Collins, Quintin. The Dandelion Speaks of Survival, Columbia, MD: Cherry Castle Publishing, 2021. 66 pages.
Quintin Collins’s debut poetry collection represents release—a personification of voices from the mosquito, a suicide note, hip-hop freestyle, code-switching, the afro, the washcloth, the dandelion, and narrators who are witnesses to this vascular world of beautiful and ugly wonderment. Quintin impregnates The Dandelion Speaks of Survival with a brume of language—reverberating our ears with smoked, apple-wood, bacon sizzling in a hot, black, cast-iron skillet. No matter if you down with pork or not, it smells delicious.
In the titular poem, “The Dandelion Speaks of Survival,” the personification is melodic. There’s a luxuriant language with the juxtaposition of nature confronted by manmade tools and wording that cuts—that “shears,” “snaps,” and “poisons.” This is the confrontational (life and death) shared between a weed and a Black man. Yet, with vulnerability comes restoration. Also implied in this poem, Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”—defying heartache and sorrow, hearing her belt out, “Oh, no, not I! I will survive. Oh, as long as I know how to love I know I’ll stay alive.” The disco high-hat and snare drum against a back beat with a melodious piano quivering out its truth, all underneath Gaynor’s turbulently defiant lyrics. Yet, this is not all the poem exemplifies. In another act of genius, Quintin summons one of the greatest line breaks in poetry, Miss Lucille Clifton’s “won’t you celebrate with me.” She wrote, in her ending:
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.
Quintin replicates Clifton’s sentiment. Many in Chi-town still do due diligence to Clifton’s declaration, as well as what the first African American Pulitzer Prize winner Gwendolyn Brooks represented—contin-uing vying for individual and collective Black voices. Quintin even replicates Miss Clifton’s line break. His narrator believes:
I survive. I survive. I survive. I survive
again and again.
Throughout the trauma of life, survival’s what we do. Therefore, be it organic or not, the allusion of the dalliance with Gaynor, Clifton, and Brooks demonstrates Quintin as a practitioner with an eclectic ear—using his language, history, and his love for women’s voices (his mother and grandmother) to articulate the ambience and bittersweetness of Black existence.
In “Ice Cream Economics” he directs us to some sweetness. He moves in and through us, as the Ice Cream truck bombards our ears, jerking our heads—rubbernecking and swiveling because it just got real:
You chase melody. Xylophone reverberations
crawl up Ravisloe Terrace. Sneakers percuss
sidewalks. Pause Double Dutch
hi hats, basketball timpanis. Screen
doors slap like cymbals. Faster tempos
The lyrical play in “Ice Cream Economics” elucidates the backbeat and rhythm of summer as children are told to either come in or go out, but you ain’t gone be slamming my door all damn day. It’s a cacophony as exhilarating as the kinetic energy of bodies participating in the breathing of air. This is universal, no matter the neighborhood, for the most part. And if not, Quintin lets us come behind the curtain. He continues…
as kids bolt. Pockets maraca
nickels, quarters, dimes. Adolescents
drumroll right up to the window.
And you are there, in Quintin’s cinemascope, an actor in the scene—a witness next to the narrator—putting your hand out for Mama to give you some change for ice cream—negotiating how fast you can run on the hot asphalt to obtain “Choco Tacos,” “Bomb Pops,” or “Good Humor strawberry shortcake”—returning before anything got a chance to even try to melt.
“Ice Cream Economics” is a reprieve from the ulcers, the blood draws, and the IVs, where the “immune cells attack healthy tissue,/internal wounds open.” “The Body’s Betrayal” and “Only Pussies Bleed” unveil a black boy’s vulnerability as his body bleeds from his anus, only adding to the external repercussions of shame the narrator takes on by other boys who call him a girl.
“Sold As-Is” seems the crux or thematic metaphor in Dandelion Speaks of Survival—revealing what Quintin’s narrator hears…
one final thing i should tell you people have died
in the house some natural causes
but if you don’t believe in ghosts or oppressed people
then you have nothing
to worry about
Is this not America? Capitalism? All the different tribes currently beefing? Only here, we are looking through the poet’s lens, with a particular set of skills, honing the foci on Chi-town, and all those “homes” (all those bodies). These are not new goods. They are “being used and abused and served like hell” (Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five “The Message”) in a capitalist system where a profit must be made. Why does he want us to see this? What does “Sold As-Is” really mean? To the seller? The buyer? Isn’t it about what we will and will not accept? Quintin is Louis and Clark exploring this midwestern landscape; yet, he is also Sacagawea and York, giving us its truth and its culture.
The narrator of these poems addresses the internalization and affirmation that black lives matter like all other lives. In “Signs of Life”
to promote the lie that you’re not afraid of death,
that your notions of long life weren’t in a pile of ash
Only if death, and only if gaining freedom through death, were not poised implications for redemption in boys named Brandon, Chris, Keith, Toine, or Quintin.
Quintin’s vulnerability and love for place takes us back, then moves us forward, singing names we take for granted. In one of the meccas of blues, “We pull off to the shoulder,/ unaware of what we’ve done wrong.” The “we” are just trying to make it home after being pulled over by police. Dandelion Speaks of Survival is our access home. Quintin’s writing so “we” all make it home.
Curtis L. Crisler is Professor of English at Purdue University Fort Wayne. He is the recipient of a residency from the City of Asylum/Pittsburgh (COA/P), the recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA), Soul Mountain, a guest resident at Hamline University, and a guest resident at Words on the Go (Indianapolis). Crisler’s poetry has been adapted to theatrical productions in New York and Chicago, and he has been published in a variety of notable magazines, journals, and anthologies.
(Curtis L. Crisler / photo by Lou Bryant)
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