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Kupenda: Love Poems.

Kupenda: Love Poems By Kwame Alexander BlackWords Press, August 2000, $9.95, ISBN 1-888-01823-2

The title of Kwame Alexander's latest collection of poems (Kupenda is Swahili for "to like" or "to want") is enough to create interest in the book. Setting out to chart the familiar territory of love poems is ambitious, and the title purports to hold the cultural freshness he would require for any real distinction. Unfortunately, for the most part we are treated to a series of rather embarrassing pickup lines.

Several poems throughout the collection are also entitled "Kupenda", including the book's brief opening piece: "Lips like yours/ought to be worshipped/See, i ain't never been/too religious/but you can baptize me/anytime. "Many poems contain such a disheartening amount of hyperbole that it remains difficult to get into the loving spirit. As Alexander continues to get his mack on, the speaker of the poem, "Tangerine", proclaims, "`Tangy,'/for that's what I called her. Heaven/is between yr legs."

The more tender poems, addressed to family, friends and children, occur later in the collection. These pieces are usually in the form of a personal address that the reader overhears. The poet, however, seems less interested in the reader's elucidation and chooses to focus instead on personal, immediate communion with the poem's addressee. This effect, while frustrating, is still touching until it takes on the quality of hostility.

One questions Alexander's regard for the reader when, in one of the "Kupenda" poems, a speaker's daughter is admonished to outface her teacher, who asks why she is self-absorbed, "always/iiiiiiiiiii or memememememe." The poem continues, advising the daughter to report, "I am a black woman/look on me and be renewed." Unfortunately, the love alluded to in Alexander's title seems oftentimes to be overshadowed by the latter Swahili translation of "to want" and the imagery by which he proposes to get it, at any cost.

Gregory A. Pardlo is currently completing a MFA at New York University with a fellowship from the New York Times.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Pardlo, Gregory A.
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2001
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