Boy With Thorn by Rickey Laurentiis. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015.
Reviewed by Nico Ibanez
Rickey Laurentiis has an interesting view being born in New Orleans, to now living in Brooklyn. Having a voice for the voiceless is something he does well. The book opens with the focus on race. The first poem is dark and brings up religion questioning why slavery is around and how freedom seems close yet so far away. The following poem I Saw I Dreamt Two Men has a few layers to it. Not only is it describing two black men hung on a tree but their race was not the only factor for them being hung, they were seeing each other romantically and the people down south did not find that holy. It is an unexpected turn from the first poem but the dramatic change worked really well in captivating the reader. This poem ends with a great line really emphasizing the fact that the south seems to ignore its history. “As I saw the other turn away apart stay with silence I stayed with southern silence”. The first part really focuses on race and sexuality especially for being a black male growing up in the south. Black Iris is about having sex with a woman and how the narrator should enjoy every bit of her body but simply can’t. The style of the first section is all over the board and is not very consistent. Some of the poems are a bit challenging to read because a form is not in use and Laurentiis does not always use punctuation to help guide the reader from line to line. This section of the book began with a poem called Conditions for a Southern Gothic and ends with Southern Gothic. The ending poem of this section much like the rest of it has little hope for the south especially for its black residents, their only hope for peace is in death. It is a very sad idea to be dealt and left with right in the beginning of this book but Laurentiis does a great job pointing out a lot of the flaws the south has about race and sexuality.
The rest of the book is broken up into two more parts. It seems racism is the main focus of the second half and how history has done nothing to really help change people’s views of the black people in the south. Of the Leaves That Have Fallen is a bit more organized, having the stanzas numbered helps the reader know the shift in focus. This poem took up the whole section on its own with 50 stanzas. He ends it talking about trees which has been a motif in many of the earlier poems
The last section is made up of 14 poems with the last poem Boy with Thorn being set up as the poem in the second section of the book. This final section breaks again into a new form Laurentiis has not used before especially in Undiscovered Genius of the Mississippi Delta. The form given had it been laid out on one long piece of paper might resemble a flowing river but the form really does not add anything to the poem itself, in fact it’s a bit distracting.the most moving poem in this final section is This Pair This Marriage of Two. the Narrator seems to be struggling with who he is and may be self harming in front of a mirror and just constantly asking himself why he is not better? Why is he not white? Its very well written and flows beautifully to the next poem. The following two are about sexuality Mood for Love and Faggot both focus on struggling with being gay. It was very interesting the order of these poems Mood for Love is somewhat hopeful while Faggot just goes dark again with no hope in sight for the narrator.
Boy With Thorn the title of the book is the end which is an interesting way to put out a book, having the title be the first and last thing you read. This one as mentioned earlier is numbered and unlike the Of the Leaves That Have Fallen it does not flow as well in this format. The lines are shorter and a bit choppy
Over all Laurentiis does a great job on focusing on black culture and history bringing up a lot of what no one wants to talk about, however his form and style could use some work and maybe he can creat a signature style that works for him and the reader.