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Monday, October 2, 2023


Grad’s poetry collection excels in storytelling rhymes

“Farewell and Goodnights” by UH alumus Ricardo Bates is a collection of 50 poems specifically dealing with an incident Bates experienced as a youth: seeing his father almost killed in front of him.

Though the poem’s themes are far-ranging — addressing love, race, family and other topics — the collection is a response to that moment from Bates’ life and more broadly, a response to the past in its entirety.

The “Sound of Glass” is a direct reference to the violence Bates witnessed his father inflict and endure. Here he poses a question about the nature of love and if it’s supposed to be violent, which are peppered through the rest of the collection.

He ties the memory of his father bleeding profusely from punching the windowpane of his lover’s house in anger while Bates watched silently from the car to the uncertainty about the nature of love, which initially appears capitalized in its entirety.

Race also plays a role in the poems. “I, TOO, Am Smart,” is dedicated to the memory of poet and social activist Langston Hughes and explores the apartness Bates felt in academic settings.

“Farewell and Goodnights,” the collection’s titular poem, marks a thematic transition toward healing and growth. Bates feels the impact of past tragedies wane and says embracing love is a way to erase anger and hurt.

Bates also establishes his commitment to rhyme, emphasised by “Farewell and Goodnights,” but somehow the haphazardly scattered couplets that begin to accumulate don’t feel genuine, free flowing or honest. The latter rhyming half of couplets feels like it’s been drawn from a rhyming dictionary as a companion to the first half, which creates a distracting effect.

In “Hell’s Ways of the Florida Days,” Bates is at his absolute most blatant in both rhyme scheme and message. His pairing juxtaposition with prison before concluding in all capitalized letters, “WAKE UP AMERICA!,” is a didactic and heavy-handed admonition that doesn’t fit well into the poetic paradigm.

Bates writes in “YESTERDAY’S GRIEF,” that “one should never waste tears / over the griefs of yesterday,” which can serve as a thematic tagline to the entire collection. Bates suggests that although the past is inescapable, it does not ultimately define people.

The collection seems to propose the events of the past, both the significant and trite, resonate deeply and carry weight into the decisions and emotions of the present.

Bates offers the notion that no matter how traumatic the past may be, it can be bid farewell and goodnight.

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