[The following is an excerpt from a long poem, “The Ganges,” which runs around a hundred pages & is itself a third of a giant book entitled The Combustion Cycle. The book contains two other poems, “Concerning The Henbane Bird,” & “On Solar Physiology,” the former in the voice of a hummingbird, the Andean Hillstar, & the latter spoken in the voice of an Angolan shaman. As for “The Ganges,” Alexander tells us, “it pours from the voice of an untouchable.” Of Alexander himself I’ve written elsewhere: “Will Alexander, more than any of our other American contemporaries, is the inheritor of an ecstatic surrealism derived from European sources, colored by factual & scientific particulars, & drawing with great intelligence & passion from an international avant-garde & from the negritude writings of Aimé Césaire & others, for whom he acts as a true successor.” His use here of historical & appropriated materials is also worth noting. (J.R.)]
Harmony Holiday, The Negro Baseball League (Fence, 2011), 86 pp.—In some of her novels (e.g., Song of Solomon or Paradise), Toni Morrison reconstructs the infra- and super-structures of urban Negro culture after Reconstruction and during Civil Rights legislated integration. The failures of voluntary separatism-cum-Jim Crow segregation which, for Morrison, trump their successes (social and cultural, if not economic or political, independence), are largely, if not exclusively, gender-inflected. Specifically, one can read Morrison’s entire corpus, up to and including A Mercy and Home, as responding to the revamping of masculine, proto-patriarchal tendencies during the dream of black cultural nationalism. So what to make of Harmony Holiday’s dream encapsulated in The Negro Baseball League, a collection of free form (as in free jazz) poems that paint a somber vision of cultural separatism?
Joel Felix, Limbs of the Apple Tree Never Die (Verge Books, 2013), 90 pp. $15.00—Imagine that Russell Atkins had a child with Charles Olson, midwifed by Laura Riding. That might be Joel Felix. His first book is a moving meditation on the impossibility and necessity of poetry, on history as “enslavement without end,” and the possibility, however unlikely, that there remains, its brutalities notwithstanding, a truth-telling residue in language.
Mendi and Keith Obadike, Four Electric Ghosts (1913 Press, 2009, 2011), 189 pp.; Big House/ Disclosure (1913 Press, 2014), 102 pp.—Despite the first, rather interesting, thirty-four pages of storytelling, Four Electric Ghosts is essentially a catalog of what appears to be an Afro-Futurist-inspired opera, at least in terms of its setting and design (disclosure: I’ve not had the opportunity to see any of the Obadikes' theatrical productions).