The Short Version: A collection of ferocious, insistent, searing poems, many of them about a young gay black man only ever called Boy. Some are beautiful, others gut-wrenching – but every single one will leave a bruise.
The Review: I’ve never been much of a poem guy, you see. Oh, I like Billy Collins, sure. Poe, Keats, some Whitman, Longfellow, of course Shakespeare. My favorite collection up to this point was Seamus Heaney’s District and Circle, which I read in college and was the first time I felt any vibrancy in the form. And while I, as a New Year’s resolution of sorts, downloaded Penguin’s delightful “Poems By Heart” app to try and make myself learn some poems… I got a Poe, I got a Shakespeare (that I sort of already knew), and I began to lose interest.
But Saeed’s Twitter account (@theferocity) has long been followed by my Public Forum work account and the buzz around Prelude was heavy. When I hear about The Bellwether’s terrific NOCTURNE, I jumped to buy a ticket – and then ran out to pick up the collection, expecting something interesting but ultimately no more interesting than I found any poetry in general.
Oh how wrong I was.
From the first lines of the first poem in the collection, I was hooked. I said recently that Laura van den Berg’s Find Me felt like it had me by the throat while I read it – and these poems felt similar. I was short of breath when I picked up this collection, no matter what mood I was coming in with or where I was or how my life was going at that particular moment. These poems, nearly each and every one, demanded my attention. They pulse like a heartbeat, color like a bruise, feel tender and painful and yet hopeful all at once.
Here’s an example:
If I ever strangled sparrows,
it was only because I dreamed
of better songs.
I wrote that line and about 45 other lines down during the course of reading this collection. It’s nearly impossible not to find, on any given page, a turn of phrase or an image or even just a simple sentiment that makes you go “oh.” and look up. It was all I could do to read more than one of these poems in a sitting – they’re each so full, so heavy, that they enter your brain and expand to fill the space. Your heart feels sore, your breath catches.
And it’s like that across the full range of emotions, too. You know how sometimes beauty can hurt? Yeah, it’s not just sadness that’s here. It’s everything and you’re gonna feel all of it. Big time. Saeed does not shy away from showing the open vulnerability of all emotion, positive or negative, and the honesty with which these poems are presented is what makes them just absolutely astounding to me. And the fact that they’re dealing with some autobiographical stuff? That makes them even more powerful.
Words, honestly, fail me a bit. I am left nearly speechless in the wake of this collection.
Rating: 6 out of 5.
I didn’t exactly mean to survive myself.
— “Post-Apocalyptic Heartbeat”
Because I follow Saeed on Twitter, I happened to see a tweet a little while back where he said “I’m really glad I didn’t kill myself in 2011. It’s good to still be here.” and having read this collection… I suppose, all I can say is that I’m really glad, too. These poems are so full of power and emotion that they can be a little scary sometimes – a little intimidating – but they’re not only some of the best poems I’ve ever read… they’re some of the best things I’ve ever read period. If you’re a nerd like me, you can have fun watching him use septameter and then breaking the meter (see: “Thralldom II”) or doing any sorts of other linguistic tricks – and if you’re just a passing traveler, read “Boy in a Whalebone Corset”. Actually, pick any poem and you’ll find something to appreciate and enjoy, whether you’re a poetry fan or not. This is a beautiful, haunting, nearly perfect collection.