REVIEW: EVERYTHING MUST GO – KEVIN COVAL (HAYMARKET BOOKS)

“the whole city sold again
ad nauseam. a mausoleum.

The whole neighborhood fills with ghosts.”

from “I Go to the Girl from the Neighborhood”

Everything Must Go is poignant and arresting and full of Coval’s signature wit. With each poem, readers are granted further access to the speaker’s experiences in South Side Chicago, meeting a memorable and diverse cast of characters who, together, combat stereotypes of South Side as a war zone devoid of community. The speaker, based heavily on Coval, channels his experiences into his lyrics, using his verbal prowess to capture the viv and verve of those he meets.

Readers familiar with Coval will hear his voice instantly. There is a distinct musicality to the poems, syllables punctuated and softened by an underlying rhythm that echoes both hip hop and the long history of oral performance in poetry. The juxtaposition adds depth to a collection already rich with history and invites discourse about the bridge between displaced peoples and their respective histories. The collection begins with George Marcus Coval “fleeing Ukrainians/trying to kill his family,” and ends with a litany shouting out those who refuse to leave the neighborhood as it’s being gentrified. This speaks to one of the more pervasive elements of the book: gentrification destroys marginalized communities, and refusing to vacate in the face of development is an act of resistance.

Still, the jacket copy promises a collection which “excavates and mourns that which has been lost in transition and serves as a template for understanding the process of displacement and reinvention currently reshaping American cities.” While Coval nails the first half of that statement throughout the book, it falls short of its goal with regard to understanding. The book will resonate far more for those who already have a fairly solid background in the politics of gentrification. From an educator’s standpoint, this book, or excerpts from it, needs to be supplemented with some quick history and/or a couple solid essays for background.

Overall, though, this collection does more than entertain. It provides a much-needed perspective on gentrification, moving beyond economics and housing development to celebrate the people who displaced and the businesses that falter when whole neighborhoods are priced up and locals are moved out. For me, it is these personal odes and honest laments that linger and haunt.

Purchase your copy of Everything Must Go at Haymarket Books.

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