Score: 92/100 (9.2 out of 10)
“A Poetic Spanking” is an ambitious collection of poems by Anthony Toomer reflecting on his spiritual relationship with God, his romantic feelings, and his advocacy for social justice. This collection actually isn't one singular book but three, each of them focusing on one of the aforementioned topics.
Toomer has a superb grasp of rhythm and beats. Most of these aren't plain ole' poems, many of these are straight up raps! Our editor was both a poet and a rapper, and he particularly appreciated these flows. We could literally imagine Toomer standing at the pulpit or on stage, rapping about his love for Jesus, his wife, and social justice. How cool is that?
It is very possible that if a poetry book like “Shadows of the Trees” by Michael Cook wasn't in this cycle, this book would be at the top of the list of poetry books. No, it's not perfect, and it actually has its issues, but it has the things that matter the most: heart and soul.
We want to make something very clear: we greatly admire and appreciate what the author was trying to accomplish with many of these poems, especially his powerful and passionate expressions of his Christian faith. As mentioned before, we can imagine some of those Christian poems being recited in church, with the exception of “Where is God?” (which contains a derogatory term for didactic purposes). However, remember, it's our job to be critical of all works that come our way, even the ones with aspects we personally like. When it comes to poetry, as with any literary medium, there's a consideration of “taste.” This book does have some things we love to see. As mentioned before, almost all of these poems are rhythmic and have a distinct beat. Some of them tell a story, albeit stories from the Bible or from current or historical events that we're familiar with.
There are a few issues. For one, the large majority of these poems, probably with only about four or five exceptions, have the same ABAB ABAB ABAB ABAB rhyming scheme, almost exclusively relying on end rhymes. There are other minor things. In “God Don't Play” there is an erroneous statement (perhaps intentionally left in) that Sodom and Gomorrah were leveled, then Noah built the Ark because the world would be flooded. This is chronologically incorrect because Sodom and Gomorrah were cities that existed at the time of Lot, who lived during the time of Abraham, and Abraham lived many generations after Noah. Now, it is very likely that the author knew this, but just decided to present it like this because it “flowed” better. The author wasn't trying to present things chronologically, but just to list examples of God's wrath. The use of the transitional word “then” just become problematic for the above reason.
The other thing about the Christian sections of this book, which is probably our favorite section, is that some of them do sound like the “death and damnation” people who go out on the streets wearing A-frame signs and passing out flyers about how everyone's going to hell and the world is ending. There are even sections that blame the pandemic and police brutality on mankind's rejection of God. There may be a degree of truth to that from a religious perspective, but just think about that premise for a moment. People are constantly saying that the world is going to end. Amazingly, Jesus himself said that no one knows the time or the place of the end but the father. He said that there would be wars and rumors of wars as well as earthquakes. Guess what: these likely weren't intended as specific predictions. They were intended to put across the message that the end could come at any time because there are always wars and earthquakes somewhere on the planet.
The premise that COVID was part of the plagues of the end-times from the book of Revelations just seems cringe-worthy. Was the Spanish Flu and the Bubonic Plague part of the end-times from the book of Revelations? Which of the seven seals, seven trumpets, or seven bowls of wrath does this plague correspond to? Because you can't just pull some event that's relevant and tragic, then say it's a fulfillment of end-time prophecy. That's not how end-time prophecy works.
The topic of police brutality dominates the social justice section of this book. The “N” word is used rhetorically multiple times, mostly during this section. For that reason, it's not nearly as offensive as its usage in another series of book that we've read that we're going to choose not to mention. At the same time, if you're advocating for this kind of derogatory language to not be used against minorities, why would you use it? That's a problem we have with its usage in rap lyrics and everyday speech too. It has become like saying "brother" or "bud" among some Blacks, and it really shouldn't. Japanese people don't go up to each other and call each other "J**s" and Chinese people don't go up to each other and call each other "Ch****." Jewish people don't go up to each other and call each other "K****" and Filipino people don't slap each other on the shoulder and say, "What's up, F***?" So, why would people who don't want a word to be used (and, for the record, we don't want the word to be used), keep popularizing its usage? If you want something to stop, then stop doing it yourself.
That's literally like telling your kids to stop swearing by swearing at them to stop or telling people to stop shooting each other while shooting at others. Again, if you want something to stop, then stop doing it yourself. If you want the "N" word and the pain that it carries to disappear, then stop using it.
