A Master of Perspective: Aaron Coleman

In an interview with Alive Mag, Aaron Coleman states, “When I’m writing, the idea is to look so closely at the situation or the feeling that that stands before any concerns of being representative. But at the same, my blackness and my maleness are never excluded…My hope is that because the poems are trying to go beyond the clear-cut representational, readers will be able to see something of their own life in a new light, that readers will be able to incorporate something of this one black male viewpoint into their empathy and perception”. I think Aaron Coleman has a very special way of making his stories specific and realistic but also relatable. For example, in his poem A Fire She Loved, Coleman writes about a woman drinking whiskey working in a basement kitchen in her former high school’s lunchroom. Not only does he force the audience into this woman’s perspective, having us imagine the “heavier and warmer” long pull of whiskey down her throat and the sting as the whiskey slips into a cut between her fingers. But Coleman also uses immersive imagery, describing the oven as “dark tins as broad as her father’s open hands”. We as an audience are thrown into this woman’s life and we too feel how making these pies in a kitchen basement is simply “everyday, unrelenting reality”. We learn that this woman has long grown beyond the church but still catches herself singing spirituals under her breath, showing just a glimpse at her complicated relationship with religion. The poem ends with this woman not wondering how she got down in that basement but “why she stayed down there. And did the work that she did, feeding so many, on her own”. This poem stood out to me because it’s so short and yet I feel so connected to this woman and her quite normal story, probably due to the beautiful and immersive voice that Coleman gives her. I think it is important that Coleman is a black man but he is trying to write universal stories that almost anyone can connect to. In a poem like this, it’s amazing how his black male voice seems to disappear, although this is not true of all of his poetry. In his reading tonight, Coleman described how this poem was inspired by his grandmother.                                                                                                                                     

The other poem that intrigued me by Aaron Coleman was the poem Viciousness in Ends which takes on a much more masculine voice than the previous poem but is still littered with similar, detailed imagery. In the poem, we are instantly taken into a violent scene with the words “blood and trust in my mouth” and “on the ground sweltering each swing harder dizzy still to protect what?”. This poem takes on a very interesting, choppy flow of words but it still ends up giving us a clear image of a mix between blood and trust. It is clear that the narrator is fighting someone but questing exactly what he is fighting for. In the next lines, we realize the narrator is in a boxing match: “inside red and black gloves with quarter-worn knuckles”. Because of Coleman’s immersive imagery, we can almost feel these worn gloves on our own hands. The narrator describes how there is really “no way to know the stranger from my brother’s hand” and we question whether this is an actual boxing match or a backyard play fight with another boy. Coleman describes “the fear in our throats-stuck like meat in our teeth” but then follows with “and it was good and it was from one another”. At first, the fear is palpable but then we realize that this fear is good fear, fun fear between two young boys. The boys “laughed face down in the yellow” and we as readers can feel this young, playful joy. Coleman writes, “we swore a man is born” and “we shot the metal bb’s point blank into each other’s sharp backs”, representing the boys feeling like men by using violence against each other. This is where the poem begins to write itself in reverse, creating similar yet novel lines such as “we swore a man is born where he breaks” and “we laughed and used our forearms like dull blades to press each other’s necks face down in the yellow uncut grass”. It is then confirmed that the boys are brothers when Coleman writes, “sticky hand slipping into the boxing glove still hot from my brother’s hand”. The poem ends with the line, “each swing harder dizzy still on the ground sweltering blood and trust in my mouth” and readers can almost taste the blood in their mouths from Coleman’s voice. Although I have never been a black boy in America, Coleman still successfully puts me in the perspective of young brothers discovering their masculinity through loving backyard violence. I could feel the love and trust between these boys as I read the poem despite the choppy writing form. In his reading tonight, Coleman described how he wanted to write black masculinity with more tenderness rather than toxicity.

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