Poetry. African & African American Studies. An old movie theme song once observed, "What's too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget." That sort of convenient amnesia is at the heart of this incandescent first poetry collection from Donald Vincent. Incandescent, because that's the sort of light produced by heat, and there's a righteous heat raging in these pages, producing a brilliance that illuminates a legacy of racism and violence and appropriation and disenfranchisement and, and...all those things we'd like to forget, ignore, disown. All that pain. This is, then, a document on the subject of getting woke. And what an awakening! Vincent is by his own description "Prankster and intelligent gangster all-in-one," and that phrase captures perfectly the tone, and charm, of this book. But beware that beguiling charm, because it's dangerous. Indeed, "Lucky Charm" is the first poem, where he declares, "I inherited the bop in my walk from my great, / great grandpa's lashings on the farm." That's a hard-won bop, indeed, and in case we're inclined to forget, conveniently, that those lashings are not just a thing of the past, he doubles down a few lines later with the incendiary reminder, "I want to whistle whimsical feelings to white women, / Emmett Till's charm." Vincent identifies himself with Till again a few poems later, and laments that black children are born as "a small, black imprint / forced into a blank, / white world." Elsewhere, he declares, "they built me / to be filthy / black & ugly / and forever / guilty." He won't let us forget how that feels, how that works, even if it would be convenient to do so.
Vincent scrutinizes the aftermath of this legacy on stages large and small, and after a first section devoted to more political poems, in the second he tightens his focus on a more domestic scale. The title poem examines an all-too-familiar scene of troubled marriage, the husband "stumbling through the garage / entrance, smelling of Wild Irish Rose," his wife demanding "What happened to us?" His answer: "I forgot. / I don't know. Dear, I forgot. / Just give me one more chance." Yes, it's a melodramatic stereotype, but it's also a sad reality for too many families, a product of too many generations of denied opportunity, even to form stable families and communities. How many chances do we have left? (But lest this sound too unremittingly gloomy, this section also contains some whimsical "Dating Advice from Married Women," along with unabashedly romantic poems.) In the final section, the "intelligent gangster" is most evident, as Vincent interrogates, responds to, and riffs off works by authors and artists as various as Baraka and Emerson, Angelou and Dickinson, Degas and Basquiat. This is no mere display of erudition, however, but more a declaration that a fully formed culture, a truly humane world, must be open to all, accepting of all, and incorporate all that has come before us. Nothing can be forgotten. Even what's too painful.
Donald Vincent received his BA in Writing and Public Relations at Loyola University Maryland and MFA in Poetry from Emerson College. He is also known as Mr. Hip, a music recording artist with music available on all streaming platforms. His music projects include Vegan Paradise (2018), Who Is Mr. Hip (2018), International Hip (2017), and Jokes From My Ex (2015). He teaches English Composition at UCLA and Visual & Media Arts at Emerson College Los Angeles. Originally from the Southeast sector of Washington, DC, he currently lives in Los Angeles.Author City: LOS ANGELES, CA USA