There's also a poem that's a bit troubling called “Revolutionary Fervor, or, the Po-po Was Scared Shitless” which seems to advocate that Black communities arm themselves militantly (like the Black Panthers) and make life a living hell for police officers. This section is as much anti-police as it is anti-racism, which is troubling. We believe that Black lives do matter, but we've never been in support of the extreme stance of “ACAB” or that “All Cops Are Bastards.” We have family who are police officers, neither of whom have murdered or abused anyone. As we've read in “Black, White and Gray All Over” by Frederick Douglass Reynolds, a former police officer who happens to be Black and happens to have had a wild life outside of law enforcement, police officers deal with unbelievable amounts of BS on a daily basis including life-or-death situations. To say that Blacks should be going out of their way to “make the Po-po scared shitless” sounds nuclear.
An earlier poem called “Where is God?” actually does point out that Blacks and Black communities should hold some personal responsibility. Turning to crime and violence should not be common-place, and Black on Black violence must also be addressed. Being poor is not an excuse to steal and murder.
There is a complaint in the poem titled “Why?” that goes:
“You have many holidays named for White folks,
We only have one of which we can speak.”
What? Which holidays named for white folks are you talking about?
Did you mean Columbus Day, which we don't even celebrate and which most of us spend either complaining that it's not even a day off or that Columbus was an a-hole? Did you mean Christmas, which celebrates the birthday of a Hebrew guy in the Middle East? Did you mean Easter, which isn't even a day off, in which we celebrate the resurrection of that awesome Hebrew guy in the Middle East and the coming of spring? Did you mean President's Day, which celebrates all presidents including #44, Barack Obama? Did you mean Veteran's Day, which celebrates all US military veterans including Black ones? Did you mean Memorial Day, which celebrates all soldiers who've died in combat including Black ones? Did you mean Thanksgiving, which celebrates us being thankful for God's blessings, and some white folks having lunch with some Native American folks? Did you mean St. Patrick's Day, which isn't even really a holiday in the US, in which people use it as an excuse to get drunk off their rockers? Did you mean Father's Day? Mother's Day? There are Black fathers and Black mothers who are celebrated on those days, right?
There's Juneteenth, which is a big deal now. There's even a whole month, February, called “Black History Month.” And, of course, there's Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which is a legitimate holiday unlike Columbus & St. Patrick's Day, one in which people actually have the day off to honor it. Do the math. Blacks make up just over 13% of the population of this country, and 8% of the months of the year are dedicated to them and their history. What about Latinos and Hispanics who make up about 50% of the population of this country? No month for them. Asian Americans and Jews are even smaller minorities, and they get persecuted a lot too. FDR's internment camps, anyone? No month for them.
Much of the history that we learned in social studies and history classes regarded civil rights and the Civil Rights Movement. To say that it's not being taught, and that Black people need more holidays each year is pretty flawed thinking.
Over a quarter of a million white Union soldiers died in part to set Black men, women, and children free. Summer Taylor was run over and killed by a Black driver while protesting to protect people of color. Thousands upon thousands of white folks in America have taken it upon themselves to advocate for people of color. To put forward the premise that America is anti-Black kinda craps on all of these people and their sacrifices.
This social justice section is also a section that's relentlessly political including the outright, no-frills, non-poetic statement that “Biden is the man with the master plan.” How much more blunt and obvious can you get? Hey, if someone wrote a poem that started with the line, “Trump is the man with the master plan,” we would roll our darn eyes and turn to a different page too. Don't drink this political Kool-aid. This author should be the first person to point out that God alone is king, and that all these politicians—right, left, down, or up— are inferior to his rule and his will. People have adopted this cult-like mentality about their politics, and things like this really aren't helping. If anything, it just allows Black voters to be exploited for more votes and campaign contributions year after year after year, always with these false promises that things will get better. If you're waiting for any leader but God to make your life better and make you feel fulfilled and content, then you're hanging onto an illusion.
Do you really want to be pandered to and lied to constantly? Do you really want handouts and false promises of equality? How about some actionable advice? How about the next generation accepts personable responsibility for the things they CAN change? Pull up your pants, tighten your belts, and run for office like Obama, start a business like Daymond John, or make yourself famous or great like the many, many, many great Black individuals who've made a name for themselves in this country instead of making excuses.
But we digress. This is a solid poetry book filled with some great rhythms and beats. Really quickly, there's a middle-section including the author's love poems that are fun, interesting, and sometimes funny to read, especially in contrast to the Christian boy scout leader personality he put across in the opening section. The second section is actually quite raunchy, but some of the imagery, particularly involving the author's wife, is very beautiful.
Check out this poetry book on Amazon!