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.
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