All the Rage. Like something that’s trending. Or a collection of fury. Or, as in Rosamond S. King’s new poetry collection, both.
(NOTE: You already know this, but America is rooted in violence. Also, heads up—King’s book is meant to make you feel, but not feel good.)
OK now, the book: Its dark and smooth cover. The title’s old-timey cinematic font that makes it lighthearted and approachable. “All the Rage” in tidy yellow caps underscored by the author’s name and a row of red stenciled ferns that resemble vintage wallpaper. Take a second to consider wallpaper. What does it do? It hides blemishes. You adhere it to the wall knowing beneath the thin veil of patterned vinyl are unsightly stains.
(ANOTHER NOTE: Just because you hide a thing doesn’t mean it’s gone.)
Take note, too, of the book’s packaging. The color choices—brownish yellow and crimson red. Mustard and ketchup. Kind of like McDonald’s. A quick in and out. Hues to attract and repel. Yellow and red. The colors of fear and injury. Colors that run. The colors of over a billion served.
Absorb those first two lines: “This book / is for you / whether or not you survived.” Now read those lines again. Out loud this time. Allow the “whether or not” part to stop you in your tracks. Make room for “whether or not” in your BONES. Whether or not. Whether or not. If you are fortunate enough to not worry about survival, imagine if you had to. Now draw your awareness to the fact that you have survived. So far you’ve successfully navigated the anger and violence and racism and so much else. Which is to say, so far, so good.
And speaking of bones—in this book bones break. Because brutality. Because blood. Because bile and bullets and badges. Because being. And bygones are not bygones. But bitter, Bland, brackish, beguiling, bare. And Becky, by God. In this book bones break. But they also breathe. Rosamond S. King makes sure of this.
King’s delivery is written performance art. Where a line’s preceding comma holds place for a SCREAM. Where a happy face emoji is employed sarcastically—not meant to mean what a 😀 usually means. Where an entire line is occupied by a mere question mark. The solitary glyph stands for all that’s missing.
Also, footnote symbols are used as poetic placeholders to get eyes on names that can’t be forgotten. They also serve to get minds focused on power’s repeated (and asinine) excuses for pulling triggers. These fancy bullets (the asterisk, dagger, yuan, and silcrow) pepper lines while asking a wrenching question:
A banana is not a gun*
a wallet† is a gun
, a phone¥ is a gun
, a vegetable peeler§ is
a deadly knife
. What do you have
* Josephine Baker
† Amadou Diallo
¥ Stephon Alonzo Clark
§ Bích Câu Thi Trân
The question—What benign object will catalyze your/their demise and send more and more Black and Brown bodies into the slaughterhouse? King sweetens the sound of this term by using a synonym, abattoir. It then becomes the metaphor that plays out for the book’s duration. To justify relentless killing with opportunity for profit and blind consumption. The word for to kill for food and to slay are the same. Slaughter.
Chapter one, “Welcome to the Abattoir,” seeks understanding. It asks the oppressor, “What is it like to want / To be a monster.” It also whispers of the butcher’s disguises where “blood is the new hot sauce.” Don’t forget that in America, we like to put that shit on everything:
We live in the most gorgeous abattoir
(from the French, but better here
. Like french fries, which make us round and marbled
. Our vegetables covered with cheese, our fruits glazed with glycerin
But nothing is taken for granted. In fact, in “21st Century Goddamn,” King writes that, “Everybody knows about Cleveland / about Texas / ? about Chicago / Everybody knows about skittles.” And the list of places Black bodies have been slaughtered goes on to include Ferguson and DC and Tallahassee and Rantoul and Tulsa and Plymouth and—had King written this poem a few months later—Minneapolis (and Minneapolis again) and Claremont, and Columbus, and, depending on the day, so. many. other. cities. These poems hyperventilate.
The poem that starts with “Breathe” shifts the tone. It offers pause.
This is just us
gold in shadows
The conclusion is a reminder of endurance and durability. Its funneling lines put the piece in slow motion and end with another standalone punctuation mark. This time it’s a period. A hard stop with nothing preceding or following. Employed to draw attention to the present:
. You have the
right to breathe and remain
Maybe interpret it this way: Now is all that matters.
Here are the sorts of notes you might take while reading King’s collection:
- Gentrifiers like the taste of human flesh
- Vindication > Comfort
- Look up “damocles”
- The system is working as intended
- There’s “luminescent joy” in being left alone (p.97)
- Re: above—does white privilege even know how true this is?
When you read “Beautiful Things,” you might be reminded of Ross Gay’s recent release, The Book of Delights. A genre-less collection of essayettes that describe the results of Gay’s daily search for a detail that brings him joy. It’s unclear whether or not King’s piece is a nod to Gay’s Delights, but its intentions are similar.
I Saw Yesterday
:A Man Playing
His Daughter. At
The Bus Stop
Strapped to Her Chest.
These are moments easy to miss. And yet these are also moments that, when stacked up, scaffold lives.
Look at how each word begins with a capital letter. Everything in this poem is treated like a proper noun. Like a name. A title. King’s capitalization breathes a reminder of the importance of life’s mundane details. The final sum—beauty. Nothing else.
The final poem is “Impossible.” And yet, while describing America’s hyperviolent past to set the stage for a future, it also suggests the necessity of hope. King rattles off a list of imperfections, but then quickly embraces them, too, saying maybe, “we need to / open our eyes, work, believe / : imagine what we can do / tomorrow.” Which may make you wonder how you can be a part of this “tomorrow.” And this contemplation, however brief—may just change everything.
Tom Griffen is a North Carolina writer with California roots. In 2015 he received his MFA in Poetry from Pacific University. His work has previously appeared in Tupelo Quarterly, and also in Prairie Schooner, Crab Orchard Review, Harpur Palate, O-Dark-Thirty, The Quietry, and others. In January 2018, Tom completed a walk across the USA. Follow him at mywalkinglife.com/.