cover image Trouble Sleeping

Trouble Sleeping

Abdul Ali. New Issues (SPD, dist.), $15 trade paper (73p) ISBN 978-1-936970-32-2

This muscular, lyrical debut from Ali, winner of the 2014 New Issues Poetry Prize, recounts family history and struggle as well as the joys and hardships of single fatherhood. Varied in their formal elements and musicality, Ali's poems consistently engage black history and pop culture as windows into more personal, yet deeply political, realms: "Begin with a shooting,/ a controversial art exhibit, a mob throwing dung at the Black Madonna." Though packed with thoughtful references to cultural and political movements, the work is most successful when Ali addresses family: a dysfunctional childhood, an alcoholic mother, an absent father ("I didn't really have a father. Only a ghost that would appear/ each time I looked in the mirror"), and his own love and wonderment at his young daughter. "I can single out your voice from a playground of two hundred/screaming laughing five-year-olds, twenty sharing your name. I'm/learning this fatherhood script," he writes. The raw materials of emotion, fear, and anger burst through to confront oppression: "this lacerated tongue/ thirsts to remember// the names of all the faces/ hidden behind the barrel of a gun// loaded blasted/ into national memory// becoming caesuras." Ali's willful, complex collection marks him as a poet to watch. (Apr.)