I’d Rather Be Called a Nerd by Dominic “Nerd” McDonald

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 66 pgs.
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I’d Rather Be Called a Nerd by Dominic “Nerd” McDonald, winner of the 2022 DC Poet Project, is a memoir in poems exposing what it means to be an academic Black man in America and upend the expectations of the Black community. The collection melds Hip Hop rhythms and poetry to create a unique look at academic life and being a nerd.

The collection opens with the title poem, “I’d Rather Be Called a Nerd,” in which speaks about his grandfather who pushed him to be educated and strive for more than the streets can provide. “My grandfather, rest his soul,/always told me, ‘Whatever’s clever pulls the lever.'” (pg. 1) and “this why niggas hot./They hot cause they lie, spend cash to be fly./Do anything as long as they can get by./But that’s not on my mind not does it define/what I can and will be./” (pg. 2)

McDonald’s passions are evident in every turn of phrase and poem in this collection, wearing his “nerd” title with pride. In his lyrics, he seeks to create change, motivate others, and demonstrate that other paths are available. Some of the most memorable poems for me were “Hungry,” “Pure Potential,” and “To the Bartender.” These demonstrate the ups and downs we face in which we struggle to utilize our potential (that everyone says we have) and feed our own hunger without falling into the expectations of others.

I’d Rather Be Called a Nerd by Dominic “Nerd” McDonald, winner of the 2022 DC Poet Project, is a unique blend of rap, Hip Hop, and poetry, and you can’t help by tap your toes or bop your head.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Dominic “Nerd” McDonald is a Black entrepreneur and spoken word artist from various cities in Los Angeles, California. He has put his views on growing up in the inner city between two households, Hip Hop music, being a social outcast, college experiences, and more, into poetry, screen plays, and magazine articles. His passion comes from serving the community, especially through the arts. By writing from his heart and what he sees and hears, he hopes to be a “change agent” for the unheard. His journey led him to the DC Metro area six year ago, where he spreads influential messages and supports others who walk the same path.

Check out this interview.

Breaking the Blank by Dwayne Lawson-Brown and Rebecca Bishophall

Source: the publisher
Paperback, 90 pgs.
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Breaking the Blank by Dwayne Lawson-Brown and Rebecca Bishophall is a poetic conversation between friends and parents about parenting, their experiences in a society where Racism and toxic masculinity infect everyday life, and where they seek out the joy.

The collection’s first section is titled “Breaking the Mold,” and is a meditation on being a parent to young children and the sacrifices that entails. From “Parenting” about a parent sitting very still in vomit covered clothing as a baby sleeps to “Cash and Respect” where a son reflects on the dedication of a single working mother who raised them, Lawson-Brown and Bishophall paint a picture of childhood that is protected and unprotected at the same time, the immense strength it takes to raise children, and the full circle of respect and love when those children grow.

“Blank Space” follows this parenting section and reflects a search for fulfillment, whether that is through writing, love, friendship. It’s a filling up of space and search for contentment and solace, for love and understanding. But there is loss here too. One of the most emotional poems for me was “For Immortals That Live on Soundcloud” by Lawson Brown: “A simple ‘pardon me’ would have been nice/As you bumped your way to heaven/Showing up at the gates/Before anyone saw your invitation//” (pg. 20) It’s a meditation on a life gone too soon and how we struggle with the empty space left behind, the anger we feel at them leaving us so soon, and the sadness.

Naturally, “Fill In My Blank” follows up this section with a set of poems about crushes, texting after breakups to rekindle the past, and more. Some favorites in this section include “Three Little Words” and “Honestly” for their sensuality and tenderness. But there are so many others you could fall into.

Playground Pause by Rebecca Bishophall (pg. 54)

turn laughs to
silence. Adults still
until the lights turn the corner.
Pain Per Due by Dwayne Lawson-Brown (pg. 55)

Embarrassment and prejudice
Go down easy
With blueberry compote
The French toast
Sweet as erasure
The tab
covered in the price of my past.

In the final sections, “Breaking the Cycle” and “Breaking the Rules,” our poets are here to resist societal norms and demonstrate to readers that breaking rules and cycles of the past does not spin the world out of control, but brings us closer as a people. These sections are full of power and must be read.

Breaking the Blank by Dwayne Lawson-Brown and Rebecca Bishophall asks readers to pause their own lives and perspectives and listen. Just listen. Similarities will emerge, and we need to learn that pain and love are universal and essential to everyone’s well-being.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poets:

Rebecca Bishophall and Dwayne Lawson-Brown met each other as juniors in high school in the late 1990’s and have been literary colleagues, and friends, ever since. Rebecca Bishophall has featured at Spit Dat, Afrocentric Book Expo, and others, and works in member services for a non-profit organization. She graduated from Trinity University in 2006 with a major in Communications. Dwayne Lawson-Brown, aka the Crochet Kingpin, is co-host of Spit Dat, the longest running open mic in Washington, D.C. Their poems were recently published in 2022 Pride Poems, they co-authored the Helen Hayes nominated play, From Gumbo to Mumbo, and they are an editor of the literary magazine Bourgeon.

