M.A. Hastings’ poetry collection At the River offers a wide range of topics, including poems about Alex Trebek, mass shootings, pickleball, the COVID-19 pandemic, God, abuse, hot flashes, and racism.
The book is comprised of rhyming poems, a form that’s appropriate in some instances, such as her piece about Jeopardy’s Trebek: “Among the ladies/ there were those disputes/ about the best color/ for his well-tailored suits.” But often the author’s attempts to speak to complex and nuanced subject matter are trivialized by the sing-song delivery: “I can’t help him because he is black…/ He could be shot in his front or his back.”
Additionally, the poet frequently stretches to make a rhyme, which results in tortured syntax and obscured meaning (“Splendiferous colors/ shortened days/ as we seek cozy/ for our weekend ways” or, ”There will always be those things about some/ on which our nerves get a grate/ when to the next gathering they come/ But it’s no reason to harbor for them hate.”)
While Hastings seems to have the best intentions, her awkward handling of sensitive subjects like racism and sexual abuse often walks the line of offending those she seeks to support. At best, such stumbles read as a failing of craft; at worst, as voyeuristically mining the trauma of others for content. For example, in ”Double Whammy” she writes about a black woman who cooked in a restaurant where she worked as a teenager. The cook was involved with the owner, Sam: “‘Sam has sex with me 3 or 4 times a week’, [sic] / was the bomb she dropped,/ as my heart revved and my mind went a-pop. […]// I left without looking back. // Myra, though, on both sides was trapped. She was a woman…and she was black.”
Overall, contemporary poetry readers seeking collections that maintain the tight focus indicative of the form would do best looking elsewhere, as would those seeking writing that thoughtfully reflects on difficult subject matter.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.