they fall prey to grandiose gestures that are broad and out of reach. “Home” felt generic with its vague memories and metamorphosis of home and house. Black’s poems read better as songs, this is apparent due to its intentional beats or refrains and insertions of sheet music.

Mixed media is not unusual; the comingling of song and verse separates this collection from others for the better. The discrepancy lies in the mechanics of each form clashing despite the flowery language. A shining moment came in the speculative essay “Blue” in which Black goes beyond language and cultural barriers to understand human nature and the misleading value systems we inflict on each other. We learn that consciously and unconsciously, survival (conditioning, mistrust, protection) supersedes thriving (exploring, creativity, possibility).

There is a Stoicism to Black’s work, it brings to mind French surgeon and biologist Alexis Carrel: “Man cannot remake himself without suffering for he is both the marble and the sculptor.” The idea of suffering is challenged in this collection. In the case that suffering is unnecessary, suffering should be replaced with enlightenment, reformation, and reparation. Black’s poems are celebrating otherness in all of us, free of overbearing adulation and pomp with instead a humble camaraderie and kinship, individuality and community. The Sound of the Broken Wand has ideas of multiculturalism with a sober and selfless conscience interplaying with selfish and judgmental fears of discomfort and uncertainty interloped throughout, but these facets of life we are unaware of and become aware of, while acknowledged, are buried by the veil of magic it critiques and uses against itself.

Red/Blue Pill

seven years by Alyssa Harmon | Book Review

Author: Alyssa Harmon

Publisher: Self-Published

Published: October 11, 2022

Genres: Poetry, Relationships, Self-Help

Pages: 121

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“notice the labyrinth you feel… open your eyes.” – Alyssa Harmon

Love is not an exact science. To call love a science at all seems paradoxically counterproductive to the matters in the right hemisphere of our brain. Our second brain, the heart, attempts to make sense of emotions, searches for meaning between lines that were crossed. Justifications and expectations become muddled in the journey of the heart if one does not learn how to love themselves and the necessity of change. Love of another, unrequited love, and wanting to be loved a certain way have the potential to descend into selfish cases of bitterness. Reading the debut poetry collection seven years by Alyssa Harmon shows that heartbreak contends with healing in a conquest for change and consistency.

The title refers to the interval of time in which human cells are replaced. The poems are collected into corresponding years, each with their own mix of emotions. As a nonlinear narrative, the theme of change being the only constant is felt. The trauma of memory is accounted for in “some things never change” and “dog tag.” The first a longing for what was good or promising, and the latter a symbol, an albatross, of a militant background or pensiveness without being spurious. Similarly, “memorial day” deals with memory and history, what was and what is left behind. Harmon succeeds at capturing how one can easily overthink (sugarcoat or soil) the bad and good memories, the hindsight and foresight.

Imagery about heartbreak lends itself to cliché too often, however. In “tsundoku,” the idea of not letting go or returning to the same story is conveyed with a literal metaphor of books. Again, in “cereal boxes” love for the prize inside would be sincere if it was not compared to a toy one could play with. Unless they are strictly showing the hurt that can corrupt a person amidst heartbreak, comparisons like these are missed opportunities to show more of what an idea has to offer. Call a person the same old story, but what about the people who are books in the world that is a library? Ideas stop in the middle of development for what seems to be confessional pity parties. Heartbreak (cold, justifiable, yet hypocritically passive-aggressive in tone) obstructs the healing within most of the poems. Brevity as wit comes off as lack and explanation as clarity instead lingers in some cases throughout the years.

Much of it leads to confusion, a feeling one with heartbreak would come across, but it rarely evolves or explores that confusion. Some poems settle for obvious imagery that are familiar and nostalgic at the risk of being juvenile. Being stuck in the past becomes too repetitive, self-involved, and self-referential for healing to take place. Is it a necessary phase in the healing process? Granted growth happens after hesitancy, denial, and leaving ego at the door, there is still a stage that has not been reached or held onto: acceptance. Accepting the fact that everything and everyone is a work in progress, seven years is a mixed bag still making its way out of the bag.

Final Rating:

Red/Blue Pill

Unplug. In-Power. Recreate: Transformative Poetry by A*K² | Book Review

Author: Archana “A*K²” Karthikeyan

Publisher: Self-Published

Published: May 4, 2022

Genres: Poetry, Self-Help, Philosophy, Nonfiction

Pages: 245

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“Here I fit, in my slot, / A tiny but irreplaceable puzzle piece…” – A*K²

Poetry collections are apt at capturing a running theme only to set it free to follow its every move ad infinitum. Opposite to cat-and-mouse antics, poetry delivers a message that belongs to someone and everyone. With poetry, a message becomes the message, which in turn becomes Message. Each message can change interpretation or ideation with each new reading. Upon reading Unplug. In-Power. Recreate: Transformative Poetry by Archana Karthikeyan (A*K²), the invitation for change is painted with a broad brush.

Truths are shared, images are presented, but they suffer from association and a lack of correlation. Relationships between truth and image to establish any metaphor with far-reaching consequence is replaced with pithy platitudes. The mortal sin of writing is to tell and to tell too much. The damnation of that sin is the curse of knowledge; the assumption that a student knows and experiences knowledge the way a teacher does. For example, the poem “Smoke & Mirrors” sets up two promising pictures that could serve concrete meanings but ends in an obvious if-then, cause-and-effect pay-off.

Poetry should teach not just through telling, but showing. In equal measure, although with partial leaning towards showing as a rule of thumb, explanation should clarify while pictorial language should simplify. Poetry is not meant to be a counselor. Poetry is not meant to be an advice column. However, one can find counsel from a poem without it being too didactic, generic, or redundant. The poetry in Unplug takes on conversational and confessional tones, as if the speaker has been the recipient of response poems and written response poems from a place of respite and resolve.

A*K² makes good on this in “I Don’t Fit In” where being accepted and accepting yourself are ideas in conflict with each other. It uses a problem and solution text structure that gets its advice across concretely and abstractly, but this form is relied on and recycled often in this collection, giving a hollow ring to truths. The father-to-son advice from “If—” by Rudyard Kipling balances the well-meaning (sentimental) with the discerning (practical) that begins broad (truth) and paces that truth in considerate, specific circumstances (imagery) reflective of its subject, theme, and audience. Stating the truth without exploring the truth leaves the truth starving in a devolved, stagnant, mitigated, and less meaningful state. Unplug unfortunately undermines its truths in a long string of advice sans enough practical examples that would meet its calls to action.

Final Rating:

$2 Bill