By John McNamara
December 22, 2016
When you imagine a poet, you probably think of someone in a tweed jacket, maybe puffing on a pipe, contemplating the cosmos and scribbling down his innermost thoughts on parchment paper amid the ivy-covered walls of some university.
Bowie resident Alan King, 35, is a poet, though, and he doesn't do any of that. He lives in Pointer Ridge, waves to neighbors while cutting the grass and commutes to Washington, D.C., every day, where he works for a nonprofit.
But he's most definitely a poet. King recently released his second collection of poems, Point Blank, through Silver Birch Press in Los Angeles. He's been nominated for the Pushcart Prize -- the Holy Grail for writers who toil for small presses. He's also a regular on the area's coffee house/poetry reading circuit -- College Park, Brookland, wherever.
Like so many, King's first experience with poetry was a bad one. Back in Ms. Garrison's fourth-grade class at Potomac Landing Elementary, King and his classmates were required to memorize and recite poetry, neither of which appealed to him. If you messed up, he recalled, you weren't allowed to go out to recess -- a fate worse than death for any nine-year-old boy. "You were standing there by the wall while your friends were out playing," he recalled with a laugh.
At Friendly High School, King was awakened to poetry's potential during his senior year by an English teacher, Marcus Grimes, who was a poet himself. Grimes would bring in his own work and solicit feedback from the class. King was incredulous when his teacher said he was going out and reading his poems in public -- King had never thought of poems as something more than just words on a page. Grimes also taught King and his other students about rhyme schemes and the technical elements of writing poetry.
"He pretty much opened up my mind to the different possibilities for it," King said. "My first entry point into really writing poetry was writing rhymes and writing raps and then it got more literary."
He earned a journalism degree from Howard, wrote for the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper, got laid off and decided to pursue a Master's degree in Fine Arts and hone his craft.
The title of his latest work, he hopes, is an indication of what's in between the covers. He acknowledges some of the poems in his first book, Drift, might have been a tad too heavy on imagery. His latest, he believes, is a little more rooted in real life.
"When something's in point-blank range, it's right in your face," he said. "So you can take the interpretation (of the title) to be literal -- that these are gonna be in your face. Or you can take it figuratively, like the poem's approach or how the poem deals with the issues. The poems are gonna be up-close with the issues and not skirt around them."
He writes about things he encounters in everyday life and the grander realizations that spring from his experiences. He writes of the passion and fire of his youth, of missing out on pickup football games because he has to help his dad with chores, about the loud, amorous couple in the apartment upstairs and about the difficulties of people's pre-conceived notions about him because's black.
In "Sure, you can ask me about hip-hop," he writes:
my rap sheet only exists in the minds
Of those who shudder when I ask for directions
Or say, 'Excuse me' when they block the sidewalks
But he doesn't want to give the impression that the collection is all dark, or humorless.
"That's not all that I experience," he said. "I got married, had a child, so there are a lot of happy moments, happy experiences that I had. I wanted those to be in the collection as well. There's some anger there...But it's also giving you the full scope of my experiences. That's pretty much what I was getting at with the collection."