Before During or After Rainstorms
Boni Joi
Off the Park Press, $15 (paper)

In this vibrant and incisive first collection, Joi writes of a 21st-century America so ensnared in its spoon-fed, prefab lifestyle that even when objects are purchased and placed just so, and even when we’ve partaken of the latest fad food in excess, we still feel an emptiness that leads to more acquisition. The book’s first section finds the speaker often home alone, the inside and outside world both backdrops for the wish to feel “content eating my arugula salad / and watch fallen petals gather / on the edge of the curb.” The impressive long poem at the book’s center, an unrhymed sonnet sequence called “Twentytown,” chronicles a group of friends and lovers as they navigate that confusing, complicated, and often defining decade. One wouldn’t be surprised to find the older selves of these once-reckless Gen-Xers wandering the bright, wide aisles of a big-box store, searching for the perfect sterile object to spruce up their home offices. A longer prose poem in the last section, “The Infinite Red-Bull’s Eye,” addresses the opening of a new Target in the poet’s Brooklyn neighborhood, highlighting a consumerism that threatens to substitute for creative and emotional fulfillment. Armed with an eye for the particular and a knack for gentle satire, Joi writes from the front lines of a doomed fight for America’s spirit, but does so with a bright, infectious gusto: “even if it’s fake . . . a smile is catchy so I’ll smile back and it will make me feel extraordinary to buy new white sheets and not use them.”