Falling into Winter
Fall is the birth of my winter
Winter is the birth of my fall
By Rosetta Codling, Ph.D.
78 pp. Cherry Castle Publishing. $16.95.
Synopsis: Readers will find that Curtis Crisler’s latest work THIS AMERI-CAN-AH is a testimony to the temporal, testy times in which we thrive and persevere. There is a definitive, jazz tempo within the lyrics in each of his poems. For example, Crisler captures the pace of the times in his selection “If Miles played for Barack (on Swearing-in Day).” The inauguration of President Barack Obama was indeed a momentous occasion for the Black populous of the world. Yet, the poet manages to privatize the occasion for Jazz enthusiasts. One becomes privy to the ‘aesthetical callisthenics’ that a musician endures. The underlying rhythms are poetry in motion:
“He’d start his morning with push/ups-tonguing a gold mouthpiece/
fifty times in succession–all evil/
in him washing up against the round surf/
of his big canine eyes, where one tear/
hesitates. Miles would play to conceptualize/
this new day.”/
If one ponders. one recalls that Miles conceptualized his free, verse jazz. Crisler finds kinship in this strategy for President Barack Obama’ impending administration. But, nothing could have prepared the general public, the Black populous, Miles Davis, and the Obama for the actual his presidency commenced. Still, the ‘poet musician,’ Crisler states …”reminding him that the bass’s/pulse was a hot throb back in hard cotton fields,,/ back two migrations north, back to/grandmother’s motherland…/ Freely, the reader is launched back in time and forward to the present of the candidacy of Barack Obama. Miles could bridge the gaps freely and maybe it would not be so free…for those of African-American past.
“Living just enough for the city,” by Crisler echoes the fragile nature of Black Lives Matter for the most endangered, Homo sapiens on earth. The poet, town crier bellows:
“My mind fingers the aged pages that push/
“we could have saved lives with ifs.”/
The ‘ifs’ in life form the black hole of our domain. The narrator of this selection reminds us all that: “Where I’m from, fear will cop a seat next to you.” The speaker is well aware of his vulnerability from within and without.
A really introspective entry in this collection is the poem “A Pen Pal with HIV Gets Lost in Shuffle.” Crisler’s spokesperson is a remorseful pen pal. He admits that …”I still picture pictures where your smiles leave my throat a lump—how/HIV couldn’t strap you down. You let me in on your new boy toy…/” The narrator recalls what once bound them together. But, the relationship fell apart. In the first lines of the poem, the speaker confesses that…”I pitched your letters for kindling. I concealed them in a plastic Kmart/bag….”/ True, it is that the narrator had moved on and married. But, people are people and not mere discards. Crisler is the messenger with the message that we live in a throw-away society. Nothing and no one is immune from being ejected into the landfills of our minds.
Critique: I loved this collection because it spoke of the world past and present in my life. Crisler captures the world of street life above and below the fences and the projects. I can see this work being absorbed and fully utilized at Howard University in English and History courses focusing upon African-American literature and history. Crisler is a major voice. He will resonate political literacy through his poetry for many years. I look forward to the challenge.
Click Here to Order: “This” Ameri-can-ah
By Truth Thomas
Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness
Edited by Reynaldo Anderson and Charles E. Jones
240 pp. Lexington Books. $75. Kindle $67.99.
One of the first noticeable aspects of both science fiction and speculative fiction is that, for the most part, black people are absent in those narratives. Traditionally, Eurocentrism is the sun around which future focused literary imaginaries revolve. Whether one considers “Star Trek” in the 20th or 21st centuries, for example, black folks are cast as happy sidekicks on space ships of white supremacy. As a result of the poisonous legacy of slavery, non-white people all over the world are envisioned as marginal human beings in the context of literature, film, music, and technology–if we are envisioned at all. To a significant extent, black people are chained to alien, invisible, less-than-ness identities in the world. In spite of that reality, we are here, have been here, and are on our way to a liberating “away mission” of our own deciding. This point is made profoundly clear in Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness, edited by Reynaldo Anderson and Charles E. Jones.
Indeed, in one of the many essays that punctuate the anthology, David DeIuliis and Jeff Lohr write, “Afrofuturism imagines positive futures that, through speculative discourse, sever the shackles of slavery’s shadow” (177). Their entry is entitled “Rewriting the Narrative: Communicology and the Speculative Discourse of Afrofuturism.” It abounds with black and hopeful future thought. For this reason and a multiverse more, Afrofuturism 2.0 has enduring noteworthiness because it explicitly promotes the idea that black people must first imagine themselves free to be free.
