Andrea here, your music editor, write a poetry collection review. (For those of you who didn’t know, I may or may not have 1 or 3 degrees in poetry.) Anyway, I was super excited to read a press release from Autumn + Colour Records that was for a poetry collection that they are releasing. (I have long been an advocate for the similarities between these two communities - which may or may not be what I wrote my thesis on.) Anyway, super excited to be reviewing a poetry book released by a record company.
Sidewalk Stories by Jeremy Ritch is a collection of poems that shed light on and bring depth to the parts of America that society tries its damnedest to turn away from. It thrusts the reader face to face with gritty realities of violence, poverty, and drugs - while hoping, no screaming, for change and assistance. With the voice of a skate punk street kid who can’t turn away from the injustices, Ritch treats his subject matter with the respect and understanding that one someone who lived through those events, in those communities, befriended those characters could. He takes us into the streets, the bus stations, and even into a free Mumia rally with a Black Panther contingent, all with sensitivity, awareness, and a bit of humor.
Sidewalk Story #1 (Urban Chaos) sets the stage for the reader, and contains my favorite line in the whole collection, “Children play where bodies fall”. The simplicity and nonchalance of that line, illuminates everything that Ritch is trying to say in these pages. From the “florescent insomnia” in Bus Station to the man “Dancing in stolen sneakers and a charity parka” in Sidewalk Story #7 (Paxton St) to “Street kids in search of meaning” with “40s full of angst” in Sidewalk Story #10 (Ratboy) we are transported into the lives of these characters. The Invisible Man is a poem full of quiet cries for help, they build and they resonate, they catalogue the injustices and the hopes of an over looked people, with the lines “The is an invisible man who looks…/For a job that not only pays, but restores dignity.” That line is a blow to the chest, that line extends off the page and into the air all around you. Sidewalk Story #3 (Harold) is one of the poems in this collection that stuck with me, it is true, honest, bare bones, character sketch with no fancy tricks or summation ending.
There were a few varied poem structures within the collection - the free verse poems dominated, but the ones that employed one rhyme scheme or another were clearly mean to be performed, with the hard rhyme sounding a bit heavy handed on the page, but I am sure kill it on a stage. My favorite poems though, were the prose poems. These seemed to be the poems that read in the most natural way to me. Yes, they are polished in the ways that all poems need to be, but there seemed to be no heavy trimming happening in order to make them fit into a structure or rhyme scheme. Mistaken on the Lake is a gritty jaded love poem for a hometown, Marching With The Panthers takes us immediately into the narrators experience with the new Black Panthers, and City O City (Ode To New York) is the strongest poem in the traditional sense of poetry.
Unfortunately, I need to say, the spelling errors, mechanics, and grammar of the collection held me back a bit and the inconsistencies in punctuation stuck out as only it can in poetry. There were a few instances when I was wondering if there was intent or just a typo, which are not the elements that you want your reader focusing on. There were also a few poems where I feel like the endings were false, maybe false is not the correct term, but poems where the ending was rushed to a tidy conclusion that didn’t match the power, intent, or voice of the preceding lines. I often felt frustrated, because I was able to see where the tiniest bit of editing would have allowed this collection to soar.
I honestly felt bad write these few critiques of this collection, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that these aren’t necessarily critiques of the collection, but critiques of the publishing industry. Sidewalk Stories is a great collection poems, with interesting content, a voice that needs to be heard, but that has not had the opportunity of a quality line edit. And with the state of publishing and poetry in 2014, I understand how expensive that would have been.
So seriously, props to Autumn + Colour for taking a chance and publishing a poetry collection, props to Jeremy Ritch, for displaying his world to us. And let’s hope that this will inspire a new generation of poets and poetry readers, so much so that publishers again start paying fair wages and supporting authors as they deserve.