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Labyrinth by Fernando Rover, Jr., both a statement of intention and a gentle cautioning to his more emotional readers. This collection of poetry, as mentioned by the author in the author’s note attached to the end of the collection, is meant to create a safe place where Black men can, “confront the perpetual pain that has kept [them] bound.” What the collection has achieved, though, is so much more. 

Through a hodgepodge of rhyming and non-rhyming poetry, ones with clear rhythms and ones where the rhythms are harder to identify, Rover draws attention to the Black man’s struggles in America, both internal and external. Some of these are more commonly known if one just opens one’s eyes, others…not so much. He discusses those issues that few people are willing to open up about, let alone Black men: identity, vulnerability (including depression), heritage, lack of real change in society, and resilience. While he sometimes uses one or two words that are above the average reading level, Rover generally expresses his thoughts in simple yet powerful language that hits the reader right in the heart, no matter their race or gender. Do not be fooled into thinking that simple language means that you should read the entire collection in one sitting, though. It is possible, but I would not recommend it. Rover’s work is so emotionally impactful that you will be too drained halfway through the work if you choose to take this route, so you will be better off pacing yourself and taking it in chunks. 

While the collection was intended for creating a safe space for Black men confronting their own pain, I think that Rover’s work has gone above and beyond that by showing readers outside that demographic the ways in which Black men suffer in silence and yet continue to carry on. My favorite poem in the collection, one that bridges the racial and gender gaps among readers due to the painful truths it presents, is “Token (An Ode to Blackness)”. Not only do the rhythm and random rhymes work together in a unique, almost angry-sounding, harmony, but the poem strikes at the heart of multiple truths: for Black men, that their identities are not up to the white world—to anyone else—to decide, and for everyone else, mostly white people, that we do this and need to stop. It is not a “comfortable” poem, but that’s the point—pain is the elephant in the room, and Rover is addressing it.

Of course, what Rover has to say and his mastery of the language aren’t all that there is to praise about this collection. Like all great poets, Rover knows how to use blank space to his advantage, and it shows with how he manipulates the shape of his poems on the page. Although reading the first couple poems with two columns can be a little confusing, the first two-column poem in which the verses are numbered clears up this confusion immediately. Once you know how to read the work, Rover’s use of blank space, particularly in poems such as “Dialogue” and “Braille”, ingeniously reflect the subject matter, theme(s), or both of the poem. 

Additionally, Rover weaves photographs of Iona—a Scottish island and one of the sources of inspiration for the labyrinth and pilgrimage themes tying this collection together—in with his poetry. These images provide a nice visual break from the black-and-white space of the text and highlight the themes of the collection overall. The sepia tone through which the pictures have been filtered also enhances the overall mood of the collection. While the poems stand perfectly well on their own, the photographs are a great addition also. 

The one critique I have for this collection is that there are, closer to the beginning of the collection, a few minor spelling errors that cannot be attributed to purposeful stylistic choices. They are very minor errors, such as “then” instead of “than,” and most readers probably will not notice them unless they are looking for them. Some quick proofreading would fix these non-purposeful spelling errors.

Labyrinth by Fernando Rover, Jr., is an emotional pilgrimage with the potential to bring you to tears. If you’re looking for traditional poems with traditional rhyming and rhythm schemes that steer clear of controversial or sensitive subjects, this is not the collection for you. However, if you’re a Black man looking for work that you feel really connects with your most hidden internal struggles or you are someone outside this demographic looking to connect with and understand the struggles of another, then Rover is your poet. If you are looking for some modern poetry that hits its readers hard in the heart, this work is also for you. Just don’t expect to be immune to the pain just because it isn’t pain you’ve experienced personally.

Pages: 53 | ISBN: 1074628985

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The Spirit Within Me

Neal Owens Author Interview

Neal Owens Author Interview

Mirrors of Life follows the story of a family struggling to overcome the social obstacles that confine them to a life of poverty. What was the inspiration for the setup to this intriguing story?

The inspiration came from life experiences and growth that includes 33 years of service to at-risk youth as a sports coach and mentor.

Derrick is a compelling and well developed character. What were some driving ideals behind his character development?

The ideals of Derrick’s character comes from the spirit within me. He is spiritually inclined and ambitious because I am.

This novel explores many social and economic issues people face today. What were some themes you felt were important to examine in this book?

  1. Faith
  2. Education
  3. Racial
  4. Self-development
  5. Civic-minded

This is book one in your Mirrors of Life series. What can readers expect in book two, The Fight for Political Power?

Set in today’s political climate, Derrick learns political power is needed to ensure the sustainability of his corporation and prevent the blockage of future projects.

Yvonne spearheads the grassroots voting initiative to change the leadership in congress.

Erich Hornsby, plots Derrick’s murder and manipulates the voters to elect his puppet, John Donaldson, president. In full control of the White House, Hornsby attempts to raise the Fourth Reich.

Author Links: GoodReads | Website | Twitter | Facebook

Mirrors of Life vividly explores contemporary experiences of black people in America through the emotional tale of a mother and her children. This compelling story of faith and perseverance leads to intrigue when her spiritually inclined and ambitious son, Derrick, attempts to build a civic-minded conglomerate that undercuts the retail and gas prices set by a group of avaricious businessmen led by the narcissistic and callous, Erich Hornsby. Surrounded by fierce opposition that includes people of his race, can Derrick prevail against the business powers that be? And if so, how?

This is a thought-provoking novel that uses compelling characters to bring to life the uniqueness of a familiar story. Mirrors of Life engages the reader with drama, family, faith, suspense, romance, and philosophy. If you are looking for an intriguing contemporary urban fiction story that addresses many societal issues in a heart-felt yet engaging way this novel is for you.

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