INDIANA NOCTURNES, by Curtis L. Crisler & Kevin A. McKelvey
(Nebo Publishing, paper, 2020. 85 pages, $15.95.)
Honest conversations about race between Blacks and Whites in America are about as common as hunger running away from a steak. In books of poetry, as well as any other aspect of life in the United States, this is true. Poets Curtis L. Crisler and Kevin A. McKelvey, hoosiers to the core (one Black, one White, respectively), engage in such cultural discussions with courage — and without pretension. Indiana Nocturnes is their deliberate attempt to demonstrate both how separate — and yet similar we all are — through a literary concert that features two distinct poetic songs of ourselves. The implied racial and cultural dialectic that takes place within the pages of this book is notable for its authenticity and resonance of dual realities. Crisler writes of gripping urban farmlands in lines that often place humor on the point of thematic daggers. A glimpse into his “Hollywood B-Side,” makes this plain, as he writes:
Rudy Ray Moore’s
karate kicked so slow I could make a fried-
bologna sandwich before his foot hit the floor.
I knew he’d never catch my black ass in one
of his flicks. Maybe white actors couldn’t see
him—they never hid behind cars or trees
at night, trying to make it home.
McKelvey’s poetic scene-setting is as expansive as the Indiana flat lands where most of his work comes to life. His imagery is as rich as sweet corn and as multi-layered as shingles on a rooftop. Indeed, although the two authors are framed in wholly different Indiana worldviews, both Crisler and McKelvey “see” each other in this book in ways that are fruitful — far from venomous screams across hate-filled canyons. Theirs is a book of unselfish poetic solos and duets that honor the salient and intertwined beauty of two halves of the heartland whole. McKelvey speaks to that healing geometry in the poem, “On Cliffcrest Dock Near The Dassier Cabin, Isle Royale National Park,” where readers find these words:
We see water and life differently when we stand above it.
And from “Standing and Seeing,” he goes on to say:
I can look through a window in my house,
through windows in the next house,
and see an apartment building two doors down.
As a kid I could see evergreens
at my elementary school three miles away.
Proximity doesn’t matter.
People can create their own cure for a place.
To declare a poet’s poems inaccessible, is sometimes seen as a literary term of endearment. In the context of Indiana Nocturnes, I will not lead myself into that temptation. Suffice it to say that in the same way that people and cultures are complex, Crisler and McKelvey’s poems reflect a comparable range and complexity. Full disclosure: Readers will find no name tags linking poems with their authors in the book proper — not until its final curtain call. To that extent, identifying who exactly is speaking can be somewhat of a challenge. However, the challenge is well worth the effort. The poems are equal parts literary concert and parable. Two quite culturally different Indiana voices ultimately become one voice, one humanity, one joy — much to the joy of joy itself.
TO order, go to: The Nebo Media Group
Truth Thomas is a singer-songwriter and poet born in Knoxville, Tennessee and raised in Washington, D.C. He studied creative writing at Howard University and earned his MFA in poetry at New England College. His collections include Party of Black, A Day of Presence, Bottle of Life and Speak Water, winner of the 2013 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Poetry. His poems have appeared in over 150 publications, including: Poetry Magazine, Ghost Fishing: An Eco-justice Poetry Anthology, Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South (A Cave Canem Anthology), and The 100 Best African American Poems (edited by Nikki Giovanni). He is the founder of Cherry Castle Publishing, creator of the “Skinny” poetry form, a former writer-in-residence for the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society (HoCoPoLitSo), and the managing editor of The Skinny Poetry Journal.