Starting at the beginning, the table of contents is the obligatory ice cream social mixer where poems politely curtsey and introduce themselves. But Woods' titles breakdance all over this list of page numbers like an Electric Boogaloo on refrigerator cardboard.
Of course I am eager to find out what poems are attached to titles like:
A Reverse Chronology of Sagging Pants
Jesus Wept, Then Sulked A Lot
Prisoner #74234 Speaks On Your Commute
Neil deGrasse Tyson's Love Note, Third Grade
Black House Party, circa 1979
Reading this collection of poems is the equivalency level of 3 or 4 semesters of racial studies courses, but Woods packs each page with more heart, poignancy, and laughter than you thought possible from the syllabus. Some poems give you a Google Earth Satellite Hybrid view of the inner city libraries and forgotten neighborhoods that are the real soundtrack to Woods' poems about NWA on the big screen, Big Bang on the Boombox, and Buddy Guy in the Gospels.
Like this passage from "The Livingston Avenue Suite"
Streets littered like trash tornados hit them.
The houses have as many clapboards as people.
They eventually replace the sidewalks
but never the buildings, like Jesus is holding
everyone's lease until He gets back.
Shoes on a wire make the clouds
behind them look like they're running.
One of the undercurrents of genius in this collection is the running Choose-Your-Own-Adventure at the end of each poem. This creates an staggering number of parallel setlists to explore and adds new context to each poem that you re-read, when faced with choices like:
If you thought those were fireworks, turn to page 20
If you knew they were gunshots, turn to page 27
If you're still arguing that Pluto is a planet, turn to page 79
If you knew Gravity was ridiculous, turn to page 60
In case you're still wondering if you should add this book to your Amazon cart, I found a couple of sample poems online to give you an idea of what to expect.
These Aren't The Thugs You're Looking For
(first published at Freezeray Poetry)
Stormtroopers stop your hovercraft,
want to know where you’re going,
what do you have in the trunk.
Broken lightsabres, you say,
desert laundry. Figrin D’an forgot
his gasan drum sticks at the cantina again.
Let’s see some ID, they ask.
You wave your hand, steel your gaze, stating,
you don’t need to see any ID.
They insist. You wave again.
They knock on your bubble window,
walk around your hovercraft.
You wave your hand again.
Didn’t realize they were looking
for any of your kind they could find.
A gash of light, charred dissent,
the desert wind wiping away your chalk outline
like a Jedi mind trick.
If you keep your mouth closed, turn to page 21
If you know your rights, turn to page 68
(first published in Radius)
If you flash your headlights at a dark car in passing,
it is a gang initiation and they will kill you.
Gangsta rap crawls into your ears while you sleep
and puts black people in your dreams.
The 13th floor of every office building can only be cleaned
by a black janitor with very good luck.
A chicken head once found a deep fried politician
in a bag of crack.
The sewers of New York City are teeming with extras
from The Warriors who got lost on their way to the set.
If you do not pass this poem on to five friends,
you will still have read more than any three congressmen.
Swimming in less than an hour after you eat cheese grits
will cause you to sink to the bottom and drown, but with a smile.
Over a dozen black morning radio show cruise ships
have gone missing in the Bermuda Triangle.
If you lock a hundred monkeys in a room with typewriters,
a hundred monkeys will type Lil Wayne lyrics.
If you stand in front of a mirror and chant the word
“Obama” three times, Ben Carson will appear.
If you are Scully, turn to page 86
If you believe, turn to page 65