ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
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 devils workshop, but well-crafted poems by Adrian Matejka make The Devils Garden.
Matejka, a Cave Canem fellow and the former production editor for Callaloo, the worlds 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. Matejkas 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 couldnt 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.
Im not reading your books.
She laughed, but understood
when I threw my book, covers
flapping like mans first scraps
with gravity. Teacher realized
she wasnt 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 dichotomiesa 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:
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 cant 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 Defa wonderful blending of performance, intellect, and hip-hop.
The Devils 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 Devils Garden meets at the crossroads of risky possibilityreal and magical. With jazz burning in the engine, each curve in Adrian Matejkas 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. email@example.com