Check out this interview with the poets.

Mailbox Monday #705

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has its own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Thank you to Velvet for stepping in when Mailbox Monday needed another host.

Emma, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

Here’s What I Received:

DC Poets for DC Schools edited by Robert Bettman, purchased from DayEight.

The DC Poets for DC Schools anthology includes twenty-six poems by nine area poets. The poems in this collection were selected to introduce students to topics and techniques, history, and character. Included works explore growing up in Washington, D.C., sexuality, Blackness, aging, violence, womanhood, and more. Authors range from internationally renowned award winners to highly regarded and still very young poets.

Diaspora Cafe: D.C. edited by Jeffrey Banks and Maritza Rivera, purchased from DayEight.

An anthology by AfroLatinx writers, Diaspora Cafe D.C. is a collective investigation of survival by writers within a system that deprioritizes their existence.

Diaspora Cafe D.C. is edited by Jeffrey Banks and Maritza Rivera and the contributors include: Ethelbert Miller, Saleem Abdal-Khaaliq, J. Joy “Sistah Joy” Alford, Jane Alberdeston, Kamilah Mercedes Valentín Díaz, Nick Leininger, Stephani E.D. McDow, Manuel Méndez, Hermond Palmer, henry 7. reneau, jr., Allison Whittenberg, Christine Williams, alongside poems by the editors.

While some poems consider identity and relationships, and others are love poems to family and lovers, all are united by a thread of resistance against invisibility.

Some Days the Bird by Heather Bourbeau and Anne Casey, which I purchased from Beltway Editions.

Throughout 2021, as COVID and climate change battled for supremacy in the hearts and minds of the world, American poet Heather Bourbeau and Irish-Australian poet Anne Casey engaged in a poetry conversation back and forth across the globe, alternating each week, to create 52 poems over 52 weeks. With poems anchored in their gardens, they buoyed each other through lockdowns and exile from family, through devastating floods, fires, wild winds and superstorms. Some Days The Bird, a collection of internationally recognized and award-winning poems, is the result of their weekly communiqués from different hemispheres (and opposing seasons) in verse.

Inheritance by Taylor Johnson, which was gifted to me by the new Takoma Park Poet Laureate.

Inheritance is a black sensorium, a chapel of color and sound that speaks to spaciousness, surveillance, identity, desire, and transcendence. Influenced by everyday moments of Washington, DC living, the poems live outside of the outside and beyond the language of categorical difference, inviting anyone listening to listen a bit closer. Inheritance is about the self’s struggle with definition and assumption.

What did you receive?

Falling Leaves: An Interfaith Anthology on the Topic of Consolation and Loss edited by Susan Meehan and Robert Bettmann

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 96 pgs.
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Falling Leaves: An Interfaith Anthology on the Topic of Consolation and Loss edited by Susan Meehan and Robert Bettmann is a prayer for the anguish felt around the globe by each of us whether that be during the pandemic or at another point in our lives. Each poem is founded on a tradition in faith, but the poets reinterpret some of these traditions in their lines.

Offering prayers, acceptance, and healing, these poets are reaching out to readers to demonstrate that we are not alone in dealing with loss. No loss is greater than another; all are equally harrowing. Even in this loss there is connection to ourselves, our ancestors, and the future.

As Luther Jett points out in “Ha’azinu,” “… Don’t pretend/that I am up there/in the sky — aloof,/unattainable//Don’t imagine/that I am only in/the gentle places–/the sweet moments/you wish to recall.//” (pg.9-10) And in “Come Sunday,” Lori Tsang says, “I give thanks/for this chance/to remember/I am part/of something/Larger” (pg. 57-8)

Falling Leaves: An Interfaith Anthology on the Topic of Consolation and Loss edited by Susan Meehan and Robert Bettmann is anthology readers can turn to again and again to find comfort. If you experienced a loss, and we all have, this collection will help you see that you are not alone in that sea of grief.

RATING: Quatrain

So Much of Everything by Jenn Koiter

Source: GBF
Paperback, 80 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

So Much of Everything by Jenn Koiter, which won the DC Poet Project award in 2021, explores the broken pieces we become to find the whole. Through persona poems, particularly those with the “messy girl” and “candy girl,” Koiter explores what it means to be broken and keep going. The title itself speaks to the overwhelm that many of us have felt at one time or another in our lives, with many of us having that sense during the pandemic. Dealing with grief and sudden loss, Koiter takes us on a roller coaster of emotions, but her words resonate no matter the readers’ experiences.

