Award-winning and well-established poet Lester Mayers is back in the scene with another cultural artifact sure to send shockwaves through the poetry community with his new book, “African Booty Scratcha: Lovin da ashy-blaq fat child wit yellow teef, peasy head & a broken smile.”
From the title alone, readers know to gear up for a ride in self-love, acceptance and an interesting use of language.
“My second poetry offering is another mile stone in literary expression, another fossilized exploration in the identity of Blackness,” Mayers said. “This time around, I deal directly with the conditions and experiences of dark skinned babies, children, teens and adults. I rhythmically lay out the beauty and love dark skinned people who are normally denied and the provisions they are always offered too.”
Mayers transcends code-switching with “African Booty Scratcha,” and brings the Black vernacular to the forefront of the book, writing entirely in this way. Mayers uses this mode of writing to speak through language, all while questioning ideals of poetry and aestheticized beauty. He considers himself to be a Black vernacular master persevere.
“I have mastered da phonetical da ineffable & am pickin up where Zora Neal Hurston, Ntozake Shange & Sapphire left off. I’m writin Blaq & ain’t bein’ sorry ’bout it,” Mayers said. “I am not explainin with unnecessary, italicized words & apostrophes or line breaks.”
Poetry is dominated by white experiences, written by white voices in what’s been determined as “proper” poetry that has defined our notion of style and form. Mayers subverts expectations and challenges that authority by proudly writing in Black vernacular. In a world where Blackness is policed, violated, and under constant assault, to center Blackness, black experiences, told by black voices— it’s exactly the kind of book that needs to be on the shelves.
Mayers demands we ask ourselves why we expect poetry to look and feel a certain way, and this book requires readers to fit their mouths around the words that may not normally fit there. Mayers wants active, attentive readership and settles for nothing less. His emphasis on darker skinned people demands attention, and he wants them and their experiences to be seen, felt and heard. Every line of poetry carries along that thought; Mayers demands readers not only to read, but to feel this vernacular on the tongue and find all the beauty that lies within it.
The book is also a journey of self-love and acceptance. Mayers explores the trauma associated with a lack of approval and respect in his personal life, stemming from childhood into adulthood, and he reflects upon the pieces of himself that others have poked and prodded at.
As we dive into the book, we watch him fall in love with himself, which helps connect us to “100 Poems for 100 Voices,” his debut novel, where we were called upon to “love ourselves, just a little bit more than the day before.” In that way, “African Booty Scratcha” almost feels like a prequel to his first book, as we are granted the opportunity to take this self-love journey with Mayers, closer to its roots.
The piece rhythmically glides along the mind and the tongue so well that once it’s been opened to read, it simply cannot be put down. We enter into the flow of the text the moment we open the book and each poem carries us into the next, dropping us off at the opening line and floating us down into the next poem. The raw emotion and fantastic pacing of the verse makes it an even more distinctive masterpiece.
Similar to “100 Poems for 100 Voices,” we see Mayers draw on and credit his influences, calling upon the sounds and rhythms of his previous book to forward the melody of this one.
“It’s everything Biggie taught me, everything Ntozake was pushing me towards, on the foundation built by Toni and Maya,” Mayers said.
Mayers has been active in the poetry landscape since he self-published “100 Poems for 100 Voices” in February 2019, which led to his poetry concerts at the Denizen Theatre in New Paltz, the Unframed Artists Gallery in New Paltz, and the Nuyorican Cafe in Manhattan throughout the year. So not only has Mayers been reinventing poetic language, but if you’ve had the pleasure of attending one of his poetry concerts, he’s also reinvented the form and style of slam poetry and spoken word.
Mayers shows no signs of slowing down. Within 2019, he’ll have two published poetry books and a beautiful, solidified poetic voice. He’s telling the stories that demand to be told, and he boldly lives between the lines of every poem he pours out.
“African Booty Scratcha: Lovin da ashy-blaq fat child wit yellow teef, peasy head & a broken smile” will debut on Nov. 29 and be available for purchase at Amazon, Kindle, Inquiring Minds Book Store, Colorado Boulder Book Store and the Book Nook in the Finger Lakes.