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NPR Arts & Life

Book Review: 'Wild Hundreds,' Nate Marshall

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Nate Marshall is a rapper and breakbeat artist from the South Side of Chicago. He also publishes poetry. His first book - his first book of poems is called "Wild Hundreds." Tess Taylor has a review.

TESS TAYLOR, BYLINE: In a nifty, memorable trick of wordplay, the last poem in Nate Marshall's rich first book is the same as the first, except in reverse. This form is a chiasmus, a highfalutin poetic name for the X, or sight of the cross. This is fitting because Marshall's book is about handshakes and code words, about crossing and re-crossing his home landscape, the Wild Hundreds, a neighborhood in far South Side Chicago between 100th and 130th streets. It's a landscape punctuated by fame, food and liquor and what Marshall calls the down-home migration taste of Harold's Chicken Shack. In Marshall's hands, it's also a place of ambition, ambition cut short, of love letters and hood words and pallbearers. Poems condense around what Marshall calls their percussive imperative, around bittersweet vignettes - trying to buy shoes, trying to graduate, trying to fit in at smart camp. There's also the ambivalence of making it to college, of being able to look back and hold up a mirror to a place you've survived. Marshall casts his streets in a variety of inventive forms - poems as palindromes, as Facebook posts and also as sonnets or villanelles. Reading Marshall, it's impossible not to remember Gwendolyn Brooks circling another South Side Chicago neighborhood in her 1945 classic, "A Street In Bronzeville." In that book, a collage of voices captures a neighborhood hemmed in by poverty and racism. In Marshall's work, the problems and the music are updated. (Reading) When there's a fire in a neighborhood park, we heard our mothers' best white voices rattle alarm into the telephone.

Marshall knows full well he's got Brooks at his back. That opening poem is called "Repetition & Repetition &." It sings, (reading) ours is a long love song, a push out into open air.

MCEVERS: The book is "Wild Hundreds" by Nate Marshall. The review was by Tess Taylor. Her collection of poetry, "Work And Days," will be published next year. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.