cover image The Big Book of Exit Strategies

The Big Book of Exit Strategies

Jamaal May. Alice James (UPNE, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (100p) ISBN 978-1-938584-24-4

May follows his brilliant debut, Hum, with poems that are at once an extended ode to his hometown, Detroit, and a resounding protest against the many violent and oppressive ills that plague America, including gun violence and racism. The poems soar when May finds their center and grounds them in lived experience, revealing his genius for reframing old concepts into new images: “Coming black/ into the deep south,/ my friend says,/ is like returning/ to an elegant home/ you were beat in/ as a child.” Similarly, when May lets his subconscious roam, each line seems to turn the next like a skeleton key opening an endless hallway of doors: “I am trying to say/ the neighborhood is as tattered/ and feathered as anything else,/ as shadow pierced by sun/ and light parted/ by shadow-dance as anything else.” Yet given the ambitious nature of the work, it’s an uneven read. Some heavy subjects, such as war, are approached with grand metaphors instead of hard-hitting, grounded images. Other poems seem too overt in their intellectual or humorous intentions to maintain an element of surprise. These are presumably the growing pains of an excellent young poet treading unfamiliar ground, and like the Detroit that May describes, these poems are full of both shadow and light. (Apr.)