Stories of 1990s New York Bring a Different World to Light
Affiliate links may be present in this review, meaning, at no additional cost to you, Berry’s Poetry Book Reviews receives a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Written very much in a way that reminds one of the movie “Crash,” Stefon N. Lowman’s A Million and One Stories to Tell travels from the vantage points of many characters. Interestingly enough, Lowman seems to accomplish what the entire collection aims for in the piece “Mr. Willy’s Neighborhood.” This poem perhaps should have opened the collection as it lets multiple characters share the spotlight and informs readers that this poems will be the voices of many different speakers.
Written in 2019, this poetry collection could actually be read in conjunction of Emily Bazelon’s “Charged.” Bazelon’s work touches on how gun control laws while, even if they were made with good intentions, have the inadvertent effect of contributing to the mass incarceration of black men. In Lowman’s work, he shows both sides of gun violence on New York’s city streets in the 1990s. Young men begin as victims, buy guns to protect themselves and then, some, turn into aggressors themselves.
While there are many times when Lefon’s poetry feels overworked, his work is an interesting sort of time capsule that carries his readers back to a time that is now being resurrected through fashion trends and Friends obsessions. His work reminds readers that while not that long ago, life was still incredibly different and the institutional racism present in American society was still very hard at work.
“Heavy Eyes” is one of the best pieces of the text. It is carefully constructed and while it swells with emotion it does not come close to being maudlin. If anything, the piece is haunting. “Love meets a slow death / in the hands of loneliness,” it whispers. The pain of loss strikes the readers as “…an old man hangs his head…” and sheds tears ‘…on a guitar with five broken strings.” Loss plays a heavy role in this text.
Lowman follows the descent of one family into hellish chaos after the matriarch of the family dies. This tragedy is followed by another: the remaining parent sells his daughter for drugs. Lowman dedicates a lot of this time to this family. “Faceless and Nameless” describes the daughter’s predicament after she has runaway from her now abusive household; unfortunately, this poem is immediately followed by “Daddy’s Pain.” This second poem is not particularly striking and, in truth, seems a bit gratuitous. Readers learn all about the father’s drug addiction abuse of his child in two previous poems. A third one that doesn’t add much more to the equation feels a bit like over kill.
“Midnight’s Sons” is a bitterly fun piece that reads like a dark chant that would fill a movie theater before the opening scene crystallized on screen. “They are the brothers of the / midnight sun.” Thumping, simple – this poem is a tapestry in only ten lines. “They stand on corners with their / their hands on guns.” Lowman is at his best when he chooses simplicity over theatrics. When he taps into the essentials, that is when he really brings his New York to life.
Did you like this review? Send a one time tip!
If you’re a poet who would like a free review, click here!