Long awaited issue 5 is finally here. Let us know what you think and share with friends and family.
Long awaited issue 5 is finally here. Let us know what you think and share with friends and family.
Long awaited issue 5 is finally here. Let us know what you think and share with friends and family.
The remarkable and often spectacular music career of Bob Dylan is now in its 55th year. That in itself is stunning. He is one of very few artists in modern music history where the term icon somehow seems inadequate. His 36th release, Shadows in the Night, is the follow up to Tempest from 2012 that arguably features some of his sharpest songwriting in years. Oddly, Shadows in the Night lacks any liner notes. I for one would like to have gained some insight as to why he chose these particular songs and what his thought process was. For that, fans will have to go online for his recent AARP interview.
Unlike many artists, Dylan has long had the luxury of recording whatever he wishes without any particular commercial concerns and in some ways, Shadows in the Night seems like an odd choice. It contains 10 songs from the Great American Songbook recorded live in the studio with no overdubs over a brief 34 minutes. It has already evoked a polarizing reaction from Dylan’s fan base with a love it or hate it reception. The truth lies somewhere in between. Although the untouchable Frank Sinatra has performed all of these tunes at some point in his career, any real connection between him and Dylan ends there, notwithstanding the album’s definite late night feel. Dylan has produced something far closer in spirit to Hank Williams or perhaps more accurately, late period Billie Holiday that seems evocative of Holiday’s Lady in Satin.
The album begins with a very promising opening track, “I’m a Fool to Want You,” one of the few career songwriting credits for Sinatra. From the outset, with its pedal steel intro, an instrument that is prominently featured throughout the album, we know full well we are hearing these songs in ways that are wholly unique. Here, Dylan delivers a heartfelt, true and honest performance of a tale of forlorn and hopeless love. Dylan lives and breathes these lyrics to such an extent, he may have just as well written them. We feel his deeply conflicted pain. On the next tune, “The Night We Called it a Day,” Dylan does an about face as it is lifeless and unremarkable. Unfortunately, this signals the quality and performance level of many of the remaining songs. The following track “Stay With Me” redeems itself quite nicely with a deep poignancy, yearning, and aching beauty. When Dylan tells us he has sinned, we know full well he has. Again, we get a definite sense of a man who is not simply singing the lyrics for he is living them, all to great effect. Dylan does a nice job with the oft-covered “Autumn Leaves.” After this point, with the exception of a passable version of “Some Enchanted Evening,” a song that is very closely identified with the film South Pacific, the album really begins to suffer. To this listener’s ears, “Why Try to Change Me Now,” Full Moon And Empty Arms,” “Where Are You?” and “What’ll I Do” all run together with little to distinguish one tune from another. The performances come across as languid, uncommitted and uninspired. The honesty and intimacy that frames the more successful tracks is lacking. The finale, “That Lucky Old Sun” is in great hands with Dylan. Here, he sounds revitalized with a gorgeously understated arrangement. With Dylan’s soulful delivery, the album ends in fine fashion indeed.
All in all, there is very uneven value here. I think it is quite likely if the song choices would have been better, Dylan would have produced a far more worthy effort. As is often the case with Dylan, this release will not gain him any new fans, but he ceased caring about that long ago. Almost any new Dylan release is a cause for celebration for his fervent and longstanding fan base. Despite its highly erratic quality, there is a bit of true gold to be found here. It’s just enough to tantalize and leave you wanting more. I’m willing to venture a guess we will get exactly that in his next release.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Ian Lowell is an author who resides in Colorado. His upcoming work of non-fiction, Son of Sam Was My Catcher and Other Bronx Tales, contains an abundance of historical material, a great deal of which is about the music of the 1960s. It will be released shortly. https://www.facebook.com/SonofSamWasMyCatcherandOtherBronxTales?ref=hl
Ian Lowell’s Son of Sam Was My Catcher and other Bronx Tales is an electrifying first-hand account of growing up on the East Coast during the Rock ‘n’ Roll years. A card-carrying member of the free-spirited music-loving Greenwich Village counterculture, Lowell’s photographic memory and attention to detail makes for a fascinatingly fresh perspective on the major events of the 1960s, from JFK to Motown to Jimi. Son of Sam Was My Catcher and Other Bronx Tales is alive with the rapid-beating pulse of that decade. A rich kaleidoscope of little-known facts, outrageous opinion and dubious hearsay, this must-read memoir is entertaining, enlightening and essential reading for any history or music buffs.
Here is the 4th issue of Control Lit! Thank you so much to everyone who submitted and all our readers.
Take a look. Let us know what you think.
I once had a friend describe the Flaming Lips as a band whose concerts made you feel in harmony with the rest of the world. I didn’t leave feeling the same way—that hamster ball mainly left me afraid for Wayne’s safety—but I do think that’s a great description of She and Him. Something about the combination of Zooey Deschanel, M. Ward, and their throwback sound leaves you wanting to make friends with whomever happens to be next to you in the audience simply because you’re happy. Classics, the duo’s second covers album and their first release with Columbia, manages to retain the same effect—from those first few notes, you just feel good. For me, their records feel like home, like everything will be all right if I just lie down for the next hour or so and let Zooey Deschanel’s voice wash over me. There’s a possibility that that exact feeling is the intention behind Classics; the thirteen songs here are familiar to anyone who grew up with a variety of music in their home, and that very familiarity is what gives this album its strength.
