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Indiana Nocturnes by Curtis L. Crisler and Kevin A. McKelvey / Review by Truth Thomas

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

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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.

The Dandelion Speaks of Survival by Quintin Collins / Review by Curtis L. Crisler

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. 

Poetic Prayers for India and More: Two Poems by Ruchi Chopra: “Lullabies” and “(peace) lilies”

Photo by Ruchi Chopra

Lullabies

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

Victims of coronavirus are cremated on the banks of the Ganges river in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh – Courtesy of REUTERS – 5/10/21

(peace) lilies

(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/



“they spoke for him (for george floyd)” by Brian Gilmore

they spoke for him (for george floyd)

1. (video)

i do not
doubt
killing.
neck.
knee.
doubt.
breath.
life.
malice.
doubt
i do not.

2. (blood)

the cardiologist made it
plain.
not
drugs
clots.
plain
like
malcolm
fannie
plain
the cardiologist made it.

3. (love)

george was a momma’s boy
said
his
brother,
lover
said
his
lover,
she
said
george was a momma’s boy

4. (george)

not a perfect man, but a man,
george
he
struggled
some
george
he
fell.
rose.
george,
not a perfect man, but a man

5. (us)

a black news channel…
they’re
black
proud
united
they’re
waiting
wanting
demanding
they’re
a black news channel.

6. (race)

defense says george is
brute
strong
savage
dangerous
brute
prone
choked
dead
brute
is george, defense says

7. (george 2)

george floyd is speaking to us today.
them.
professionals.
women.
men.
them.
humanity’s
bouquet.
crying.
them.
today, george floyd is speaking to us.

8. (what they do)

it is not going to work
counselor.
dirty
deeds
transgressions.
counselor.
stop
doing
it
counselor
it isn’t going to work.

9. (justice)

to the jury i yell
ashe’
george
is
human
ashe,
spoken
for,
loved
ashe’,
to the jury i yell

10. (guilty)

hands behind his back,
cuffed.
he
knows.
feeling
cuffed.
feeling
less
than.
cuffed,
hands behind his back.

11. (peace)

i wanted it to go on and on…
justice.
accountability.
public
truth.
justice.
a
beautiful
song,
justice
i want it to go on and on

Brian Gilmore
5/8/2021

________________________

Washington D.C. poet, writer, and law professor, Brian Gilmore, is author of four collections of poetry, including his latest, come see about me, marvin, (Wayne State Press), a 2020 Michigan Notable Books recipient. He has written for The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Progressive Magazine. His 2015 collection, We Didn’t Know Any Gangsters (Cherry Castle Publishing) was an NAACP Image Award nominee and a Hurston-Wright Legacy Award nominee. Gilmore is also a Kimbilio Fellow.

To order come see about me, marvin, go to: WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY PRESS

To order We Didn’t Know Any Gangsters, go to: CHERRY CASTLE PUBLISHING

“Human Highway” by Kay Fields

Human Highway

Big problems in Knoxville
kids
trafficked
groomed
intersection
kids
I-40
I-75
abused
kids
In Knoxville, big problems

Kay Fields
3/25/21
________________________
The work of award-winning poet and writer, Kay Fields has appeared in Tennessee Magazine, where she won several poetry awards, Verse Virtual, and is to be published in Muddy River Review. Her memoir will be published in late spring of 2021. A resident of Dandridge, Tennessee, she spends her days with her senior Yorkie, Rocky.

“Fossil Fuel Vampire” by Rebecca Spring

Fossil Fuel Vampire

A fossil fuel vampire is biting into Mother Earth’s turned neck.
Vampires
Fangs
Sink
In.
Vampires
Keep
Sucking.
Addicted
Vampires.
Is Mother Earth turned into a neck-biting fossil fuel vampire?

Rebecca Spring
3/9/2020
________________________
Rebecca Joy Spring is a 9th grader at Duke Ellington School of the Arts in the Literary Media and Communications Department. She films and writes in a variety of genres and forms, and she loves doing all art forms for fun. Spring has made several short films that are available for viewing at Rainbow Rebecca Films on YouTube. She tries to use art to speak out about and fight the climate crisis. Additionally, she’s part of the media team at the climate organization Extinction Rebellion DC


This poem was generated from celebrated poet Derrick Weston Brown’s intensely inventive creative writing class at Duke Ellington School of the Arts. Enduring thanks to Mr. Brown for continuing to teach the Skinny form and nurture young artists as they grow–and add beauty to all our grown-up days.

“Dyslexia and I” by Isley Gold

Dyslexia and I

Dyslexia writes for I
Don’t
say
I’m
slow
Don’t
call
me
Braindead
Don’t
I write for Dyslexia

Isley Gold
3/9/21
________________________
Isley Gold is a writer, filmmaker, and dyslexic advocate whose a freshmen at Duke Ellington School of the Arts. Before Ellington, she went to the Lab School of Washington D.C., where she found an appreciation for the written word, despite having a learning difference. Outside of writing, she has been an actor in multiple productions, such as Fame, Hamlet, and Twelfth Night. In her free time, she spins tales of mystery playing Dungeons and Dragons and watching bad action movies with friends.




This poem was generated from celebrated poet Derrick Weston Brown’s intensely inventive creative writing class at Duke Ellington School of the Arts. Enduring thanks to Mr. Brown for continuing to teach the Skinny form and nurture young artists as they grow–and add beauty to all our grown-up days.

“Cold” by Maya Ray

Cold

The distant eye is awake
Frigid
Hands
Reach
For
Frigid
Hearts
Warming
His
Frigid
Eye, the distant is awake

Maya ray
3/6/21
________________________
Maya Ray is a Sophomore at Duke Ellington School of the Arts in the Literary Media and Communications Department, graduating class of 2023. She enjoys cross examining her classmates in Street Law, fishing at Fletcher’s Boathouse and apple picking to make homemade apple pies. In her spare time, she enjoys watching anime on Zoom with her friends.


This poem was generated from celebrated poet Derrick Weston Brown’s intensely inventive creative writing class at Duke Ellington School of the Arts. Enduring thanks to Mr. Brown for continuing to teach the Skinny form and nurture young artists as they grow–and add beauty to all our grown-up days.

“I Can’t Cry” by Jameela Ayoub

I Can’t Cry

I’ve run out of tears to cry
Dry
eyes
leave
me
dry
cries
fill
me
dry.
Of tears to cry, I’ve run out

Jameela Ayoub
3/3/21
________________________
Jameela Ayoub is an aspiring writer and photographer based in the Washington D.C. area. She’s a sophomore at Duke Ellington School of the Arts and is a first year student in the Literary Media and Communications Department. She will be graduating with the class of 2023.


This poem was generated from celebrated poet Derrick Weston Brown’s intensely inventive creative writing class at Duke Ellington School of the Arts. Enduring thanks to Mr. Brown for continuing to teach the Skinny form and nurture young artists as they grow–and add beauty to all our grown-up days.

Charles Barrow: The One and Only: A TSPJ Treasure

I just want to press pause for a beat to say how much I thank Brother Charles Barrow for all he does to support The Skinny Poetry Journal, and also, Cherry Castle Publishing. A treasure, he is. – truth