Reviewing the Bookrise: “This” Ameri-can-ah

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By Rosetta Codling, Ph.D.
This Ameri-can-ah
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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photo by Lou Bryant (c) 2016

Click Here to Order: “This” Ameri-can-ah

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Reviewing the Bookrise: “Patron Emeritus” By Chad Parenteau

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Review by Dennis Daly
Patron Emeritus by Chad Parenteau
71 pp. FootHills Publishing. $16.

Minimalist poems, like those in Patron Emeritus by Chad Parenteau, imbue each word with a density of meaning that demands resolution and balance. Without careful calibrations, stanzas would fall off the page and punctuation could explode. Parenteau not only avoids these pitfalls but successfully plays off the tension created by them. At heart these poems are narrative, although the stories, culled from the common experience of day-to-day living, the poet rubs raw, dices, compresses, and then highly polishes.

Parenteau, who hosts the famous and long-running Stone Soup poetry readings in Cambridge, Massachusetts, connects with the deceased originator of that venue, Jack Powers, in his first poem. There is sensitivity here and also a not unexpected validation. The poet says,

Thought I saw you
walking taller, talking clearer

nearby crutches
lady at your table

cowboy hat
ten gallon paladin

head weighed
nodding toward me.

In the poem entitled Manifesto Parenteau navigates two different venues of performance poetry with unabashed excitement and, interestingly enough, admits to liking the comfort and inclusion of committee work. Of course, society is really a set of self-appointed committees so why not. Here are the pertinent lines,

I strafe both sides
one-way streets
run down

running
crop circles
slim pickings.

Committees agree
I do my best work
when in committee

belonging still…

I like the use of the crop circle image. Like some open-mike participants they appear suddenly at night and take surprising shapes.

Even charged language can be funny. In Parenteau’s piece Come Lately the persona-host of a poetry reading venue is at his wit’s end on a particularly bad night. I’m guessing Stone Soup.  Here’s how the poem begins,

Scant showing
only host pays
success insisted on.

Those closest
edge forget
no hands

left to hold
outreach
let alone signal

help
what they know
malady.

Of course the production of a comedic scene is at the host’s expense and due to his very earnestness and caring nature.

Another humorous poem entitled Working Late struts out longer lines and a less compressed syntax. It is one of a handful of exceptions to the poet’s prevailing style. The poet’s persona, making a living like the rest of us, works in a lab. His duties include prepping hamster cages. But in reality, our poet thinks subversively and has other agendas. He identifies with the intruder, the outsider. I’m shocked! The poem ends this way,

…the empty cages always need
water freshened, new shavings every week,
more if we have a visit
from the department head.

Sometimes I’ll mess things up,
leave a cage door open, watch eyes,
mouse braving the climb to
the desktop,
pupils growing large
while sniffing my similar stare
before scurry escapes.

Any worker worth his salt knows how to hide from his boss and steal precious moments of humanity through imagination or creativeness. The poet in his piece Passing has chosen one of the most common of all havens—the bathroom. Parenteau describes his sanctuary,

Bosses wait for
bidden bathroom
you rinse meeting off
face,  unsmear specs.

They know you
trespasser
door closing there
they are

talking by door
cordially predatoral…

The poem Air Lines begins with the passengers vaguely fearing discovery and surrendering their metallic implements and ends with their expected arrival in Pittsburgh, the city built on the melting of metals and its own factory-employed citizens. Parenteau catches the unease felt by many air travelers perfectly. In this context, even nature’s controls become dangerously businesslike. The poet explains,

travelers cringe at thought
added contact, padded shells
hard complimentary cashews

muttering minor turbulence
as if nature were bureaucracy
bringing us to Pittsburgh

another mill town in search
of purpose its people long
melted down

Another airport terminal. Another flawed city. The poem Not In Denver attributes Parenteau’s unpleasant work experiences to the soullessness of his surroundings. His world-weariness is evident. Yet his observations, wry visions, and the way he holds fire at the end seem to imply future hope. Here’s the conclusion,

World like
Pseudo-Denver
forget face
looking between alarm
clock stings
hand smashed poise.

Revolving doors
state soul
water bodies
looked nice
all I’ll say.

Parenteau romps over the page in the poem Phoning In. His sparse wording hits all the right notes. The poet’s persona calls in sick. His attitude mixes anger, wit, imagination, and misery. The misery seems to be more job-related than illness-related. Here’s how the poet starts off,

Calling sick
citing teeth marks,
yesterday’s wolves.

Shoulder bites
sting more recalling
pat shoulders.

The point again? Explain
more they ask your
chewed foot.

The title poem, Patron Emeritus, deserves to be the title poem. It speaks to Everyman. A poet must make do as a citizen of life. He faces internally as an artist must, but he also must deal with the external and, in that realm, hug, revisit, forgive, and remain his own person. A coffee shop represents the universal backdrop of the poet’s existence. As patron emeritus he settles in for the duration in spite of past difficulties. In a steadying voice Parenteau briefs us on how it feels,

Sitting down
finally unfamiliar
feels immune.

The manager said
Your firing was inevitable.

Ask for him
Demand halves
Take everything…

Like gemstones, the hard knocks of life shine with intensity from these accomplished poems. Get yourself a coffee. Make sure the boss is not around. Then read this book.

Click Here to Order: Patron Emeritus — $16.00 Print