9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on November 27, 2001
Adam Mansbach's debut poetry collection, genius b-boy cynics getting weeded in the garden of delights, gives us a glimpse at what overused terms like "hip hop poetry" should, but seldom do, refer to.
Hip hop is only occasionally the subject matter of Mansbach's poetry -- alongside topics like race, family, consumerism, academia, love, jazz, popular culture and religion -- but a hip hop sensibility infuses his work. He collages words and ideas like the best DJs, samples voices, rhythms and ideas with a skill and wit worthy of the RZA or DJ Premier, twists and invigorates and layers language with up-to-the-minute wit.
And yet, Mansbach is more in the tradition of T.S. Eliot than he is in keeping with the contemporary poetry scene. His best pieces, like Eliot's, are long, winding narratives which shift from topic to topic, their structures revealing themselves cagily. Poems like "It's Your World Tour," "Black Marbles," and "Sticknmove" are searingly insightful, strikingly personal, and often hilarious attempts to grapple with the complexities of life. As with Eliot, the uninitiated may have to grab a reference book to properly understand all of Mansbach's allusions, but in this case the privileged insiders are more likely to be genius b-boy cynics than scholars.
Mansbach's scope of reference is so wide, though -- as Michael Eric Dyson, author of Holler If You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur, has written, he is "equally comfortable with high cultural classicism and vernacular vibrations" -- that his work is challenging to almost any reader. In a single piece, it is not unusual for Mansbach to cite cultural markers as diverse as Phil Ochs, Eryka Badu, Wallace Stevens, George Wallace, Grand Wizard Theodore, Phase 2, Tennessee Williams, and Shaharazad Ali, to name just a few of those who crop up in the first few pages of the expansive "It's Your World Tour."
In shorter pieces, Mansbach is often more pointed. In "Frontlines," he discusses the gradual process by which academics lose touch with reality: "late at night you gaze/at the titles on your university housing pinewood bookshelf/and beg james baldwin's forgiveness/because the fire this time stopped burning after two degrees/leavin you strong enough for a man/but ph.d balanced against outrage/like the scales of justice." In "Gotta Be," the tongue-in-cheek subject is his own obsession with Nikes, and in "Veen" he envisions a world in which "God plays time" like drummer Elvin Jones. "Knight in Shining Karma" explores fear and vulnerability in love relationships, drawing on kung fu movies and cold war terminology to do so, while "A Visit With My Brother David" is a poignant, straightforward narrative about a trip to prison.
The only thing longer than the title of genius b-boy cynics getting weeded in the garden of delights is the talent of its author. Adam Mansbach's poetry is dense with music, with insight, and with honesty. His is that rarest of poetry collections: one destined to become dogeared.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 29, 2001
There's some terrific stuff in here. Playfulness, inventiveness, nonstop supercharged language. Mansbach is as talented with words as any writer. The book will give your intelligence a workout. And it's FUNNY-- without ever undermining its serious intentions. Very impressive. Shackling Water was no accident.
And I should add: for poetry with such an aggressive intelligence, there's a lot of heart in it, some moments of sublime tenderness-- "Black Marbles," "Sin Titulo." Really quite amazing.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 10, 2014
Bought this for one poem in particular but it didn't end up being in this volume so still searching... Not having any expectations, I was very pleasantly surprised. Beautiful & meaningful words in hip-hop style (my favorite). Makes me want to hear Adam read them.