Mark Dery coined the term “Afrofuturism,” and describes it by saying that it, “…fosters the artistic practice of navigating past, present, and future simultaneously” (Dery 1994). Lisa Yaszek puts it thusly: “‘Afrofuturism” addresses themes and concerns of the African Diaspora through a technoculture and science fiction lens, encompassing a range of media and artists with a shared interest in envisioning black futures that stem from Afrodiasporic experiences” (Yaszek 2006). Certainly, the “range” of media and artists, that editors Anderson and Jones have chosen to highlight in featured essays, is rich and thoughtful. Historic and contemporary expressions of Afrofuturism in visual art, hip hop, film, technology, theology, and Africana Women’s Science Fiction are gripping. Esther Jones’ reflections in that latter Afrofuturist area are particularly magnetic as she explores science fiction in conjunction with Narrative Medicine. Another essay that shines is “The Real Ghosts in the Machine,” by Ricardo Guthrie. In that piece, he compares and contrasts themes of Afro-Pessimism and Afrofuturism in the films I, Robot and DETROPIA. Guthrie writes,
In many documentary and sci-fi films of the last twenty-five years, urban America is depicted as a site of decay…overrun by savage hordes who destroy civilization or worse: persisting as the hapless inheritors of urban jungles in which no “white” citizen can survive. Heroic reconquests by whites yield semblances of hope for the future…Future urban life is clearly a white projection of racial fears and hopes of conquests to come. (45)
Guthrie’s observations are as sobering as they are timely, especially in light of the 2016 presidential election and Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” montra. In view of his broad support from white supremacist organizations (Mahler 2016), his slogan is, most certainly, a simple code for “Make America White [Dominated] Again.” Arguably, Trump has cast himself in the role of anti-afrofuturist hero–one who works to conquer black savages so that the future white world can survive. For Trump, and too many like him, the Afro-Pessimist ship is his primary mode of space travel. Thankfully, in the interest of overcoming racism, Guthrie documents efforts–again, both past and present–where black filmmakers have seized control of their own thematic vessels.
Some of the many highlights in this book have to do with explorations of contemporary black artists like Wangechi Mutu, Sun Ra, Janelle Monae, and an interview with fiction writer Nneid Okorafor that closes out the anthology. What is particularly appealing about these elements of Afrofuturism 2.0 is that (a) the historical and contemporary artists featured are already Afrofuturist time travelers and (b) the language that frames the examination of their work is straightforward.
Undoubtedly, within the context of diction, there are elements Afrofuturism 2.0 I wish were more accessible. It’s editors and authors are scholars, and the language contained in the anthology–for the most part–reflects its academic genesis. Points raised in the book that promote the advancement of people of color are of vital importance. Making that freedom-speak as plain and powerful as a Malcolm X speech would have benefitted multitudes of black people in need of reading hope (which is something I am sure all of those involved with this anthology sought to do).
Nonetheless, as a textbook and educational resource on the subject of mapping the future black imaginary, it represents a significant literary achievement. It’s scholarship is absolutely astounding–a work of passion, creativity, and excellence–plus it’s pretty. I highly recommend it as a book to include in Africana studies curriculums worldwide. I say that because the impact of slavery and colonialism on people of color continues to have a global death-baiting impact. In many areas of the planet where black people currently abide, they have been brought there, placed there, planted there like aliens. Author tobias c. van Veen mentions this the fourth chapter of the Afrofuturism 2.0 entitled “The Armageddon Effect.” Very pointedly, he writes, “[for Africans as abducted aliens] there is no ‘normal’ to return to” (64). I agree–but there may be a way forward. Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness may prove to be one such vessel–a very durable literary conveyance to a future black freedom.
Click Here to Order: Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness
Review by Dennis Daly
Patron Emeritus by Chad Parenteau
71 pp. FootHills Publishing. $16.
Minimalist poems, like those in Patron Emeritus by Chad Parenteau, imbue each word with a density of meaning that demands resolution and balance. Without careful calibrations, stanzas would fall off the page and punctuation could explode. Parenteau not only avoids these pitfalls but successfully plays off the tension created by them. At heart these poems are narrative, although the stories, culled from the common experience of day-to-day living, the poet rubs raw, dices, compresses, and then highly polishes.
