I read this book in paperback. This is an unsolicited review.
Author Phillip Douglass sums up his own book in the preface with these lines: “I seldom consider grammar, the structures or the format. I rarely consider the placement of a comma or an apostrophe. Nor do I fret much on past tense or filler words or whether my inability to fully grasp the proper way of organizing my expression can downgrade the message I am trying to convey.” In this, at least he gives us forewarning because boy is it accurate.
As an avid reader myself, I struggle with writers who refuse to care about their readers. Many times I reach the conclusion, if the writer doesn’t care if I, the reader, don’t understand what they’re saying, then I don’t care to read what they ARE trying to say. It’s a big fat “fuck you” from the writer. Still, I saw the book advertised on two of my favorite writers on Instagram and I purchased it based partially on their recommendations.
The book contains awkward formatting, both in the poetry and the strange margins. The prose pieces (and some poetry) contain poor punctuation and misspellings. It could use an editor because the back-coding was clearly not done which caused inconsistencies in the type, which is jarring while reading. In the preface, he keeps calling it his “book” in quotations and I can’t make sense of why he would do that. It’s awkward as he doesn’t explain why. Most of the poetry was, for me, so-so and underwhelming, especially with the length of most of the pieces. I typically prefer long-form poetry but many of these (being 2-7 pages) felt overdone or lagging. Many of the pieces are at times confusing or the thought pattern is difficult to follow where he’s going with it. Much of the rhyming poetry feels forced.
One such example of confusing and forced poetry uses alliteration and random rhyme splattered throughout in a collection of words that makes little to no sense: “…Lineage is the linger – Leaving longest string – When clipped – Leaves but a lonesome – Lonely meaningless thing…” This particular piece went on for two pages and I have no idea what he was trying to convey other than perhaps confusion.
But there WERE some redeeming pieces to hit and miss on. First, I really like the cover. It was a large factor in me ultimately purchasing it. Second, there were six poems that I thought were special, especially in their message.
‘Supernova’ is a short but powerful poem.
‘To Love and To Light’ is a six-page story poem that starts: “Was born at the time When the sun hung At the highest point In the sky My newborn body Greeted the world And its abundance of light I was a son of this sun…” and ends with “I only have love When I have you, My light”
‘Untitled’ (of which there are a few christened this) beginning on page 127 is an interesting three-page piece that uses color (or lack thereof) as metaphor. Some favorite lines were: “I have always seen The dark in the white And the light in the black” and “I am not colorless I am colors”
‘Red January’ – I love the title and is a story-poem about a 5-year-old boy who finds his dog shot to death in a ditch by his mom’s boyfriend
‘Snowflake’ has a great theme and progression going. Beginning with “I was first soft A snowflake So gentle in the beginning of my winter… Wanting to be a good boy” which progresses to “I don’t want to be a bad boy” to “want to be a good boy” on a bit to “I am a good man” to “And it is no wonder That your world is a lie When you can never face The truth of yourself…. I think I am a bad man” etc.
‘The Sound that Ever Remains In…’ is a seven-page story poem that goes along with ‘Red January’, even including that event, but also the misdeeds and abuse at the hands of the man. This was my favorite poem of the entire book. In the beginning, his abuser (who I suspect is an amalgam of his real dad and the boyfriend later) says to the five-year-old that he’s crying when he’s hurt “Because you are not a victim You are a predator” just after calling him a “soft boy”. The accusation of pain/being soft/and the statement become the theme even to his future days when death comes for him.
You may see the consistency in the works I thought stood out… yes, I found myself wishing Mr. Douglass would have wrote a book of short stories or flash fiction and ditched the poetry. He’s a great storyteller and those story-poems were his best pieces.
I give this 1.5/5. My grading came down to these key points (in case you disagree with any points): minus 1 for formatting/punctuation/spelling issues, minus 1 for repeated forced style/unnatural voice, minus 1 for confusing/uninspiring poetry, minus 1/2 for lack of care. Added 1/2 for cover, added 1 for the redeeming poems of which are far and few but do tell great stories.
be a good writer: read.
**If this review was helpful or you’ve read it and want to add to the discussion, please let me know in the comments!
I will also, as a side-note, say, it may seem that I am harsh on many writers for their editing, formatting, grammar, punctuation, etc. I do so unapologetically. One, because this is a review, not a popularity contest. Two, because honest criticism should help us grow as artists.
The fact of the matter is, these things MATTER. A mathematician must use his tools and use them correctly to be an effective mathematician. A surgeon cannot simply say, “I know I can’t sew the wound closed but at least I could remove the appendix or whatever it’s called.” Same with writers. We can’t claim to be writers but refuse to use proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation. We can’t claim to be a photographer just because we know how to push the button on the camera (or phone). There’s an art to it.
So while I may appreciate the artist as a person and their words, I believe that it does us all a disservice to say lower quality editing is okay. Believe in yourself! Believe in the power of your words! Put the effort into being the very best you can be. Ask for help. Grow and learn.
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