The Dandelion Speaks of Survival Poems by Quintin Collins Rosetta Codling, Ph.D.
In short, this is a diverse and uniquely beautiful collection of poetic gems. Beauty transcends diversity. This the lesson of TheDandelion Speaks of Survival. From the bowels of the city’s concrete, a flower…a dandelion…. defies convention and nature to spring forth. It is, simply, beauty triumphing over adversity. This is the message sent to us in Quintin Collins’ poetry collection. He announces, “This is Where You Belong” and it is in Chicago, in Atkins Park, and it is in Chris’ backyard. The concrete summons you in “After the Towers Fell, Black Boys Felt American.” You belong in New York on Baker Street and witness the smoke on Pulaski Avenue. But there are more seeds to be planted in Collins’ poem “Sag.” You lumber, you launch, and you have the security of a safety pin that evolves to become a life preserver in the form of a rope, provided by a teacher.
Things blossom further in Quintin Collin’s poetic bouquet. “The Barber Chair” is an ode that springs from the concrete cracks. This selection is about the ultimate union among men in the traditional barber shop. The fraternity of male kinship springs forth here because “Elsewhere, only a woman/gets this close to your blood.” There are challenges in any given city. There are obstacles in every given city. And there is the drive to defy the known barriers. There, within, is the poetry of Quintin Collins.
Dr. Rosetta Codling is a freelance literary critic. She has written reviews for the Ama Books, the Manhattan Book Review, the San Francisco Book Review, the Journal of African Literature, Autres Modernites, and Examiner.com. She has obtained scholarships and fellowships from Queens College (NYC), Teachers College/Columbia University (NYC), and the Open University (UK). She retired (in 2006) as a secondary school teacher and Adjunct Professor of English for over 30 years in New York. However, she attends global conferences and continues to write professionally. In addition, she now is an Adjunct Associate Professor of English at Herzing University in Atlanta, Georgia.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
from the Ganges River exhumed dumped corpses, foraging, pending lullabies. nameless mass-graves, scarce firewood. nameless border, expensive crematoriums. nameless exhumed, pending lullabies, foraging dumped corpses from the Ganges River.
Ruchi Chopra 5/20/2021
(peace) lilies unfurl from the chaos. cicadas shrill silhouette dead cicadas collect gunpowder lingers cicadas unfurl (peace) lilies from the chaos.
Ruchi Chopra 5/20/2021
Ruchi Chopra is a poet, social media influencer, and former journalist. Born and raised in India, Ruchi now lives in Cleveland, Ohio, with her family. She is a bilingual writer and enjoys reading, writing experimental poetry, and non-fiction. Chopra explores different mediums of creative self-expression through photography, writing, recycled crafts, and collages.
About the candle photo above: Last year, Ruchi Chopra participated in a virtual “Peace Candle Prayers” event for people affected by the COVID-19 Pandemic. On the evening of Sunday, April 12th, 2020, Chopra and others prayed for peace, solidarity and harmony in the world. She continues to this humanity-edifying practice, along with her family and friends, to this day.
Her poetry has appeared in several anthologies, journals, ezines, and magazines. You can find her on Instagram at @banjaran_life. Indeed, link to her Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/banjaran_life/