cover image Boy with Thorn

Boy with Thorn

Rickey Laurentiis. Univ. of Pittsburgh, $15.95 trade paper (104p) ISBN 978-0-8229-6381-3

Laurentiis’s debut collection, winner of the 2014 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, oscillates between a lament for the brutalization of black bodies throughout history and a celebration of the pleasures of sexuality and desire. Many of Laurentiis’s poems fixate on white portrayals of blackness in Classical, Dutch Golden Age, and Southern Gothic art, echoing Natasha Trethewey’s examinations of visual art in her collection Thrall. Laurentiis’s speaker often revels in representations of queer sexuality in canonical art, inventing personal mythologies in the form of narrative ekphrastic poetry, as in the book’s title poem. At other times the poet elegizes the violence endured by black, queer bodies, as in “I Saw I Dreamt Two Men,” a poem written in response to antihomosexuality laws passed in some African nations. That poem seeks to honor the lives of queer Africans, though it manages to reproduce elements of Western privilege. It’s an example of an anxious tension that haunts the book; Laurentiis’s difficulty in reconciling his relationship to canonical art, art’s relationship to white supremacy, and his dual celebration of and mourning for lives at society’s margins. Yet Laurentiis possesses the formal tools of a strong poet, and instead of reading too deeply into such a sociopolitical critique, potential readers should see that this promising writer still has room to grow. [em](Sept.) [/em]