Welcome, weebs and authors alike, to The Aniwriter.
As I mentioned in my last update post, today, I’ll be doing something a little bit different. If you don’t know him, Lujaune “El’ja” Bowens is a spoken word poet who has been honing his craft since around 2005. Today I’ll be reviewing his third collection of poems titled “Blerd Lines”
Full disclosure: I have interviewed him before for an article I wrote back when I was with The Hawkeye, my school newspaper, and he did send me the book to read, so make of that what you will. With that being said, here’s the review.
Poetry has always been known for individual expression. Whether it be about the beauty of nature, or the solitude of silence, poets express themselves in uniquely interesting ways. However, poetry in recent years has come to take on a new, underlying theme: Identity. With the swarm of socio-political chaos that has swept its way into the White House, and which has also been the propagator of bigotry and hatred, identity has become more important than ever. El’ja Bowens’ “Blerd Lines” is the perfect example of how this theme of identity can play out in beautiful ways.
One part of Identity Bowens focuses on throughout the book is the accepting of others for who they are. In the poem “That’s All Folks,” focuses on the attempted demonization of non-heterosexuals that changed the character of Bugs Bunny from a less heteronormative one to one that was explicitly Heterosexual. Later on in the poem, Bowens cleverly describes a situation in which someone responds to a doctor’s suggestion that they will “see the light” when it comes to their sexuality, and then that person responds to the doctor’s assertion with Bugs Bunny’s signature catchphrase “What’s up doc?” Making the doctor’s suggestion that sexuality is something that can be grown out of the punchline reinforces the idea that being judged for arbitrary things that people have no control over is wrong.
Bowens also grapples with the reality that he is a black man in America. In the opening poem “Don’t Be Alarmed,” he makes it clear that despite having a diverse number of interests, he still fears people seeing him in a one-dimensional light, or as he puts it: “I can’t blame people that gaze like its 1000 convicts.” Later on in the poem, Bowens brilliantly pushes back by saying he has a “smile has a melody that replicates a thousand rainbows,” and then wraps up the poem with “Don’t be alarmed because I’m here to live my life…”
In “Eyeore’s Dilemma,” Bowens cleverly imagine himself as Eyeore, but in this story, he wonders “Maybe if I changed the color of my skin Then maybe I won’t see what gloomy looks like in the mirror.” Try as he might to forget about the pain of always being perceived as fundamentally different, just like Eyeore himself, Bowens distracts himself by comparing that pain to rain and saying “one of the nicest things about the rain is that it always stops… Eventually.” The comparison to here to Eyeore is fantastic because just like the pain created by racism, it’s not likely to go away.
But Bowens’ poems aren’t all doom in gloom. In fact, another huge aspect of his work is his identity as a nerd, and he is not afraid to show it. In “Don’t Be Alarmed,” Bowens makes his passion for video games such as Final Fantasy and Manga like Dragon Ball Z and Bleach abundantly clear. In “Nerd Haikus and Other Ramblings,” Bowens again makes reference to Manga and Anime when he talks about the idea that Trump holds the Death Note, and that Piccolo is a real father to Gohan. Sure, Both these pieces are somewhat more serious in tone, but they are also reflective of his passion for things generally considered to be nerdy.
What appears in “Blerd Lines” is not just a collection of poems, but a continuing story of Bowens’ identity. In this book, he puts himself on display, all his fears, hopes and aspirations. Sometimes it can hard to face a world where people are judged arbitrarily for things they cannot control, or for interests they have that don’t harm anyone else, but to Bowens, that is all apart of what makes us, us. I’m sure that for many poetry has become that thing you remember studying in high school English, but “Blerd Lines” is absolutely worth your time.
If you want to get the book for yourself, you can find it here when it releases this Friday.
Who are some of your favorite modern poets? What is your favorite thing about poetry? Let me know in the comments below. Also, if you want to support the Aniwriter through donations or are just feeling generous, consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi. Otherwise, thanks for reading and bye for now, Friendos!