The Tenant of Fire

Univ. of Pittsburgh. Sept. 2019. 85p. ISBN 9780822965909. pap. $17. POETRY
In this Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize winner, Black offers a personal perspective on Queens, New York, in wide-gauged, acutely observed, conversational poems that often feel like stories or essays. The result is not so much nostalgia as re-creation, affording us the particularities of the setting—Forest Park, the Dunkin’ Donuts on Rockaway, Junior hustling near The Showboat, and the noise of jets from Kennedy International turning to music with “the arrival and departure of strangers.” Then there’s his own history, with Budweiser and Bailey’s in the family refrigerator; the painful ironies of his grandmother’s name, “Miriam,// from the Hebrew meaning ‘bitter,’ meaning a plight./ ...Walsh,” meaning ‘native,’ from the Irish meaning// ‘foreigner’”; and relationship blues (“I was in love/ with a woman I thought I could leave. In the end, of course, she left me”). In the end, Dunkin’ Donuts, lost love, a grandmother’s dementia, and a friend’s tragic death are moments that touch us all.
VERDICT Black provides a deft accumulation of detail that might initially feel talky, but readers are advised to slow down and enjoy the atmosphere, the emotion, and the firm sense of time and place. Really, you don’t have to be from Queens.
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