Cooling Board: A Long-Playing Poem, Mitchell L. H. Douglas (Red Hen Press) $19.95
Cooling Board is Douglas’ debut collection. Presented in a square edition as homage to the records and recording artists it pays tribute, as it recounts the life stories of Donny Hathaway through exploration of his posthumous album of studio rarities and live recordings, Cooling Board. This is a beautifully executed collection, a rare successful merger of the contemporary short lyric and the conceptual narrative.
Look at him—look at the way
he rocks so far over, left
to right, like some invisible hand
keeps him from tipping,
never wishing Donny lost.
XXXXXHe can play that ukulele
like he made that ukulele,
tap a foot to keep time,
fingers that never tire, just strum
& slide, strum & slide.
Seasons of Lotus, Seasons of Bone, Matthew Shenoda (BOA Editions LTD) $16
SOLSOB contains poems that demand a biblical authority, from the collection’s first poem onward:
One man dreams
But cannot strike
One man strikes
But cannot dream
Often ecclesiastical in tone, Shenoda’s poems are populated by the places and people of Ancient Egyptian literature and the Old Testament. Accompanied by a glossary, these poems aren’t just exercises in allusion and myth, Shenoda’s poetry sings.
The Us, Joan Houlihan (Tupelo Press) $16.95
Another narrative sequence, Houlihan’s The Us is “a sequence of poems spoken in the collective voice of nomadic hunter-gatherers.” The collection too often primitivizes the other; this is not done in secret but quite blatantly, perhaps as a commentary on human nature itself. Still, it’s a romanticized and shallow portrait of a “less developed culture.”
Houlihan does succeed magnificently at two things: she generates a believable mythology (in the tradition of Ted Hughes’ Crow), and she develops a linguistically interesting lexicon and syntax, a sort of grammar of her own (though it too contributes to the primitivization of the Us themselves):
Against the sky cloth hung.
Rend and strip took little billow from the wind.
Swells brought it to mine shore. Ay called out
for what were there but rot and rat.