The Shine Poems
by Calvin Forbes
Louisiana State University Press
ISBN 0-8071-2666-7; $22.95 cloth
ISBN 0-807102667-5; $15.95 paper
reviewed by Tara Betts
Whoever has not heard of Shine has overlooked another figure in Black folklore. Fortunately, Calvin Forbes gives us a softer reminder of Shine's cultural existence than Etheridge Knight. For the uncut version of Shine, read Knight's Dark Prophecy: I Sing of Shine. Rawness that exposes the heart of a man lies in all four sections, not excluding the final section, of The Shine Poems, where Shine courts his woman Glow and conceives their son Shade.
In some ways, Forbes makes parallels between himself and Shine, both of them Black men in America caught in defining their own voices. Forbes shows men unafraid of being self-effacing in his "Self-Portrait at Forty-Something" or capturing "A Picture of a Man" looking at his son's drawing and thinking
maybe I could have loved
but I couldn't have loved more.
I thought of a woman/like that once.
This child is all I have left.
With concluding lines like these, Forbes tightens the poem and leaves a reader trapped within the thought each poem offers. Forbes manages to repeat this feat throughout The Shine Poems, no matter how short his lines or how easy his relaxed rhyme schemes are.
"Namesake" talks about a last conversation with a mother who named her son after the doctor who delivered him. "Blues Seminar" instructs on how a line takes a hunk of black misery and hones it into optimism and humor, whether Forbes says
America gave the Negro the blues
don't you let anybody tell you different
years ago a white man yelled NIGGER at me
I shouted back your mama likes it.
Forbes also embraces the love poem. "Tonight" explains how he tries "to imagine my
opening to receive my father's power
for I want to honor seed and flower
stem and root by making love tonight.
"Church," "Funk Heart" and even "Two or More Conversations" take imagery and recognizable situations as devices for a good ol' fashioned "mack down" of a woman, while "Money Mouth" takes a more realistic turn on having love but no money.
Love, family, the blues, the humbling moments--this is where Forbes finds poetic strength and even imagines Shine with these same qualities so readers can dig into a mythic oral tradition of a brother who evaded the Titanic yet still stands as a man with feelings.
The Minstrel Show
a CD by Marvin Tate's D-Settlement
(Urban Collision Records)
reviewed by Billy "Karma" Tuggle
Upon taking the assignment to review this album, I intended to dive into The Minstrel Show ears first and ignore any reviews that might prejudice my listening or writing. I found later that my first attempt at reviewing was full of the same clichéd comparisons to other bands and styles and how D-Settlement is on some "blaque rock-ism" (read: progressive, arty) that neatly categorizes them. I wish the classification was that simple.
Marvin Tate comes to the party with a deck of 52 jokers but the joke is on the listener. He is at one moment trying to tickle while relating a parable ("The Ballad of Corey Dykes"). The next moment he is pissing on the pulpit while delivering the sermon. Tate and D-Settlement dares its audience to get all the messages at once. Sometimes there isn't necessarily one to get ("N-Word")... is there? The tunes move your behind and much more. Vocal arrangements highlighted by Rene Ruffin and Tina Howell seem to channel spirits that Marvin calls forth. George Blaise's riffing brings up the question "Why isn't there more rock guitar outside of rock music?" The music itself is enough to drug you and when you wake up, you've been beamed to planet D-Settlement.
All of these elements lead listeners to understand that the album's aptly ironic title works on multiple levels. Marvin and friends pull people and their own pre-determined expectations in and turn them back on whoever's hanging on for the ride with a completely unpredictable freakout. I still don't get all of The Minstrel Show and I need many more listens and therapy to fully figure the music out. Earth is not quite ready for this record, so the album is probably right on time. Marvin Tate's D-Settlement is planning to release a new CD this summer.
--Billy "Karma" Tuggle
Trochemoche by Luis Rodriguez
Curbstone Press, $12.95
ISBN # 1-880684-50-0
reviewed by Kevin Coval
"With all my revolutionary heart and mind, I declare love for this land, its people and its destiny."--from Trochemoche's introduction.
This is what revolutionaries ultimately hold in their heart. This love of country, a utopian patriotism. The true ones. The ones selflessly risking life and mind for the sanctity of resistance. Luis Rodriguez is Lorca, Neruda, Malcolm, Che, Fannie, Mahalia and others singing painful songs of freedom, retelling tales of oppression, dancing with syllables to celebrate our stories. He is courageous because there is courage in his honesty.
Trochemoche (loosely translated as helter skelter) articulates truths most people are
afraid to admit. We, as individuals and collectively, are often uneasy with multiple identities. We section ourselves in clusters of stiff labels confining us like traffic in "Woman on the First Street Bridge." In some ways, Rodriguez
is like this woman who shakes the world watching her awake, who "must have known what sorcery could snap us out of it." Luis is snapping like fingers before our numb televised stares to place us back in reality.
We all hold numerous identities and Luis paints his names in poems like an indigenous graffiti writer fighting with colored textures in the war that he "keeps fighting, / that we keep bleeding for, that war / against our servitude..." These identities serve as the foundation of empathy, compassion and strength.
Harvard professor / public intellectual Cornel West discusses the premise of multi-contextualism. We occupy multiple identities while protecting a core of self-awareness which saturates our personality. In Trochemoche, the voices of these poems live in multiplicity--the rapid changes of selves like hats an organizer wears. Luis Rodriguez speaks the meta-narrative through the spliced tongue of chollo, father, Humboldt Park resident, activist, ethnographer, lover, husband, griot-warrior, historian who each record the impetus toward freedom. He holds these voices without contradiction.
Trochemoche becomes metaphor for a
post-hyphenated, politically-questionable ear of pseudo-multiculturalism. These poems are real and concrete. They are found "in the cracks along a wall, in the faces of friends, in the palms of children-in the trochemoche of our manifold existence." They are found within the poet himself and "his words like wings to cross / the battered skies of all illiteracies."
Bumtown by Tony Fitzpatrick
Tia Chucha Press, $16.95
reviewed by Tara Betts
A love for a father and baseball takes us toward these simple pleasures and much more in Tony Fitzpatrick's fourth book of poetry, Bumtown. These poems are vignettes connected as a whole that breathe life into a trip driving through Chicago in his father's Oldsmobile. The enjambment of some lines is so delicate that it lets readers breathe in some of what has to be the pause of remembering, yet some lines are just priceless because they are the adages that only parents and older relatives share with the young. Who else would describe eating a dried beef stick in a car with rolled-up windows as smelling "Like 10 pounds of skunk / In a 5-pound bag?"
Fitzpatrick takes the charm that wrap his poems in everyday language and finds the details of a city that tells his story. Whether he's describing the old Comiskey Park that makes him wonder about his father loving his mother or the stores on Western Avenue that look "like the girl / With too much eye shadow" he illustrates how the city in which he lives emerges consistently in the flow of his thoughts and runs through his blood like lineage.
He looks at the landscape and its people, even as an older Richard J. Daley omnisciently watches the city and compels Fitzpatrick to ask "Who built the pyramids?" Fitzpatrick responds as some Chicagoans might with "Mayor Daley built the pyramids." Some Egyptians might disagree, but for those who understand the history of machine politics, the line resounds truth. In 45 pages of poetry and frenzied drawings that complement the imagery caught in his words, Fitzpatrick delivers a Chicago story.
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Note: Tara Betts served some time as our Book Review Editor, generating these articles. Here, Coval, Tuggle and Betts tackle Calvin Forbes, Luis Rodriguez, D-Settlement and Tony FitzPatrick.