Poems on Black joy, masculinity, and the music that transforms a space into a home
Jorrell Watkins's debut poetry collection is a polyvocal, musically charged disruption of the United States's fixation on drug and gun culture. The poems in Play|House embody many identities, including son, brother, fugitive, bluesman, karate practitioner, and witness. Throughout, Watkins inflects a Black/trap vernacular that defamiliarizes the urban Southern landscape. Across three sections of poetry scored by hip-hop, blues, and trap, Watkins considers how music is a dwelling and wonders which histories, memories, and people haunt each home. Past figures such as John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, and the short-lived 1940s trio Day, Dawn & Dusk intermingle with Migos, the Watkins family, childhood friends, and loved ones both parted and departed. At its core, Play|House reckons with the truths and failures of masculinity for Black boys and men, all the while documenting moments of triumphant Black joy and love.
House Below the Heavens Brotha Speaks IEP Hustle Hard Cut the Grass Up a Notch Acquisition: Mothership Toyhouse Sleepover at Richard’s: Backyard Of the White Tee Acquisition: Boombox Carried by Radio Raheem Cop a Pop’s Bounty Nine Mile Road Sunday Before Last Hymn
Halfway Blues House Ah Bae: Blues Haibun Acquisition: Coltrane’s Saxophone Sugar Honey Iced Tea Acquisition: Dress from Lady Sings the Blues Snowfall with Ruth Brown’s Bringdown Mean What I Say A Drive through July Showers Day, Dawn and Dusk Mess with My Blues 4:04 AM Today Got Me Yesterday Apple Pie Nah-Nah: Trap Haibun Traphouse In the House Oh brother, where did all the bullets go Anotha Brotha Would When a Tree Falls After April 11th, 2021 Witness Blicky Wat dey do Bando Ballade Grey Gah Notes on Kumite Payback Gets Played Back Acquisition: Saul Williams’ Coded Language Scroll Ah-man Brotha Moves When I Go
JORRELL WATKINS is from Richmond, Virginia. He is an alum of Hampshire College and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He received fellowships from the Smithsonian Institution, Fulbright Japan, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. His chapbook, If Only the Sharks Would Bite, won the inaugural Desert Pavilion Chapbook Series in Poetry.
“The ideas of 'play' and 'house' are interwoven gradually in Jorrell Watkins’s debut collection, with the changing light stretching and bending the shadows of masculinity, familial intimacy, and societal violences. Through his intense play with the vernacular and syntax of blk English, Watkins defamiliarizes urban Southern blkness and captures sincerely a poignant slice of the blk psyche at this particular moment in American history.” – Kyle Dargan, Books Editor at Wondaland
“To read this poet is to witness him in a series of gorgeous, wise flights. Poem after poem of an enlivened syntax dense with record and time. Play|House is an extraordinary debut filled with such exquisite sound so attuned and ‘otherworldly bright.’” —Aracelis Girmay, author of The Black Maria
“Though Jorrell Watkins’s Play/House is anything but formulaic, it is difficult to describe without reverting to the usual formulas: It is, in fact, a ‘stunning debut.’ It is ‘wide-ranging’ and ‘riveting’ and even ‘interrogates popular notions of the intersectionality of Blackness and masculinity.’ (Blacksculinity, if you will.) All the stock phrases apply, but none are enough. And while such interrogationality is there for those who come to poetry for such things, this book was really written for the rest of us. Those who come in search of the soulful, who mean to be moved, who read and make the stank face; who appreciate the carefully-crafted but are greedy for the gutbucket, who demand that the poems we read be more than ‘interesting’ and ‘ambitious.’ We demand from our poems sweat and blood and bone, and Watkins has us covered. As a reader, I am ecstatic. As a practitioner, a player in the house Play/House just stomped through, I’m shook.”—John Murillo, author of Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry
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