Grocery Shopping with My Mother

Kevin Powell's 15th book, the music-inspired poetry collection Grocery Shopping with My Mother, is both a reckoning with family history and a celebration of Black pop culture. In the title poem that opens the collection, Powell (The Education of Kevin Powell) helps his ailing mother with daily tasks to prevent another fall. With a satisfying symmetry, the collection also ends with a poem about her, "Son2Mother." He grants her forgiveness, knowing her emotional coldness arose from an abusive childhood and the trials of being a single mother. "Poetry is music and music is poetry, to me," Powell writes. Indeed, the work is structured like an album, with two "sides" that are followed by "bonus tracks." Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life is an acknowledged influence, and the musical references range from Tupac to the Beatles (in a playful piece composed around their song titles). The run-on phrasing, internal and end rhymes and repetition mimic rap rhythms.

In the context of the Black Lives Matter movement, Powell considers how racial aggression echoes throughout generations. For instance, an imagined monologue by a sharecropper's son laments the murder of George Floyd. Most of the verse is freeform, while three excellent haikus, particularly the alliteration-rich "Haiku for Black Boys," mark a change of pace. Elegies to the likes of Kobe Bryant, bell hooks and Sidney Poitier and allusions to Langston Hughes's poetry showcase African American contributions.

The personal and the political, the praiseworthy and the reprehensible mingle in smooth poems with a distinctive voice. --Rebecca Foster, freelance reviewer, proofreader and blogger at Bookish Beck

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