Her opening poem, “Easter Night,” establishes the atmosphere of hope even in the darkness where there is the chill of services and the heels sinking into grass: “Since yesterday, the earth has tilted./The day’s last light curves/differently over my arm/on its habitual armrest, then dims/and dims to night.//What will I do with darkness in this new life?//” (pg. 1)

Koiter’s poems are otherworldly, like we’re swimming in her thoughts and trying to make sense of things like she is.

In “The Messy Girl Drives Eastward, with Impending Migraine,” her lines call to the beautiful topsy-turvy nature she’s experiencing: “Lines of birds shift in the air like words that cannot stay still/on the page, latecomers looking for a place/in an already crowded field.” Or the young girl pushing her way onto the swing set “as if/I had never left, as if I could insist/there be no world without me” in “Samsara.” (pg. 42)

As readers move through the collection, grief surfaces and falls beneath the surface. In “After Thanksgiving,” the narrator is eating brandied cranberries in yogurt, but not because she loves these leftovers particularly. It is because they make her feel closer to her mother.

The mind is always churning, it is worrying like the narrator who “worries scab after scab” in “The Messy Girl Carries a Torch for the Boy Who Could Not Stop Washing.” And in “Live Portrait” where the painter is getting the model’s image on the canvas and only “The portrait can bear/the weight of all that/looking”.

So Much of Everything by Jenn Koiter a ball of our anxieties unraveled until we can do little more than see them for what they are — weights we place squarely on our own shoulders and those that we don’t. The trick is to discern which anxieties we can handle because they are our own perceptions (which we can change) and those that are heavy with loss and grief and must be accepted. “meaning today I am at my most/human, meaning I am not okay and/I’m okay” (pg.76) And it is okay to be on that precipice of everything.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Jenn Koiter is a writer, marketer, entrepreneur and breathworker. The winner of the 2021 DC Poet Project, Jenn’s debut poetry collection, “So Much of Everything,” was published in 2021 by Day Eight. Her poems and essays have appeared in Barrelhouse, Smartish Pace, Bateau, Ruminate, Copper Nickel and other journals. She lives in Washington, D.C., with three gerbils named Sputnik, Cosmo and Unit. Visit her on Twitter.

Ashes to Justice by R.E.I.L.

Source: GBF
Paperback, 46 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

(**note that this collection could be triggering for child abuse survivors)

Ashes to Justice by R.E.I.L. is a deeply personal collection of poetic resilience and strength. The opening poem, “Piece for PEACE” is a tribute to her grandmother and the strength she showed the young girl every day and the devastation of loss the young woman feels due to her grandmother’s passing. It’s a poem of learning to live without a loved one, but also an homage to the strength a grandmother instilled in a granddaughter: “my mind was dedicated/To being the strongest woman I could ever be/You are my hero, and I miss you/” (pg. 1)

It is clear that this poet has suffered, but she has chosen to strive for strength and resilience. Her poetry explores her efforts and her setbacks, but it is clear she will not let the abuse rule her life and take her down. From “Her Testimony,” “A little girl sad/Her life had no glory//And she wanted me to tell her story/She wants you to know that it feels good to be alive//This young girl died four times/Then was brought back to life!//” (pg. 3) It is through this spoken-word style that the narrator of the poem unpacks the sexual abuse story and brings forth the concept of “Reborn Early In Life” (R.E.I.L.). It becomes a moniker that sets the redemptive tone for the entire collection.

She strives to explore what “sexy” means and how it should be defined by not only society but ourselves. These poems are a sussing out of the past and the narrative present to determine how she should be viewed by herself, her lovers, and ultimately, what love and affection should be and how it should feel. The poet also tackles familial love and how it should be. In “A Real Man,” she implores a father to console her and the understand that not everything is about him.

Ashes to Justice by R.E.I.L. is a cathartic journey for a survivor of abuse, but it also is a lesson in how to learn what love is and not just what you’ve been given. It’s a soul-searching collection in which “where I come from” shouldn’t and doesn’t dictate who you are and what you deserve out of life. “Realizing that no one person is the problem/But we’re all part of the solution/And somewhere between here now and then/We need a resolution//” (pg. 29-31; “Fighting Temptations”)

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

R.E.I.L. started her poetry career at open mics in the D.C. area and at 16 competed in the Brave New Voices slam in New York City. A poetic performer, visual artist, and arts educator teaching in D.C. schools, R.E.I.L. seeks inspiration from past and present life experiences to help the lives of other unsung souls.

Mailbox Monday #669

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has its own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Velvet, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

This is what we received:

Push by Ashley Audrain, which I purchased.

Blythe Connor is determined that she will be the warm, comforting mother to her new baby Violet that she herself never had.

