Here are two things you need to know upfront:
- I’ve known Donald Vincent at least ten years. I’d feel unethical excluding this, but also, I wouldn’t expend my energy if I didn’t believe wholeheartedly in what he’s doing in these poems and the craft and expertise he exercises. (I work a corporate 9-5 and barely have time to feed myself most days. But when something matters as much as this, I make time.)
- Convenient Amnesia is required reading.
A Facebook acquaintance who recently discovered the “silence is violence” mantra (no shade, it’s just a lot of caps lock where a barrage of kid and dog photos used to live) shared the viral post about who we historically learn about (white) versus who we don’t learn about (Black) with the penultimate line: “Privilege is having history rewritten so that you don’t have to acknowledge uncomfortable facts.” That same day, my review copy of Convenient Amnesia arrived.
Shortly after I met Donald at Emerson College, he shared his thesis title, Convenient Amnesia: selective remembering, rewriting history to avoid confronting uncomfortable facts. The “timely” title has always demanded its time. As the collection describes, there are so many years, lives, and time lost—time we could’ve spent amplifying Black voices, saving Black lives.
In the poem “Body-Camera,” the reader is dropped in media res into a scene that rings woefully familiar:
This one is different, same
struggle though. A black body
walking, in a familiar neighbor-
Taser. Suicide by copy, a term reserved
For plum-skin colored bodies
Taking up the air of what conscious-
This could be about anyone. But this isn’t an ekphrastic exercise from newspaper clippings or a work of fiction. He wants you right in that moment, that weight, that violence, and the deeply personal poem’s close:
Rest in pow-
Via Donald Vincent’s Facebook page—June 8th, 2020:
Describe yourself in 3 words. Leave your responses in the comments. I’ll go first…
I’M FROM SOUFEAST!
A few days prior to this post, the mayor of Washington DC, Muriel Bowser, commissioned painters to emblazon BLACK LIVES MATTER on the streets leading up to the White House. When I met Donald, I remember him saying something like “I’m from real DC, but not near the White House.” If you google “Southeast DC,” here is what you’ll see:
The opening poem, “Lucky Charm,” mentions no specific location, likely on purpose. To dive into this collection located is to assume that there is space somewhere in our world that hasn’t been touched by racism, doesn’t bestow microaggressions on BIPOC every damn day. However, this does not keep the speaker from delighting in the tenuous, where others might not want him to find delight:
Others clear throats on elevators, then
are you an entertainer questions swarm
while quickly clutching their pocketbooks. I smile
when they look and give-them-a-buck-for-the-hell-of-it
“Prankster and intelligent gangster all-in-one,” although he’s “from Soufeast,” he could be in West Hollywood, California or Baltimore, Maryland or Paris, France (other locations called upon in this collection). The poems themselves wouldn’t be that much different because they’re wholly informed by experiences everywhere, which run on a spectrum of small acts of racism to the large, glaring moments that make a white person say, “What the actual fuck?” and a Black person say, “same shit, different day” to quote Morgan Parker from her “Now More Than Ever” poem in Magical Negro.
I’ve been drafting this review for a while, partially because I was concerned about doing this collection the justice it deserves, and partially because I wasn’t sure if I was the right voice to do it. I considered excluding the different textures: snippets of outside texts, personal details, and a microscopic focus on race and privilege (which would be incredibly foolish, since that is the beating heart of this book). White poets receive privileged reviews, reviews that revolve around just sound and music (which is so prevalent in Convenient Amnesia), just usages of new and old forms paired with killer enjambment (you’ll find a ton of that here), just skillful word play (yup), or just the ease of tonal movement, like how Donald hopscotches effortlessly from serious to sardonic, smart to silly, pithy to pretty. Tonal shifting is a mode of survival actually, as evidenced in the poem “Driving Through Alabama, Birthplace of My Grandma”:
My grand-momma never learned to say,
yessuh-bossuh, sir. She says she only knows
how to say, “yes, sir. Police officer!” like
she is just a little old church woman from the north
in the same tone I use
in job interviews, on first dates, and when on
the phone with customer service people.
My impulse was to rest in the comfortable privilege of speaking about Donald’s poems as sonic cinema—close-ups paired with wide panoramic views as the ear drives the eye. To do that, to omit any of this and merely focus on music, on technical aspects here is inherently racist. These poems exist in a world that doesn’t let Black people forget that they’re Black. The world these poems exist in is our world. There is no difference between the two. To leave the context of these moments out would be to exercise the convenient amnesia he examines, explains, and aims to dismantle.
In LeRon Barton’s article “They Love Our Culture, But They Don’t Love Us” on The Good Men Project dated December 29, 2015, he writes: ” I just want to point out the hypocrisy between enjoying what Black people bring to the table and caring about Black people. You can’t love my culture and not love me. You cannot take what you want and leave the rest. This is not a buffet.”
Convenient Amnesia moves through the pain, struggle, doubt, fear, and trauma in the Black experience. It also highlights love, laughter, joy, wanderlust, and hope. You can’t pick and choose, but everything is on display, ready for you to dig in. The everything-all-at-once feeling might overwhelm, but it should. It’s a simulacra of the feeling of “living while Black,” to confront reality without the convenience of amnesia. The dichotomy of possessing the verve and heart to stand up for yourself but also the historic truth that standing up for yourself too fervently might immortalize your name on a page in Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric.
Donald and I both studied under John Skoyles (who appears a few times in this book). I am an avid collagist of voices (if you haven’t noticed); once during office hours, John advised I should always let my voice have the last say in my poems. So, I want Donald to have the last say. This is from his poem “The Evolution of the Simpleminded Negro”:
If I am gunned down
The universities will say,
I never earned, never learned
Say I stole my degree(s)
(Both of them)
If I’m gunned down
or shot unjustly please
post all of the photos
I’ve taken with white women
For they shall start the revolution
Don’t forget the one(s)
From the Wax Museum
Or his cardboard cutout quoting
His support of the troops
To show I love(d) my country
Can they love me back
At least half as much
Charlotte Seley is a poet, writer, and editor from the Hudson Valley region of New York, currently residing in Kansas City with her cat, Lord Byron. She is the author of the poetry collection THE WORLD IS MY RIVAL (2018, Spuyten Duyvil) and the poetry chapbook DIE YOUNG: LETTERS TO KE$HA (2019, dancing girl press). Her work can be found in Wax Nine, Maudlin House, LEVELER, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Barrelhouse, Rattle, Passages North, and others.