Jamil Clayton's complex new book, Poems of a Fatherless World, is an eclectic compendium of spiritual and socio-political poetry, short stories and essays. This diverse literary mix is not reflected by the book's title. Nor is it adequately described by the subscript that describes this work as a "novel". A more accurate title would be to call it simply "The Collected Works of Jamil Clayton". This is certainly not a piece of passive work and Clayton's writings are certain to elicit a strong reaction from any reader. This everything but the kitchen sink-esque type of book contains a bit of every literary genre: poetry, fiction, opinion, religion and socio-political history.
It is accurate to say that Jamil's writing is honest, explicit and reflects his spirituality, faith as well as his political outlook on life. In some instances, the nature of his writing may stir up some controversy on many levels- spiritually, morally and politically. The raw, explicit, writing style depicted in this book is certainly not appropriate for mixed audiences as he describes in one of the stories, the depraved exploits of the hero of the story as he was overcome "with the plague of the lustful fornication spirit.... like bacteria that had multiplied" (page 26). In an attempt to consider the author's motivation, I can surmise as to why the author chose to include the material in his work: a mixture of remorse, as well as a need to openly confess to the reader. Is the author bold and courageous? Or is the inclusion of these scenes in a book on spirituality in poor taste? I am sure readers will have their own mixed reactions. Perhaps the author felt the contrast of the vivid sexual imagery made God's grace seem all the more potent. Many readers will strongly feel that there is no appropriate time to use explicit material in any work. To the author's credit each explicit sexual scene was followed a disclaimer- by the character's recognition of the willful sin and remorse and a spiritual explanation denouncing the depraved acts. "Afterword, I covered my face in shame, for I knew the act I committed was detestable. We soaked in our sinful filth as we slept through the night". (page 26) At times the writing and its themes seemed more suitable in a confessional, diary or a private journal kept under lock and key and hidden under a mattress. Though some individual readers who are in a battle with sexual sin and addiction might find it inspiring, these same individuals might also find themselves tempted back into the sin they are fighting to abandon. This might be a good outreach attempt to draw in readers with similar life experiences closer to the message of the bible. Other sensitive or religious readers feel tainted after reading explicit material and find themselves offended or alienated altogether, and simply put the book down after the first short story.
Although the book implies the short stories are purely fictitious, I feel the emotions, feelings and the situations are probably autobiographical in nature. The fiction is written with authenticity. Furthermore in addition to short stories and poetry, there are a number of passages or writings in the book that would be best described as political commentaries on social justice, historical essays and theological essays as well. Jamil has a lot to say about what he feels are the injustices and inequalities about modern American capitalism. He is very opinionated about greed- and rightfully so! The poetic piece "Domonic Surrogates" reflects powerful imagery that speaks of social injustice and crimes from the African American or "American African" point of view. Yet his quasi- socialist ideas about redistribution most likely will be met with resistance by many conservative and mainstream readers. He has a lot to say about the historic oppression of minorities and more specifically, African Americans. His opinions are sprinkled throughout the book on every page as they are voiced through the vivid imagery in his poetry, stories or explicitly stated in his editorials and articles. This work is like multiple, independent works all rolled into one. The common thread in these diverse compiled writings is that the author writes them motivated by his personal faith in God. His love of the bible and biblical history and also African American history is obvious. On occasion he merges the two subjects as they relate to social issues. The book even features an article on the ancient history of the bible including information on the dead sea scrolls to educate the reader as well as help the reader defend his faith.
The unique, theatrical and dramatic cover portrays two photo-shopped barefooted images of author with gleaming red demon like eyes, wearing an ancient styled robe, with a menacing snarl: outstretched in defiance and crouched down in the midst of glowing, translucent blue flames. The background appears to be a dimply lit, desolate cave with the golden ark of the covenant as well as a glowing mosque and lightening storm in the distant background. One should not judge a book by its cover- but the cover is so unlike any cover ever depicted on a book that its worth mentioning. Perhaps the author is portraying Satan- on the prowl-who is ruler of this fallen world. The ark, hidden in the dark cave, represents the truth that Satan attempts to hide and obscure. I can only imagine the author trying to contain his excitement as he orchestrated the idea for this very unusual one of a kind cover.
Regardless of opinions that readers may have, Clayton is to be commended for his fearlessness in his honesty in presenting to the readers the full gambit of his emotions and innermost thoughts. The reader will put this book down feeling as if he knows Jamil's on an intimately spiritual level. Nothing is kept hidden as this book reveals even the deepest recesses of Jamil's mind. I don't think I have read any other work in which the author has opened himself up with such vulnerability. In the end the book's purpose is summed up on the final page as he speaks directly to the reader: "Don't be a fool. Move! The bible is an awesome book that is timeless, representing a timeless God for a world that's running out of time. Read it, learn it, meditate on its scriptures, and work toward spiritual growth". (page 418) As a blogger I received a copy of this book from the author, published by Outskirts press for the purpose of writing this review.