[In the spirit of full disclosure. . .
1. Rac Jac is a former student of mine. She even gives me a generous shout out in the back of this collection.
2. She is also a Facebook friend.]
All that said, she remembers that if I did not like her work that I would tell her so!
With all that being said, this is a remarkable collection.
My first impression came a few poems in when I thought to myself, “There is music here.” Something prompted me to return to the cover where I saw that the poems had been written and arranged by Rac Jac. Of course, there’s music.
Rac Jac writes often of metaphors and does some of her best work when she’s mixing them – “gymnasiums that are / under / constructive criticism” (“Background Check”) and “wondering why I still carry around / that card /like it’s really worthy of going/ between the thighs of / credit and debit swipes” (“Chase (‘cash away’) Bank”). From “Avenues and Noise Cancelling Headphones” – “Squealing babies, who crawl the streets, / looking to pacify their withdrawals, are never / discreet.”
The first poem (and there are many here that will force you to stop and recover) that really knocked me for a loop was “Planned Childhood.” The title itself is magnificent. It plays on the notion of Planned Parenthood in a completely unexpected way. Told from the point of view of a fetus, this is fetus with a voice, one who wants control – to plan his / her childhood. S/he has seen the behavior of her mother (“this woman / left pipes, needles, and spoons on”) and wants to say, “No, thanks.” The fetus is hoping to be aborted.
The conversation between the generations is a regular motif in this collection. In Part 3 of “Lineage Court / Generational DNA Tests,” Rac Jac writes, “the older generation neglected us / so the media and the streets / want joint custody.”
In “Seconds (I’m Just Sayin’),” she invents a stunning verb – “out shoe shined” – another example of how she blends metaphors. Another great verb comes in the 4th Part of “Lineage Court / Generational DNA Tests” – “I got wildfire aspirations / that I hope will bedspread / to future generations.”
More music. An immigrant in “E.T. Material” has “a visa and a vision.”
In “Judges” – “all you / really see in / those inkblots / is the noose friendly nectar.” That line sent me reeling.
Though Rac Jac has much on her mind – the generations, the city streets of Baltimore – she has a sharp wit. “Outtakes” made me laugh out loud. The ending – “DAMN I’m luvin the / way your assonance look in / them short tight stanzas.”
She knows her history. “Theme for English 503” is an excellent homage to Langston Hughes.
Though there’s much in here that’s bleak, Rac Jac does not despair. She is relentless. “place me on life row,” she demands in “Gift Rapping Paper.”
There is, as the title suggests, a motif about hair (see “I am My Follicles’ Keeper,” etc.), and I’m not sure I tracked it that well. It is not the first time that I have felt outside of an insight about black women and their hair. Some of Adichie’s Americanah is set in a hair salon, and I’m sure I only understood that strand (pun intended) on the most superficial level.
Rac Jac is a poet who needs to be read and heard.