Can I Kick It?

By Idris Goodwin

Haymarket Books
Part of The Break Beat Poets Series

A review by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2020 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

Whenever I review the work of a Black artist I ask myself, can I identify with their voice and message? Yet, even though I was never steeped in rap and hip-hop the way that Idris Goodwin clearly was, I can make sense of the references that pepper his poems, and perhaps that is enough of a foundation for a critical perspective. But, hey, I was excited that he mentions Terence Trent D’Arby in one poem.

That thought seems especially relevant to Goodwin’s poetry because identity is uppermost among the themes at work here, which inevitably provokes self-reflection for the reader. In “Say My Name” he explores living with the name Idris and how much it had been questioned, ridiculed, and dismissed:

In the suburbs, I was a minority, my white middle American school asked,

Is it eye-dris?
I’d rice?

Then, many years later:

Earlier – Age 20, new to Chicago, broke, cleaning cigarette butts out of the restaurant urinal for minimum wage,      my boss, a giant stereotype with turtleneck, sport coat, big glasses, and thick-as-Ditka’s-mustache-accent – unzips at the urinal.

He smirks I ain’t gonna remember that name of yours. How ‘bout I Just call you Eddie

The poem is an autobiographical sketch that delivers a good amount of information even though the language is spare and economical, but Goodwin can conjure a very specific image with great effectiveness. I see that boss as clearly as a picture, and I can hear the easy, dismissive arrogance in his voice. 

Goodwin’s words also remind us that to be an African American almost inevitably carries a deeper level of cultural identity; in this case a bond with music. The full title of the above poem is “Bonus Track: Say My Name” positioning this volume as a set of songs. It begs the question of what if any distinction should be made between the written word and recorded lyrics. The poet invites us to discover the beat and the musician enforces a “correct” rhythm but both insist on a pulse in how we receive the work.  

There are numerous cultural references throughout, with titles such as “The Walking Dead”, “Ferris Bueller’s Black Friend” (his name is Eric), and in “Game of Thrones” Goodwin gets to the point of the problem with that show’s creators’ misbegotten concept for an alternate history series in which slavery became legal nationwide after the South wins the American Civil War:

As if this series hasn’t already played out in the mind
Of every racist since 1865
As if this premise hasn’t already played out in the mind
Of every Black person since the first hulls of prison buses filled   

Showing that the end of slavery did not end the institutional efforts to subjugate a race of people, and that to indulge in such fantasy is the most insidious kind of White privilege.

But do not fear that such gravitas in Goodwin’s observations will weigh you down. Can I Kick It? is a blast, full of humor and even joy, with language, so fresh and immediate so that, even when the subject is grim, the expression of it is energizing. 

Which makes Idris Goodwin a poet of unity, bringing us together by exploring elements of culture and history that both separate and join us. He might have used the same themes to drive the wedge deeper but in the end, the words expose the true and generous heart of this artist.


Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM /, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for