Write What You Know: The Poetry Memoir "Life Comes From Concrete" by Kevin Anglade (Book Review)
I first want to apologize to Kevin from the bottom of my heart. He sent me a copy of his book almost a year ago, and I read it super fast. Then my life took a drastic change and this book got lost in the shuffle of a move and other complications of life with kids. I feel very fortunate to be able to experience the work of others, and I know that you trust me to be honest and timely. Now onto the review!
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What are your thoughts on the idea that we speak intentions and actions into existence? Can our words (or even thoughts) manifest into the experiences we want to have? At the start of 2016, I (quietly) asked the universe to send me more opportunities to read poetry. It's a genre I find to be the most intimidating. Then miraculously, I kept being exposed to it. Well, not miraculously. I made an effort to be open to a new way of seeing the world, one where I read a lot more poetry. Now I see more writers as poets and make myself open to reading their work. This has turned out to be a great thing because poetry touches my soul in a way that other literature does not.
Just as I ask the universe to place new adventures in my path, Kevin Anglade does the same with his work in literature and community outreach. His practice is the manifestation of building a world where everyone's voice is heard. The New York native reached out to me and promptly sent me a copy of his book, Life Comes From Concrete. Inspired by a collection of poems by Tupac Shakur, Kevin Anglade (or Kev Ev as he is known on stage) is the founder and president of the independent publishing house, Flowered Concrete. Launched in 2012 and based in New York, the indie press was created to educate and inspire writers to tell their stories. So far he and his small staff have published seven books, including two of Anglade's titles.
Divided into five sections, Life Comes From Concrete takes the reader through the recurring themes of his life from his childhood to manhood. With raw honesty and passion, he lets the reader in and asks nothing more than an ear to listen. His writing speaks to the issues of his community from an insider's perspective; and he uses moments from his personal life, like the mourning of a loved one. He also rejects societal norms that question the inherent humanity of Black people, and in turn, hopes to ignite change in a system that crushes our lives- both literally and figuratively. There is a comfort in his writing that I have similarly found in Ta-Nehisi Coates, but Kevin Anglade's writing is still in its infancy (which can only grow and prosper).
Anglade blurs the lines within the art community of song and spoken word, as a hip-hop poet should. The prose is quick and sharp, like a jab in and out of your personal space. He provides an introduction to almost every poem as if he is on stage, preparing you for the next set, then- bam, he's in your ear with a story and a message. He has also placed a comprehensive index of citations at the end of the book, making no assumptions about your background knowledge and brings his work to your level. He uses a mix of current and historical references in his poetry and you may miss it if you're not paying close attention. Having only seen him perform in video clips, this edition of his book does a great job in highlighting the text in ways to show inflection on the page, and each line flows seamlessly into the next. I would imagine his tone and diction as I read his poems, and was later pleasantly surprised when it matched the videos of his most recent performances. The book as a whole plays out like a full stage production, including the moving introduction by fellow writer Shola Gbemi.
I love the writing in this book. First, as a reader, I didn't trip over any misspellings or writing errors. It's refreshing and I was able to stay focused on the content. Second, the book format is standard and unordinary, which I say as a good thing. It feels right at home with any other book I've purchased from a bookstore or online retailer. The only thing that did bother me was that every title is in quotes, which is unnecessary in book format. These critiques are less of an issue when you have a publisher behind you, but I have seen some books with questionable editing, proofreading, and formatting. So why bring it up at all? Because I'm impressed with Anglade's work both as a writer and as the face of an indie press. It makes me want to buy other Flowered Concrete publications in support of their work. When you hire good people, it makes you look good. Again, this is not rewarding the bare minimum, but acknowledge great work when you see it.
There is a simplicity to his work that can be mistaken as inexperience if you read his poems expecting Warsan Shire level of pain. We tend to give male poets fewer accolades than female poets because we dismiss their methods of grief. I was moved by his work, but it didn't HIT me until I stepped back and assessed his grief through his eyes and not my own. In his piece "Thirty?", he begs for his life to be more than just a statistic since black men have a high mortality rate. When your reality is deadly, you don't need to be metaphoric about your art. Black life is seen as inherently political in a number of ways and it's refreshing to see him boldly step into those moments of truth. My biggest regret when it comes to this type of poetry is that I haven't had the chance to experience more of it.
I liked poems throughout the entire collection, but I connected with the chapters on life ("Life Is Concrete"; "The Reality = Life Is Real") the most. "Feelings" makes me think of my own experiences of falling in love. And of course, "New York" caught my eye. That piece feels the way I envision the city even though I have only visited a few time. This is another way Anglade speaks to the masses if you let him. His themes are universal, showing that his experience can be your experience.
This book is a great educational tool. If Kevin Anglade's whole purpose was to educate and inspire, then I believe he accomplished that beautifully. I would recommend this collection to anyone looking to get a better understanding of the realities of Black life, but especially to teens. The writing is right in that sweet spot to help engage youth in current events and some historical perspectives. There are a few moments of strong language, but not enough to suggest this is inappropriate. This text can help boys of color feel that someone understands them; for non-people of color, this helps to reach out to Black boys becoming Black men.
Since the release of his book, Kevin Anglade and Flowered Concrete has produced a short documentary, "Life Comes From Destiny", about the art and journeys of nine black artists. He has also performed in #AMINEXT, a series about the realities of mass incarceration and police brutality towards the Black community here in the U.S. I invite you to watch the video above to have a more in-depth look at his style and process.
All of these events are steeped in Flowered Concrete's mission to educate and participate as a larger voice in their community. Don't forget to support Kevin and Flowered Concrete's work by purchasing Life Comes From Concrete on Amazon. You can also purchase Anglade's next book, Life Comes From Concrete 1.5: The Fall Memoir, which is a continuation of the evolution of his writing process and on my list of titles to purchase in the future. You can follow him on Instagram, Twitter, or his personal blog for more updates.
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About the author
Black & Bookish is the brainchild of Antoinette Scully, educator and lover of all things bookish. She is on a quest to guide the authors of tomorrow into the bookstores of today. When she's not hanging out on line, she's living it up as the mother of two rambunctious girls and wife of a local filmmaker.