But in the thick of motherhood’s exhausting early days, Blythe becomes convinced that something is wrong with her daughter—she doesn’t behave like most children do.

Or is it all in Blythe’s head? Her husband, Fox, says she’s imagining things. The more Fox dismisses her fears, the more Blythe begins to question her own sanity, and the more we begin to question what Blythe is telling us about her life as well.

Then their son Sam is born—and with him, Blythe has the blissful connection she’d always imagined with her child. Even Violet seems to love her little brother. But when life as they know it is changed in an instant, the devastating fall-out forces Blythe to face the truth.

The Push is a tour de force you will read in a sitting, an utterly immersive novel that will challenge everything you think you know about motherhood, about what we owe our children, and what it feels like when women are not believed.

Eternal by Lisa Scottoline, which I purchased.

What war destroys, only love can heal.

Elisabetta, Marco, and Sandro grow up as the best of friends despite their differences. Elisabetta is a feisty beauty who dreams of becoming a novelist; Marco the brash and athletic son in a family of professional cyclists; and Sandro a Jewish mathematics prodigy, kind-hearted and thoughtful, the son of a lawyer and a doctor. Their friendship blossoms to love, with both Sandro and Marco hoping to win Elisabetta’s heart. But in the autumn of 1937, all of that begins to change as Mussolini asserts his power, aligning Italy’s Fascists with Hitler’s Nazis and altering the very laws that govern Rome. In time, everything that the three hold dear–their families, their homes, and their connection to one another–is tested in ways they never could have imagined.

As anti-Semitism takes legal root and World War II erupts, the threesome realizes that Mussolini was only the beginning. The Nazis invade Rome, and with their occupation come new atrocities against the city’s Jews, culminating in a final, horrific betrayal. Against this backdrop, the intertwined fates of Elisabetta, Marco, Sandro, and their families will be decided, in a heartbreaking story of both the best and the worst that the world has to offer.

Unfolding over decades, Eternal is a tale of loyalty and loss, family and food, love and war–all set in one of the world’s most beautiful cities at its darkest moment. This moving novel will be forever etched in the hearts and minds of readers.

What Flies Want by Emily Perez from the publisher.

In What Flies Want, disaster looms in domesticity: a family grapples with its members’ mental health, a marriage falters, and a child experiments with self-harm. With its backdrop of school lockdown drills, #MeToo, and increasing political polarization, the collection asks how these private and public tensions are interconnected.

The speaker, who grew up in a bicultural family on the U.S./Mexico border, learns she must play a role in a culture that prizes whiteness, patriarchy, and chauvinism. As an adult she oscillates between performed confidence and obedience. As a wife, she bristles against the expectations of emotional labor. As a mother, she attempts to direct her white male children away from the toxic power they are positioned to inherit, only to find how deeply she is also implicated in these systems. Tangled in a family history of depression, a society fixated on guns, a rocky relationship, and her own desire to ignore and deny the problems she must face, this is a speaker who is by turns defiant, defeated, self-implicating, and hopeful.

The Damage Done by Susana H. Case from the publisher.

The “damage done” in Susana H. Case’s remarkable poetry thriller set in late 1960s New York City is of two orders. On the surface, this is the story of Janey, a fashion model whose death under mysterious circumstances serves as an opportunity for a corrupt FBI agent in the Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) to frame Janey’s Black Panther lover for her death, making them both collateral damage in J. Edgar Hoover’s clandestine war on anyone he deemed un-American. But on another level, as Case instructs us, the greater damage done is to democracy itself, to trust and faith in government, an enduring legacy of suspicion and division that serves as a cautionary tale at a moment when those divisions and distrust are more enflamed than ever. That’s a tall order for a volume of poetry, but Case more than succeeds in this audacious, breathtaking collection.

Ashes to Justice by R.E.I.L. from the publisher.

Ashes to Justice is a poetic lightning bolt tracing the path of love, abuse, betrayal, and recovery toward self-love. In this debut collection DC-area spoken word performer and poet educator R.E.I.L. releases the demons of this world while holding onto love for her family of birth, and the family she’s found.

Written with a whisper and a hammer” – Kim B Miller, Poet Laureate Prince William County, Virginia

“The sorrow of abuse pulses under these poems. But so does the joy of double-dutch, a grandmother’s love, and the truth of rebirth” – Joseph Ross, author of Raising King, and Ache

R.E.I.L. started her poetry career at open mics in the D.C. area and at 16 competed in the Brave New Voices slam in New York City. A poetic performer, visual artist, and arts educator teaching in D.C. schools, R.E.I.L. seeks inspiration from past and present life experiences to help the lives of other unsung souls.

Ashes to Justice is published by Day Eight with support from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Cover art for the book is (c) Luis Del Valle, used by permission of the artist.

What did you receive?