Parenteau, who hosts the famous and long-running Stone Soup poetry readings in Cambridge, Massachusetts, connects with the deceased originator of that venue, Jack Powers, in his first poem. There is sensitivity here and also a not unexpected validation. The poet says,
Thought I saw you
walking taller, talking clearer
lady at your table
ten gallon paladin
nodding toward me.
In the poem entitled Manifesto Parenteau navigates two different venues of performance poetry with unabashed excitement and, interestingly enough, admits to liking the comfort and inclusion of committee work. Of course, society is really a set of self-appointed committees so why not. Here are the pertinent lines,
I strafe both sides
I do my best work
when in committee
I like the use of the crop circle image. Like some open-mike participants they appear suddenly at night and take surprising shapes.
Even charged language can be funny. In Parenteau’s piece Come Lately the persona-host of a poetry reading venue is at his wit’s end on a particularly bad night. I’m guessing Stone Soup. Here’s how the poem begins,
only host pays
success insisted on.
left to hold
let alone signal
what they know
Of course the production of a comedic scene is at the host’s expense and due to his very earnestness and caring nature.
Another humorous poem entitled Working Late struts out longer lines and a less compressed syntax. It is one of a handful of exceptions to the poet’s prevailing style. The poet’s persona, making a living like the rest of us, works in a lab. His duties include prepping hamster cages. But in reality, our poet thinks subversively and has other agendas. He identifies with the intruder, the outsider. I’m shocked! The poem ends this way,
…the empty cages always need
water freshened, new shavings every week,
more if we have a visit
from the department head.
Sometimes I’ll mess things up,
leave a cage door open, watch eyes,
mouse braving the climb to
pupils growing large
while sniffing my similar stare
before scurry escapes.
Any worker worth his salt knows how to hide from his boss and steal precious moments of humanity through imagination or creativeness. The poet in his piece Passing has chosen one of the most common of all havens—the bathroom. Parenteau describes his sanctuary,
Bosses wait for
you rinse meeting off
face, unsmear specs.
They know you
door closing there
talking by door
The poem Air Lines begins with the passengers vaguely fearing discovery and surrendering their metallic implements and ends with their expected arrival in Pittsburgh, the city built on the melting of metals and its own factory-employed citizens. Parenteau catches the unease felt by many air travelers perfectly. In this context, even nature’s controls become dangerously businesslike. The poet explains,
travelers cringe at thought
added contact, padded shells
hard complimentary cashews
muttering minor turbulence
as if nature were bureaucracy
bringing us to Pittsburgh
another mill town in search
of purpose its people long
Another airport terminal. Another flawed city. The poem Not In Denver attributes Parenteau’s unpleasant work experiences to the soullessness of his surroundings. His world-weariness is evident. Yet his observations, wry visions, and the way he holds fire at the end seem to imply future hope. Here’s the conclusion,
looking between alarm
hand smashed poise.
all I’ll say.
Parenteau romps over the page in the poem Phoning In. His sparse wording hits all the right notes. The poet’s persona calls in sick. His attitude mixes anger, wit, imagination, and misery. The misery seems to be more job-related than illness-related. Here’s how the poet starts off,
citing teeth marks,
sting more recalling
The point again? Explain
more they ask your
The title poem, Patron Emeritus, deserves to be the title poem. It speaks to Everyman. A poet must make do as a citizen of life. He faces internally as an artist must, but he also must deal with the external and, in that realm, hug, revisit, forgive, and remain his own person. A coffee shop represents the universal backdrop of the poet’s existence. As patron emeritus he settles in for the duration in spite of past difficulties. In a steadying voice Parenteau briefs us on how it feels,
The manager said
Your firing was inevitable.
Ask for him
Like gemstones, the hard knocks of life shine with intensity from these accomplished poems. Get yourself a coffee. Make sure the boss is not around. Then read this book.
Click Here to Order: Patron Emeritus — $16.00 Print
Gift of the Birddog
Is the blood on the bird in my hands
The blood in the bird is on my hands.
Hit TSPJ up with some Love poems on a Cream high level.
In raging heat I wear a dress of linen
I wear a dress of linen in raging heat
Again, they masquerade as solid objects
They masquerade as solid objects, again
“I’ll have of the second course”
second. “Will I have it? Of course!”
