Kyle Tran Myhre first book was mostly a poetry collection (with also essays and songs), but at the time of writing Not a lot of reasons to sing, but enough he felt the situation (Covid, Trump, police brutality, etc.) was calling for something else, so he went for something different. But poetry definitely didn’t leave him, you still feel it everywhere in his writing, it’s in the flow, the word crafting and evocative power, it permeates the whole book, but fused into something formally different, it’s poetry without poems, with pages about poetry and creative writing, but among a wider array of subjects.
Indeed, it is also science fiction. But, again, not of the usual kind. Don’t expect a lot of action. And it’s fine, we already have more books filled with action than we can read in our lifetime, whereas we have no other book like Not a lot of reasons to sing, but enough. Actually, the sci fi/post-apoc/fantasy elements mostly help the author to shed a different light on things we know well, to bring some distance that helps to see it from a new perspective. And the way he combines dystopian sci-fi with the age-old oral art of telling stories is really interesting. Stories told at gathering are indeed a big part of what’s happening in the book. Through their road journal, we follow two wandering poets (one human and a robot) on the moon, after it has been turned into a penitentiary colony before being abandoned. We learn about people they met going from village to village, and about the troubles communities are facing (mostly related to a slow rise of tyranny) and how they deal with it. The two poets often can’t do much more, but despite their own doubts, they never fail to deliver some good down to earth wisdom. No simple answers, but a lot of food for thought.
We could describe those stories as futuristic fairy tales. But for now. Tales about resilience in troubled times, but also about finding hope and joy in the darkness. The title of the book reflects the main theme of the role of arts and artists in times of crisis. Demystifying art and not buying the clichés about the “out of reach geniuses leading the way”, Kyle Tran Myhre reflects on how artists (and everyone!) can engage in the everyday life of a community, how they can bring not only joy, relief or critical thoughts but also bonding, healthier relations between people, being catalysts and connectors for the whole community every day, not just focused on crafting possible masterpieces, but on strengthening connections between people and between people and their own experiences.
Kyle Tran Myhre is a poet, and a writer, but also an activist. And Not a lot of reasons to sing, but enough has a strong political dimension. But not of the boring and ugly kind. No dogmatism, tedious seriousness or moralizing. Even when about heavy subjects, it stays fun and most of the time faces it with satire and irony. Never about pushing forward a party, program or ideology, it’s all about grass root organizing, acting in your local community to strengthen solidarity and confront the power. And about how the authoritarian relations, their failures and miseries, could be replaced by the action of associated, free and responsible individuals acting together for the good of the community. Questioning the narrative of power and building counter-narratives challenging it, it borrows from the basics of anti-authoritarian politics (which can’t be bad in my opinion) and draws inspiration and understanding from social struggle of the past and present. But it also brings a different take on the subject by drawing as well from hip-hop culture (the chapter about how to organize an open mic is a good one). Yes, the author is not only a writer, poet, and activist, but is also involved in the spoken words / hip-hop scene and has released six albums as an MC (under the name Guante). The book is an occasion for him to share all those experiences with the reader. Through the voices of his characters, but also directly in the concluding pages where he explains the genesis of the book and its specificities, and also gives a few prompts and writing tips.
You’ll find all that in Not a lot of reasons to sing, but enough, and even more (including nice illustrations by Casper Pham). It’s really a book like no other, and a very refreshing, thought-provoking, and inspiring read.