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  • By gwgjails
    Jan 19, 2010
    L. Kenneth Haynes, on the back cover of his book, The People in 10-F – A Family of Poems, notes that “I know about growing up in New York City, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, in the Jacob Riis housing projects.” Does he ever! This wonderful selection of poems bursts with Haynes’s love of family, of New York, of growing up in the 1950’s. A Family of Poems is an apt subtitle. Divided into four sections—“Sister,” “Mother,” “Father,” and “Brother”—each poem is a lovely evocation of family life and a good boyhood in and around the high-rise near the East River, where you could see the imposing Domino Sugar sign on the Brooklyn side of the river. There are Haynes’s memories of his beloved younger sister, Val, who slept in his old crib, painted sunny yellow from its original rusty brown, and whose diapers he changed. Baby Val giggled when her brother stuck himself with the diaper pins “with pink and blue heads.” There’s his mother, who took him shopping in the Gimbels bargain basement... More > and bought him stiff leather shoes that “looked so good I didn’t feel the breaking-in pain.” Mom is there for Haynes on Friday nights, “a shadow in the doorless kitchen,” when his father, frustrated with life perhaps, glared angrily at him, although she could not save him from his father’s “gin fueled rage” that “tried to swallow me.” Wow! This is the same father, though, who—when Haynes took his first ride on his J.C Higgins two-wheeler after the training wheels came off, and crashed it three times and then shoved it angrily into a tree—gave the boy “three heavy slaps” and pointed “in the direction of the fallen bike.” He got the message, got back on, and “I’ve been riding ever since.” That line took my breath away! And there are the wonderful crisply-remembered details of growing up in New York City—the colors, smells, sounds, sights, locations. There’s the cream cheese and mint jelly sandwiches loaded in the bottom of a Royal Blue carriage for a private picnic at the end of a park near the Williamsburg Bridge. There’s the beach at Far Rockaway, “stiff and straight like a starched hammock.” There’s his memory of the new coat that his mother bought for him at the Robert Hall Store on 14th Street. And the people! Through the haze of more than a half century that has passed, Haynes clearly recalls Mr. Kato, the project maintenance man, “with the perfect diction and shirt tails always / Tucked in who looked like he never went more than / Three minutes without shaving.” Perfect! I think that my favorite poem is the final one in the “Brother” section, in which Haynes recalls a day at the Riis Beach, on the ocean, in 1954. After riding waves “taller than my project building,” feeling elated, he “leaned back on Aunt Lee’s / Salty skin / Warm sand under my thighs / So full of happiness / My stomach fluttered / Watched the sun / Through closed eyelids / As bright and beautiful red / As Nehi cherry soda.” He had “No cares / Nothing to hide / No place to be.” It was, the poem ends, his “best day.” I can believe that. I wish I’d had such a day. This is a truly wonderful book of poems about family, place and the joys and wonders—and, yes, fears and anxieties—of a blessed boyhood with that family, in that place. It’s a magical book. I plan to keep it close and to re-read it whenever my adult world makes me feel too jaded or cynical. You should too.< Less
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Product Details

November 28, 2009
Perfect-bound Paperback
Interior Ink
Black & white
0.36 lbs.
Dimensions (inches)
6 wide x 9 tall
Product ID
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