April 1, 2016 Booklist 19 www.booklistonline.com
and scholars of many sorts—an unlikely combination that works well. This is participant
ethnography with a difference: it’s authentic.
Woodbine’s got game, on the court and on the
page, and here he dunks emphatically. From
the time we meet Shorty, a street-basketball
legend, through a brief history of the game
and its link (religion playing a large role) to
young African American culture, we learn of
basketball, and the many lives it memorializes, as we have in few other books. Woodbine’s
ethnographic canvas is the inner city of
Boston—Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan—
and while it would have been instructive to
visit at least one other city (like New York)
to see how it matched or differed, one suspects that the findings would have been
nearly identical. Basketball can be ennobling, on whatever street or court it’s played.
YA: Teen b-ball devotees—both players and
fans—will enjoy seeing this up-close look at
the game from the street perspective. ML.
By John Smelcer.
Apr. 2016. 130p. Leapfrog, paper, $14 (9781935248804);
e-book (9781935248811). 811.
The author of more than 40 books of poetry,
fiction, and native-studies nonfiction, Smelcer
is a renowned activist for the Ahtna community in southern Alaska and the only member
of his tribe fluent in reading and writing its
native language. Smelcer’s work is devoted
to the double convictions of writing against
mainstream culture from a Native American
perspective and refuting the stereotypes of old
westerns. As he reminds readers in one poem,
“Not all Indians ride horses.” Smelcer takes
pleasure in these deceptively simple points of
clarification and offers humorous commentary
on historical documents, such as a “Template
for Treaties between the United States of
America and Indian Tribes” and an abandoned
draft of the Constitution. Smelcer revels in
the absurdity of “legal” claims to native land,
and his work rides into darkly cynical territory in poems like “Indian Scalper,” in which
Jessie BlackHawk sells tickets outside a Redskins game, and “Recipe for a Reztini,” which
includes two shots of cheap gin and a drive
around Dead Man’s Curve. A poignant, discomfiting, necessary collection. —Diego Báez
Trouble the Water.
By Derrick Austin.
Apr. 2016. 104p. BOA, paper, $16 (9781942683049);
e-book, $9.99 (9781942683056). 811.
Austin’s remarkable debut collection opens
with a quote from John 5: 4–6—“For an an-
gel went down at a certain season into the
pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then
first after the troubling of the water stepped
in was made whole of whatsoever disease he
had”—foreshadowing how water, religion/
spirituality, and body focus become vehicles
to explore being black, homosexual, male, and
a human being in a troubling century. Aus-
tin’s search for meaning and wholeness leads
to realms artistic, sexual, and sensual, where
body parts become flow-
ers or bodies become twin
planets, where hurricanes
can leave behind corpses or
a “storm-smoothed shore.”
“San Souci” epitomizes the
sophistication of form and
thought in Austin’s poetry
by using an effect resem-
bling Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors as the poem’s
speaker reflects on paintings, how they reflect
life, his body, his lover’s body, how he can see
his lover as a painting or see the act of plea-
suring another artfully reflected back to him.
Whether encountering European catacombs
or the Gulf Coast’s post-oil-spill devastation,
all of Austin’s lyrical poems are poignant and
empowered. —Janet St. John
Waiting for the Past.
By Les Murray.
Apr. 2016. 96p. Farrar, $24 (9780374285920). 821.
Murray’s sixteenth collection comes less
than two years after his large and welcome
New Selected Poems (2014). The title suggests a valediction, yet this is no summing
up but rather a bold exploration of his lifelong preoccupations. Murray has always
expressed his worldview, seemingly looking
down at the world from a vantage point he is
expected to look up from: his avowedly redneck, rural background. He has never sought
to conceal the chip on his shoulder, and
his anger can make him sound downright
vindictive. With a capacious imagination,
Murray can make a poem out of almost any
circumstance, condition, or feeling, from the
arrival of electricity to a rural farm in 1960
to hitchhiking in the bush, which yields this
marvelous image: “yet when you’d slept a
short tilt / of the Galaxy.” “Clan-sized Night
Chanting” moves from a timeless image of
time passing to the unnerving sense of aboriginals nearby in the bush, without a fire,
singing. It’s a gentle reminder of one of many
worlds within the world. —Michael Autrey
Elizabeth: The Forgotten Years.
By John Guy.
May 2016. 448p. Viking, $35 (9780670786022). 942.
Many readers love a good Tudor story,
whether in nonfiction or fiction form, but still
the question needs to be asked when a new
biography of Elizabeth Tudor emerges: Why?
Meaning, of course, what’s new? Any treatment of Elizabeth I rests on essential facts:
she was the daughter of Henry VIII’s second
wife, Anne Boleyn, whose obligation to provide a male heir was unfulfilled and resulted
in her beheading; she survived a perilous
childhood at the mercy of her very Catholic
elder half sister, Queen Mary I; she occupied
September 2016 • 752 pages
978-1-59888-858-4 • $80.00 • Paper
978-1-59888-859-1 • $79.99 • eBook
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