TSPJ Book Reviews

Collins, Quintin. 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:

come celebrate
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
some murders
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”

You smile
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.

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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.

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(Curtis L. Crisler / photo by Lou Bryant)

Order your copy of The Dandelion Speaks of Survival from Cherry Castle Publishing today. 

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A Needed Uprising: “Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness”

Review by Truth Thomas

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 spaceships 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. Its 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.

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Dr. Reynaldo Anderson

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Dr. Charles E. Jones

References

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Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness
Edited by Reynaldo Anderson and Charles E. Jones
240 pp. Lexington Books. $75. Kindle $67.99.
Click Here to Order: Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness
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Truth Thomas’ poetry collections include: Party of Black, A Day of Presence, Bottle of LIfe and the NAACP Image Award-winning Speak Water. Thomas has been writing reviews since 2008. He is the founding editor of Cherry Castle Publishing.

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