Congotronic by Shane Book is a collection of unique poetry. Book is the author of Ceiling of Sticks. He is a graduate of New York University, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.
I picked up Congotronic because it was published by the University of Iowa Press, and I have not been disappointed by any of the works they have published. Congotronic, however, is very much out of my usual element of poetry. With no introduction, except for the cover art which lead me to think possibly West Africa, maybe Haiti, or again maybe big city America in the 1970s. The answer I received was “Yes.” The poetry seemed to capture all of that and more. There is imagery of an African fishing village in “Worldtown”. “Mack Daddy Manifesto” blends Engels and Marx into the street life of rap:
Real, real soon
as in yester-after-noon, I need to step to
your crib, and tell you how I feel the proletarians have
nothing to lose but their world to win.
and into “Bronze Age”
Through our high powered geigers: twin-stroke
underbuzz of revolution’s engine; the puttering
three-wheeled revolution; the landless campesinos
beaten by pots and pans into land and nothing we could
do. They resented our husks.
Sometimes the words flow with a rhythm of a rap, other times they flow like cut-up, making the read stop, think, and reorganize the words he read. What is not lacking is imagery and message regardless of the topic. There is that edge of resistance, pride, and that reminder much like the iconic image of Tommie Smith and John Carlos in Mexico City in 1968. There is power in the words, and that power seems to speak louder as proper English drifts into street slang. There is that feeling of pride and power that rose in the 1970s and now fades with illusion of equality. An excellent and unique collection poetry.