Shut your trap
crumpled tumult tossed out with the trash
tossed out with the tumult-crumpled trash
Opening this new book by Lori Desrosiers you will find of memory and search, of second-thoughts and playful indecisions, poems that go back in time to retrieve music and mend heart. Indeed, the reader will find all kinds of music here: there is a violin that lacks music and there is a brother’s voice that speaks like father’s–but not when he sings. There is a reveille at 7.15am, and there is a young baby whose voice is known by her singing. And it is music that brings half-deaf father back from the dead. Page after page the reader will come to learn that it is memory–that beautiful, final chord, which reveals us to ourselves, and yet is unwritten by us. — Ilya Kaminsky
Click Here to Order: Sometimes I Hear the Clock Speak — $13.30 Print
“Reciting From Memory ambles and moseys, occasionally floors it and often takes detours along highways and byways, poking into neighborhoods, local bars, diners and fishing holes. These poems report back from across a life.” — Sarah Sadie, author of We Are Traveling Through Dark at Tremendous Speeds
Order Your Copy Here: Reciting from Memory — $3.99 eBook
“In Harbingers, by Jennifer Lagier, you will find the sharp eye of the photographer, the passion of the environmental activist, and a prayer for the survival of the Earth. As the poet takes you on coastal walks on the Monterey Peninsula, she reveals her delight in all natural things and her fears about global warming. Elegantly crafted poem jewels, a joy to read.” — Blue Light Press
Click Here to Order: Harbingers — $15.95 Print
Beth with Hummingbirds
Beth into her lap
into Beth her lap
Jake talks to his dead brother and father in hospice
in hospice, his dead father and brother talk to Jake
after the full moon shines in the pond, copper green pond scum rises
copper green pond scum shines after the full moon rises in the pond
School & Church
Our father’s hands were
were our father’s hands.
the street lights on Main only blink before dawn
the street lights on Main, before dawn, only blink.
Praying frogs can resurrect
Wake to legs, remnants of archway on pavement
legs, remnants of archway on pavement, to wake.
I believe you can get me through the night
Believe me I can get you through the night
Attached Photo: Alexander Stevens, chief scientist and geologist for the Ross Antarctic Sea Party on-board the Aurora in McMurdo Sound, c. 1915, from a negative found a century later in a hut at Cape Evans, Antarctica. Source: Antarctic Heritage Trust <https://www.nzaht.org/pages/ross-sea-party-photos>.
Alexander’s Onetime Band
Songstress serenades sailor
Sailor serenades songstress
Coming of age
laid bare in declining years
in declining years laid bare
Those that throw stones
stone teardrop tears the silence
stone-silence tears the tear: drops
bluejays squawk a tango, as if their duende dies in the downpour
as if bluejays pour a tango down duendes, and their squawks die
Squabbles spoil morning spirit
Morning squabbles spoil spirit
The Skinny Poetry Journal Call for Submissions
The Skinny Poetry Journal (TSPJ) seeks new poetry. TSPJ is a literary journal that is dedicated to The Skinny poetry form (and edited by a rotating team of poets). A Skinny is a short poem form, created by Truth Thomas, that consists of eleven lines. The first and eleventh lines can be any length (although shorter lines are favored). The eleventh and last line must be repeated using the same words from the first and opening line (however, those words can be rearranged). The second, sixth, and tenth lines must be identical.
The point of the Skinny, or Skinnys, is to convey a vivid image with as few words as possible. Skinny poems can be about any subject. They can also be linked, like Haiku, Senryu or Tanka. To submit your work for publishing consideration, email it to: email@example.com with your poem, or poems, copied into the body of your email.
It begins, a small tumour, and grows malignant,
A small tumour begins, malignant, and it grows.
at five am awake,
awake at five am
our legs entwined
our legs entwined
when the alarm calls
when the alarm calls
I blush when he gives me a paper rose,
when I blush, he gives me a paper rose
I ask my grandfather why he won’t speak English: I keep my country in my mouth.
I ask my grandfather why he won’t speak English: I keep my country in my mouth.
Maura Alia Badji
After the unidentified climber on the Northeast ridge route of
The mountain’s only gift is
is the mountain’s only gift.
When air is not air,
when air is not air.
Up there in the snow, you lost your name.
you lost your name up there in the snow.
Issa M. Lewis
Mom was hospitalized due to elevated blood pressure.
Due to elevated blood pressure mom was hospitalized.
Teachers of color are being forced out of public schools.
Teachers of color are being forced out of public schools.