No Unpaid Passengers

Poetry - General
90 Pages
Reviewed on 09/28/2022
Buy on Amazon

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    Book Review

Reviewed by Pikasho Deka for Readers' Favorite

Award-winning author, poet, educator, and singer/songwriter Pam R. Johnson Davis delves into some heavy themes in this beautiful poetry collection, No Unpaid Passengers. Drawing inspiration from her own life, Pam touches upon issues that impacted her, beginning with her childhood, growing up in the belly of the beast that is southern racism, and Black Pentecostal politics. Her poems explore topics such as parental neglect, dysfunctional relationships, and love, as well as what it means to grow up as a young Black girl in America. Through her freestyle verses, she also sheds light on the institutional racism that the Black community in America has been subjected to through the centuries that is only now getting long overdue attention because of the rising influence of social media in the 21st century.

At the end of the day, you have to choose yourself while traversing the host of struggles and challenges of life. This is the primary message of No Unpaid Passengers. With her experimental structures combined with the personal touch of her verses, Pam R. Johnson Davis pens some mesmerizing poems that will pull at your heartstrings and leave you with a sense of emotional catharsis as only top-tier poetry can. No matter what background you come from, Pam's poems strike a chord because of the authenticity of her words that tell the truth in a way that everyone can connect with. I loved every single one of her poems but something about Hood Nationalism spoke to me. Highly recommended to all poetry lovers out there.

Asher Syed

No Unpaid Passengers by Pam R. Johnson Davis is a compilation of the author's original poetry that covers a spectrum of emotions and themes on living. Davis breaks the anthology down into five distinct and interconnected parts: Unpaid Pain, The Next Stop, Alone on the Night Train, Love on the Ride, and End of the Line. The poetry within these parts ranges in length, tone, tenor, and style, from the heart-breaking ode of a woman being cheated on in Making Scents, written in free form and formed with punches of trigger words to highlight pain, to the densely formatted What I left Behind, which eschews traditional stanzas and replaces them with the slashes that lean forward while the narrator, with unexpected regret for a seemingly small loss, looks back. The book ends with an afterword on the poet's journey to publication and how she ended up with a TED Talk.

As a man of color raising a daughter of color, No Unpaid Passengers is exactly the type of work that I want in my house, and in my family's hands. Pam R. Johnson Davis is profoundly honest in the way she writes and the emotion genuinely transcends the page and smashes through the glass ceiling that no person of color built for themselves. My favorite poem is Don’t Tell Mama I’m Turning a New Leaf and its nuanced message on generational change, for better or for worse. I left an entire continent and the simplicity with which Davis plucks what we keep from our background and culture, our home, and what we determine to build and enjoy for ourselves, by ourselves, is poignant to me. Davis is a skilled writer and I look forward to whatever she puts into the world next. Very highly recommended.

K.C. Finn

No Unpaid Passengers is a collected work of emotive and resonant poetry from the Black and African American poetry subgenre. It is best suited to adult readers owing to some mentions of traumatic themes and the use of explicit language and was penned by author Pam R. Johnson Davis. As the title suggests, the work takes on the metaphor of a train ride through several decades of the author’s life, wherein Johnson Davis explores the influences, heartaches, and realizations that have made her who she is today. What results is a raw portrait of the artist that speaks to a wide audience to convey its truths.

I am a huge poetry fan, and even more so when I encounter a volume that really lets me get to know the heart and soul of a particular artist. Author Pam R. Johnson Davis offers a wide selection of themes in her work, from activism to childhood influences, politics to friendship and beyond, and the journey through these different themes is exceedingly well-organized to build up a powerful picture of empowerment and hope despite hardship. A couple of verses that particularly spoke to me were ‘Marsha P. Johnson Visits Me as I Dream’, which was deeply resonant for its powerful social justice themes, and ‘My Neighbor Thinks I’m Human,' in which my soul was truly touched by the author’s honesty and ability to convey such raw emotions in such beautiful words. Overall, I would highly recommend No Unpaid Passengers to poetry fans everywhere for its sublime wordplay and emotive thematic content.