A semi-regular column where we review notable new poetry collections and chapbooks.
Not to put too much play on the words here, but local poet Hari Alluri showed a lot of promise in his debut chapbook, The Promise of Rust. I said as much when I reviewed that book in these pages last year. Still, whereas Rust served as a loose primer to acquaint readers to Alluri’s varying styles of wordplay, his recently released debut full-length collection, The Flayed City (Kaya Press), finds the poet much more thematically and stylistically focused. And he’s all the better for it.
The collection centers on memory and migration through the lens of urban life. Rather than make San Diego or his hometown of Vancouver, Canada the muse in which these musings are filtered, Alluri instead chooses to set his poems in what is called a “secondary world,” a term more closely associated with science-fiction and fantasy writing. By not giving a distinct sense of place, this writing method could have easily backfired, but Alluri’s strength as a writer shines in pieces like “A Declaration, Love” and “Mirage,” where he manages to give voice to the invisible people that we pass in everyday life.
In the former, he writes:
‘Perhaps that’s what prayers do. Regardless
of the city, their barks at muted streets
halfway up a fence, shifting
like migrants. Is the lie, ‘Here’s a person?’”
Passages like this make the collection accessible to any reader. There’s also the formatting, which moves much in the same vein as a hip-hop album. That is, it is primarily sequenced by chapters and is written in a prose-poem style that brings a sense of purpose and cohesiveness. And like any decent hip-hop album, these poems are peppered with interludes that see Alluri changing up his style without straying too far from the overall narrative.
But what shines the most is the poet’s ability to channel his own experience as an immigrant into something that’s selfless and self-actualized. More often than not, writers choose to tackle politics like a slam poet at their first Def Poetry Jam appearance and this can come across as blunt to the point of alienating some people. Alluri is subtle and smooth, making the struggle of every migrant his own struggle without wallowing in pity. He makes his city scenes look like every city ever, and every conflict within that city becomes a conflict we must fight together.