4 out of 4 stars
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Reviewer's note: Asterisks were placed in the title so that the automatic editing program would allow the word.
Sh**olian, by O Persaud, is a collection of poetry with a bold tone of self-examination and identity. Apparently, a “sh**olian” is a person who comes from an undesirable place. (I learned something new!) This author writes from the perspective of someone who has had to scrabble for livelihood and respect, and I enjoyed reading the processes narrated here.
There are four sections of poetry including a total of 49 poems. The subjects are varied, but most of them come back to the central theme of “identity.” Some of the topics discussed are slavery, AIDS, domestic violence, and blood diamonds. The poems travel through examining racial divides, using hurts as motivators, and laughing because we need to.
In the first section, there are 14 poems dealing with racial inequality. Persaud calls out racial issues and experiences specifically between black people and white people. For example, in the poem “black and white drinking fountains” the author points out that although the water fountains in the text are separated, the water comes from the same pipes.
Then there are 18 poems in the section, “the Creator,” which discuss God, our experiences, and how we react to our circumstances. Persaud suggests that our hurts and disappointments are motivators given to us to allow us to refocus ourselves. In the poem “worry,” he declares that worry is wasteful because “worry doesn’t fill up anything/ especially in your mind.” Many of these poems serve as an encouragement to let go of bad things that happen in our lives, framing a strong identity. He says, “it is adversity/ that makes us appreciate/ what we have/ or what we had.”
In the next section, called “the colony,” there are nine poems concerning insects and animals. The author examines ants, bees, mice, and other animals, comparing their traits to human behavior. In the last section, we get to see the fun side of Persaud. This section is called “writer’s block: a book of shi**y poems,” and the author includes eight poems that dance around with the word that lends itself to the title of this book. I enjoyed seeing the playful and sarcastic sides of this author.
I loved that Persaud creates vivid pictures with his words. For instance, these lines are from the poem “cold.” “when the wind/ had blown/ frost scattered/ across the dead grass/ like the dust/ off a dirt road.” Those lines allowed me to see and feel the place he was describing. Most of the poems do not have a rhyme scheme, reflecting their stark subjects and straightforward views. The poems that do rhyme have a sing-song rhythm to them. “the soul of music” is one of my favorites. The first stanza reads, “I had paid my dues/ in fields of cotton/ then sang the blues/ so it would never/ be forgotten.” Many of the poems end with a final line that is brief, yet profound. More than once, that final punch took my breath away.
The book is professionally edited, and I found no errors. I found the use of lowercase letters used mostly in the work interesting. I wonder if the author used them to emphasize the low station of some of the subjects in the poem, or if he was making a statement about the poems themselves. Either way, they are used for a purpose and are not errors. Obviously, prospective readers can expect from the title that there is some coarse language in this selection of poetry. I am not a fan of tossing around profanity, especially when it is unnecessary. However, Persaud most often uses it to make a point, and it didn’t take away from his work. I rate this beautiful collection of poems 4 out of 4 stars. I recommend this title to poetry fans who are looking for modern evaluations of subjects old and new. However, if you don’t like profanity, pass on this one.
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