Five Reasons to Read: The Sobbing School,
by Joshua Bennett

// review by Michael Augustine Jefferson //


PhD Graduate of Princeton and member of the Harvard University Society of Fellows, Joshua Bennett comes forth with his first book of poems after a myriad of accolades, accomplishments and HBO Specials. He hails from Yonkers, NY and skillfully illustrates the world as he lived it, as well as depicting how it stands at present day with such fluidity and honesty, it is a fool’s errand not to turn the page.





1. Joshua Bennett totally gets existential dread and the inability to commit to the people who love you, too!
And maybe no one’s happy,” In the beginning of the poem, “Love Poem Ending With Typewriters,” Bennett gives us a line that would make early Drake feel obliged to take notes, He discusses his relationship with his girlfriend and how they are two similar people with similar taste in literature and similar fears that some day their relationship will, “[bow] to the sovereignty of rot.” And so they compensate in tiny ways by spending money on expensive furniture and eating items of food that are absent of preservatives, all this to keep from rusting. Bennett says, “If I knew how to stop calling your presence pity, my therapist’s couch would grow cold as a slaughterhouse. And is that what you want? To break such flawless routine? To stop screaming at typewriters, expecting rain?” Bennett suggests that love can be staggering: It sits in the back of the head and at the lump of the throat as its’ host continues living only as they know how: prone to capsizing, gifted at the doggy paddle if they must stay afloat. The poem asks the question, who would want to get down to the bottom of one’s inability to love comfortably, when it is easier, and more sensible to come to terms with such things as, “…maybe no one’s happy?” blissfully ignorant like the masses and the television all engulfed in groupthink.


2. Joshua Bennett debunks race based extinction plots and theories.
In the poem “On Extinction,” Bennett talks about death in the black community. He writes, “The woman across the table from me is scared / to raise her son, fears he will be killed / by police, says this outright, over soup, / expecting nothing.” To be black and breathing in America, is to straighten up while driving in front of the police and hope your blood won’t water the base of the Social Media lynching tree, where black bodies become a souvenir for infinite newsfeeds. “…expecting nothing.” how could she?  What more is there to say when two people come across a cold fact of reality? Bennett continues, “In 1896, Frederick Hoffman claimed every Negro in the US would be dead by the year of my younger brother’s birth.” Bennett goes on to explain, Frederick Hoffman thought the cause of extinction would be, “dysentery, tuberculosis, killers we could not touch or beg for clemency.” Yet, in the year 2017, the black race lives on like Invictus, “[heads] bloody but unbowed” disregarding all statistics and wishes upon a star for utter tyranny, to bury them. “Hence, when I consider extinction, / I do not think of sad men with guns, / or Hoffman standing by the chalkboard in his office, discerning algorithms for the dead but of our refusal, how my mother, without stopping even to write a poem about it, woke up that day, and this morning again.”


3. Joshua Bennett shines a long delayed light on critically acclaimed authors whom readers are brought up to deify and romanticize despite their social ignorance, and or, use of the word “Nigger.”
In the first line of the poem, “Whenever Hemingway Hums Nigger,” Joshua Bennett writes, “it feels less like the southpaw cross / your friends foretold, more like fresh talon / sailing across the eye’s tundra.” And it is that. When penned by a juggernaut like Hemingway, the word “Nigger” will make you realize why the deer becomes a manikin before a car’s light. Bennett says, “…you admonish / your twenty-first-century fragility. gentle theorist, / your life’s work depends on mastering men/like this.” Hemingway is Colossus and we are all boats in the port of Rhodes. He is a standard that’s instilled in us by professors and learned witch doctors of the English craft. And yet, there hangs the word that followed chained black babies like a last prayer, before being tossed to chum the waters to bring the alligator close for new boots and sick sport. If black people had an acre every time an English teacher excused the writer’s use of the word “Nigger” to create a “stylistic voice” they’d have more land than this whole country, or the continent, could ever offer up.


4. Joshua Bennett tries to explain the strained relationships between fathers and sons.
In his poem “Fresh” Bennett observes he and his father’s relationship in a total of three parts. In the first part it reads, “I never say the right thing. All my rebuttals land awkwardly, as if they started dying on the way down.” Here, Bennett discloses his troubles communicating with his father. And yet, instead of continuing that thought, Bennett jumps to the next page, which contains the memory of how his parents met. “Story goes, Mama saw him in a club downtown & his rendition of the hustle was so smooth she got stuck in his glow for like a whole minute before the bridge of the song gave her body back to itself... Or maybe it was the other way around. Maybe Mama was both the dance floor & the light that called it forth.” It feels as though compared to the previous segment, this memory confesses that Bennett’s father loved his mother, or at least the idea of being with her in that moment. Yet when it came to going home and staying home and identifying with his children, he shied away. To further support this claim, consider the shape of the poem. The second part dwarfs both the first and third and is also written in prose form. It is an eleven-lined block of text between 4 sets of three lined stanzas and another in free verse form. The second part also encourages the idea that Bennett has much more to say about his father than his father has to say to him. This section is written in italics with high diction and vivid imagery as if it were it’s own poem. It suggests admiration. Meanwhile, in the third part of the poem, when it is finally the father’s turn to speak, all that is uttered is, “The way all those words come out of your head, man. It’s amazing. It’s like something in a book.” There is nothing fantastical about this statement. There is no grandiose setting; they are in an IHOP talking over breakfast. This line, accompanied with the one quoted from the first part, suggest that the father and son find it impossible to talk openly to each other. Instead, their relationship goes in a circle, neither one saying anything emphatic or meaningful, but just going with it all. And yet, there is a certain poetic beauty to that as well. When Bennett’s father says that line with great simplicity behind his words, he at least trying to chisel at a wall neither man intentionally constructed, but stands there all the same. And it is this that makes it beautiful, attempting to communicate by any means, hoping that the dialogue is not a dead language to his son, as though all walls bend and sink, eventually.


5. Joshua Bennett will some day flood Goodreads’ Popular Quotes.

“Y’all remember that? How Wahid just / stood there after, staring at the crater / Jason left in the grass? Like he forgot something? – Fade
“I too have signed over the rights to all my best wounds.” – In Defense Of Henry Box Brown
“I am not trying to make myself beautiful for you. I am not a cadaver yet.” – Variation On The Father As Narcissus
“I yearn for nothing / if not equilibrium, a means to honor / how elders taught me to pray: Lord, if you be / at all, be / a blade.” – Invocation
“… four girls / slumped against a project wall / resembling a long ellipsis,” – On Extinction
“Bulletproof glass turned my older brother into a prime number” – Yoke
“…the transition from Jim Crow to Vietnam was clean as blood could ever be, two battlefields branding him iconic, unkillable.” – The Order Of Things
“But enough/about extinction. Entire towns mad with grief, whole/modes of dreaming gone the way of life before lyric, /all faded into amber & archive, all dead as the VCR…” – The Sobbing School




Buy The Sobbing School here.

Joshua Bennett tweets here, and you can read more of his poems here, here, here, and here.