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The Understudy’s Handbook by Steven Leyva

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 108 pgs.
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The Understudy’s Handbook by Steven Leyva is musically New Orleans, but also a collection of poems about learning a role that you may or may not take on.  It takes on the pomp and circumstance of the city and reveals an underbelly of sadness and want, while paying homage to the beauty of the city and its culture. The dichotomy of New Orleans comes to life in Leyva’s poems.

 From "Inamorata" (pg. 5-6)

...
and a funk in the other
     Nola when your bounce
         leaps from speakers

comes the great gyrate
    the whole line
        all heredity backing it up

...

Where'd you sleep
   last night? In the pines?
        Nola you fat and fine

the quick-quick-slow
        that repeats
         like being sick and tired

of being sick
    and tired or late again
            on last week's rent
...

Leyva’s poems are beautiful songs full of love, passion, and sadness. It’s a collection that pays homage to the past and invents a future. It’s about leaning into a bi-racial skin and finding a path that makes the most of an American life that is not always easy and is not always the most glamorous. It’s about breaking out of the molds assigned to us and creating our own lives and incorporating cultures in ways that make the most sense for our own well-being.

Poems like “Ear Hustle” unearth the dark past of an Americanized New Orleans culture in which powdered faces from beignets are unaware of the ancestors who cut the cane for that sugar. There’s that undercurrent of culture that he explores in his poems, but not to seek a rescue but to pay homage to the sweat and the work — to the understudy of society’s labors. These poems are multilayered, while the surface appears playful and musical. It’s a collection that celebrates rather than shames, though some poems do illustrate some of the shames of American history.

One of my favorite poems in this collection, “Sonnet for the Side Eye,” examines nature’s destructive tendencies (like Hurricane Katrina’s impact on New Orleans) with humanity’s obsession with naming that destruction. Leyva is tackling a great many things in this collection, but this poem in particular takes our obsession with categorizing things head on. So much divisiveness stems from these labels. But how do we as humans get to the point where we no longer label our fellow humans as a way to harm them or treat them as “other?”

Don’t miss The Understudy’s Handbook by Steven Leyva. I heard him read at a poetry event online and had to get my hands on this book, and I wasn’t disappointed.

RATING: Cinquain

Check out this interview with Steven Leyva in ArtsFairfax.

Mailbox Monday #627

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 it’s 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.

Leslie, 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.

ALERT: We’re looking for a new host to help us with MM — if you have experience with WordPress or Mr. Linky, feel free to apply.

Here’s what we received:

The Understudy’s Handbook by Steven Leyva, which I purchased.

Drawing heat and music (and luscious food) from a New Orleans and Houston childhood, Steven Leyva’s poetry reveals a sensibility forged by a growing awareness of race and class: child’s joy and bafflement, a black Baltimore father’s worry. These gorgeous poems sweep the reader as into a parade, of memory, sensation, rhythm, protest.

a more perfect Union by Teri Ellen Cross Davis, which I purchased.

In the tender, sensual, and bracing poems of a more perfect Union, Teri Ellen Cross Davis reclaims the experience of living and mothering while Black in contemporary America, centering Black women’s pleasure by wresting it away from the relentless commodification of the White gaze. Cross Davis deploys stunning emotional range to uplift the mundane, interrogate the status quo, and ultimately create her own goddesses. Parenting, lust, household chores—all are fair game for Cross Davis’s gimlet eye. Whether honoring her grief for Prince’s passing while examining his role in midwifing her sexual awakening or contemplating travel and the gamble of being Black across this wide world, these poems tirelessly seek a path out of the labyrinth to hope.

On the House by John Boehner, purchased from Audible.

Former Speaker of the House John Boehner shares colorful tales from the halls of power, the smoke-filled rooms around the halls of power, and his fabled tour bus.

John Boehner is the last of a breed. At a time when the arbiters of American culture were obsessing over organic kale, cold-pressed juice, and SoulCycle, the man who stood second in line to the presidency was unapologetically smoking Camels, quaffing a glass of red, and hitting the golf course whenever he could.

There could hardly have been a more diametrically opposed figure to represent the opposition party in President Barack Obama’s Washington. But when Boehner announced his resignation, President Obama called to tell the outgoing Speaker that he’d miss him. “Mr. President,” Boehner replied, “yes, you will.” He thought of himself as a “regular guy with a big job”, and he enjoyed it.

In addition to his own stories of life in the swamp city and of his comeback after getting knocked off the leadership ladder, Boehner offers his impressions of leaders he’s met and what made them successes or failures, from Ford and Reagan to Obama, Trump, and Biden. He shares his views on how the Republican Party has become unrecognizable today; the advice – some harsh, some fatherly – he dished out to members of his own party, the opposition, the media, and others; and his often acid-tongued comments about his former colleagues. And of course he talks about golfing with five presidents.

Through Speaker Boehner’s honest and self-aware reflections, you’ll be reminded of a time when the adults were firmly in charge.

Kindle Freebies from Amazon’s World Book Day through April 24:

What did you receive?