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The Uncomfortable Freedom

Fernando Rover Jr.
Fernando Rover Jr. Author Interview

Labyrinth is a collection of poetry that illustrates Black masculinity through lenses of identity, vulnerability, heritage, and resilience. What inspires you to write?

What inspires me to write often is what I can’t or don’t understand. I’m inspired by curiosity- especially as it pertains to the human condition. I write to understand and not to be understood. I’m inspired by the writers that came before me like Toni Morrison and James Baldwin. I’m inspired to tell stories I know need to be told- stories on the Black gay male experience. I’m inspired by the growing pains that writing comes with. The uncomfortable freedom that comes from writing that is both exhilarating and excruciating.

My favorite poem in the collection is “Token (An Ode to Blackness)”. Do you have a favorite poem from this collection?

Let me preface it by saying that they are all my favorites for different reasons. But if I had to pick one poem and name that reason, it would be ‘Indigo’ because fun fact, it was one of the last poems written and it was inspired by the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. I wrote it as a homage to the Black gay male experience which is an experience I often find is ignored and is overlooked by both the Black and gay community. Indigo is one of my favorite colors and I love the enigmatic essence the color has. I wrote it because I was also inspired by the film ‘Moonlight’ and a lot of the camera shots used the color Indigo. If I could categorize what color represents the Black gay male experience, I would say Indigo because Indigo is a mixture of blue and purple; Blue representing masculine energy and Purple representing feminine energy and the synergy of the two colors are the essence of that experience.

What do you hope is one thing readers take away from your book?

One thing I hope readers take away from Labyrinth is knowing there is power in vulnerability. There is power in revealing one’s self and there is a transformative effect that comes along with being vulnerable.

Do you have plans to publish other works of poetry?

Absolutely. I am always working on something as a writer. I am always inspired or influenced by anything and everything around me. I have another project in me and I can feel it presenting itself but I am not going to say when it’s coming out. Just know when it’s ready and when it is released, it will be worth the wait.

Author Links: GooReads | Twitter | Facebook

Labyrinth is a collection of poetry that illustrates Black masculinity through lenses of identity, vulnerability, heritage, and resilience. Accompanied by captivating images of the Scottish island of Iona, the anthology uses the theme of pilgrimage to present a lyrical portrait on the Black male experience in America.”2019 Best Indie Book Award winner for Poetry”


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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