Friday, November 30, 2007



The Architecture of Language by Quincy Troupe
(Coffee House Press, Minneapolis, 2006)

Quincy Troupe’s The Architecture of Language is self-explanatory: it explores the way in which language is used, created, and perceived. Culture, particularly “otherness,” is a major theme in many of Troupe’s poems, but so too is the celebration of the music that is language. These poems are fierce: language becomes the baton with which to rally the reader into engagement.

With long lines packed full of rhyme, Troupe’s poems are passionate proclamations to the power of language. Pieces such as, “A Kite Above the Beach,” are full of action. Troupe writes of “pulsating voices of croaking frogs, buzzing crickets swell below / the gathering darkness, yeasts like bread, just before night falls, / raises a winking, full moon – a one-eyed cat’s view – / a cyclops looking at the world, just before lights click on.” Here, one can see how amazed and in love with the world, specifically the natural world, the poet is; these are poems that move fast and layer sound. It is common to see Troupe’s poems “switch from proper to colloquial” language.

Troupe’s trademark use of “eye” instead of “I” seems more than appropriate for this collection: many of the poems are about speaking up and explaining, like in the title poem, how “the american voice is not white or black” but “grows from a collective linguistic flow.” His gaze embraces the collective; these poems are vessels for change; afterall, isn’t that one of the points behind “political poetry” or work that extends past the self?

But as much as Troupe celebrates language, he doesn’t let it off the hook of analysis; as much as it is praised, it is also analyzed how words can be weapons or marks of the many “-isms” in the world. In the poem, “Vichyssoise,” he talks about how “you always like the word...the way it sounded,” and though the poem celebrates the connotations and syllables and sound, he also mentions how you can “drop it at high-end parties with people / who care about such things.”

Many of Troupe’s poems also celebrate figures of social change by focusing on public figures as diverse as Lucille Clifton, Richard Pryor and Tiger Woods. These are people who have broken down race barriers (among other kinds of barriers) and exist between worlds. And when Troupe writes of Woods at the 2005 Masters and how the ball “trembled at the edge like it was afraid of heights, / before dropping like a ball of sugar / into a cup of black coffee,” how could the reader not think of race; how could the reader not think about the old “bootstraps myth” of lifting one’s self “up” from their situation?

Troupe’s poems are fearless: they flirt and dance with rhyme; they shout about the many –isms affecting the world; and they are not afraid to say what they mean. Troupe’s politics are as present as his love of language. This collection comes out swinging, and like the figures it plays tribute to, it is willing to take risks.


Lisa Bower is.

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