Self-published, (myspace.com/alanking81), 2006 - £3
I’m not sure how Alan King sleeps at nights. The amount of caffeine he seems to get through in the course of these poems, the small hours must be pretty wakeful.
But that said, it’s probably doing a very necessary job, because he’s very definitely at his best when conveying a rather breathless, urban rush, almost like a modern version of Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems. There’s plenty of romance mixed in with the nitty-gritty details (“you wonder if a band of diaper-clad archers secretly swarmed the streets”—‘The Observer’), but I liked the way that even in matters of the heart, his imagery remains resolutely city-flavoured, as when thoughts of a loved one “speed up the blood’s slow traffic” in ‘The Sweet Urge’.
King’s subject matter makes the journey across the Atlantic easily enough, but his African-American background comes through strongly too, giving the book a distinctive flavour, and all the food and drink in there points up the sensual nature of many of the poems—smell, touch and taste are very important to this poet.
He’s less strong when he gets political, not because what he’s saying isn’t interesting or valid, but because the forms he uses seem ill-suited to carrying his message. While minimal punctuation and galloping pace in a loosely-structured free verse work well in conveying a constant reel of scenes and images, they start to make poems look more like notes for an essay when they’re dealing with material that begs for a slightly slower, more measured approach.
But then again, it’s far too easy to treat US poets as just English with a funny accent. Perhaps the immediacy, the directness, the willingness to try to get thought processes straight down on the page, is something British poets could learn from. You could sit down with a lot worse books with your next cup of coffee.