ChickenBones: A Journal

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Matejka, whose poetry “sizzles,” according to widely-published poet Al Young,

pays careful attention to line breaks and pacing, orchestrating jazz-like dichotomies—

a form he understands and pays homage to in poems like: “Obligatory Mingus,”

 

 

The Devil's Garden

 By Adrian Matejka

Reviewed by Van G. Garrett

 

“Idle hands may make a devil’s workshop,” but well-crafted poems by Adrian Matejka make The Devil’s Garden.

Matejka, a Cave Canem fellow and the former production editor for Callaloo, “the world’s premiere journal publishing African Diaspora literature,” offers a contemporary kaleidoscope of verse that is cognizant of form and attuned to rhythm. This blend of hip-hop, political, societal, and racial poetics narrates in a creditable tone that taps into the psyche of youth and makes you feel a kindred spirit; like watching the Wonder Years. Matejka’s ability to recapture the essence of adolescence in well-written, descriptive fashion is seen throughout his collection and illustrated in “English B”:

I had to be introduced to The Man.

He was around before 1977.

I just couldn’t see him, like air

or welfare. My mom told me:

No matter what you do, the Man

is going to try and keep you down.

I already knew no one was keeping

me down. So when my teacher asked

me to read from Kaleidoscopes,

I told her back off, white woman.

I’m not reading your books.

She laughed, but understood

when I threw my book, covers

flapping like man’s first scraps

with gravity. Teacher realized

she wasn’t keeping me down,

so I got sent to Remedial English.

When I looked up “remedial,”

the dictionary read: The Man

questioning your “authenticity.”

Dictionary definition: “Blackness.”

So I was authentic and The Man

 

could keep his remedial. Problems

began when I realized my mom

was The Man, too: five feet

two inches, curling red afro,

white with power fist

in the air. Half-black, half-white

boy sitting on the stoop,

counting pieces of glass,

trying not to keep himself down.

Matejka, whose poetry “sizzles,” according to widely-published poet Al Young, pays careful attention to line breaks and pacing, orchestrating jazz-like dichotomies—a form he understands and pays homage to in poems like: “Obligatory Mingus,” “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down,” and “Visions of Max Roach.” However, it is his R&B poem “Understanding Al Green” that is a stand-out in the collection. The following lines excerpted from the poem demonstrate his honest tone and his musical acuity:

 

…because Al

hits notes mellow, like the silk that silk

wears. His voice is all hardworking night time

things. Not fake breast, but you

 

and your woman, squeezed onto the couch,

taking a nap while the aquarium stutters

beside you. Nodding off on drizzly days

when you should be at work. The first

smoke after a glass of fine wine you know

you can’t afford. Nobody, woman

or man, knows how to handle Al Green

It is this calculated meter that builds momentum and causes the reader to read and re-read the 70 poems contained in this volume. It is also the educated and often edgy pulse of the poetry that gives it a spoken-word feel that resonates with a familiarity of Saul Williams, Sonia Sanchez, and rapper/actor Mos Def—a wonderful blending of performance, intellect, and hip-hop.

The Devil’s Garden is diversified verse that appeals to the young and old. It is clear writing that employs rudimentary conventions amid contemporary themes and it truly embodies what Yusef Komunyakaa narrates on the back flap: “The Devil’s Garden meets at the crossroads of risky possibility—real and magical. With jazz burning in the engine, each curve in Adrian Matejka’s stunning imagination is taken with hard-earned, skilful grace.”

 

 

 

Van G. Garrett, a writer, photographer, and teacher from Houston, TX, is a Hurston/Wright Fellow and he was awarded a 2004 and a 2002 Callaloo Creative Writing Fellowship for poetry. His poems have appeared in ChickenBones, Rolling Out, Life Imitating Art, Swirl, Drumvoices Review, Curbside Review, Shanks’ Mare, Urban Beat, E! Scene and elsewhere.

He was awarded the Danny Lee Lawrence prize for poetry in 1999His photography has appeared in Source, has been contracted by Capitol Records, and has been on display at the Museum of Fine Arts of Houston.

 He is a 1999 graduate of Houston Baptist University, with a BA in English (with an emphasis in creative writing) and Mass Media (with an emphasis in print) which he has utilized as demonstrated by his various publications and honors. v.g.garrett@usa.net

 

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