cover image US(a.)


Saul Williams. Gallery, $15 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-4767-7932-4

Poet, rapper, and actor Williams (The Dead Emcee Scrolls) explores the complex and violent present and history of the U.S. through the pop culture and oppression it creates in his sprawling and uneven new collection. From the book's first offering, Williams's words reveal their ability to fly and fall; "The Televisions Descended from Above" opens with stunning imagery%E2%80%94"a curtain of light/ pours from the top/ of the screen"%E2%80%94but ends with the trite declaration "I am a blood red pen./ I am this page." Williams expands the range of his formal chops throughout numerous poems, but too often they look and feel convoluted on the page. The book succeeds in parts of its second section and the entirety of its third when it takes the form of a film-in-verse; the highlight is a fictionalized account of the relationship between trumpeter Miles Davis and French singer Juliette Gr%C3%A9co, in which Williams presents brilliantly rendered moments of the couple's romance. Unfortunately, the book's flaws too often stand out. In "Beneath the Ruins are Older Ruins," Williams writes, "I need/ a million mouths/ to say this/ but I only have/ this one," and his poems suffer from this impulse. In this ambitious attempt to address America's myriad ills, Williams has produced a cacophony that feels incomplete. Agent: Charlotte Gusay, Charlotte Gusay Literary Agency. (Sept.)