Monday, October 17, 2011

Review of The Book of Arrows by Mike Amado

The Book of Arrows by Mike Amado

Review by Pam Rosenblatt

In 2011, The Book of Arrows by Mike Amado, edited by Jack Scully and Nancy Brady Cunningham, was published by Cervena Barva Press, Somerville, Massachusetts. A sixty-two page book, The Book of Arrows is a well-written, well-edited, well-published, and well-designed poetry book. Even the cover with its bright turquoise color and its thirteen white-gray-black feathers welcomes you into this sometimes humorous, sometimes painful, sometimes witty, sometimes sad, and always honest read.

Poet Mike Amado passed away on January 2, 2009 after a twenty-one year long battle with kidney disease. He was thirty-three years old. An active member of the Bagel Bards, Somerville, Massachusetts, Amado also headed Poetry: The Art of Words and The Poetry Showcase, in Plymouth, Massachusetts with Jack Scully who currently continues these two poetry happenings.

The Book of Arrows is about Mike‘s life and how he dealt with everyday situations, especially his physical illness. His descriptions, metaphors, changing tone of voice, and use of rhythm make this book worthy for repeated readings. But it‘s his use of ―color throughout the book that makes this book very special.

Early in the book, in ―I Love Rock-N-Roll…‖, Amado writes, ―There are many colors in the spectrum./I‘m playing around with colors in words/until I can find the color I own.‖ Throughout The Book of Arrows, Amado uses actual ―colors in words‖ as well as metaphoric ―colors in words‖ to find out who the ―I‖, the speaker of these poems, is. Amado seems to suggest that once the speaker discovers his favorite color or colors, he will find himself as individual. He uses color in words tactfully and effectively, as seen in ―Old School Ways:

A boy is going to give himself a Mohawk.
For a summer, he lets his hair grow long.
He shaves the sides with his dad‘s razor
then dyes it purple,
[the only color of photo ink he could steal].

The colorful image of a boy with a purple Mohawk is vividly described here. Amado has the boy testing out his cultural identity.
In ―Denim-jacket Back Patch‖, Amado writes about a jacket:
Charcoal-gray with slashes of acid wash
was my first jacket. Badass by itself.
But with the Number of the Beast
patched on the back…
total freakin‘ metal.

Here Amado suggests the darkness and worn out value of the jacket is something to be cherished, admired. The ―charcoal-gray with slashes of acid wash implies the tough guy image.
Are these the colors in words that the speaker wants to own – or just kid around with - as Amado creates?

Amado‘s visual color in words is seen in ―His Body Lies – But Still He Roams where the speaker says, ―the autumn sky burned a blaze of orange.Amado paints with words here.

In ―In Prayer‖, Amado‘s sky hues change from orange to ―blue-yellow‖. He seems to like to have a variety of sky colors.

The word ―orange‖ appears once again in ―You‘ll Never Be a Pro Powwow Dancer‖. The speaker recalls:

All my regalia is gifted.
My breastplate is Crow, my elk-skin war shirt
is Lakota/Sioux.
And my ribbon shirts were made from table cloths
of red and gingham, but no one would ever guess.
All I have is my stoic, camera-hating glare
and high cheek bones to carry the look.
Those Fancy-dancers have regalia that cost thousands,
(or so they say). They have big feathers and tingle-bells
that sound like fire alarms when they walk into
the quiet men‘s room.
And all the colors match. Turquoise and orange belt
with turquoise and orange arm bands and matching
ribbons that dangle from the head band
and never get caught in their feather earrings
when they do the Grass Dance.

Amado has articulately described a Powwow dance scene, with all the trimmings. This long stanza poem works effectively because of Amado‘s colors in words! The lines ―And my ribbon shirts were made from table cloths/of red and gingham… and ―And all the colors match. Turquoise and orange belt/with turquoise and orange arm bands and matching ribbons…
Sparkle. Without the ―red and gingham‖ and ―turquoise and orange‖ color words, the situation would be difficult to imagine.
In the poem, ―She Who Gave Me Words‖, the color ―orange‖ again mentioned:

Mother is a mystery.
She styled her hair herself; even after
Two kids.
She would sway her neck when a man
Gave her a compliment,
A demure giggle, intentional coolness.
She walked me to school on that first day
Wearing an orange miniskirt
And a psychedelic blouse.

Here Amado writes playfully and skillfully. The words seem to flow gently and then twists into a lively image. Is orange the color the speaker wants to ―own‖, or call his own? Maybe or maybe not.

In ―Tea and Ghosts‖, Amado describes a cup of ―strong tea settling ―In coffee-brown mug/drizzled with half & half, white cube dissolving all the/ words that failed to make the radar or just failed‖. The colors of ―coffee-brown‖, ―half & half and a ―white cube‖ are again visual.
The images seem so real that perhaps they are actually are.

Later in ―Tea and Ghosts‖, Amado writes:

I felt a sunless chill one cold morning, five years old.
I asked my nana for a cup of tea. Churning hot yet
fragile as peacock butterflies, it held the scent of
blossoms from Ceylon, and its history of laborers
sweating in line rooms, specters separating leaf from stem.
Amado has captured those ―hot yet fragile as peacock butterflies and created an image almost as colorful as a rainbow. Perhaps the speaker‘s fragility reflects upon Amado‘s own physical health.
And the phrase ―it held the scent of blossoms from Ceylon‖ is brilliant.

Throughout the book, Amado uses the word ―white‖ as well as the word ―burning‖. In ―Watch Over Me‖, he brings these two words together:

I developed IBS
when I was 17—
I thought the dead
were watching me.

Grandma said
when the floor creaks 4
and walls seem to
push like lungs,
that‘s my Grandpa
whom I never met.

I have his features,
his hair line.
He‘d recognize
my skin tone—

White maple, newly split—
before becoming
fire wood.

The ―White maple‖ going up in flames is a strong image, as is its ―burning‖. The color imagery is there. In a later poem, ―The Poet‘s Fire‖, Amado writes that he would rather be cremated than buried. Perhaps this wish is what the speaker is implying.

Near the end of The Book of Arrows, in the poem, ―November 7, 2008‖, Amado writes, ―The world is beautiful colors. Even mauve and lime-green can have their say./It took a lot of coloring to make this mural./Even a rainbow over rooftops/can change the cloud.// ‗Free at last?‘ Maybe./But we‘re here; black, white, Native,/Chicano, and queer; and with the audacity to be./At last change.

It seems that Amado‘s speaker has found that the color(s) that he would like to own aren‘t stagnant. And that there are many different colors that make up his world. What a wonderful outlook on life, especially with all the obstacles Amado faced because of his physical illness.

The Book of Arrows is probably autobiographical yet it has literary value as well. Amado‘s use of color in words indicates such prowess. This book is an excellent read!

To obtain a copy of the book go to

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