Reviewed by David Stanley
In 1992, I became a full-time soccer coach and my life became hopelessly intertwined with the lives of my players. In 1999, I became a high school teacher, and despite my efforts to maintain professional distance, the occasional student became a part of my life, and the life of my family. It happens. You are a responsible adult who behaves in a predictable and safe manner, and a kid takes to you. Something about this kid resonates within you, and a young person becomes important to you. When that happens, you become attuned to the nuance and rhythm of teenage speech. What they say matters, but how they say it matters just as much. Teen speech: it has a certain beat, spacing between words, the head bends, the blinks, the gestures- these are at least as important as the words. You learn the poetry of youth.
When poet-teacher Cameron Conaway went to work as a creative writing instructor at the Pima County Juvenile Detention Center’s all-female pod in Tucson, AZ, the same thing happened to him. Conaway captures all the totality of the marginalized teen experience in his latest work, Until You Make the Shore. For UYMtS, Cameron created a variety of characters, all based on the young women he taught as part of the PCJDC’s Restorative Justice Model.
With this book, Conaway uses unique word spacing and perfect word choice to create the sense of rhythm these young women brought to their conversations and writing.
at first i thought dad was just shooting
like he does
you ever been close to a gun shot
not that clo—
it’s like you can’t help
our trailer was small kitchen was farthest
i crawled in the cupboard
got all curled in a ball
when he shoots he shoots til he’s gone
out of bullets not just one and it was
quiet I’m thirteen it was quiet
i was thirteen
Should you pick up a copy of Until You Make the Shore (and if you work with teens, you absolutely should), prepare to be gobsmacked by the stark reality of life for young women in Tucson. The rhythm is spot-on. The word choices are exquisite. His girls speak volumes with their silences. As for Cameron, he speaks quietly in italics.
A poet’s job is to speak the truth for those who can’t speak, and to do so in a way that all who read it, find their truth. These young women of the PCJDC, girls really, have been marginalized by everyone with whom they come in contact. By the creation of such well-formed voices, Cameron Conaway does a great Mitzvot for young incarcerated women everywhere – these women shall be heard.
2 Nods. A moving work of character driven long form poetry. It’ll yank at your heart.
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- Disclaimer-I was given a review copy of this book. No others considerations were/are involved.
Remember the Rules of the Nod:
1) I choose the books.
2) I review only good books. In general, I’m a non-fiction guy. My tastes run towards books that focus on mastery; of a craft, of the intellect, of the spirit.
3) The ratings.
- 1 Nod — If you are interested in the general subject matter, read it.
- 2 Nods – A solid read; interesting on several levels. Consider it, even if you’re not particularly interested in the topic.
- 3 Nods — Do not miss.
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