Characteristically, the record is mostly filled with late Fifties and early Sixties standards, though Deschanel and Ward reach back as far as the Thirties with “We’ll Meet Again” and “Stars Fell on Alabama.” In their announcement for the album, the duo simply said that they were recording some of their favorite songs, and it is a credit to them that they chose ones that worked with their aesthetic, retooling them just enough to make them their own. The tunes are recognizable to the casual listener; to one who counts them among their favorites, nothing heretical has been attempted, though each track is an admirable addition to a long list of these songs’ covers.
If there’s any kind of theme here, it’s love—love longed for, love found, love lost, and love untrue. Deschanel’s voice is particularly suited for the yearning of the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody,” a song most of us associate with 1990’s Ghost, but which was originally written for Unchained, the 1955 prison film centered around an inmate who struggles with the decision of finishing his sentence or escaping to see his wife and family. In Deschanel’s hands, the song is haunting, reminding the listener of its origin.
Deschanel and Ward don’t limit themselves here; the record moves from tracks like the Motown-esque “Stay a While” to the lover’s lament “I’ll Never Be Free” with ease. Deschanel gets to show her vocal range on “This Girl’s in Love with You,” using registers we’re not used to hearing from her. Even in “Teach Me Tonight,” where the pair doesn’t stray far from the source material, they somehow manage to make it seem a worthy addition to the standards songbook. M. Ward steps up to the microphone, too, instead of just providing his usual harmony, and takes the lead on “She”; his gravelly tones offer a marked contrast to the versions we’re used to hearing.
In songs like “Would You Like to Take a Walk?” She and Him’s retro style works in their favor; when Deschanel asks, “how about a sarsaparilla?” it doesn’t feel too strange. Even Deschanel’s personal image adds to the song’s believability—who else these days could sing a song with lyrics like “when you’re strolling through the wherezis” or “when you have no whozis to hug?” The pair does Billie and Louis proud, and the track comes off as neither too saccharine nor parodic.
Still, the record has a slight overproduced feeling to it, perhaps an effect of the duo’s new partnership with Columbia (read: much more money). Each song was recorded live with a twenty-piece backing orchestra, which is a bit jarring when one is used to the more laid-back, indie feel of She and Him’s previous albums. The orchestra also poses another problem: Ward’s guitar playing is often overshadowed by the band behind him. However, if these are the only drawbacks to an album filled with much-loved classics treated respectfully and done well, then I’m obviously nitpicking.
1. “Stars Fell on Alabama”
2. “Oh, No, Not My Baby”
3. “It’s Not for Me to Say”
4. “Stay a While”
5. “This Girl’s in Love with You”
6. “Time after Time”
8. “Teach Me Tonight”
9. “It’s Always You”
10. “Unchained Melody”
11. “I’ll Never Be Free”
12. “Would You Like to Take a Walk?”
13. “We’ll Meet Again”
Rating: 8 out of 10
Cori Mathis is a Ph.D. candidate at Middle Tennessee State University, where she is working on her dissertation on the teen television drama. When she’s finished, she hopes to see critics using more exact terms to discuss the genre. Her scholarly work has been published in Slayage and elsewhere. In her spare time, Cori can often be found quietly editing the typos on publicly posted signage, pinning complicated meals to cook after graduation, and attempting to sneak in a nap whenever she can.
Here is the third issue of the lit mag. I hope you enjoy it. Let us know what you think.
Unbeknown to me, 58,000 people were waiting and ready to pick up copies of the self-titled debut album from Hozier in its first week. The album began at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, and No. 1 on their list of Top Rock Albums. Now in its second week it sits at No. 12 on the 200 list up with the likes of Florida Georgia Line, Bob Seger, Barbara Streisand, Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga and fellow Irishmen, U2. In short, it’s a pop album and massively popular at that. It is well produced and clean sounding, maybe a little overly produced, a bit too clean. But, there is good news for fans of popular music. Andrew Hozier Byrne comes from rural roots, the son of a blues drummer raised on Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Blind Willie Johnson and the like. In the midst of all of its mass appeal, the cherubic voice, the emotional weight, the catchy choruses, Hozier, draws upon those roots dropping in blues riffs, astute lyrics, even a work song titled as such. Hozier offers a bit of an education for the casual radio listener.
At 24 years old, it’s as if Hozier is tight-roping along the top wire of an old fence, on one side stretches the dank green pastures and exposed roots of the old gnarled trees of his upbringing and on the other a suit and tied marketing rep walks along a well laid sidewalk, silhouetted by the bright lights of stardom, offering up a steadying hand, which for the moment Hozier gladly grasps, though not entirely ready to abandon his roots. The hit single, “Take Me To Church,” is a result of the path cleared out by that hand emerging from a cufflinked wrist. The song appeared on an EP of the same name over a year ago and has made it an easy walk thus far for Hozier. It is a wailing ballad instilling the act of love into an evangelical setting, Hozier singing, “My church offers no absolution, tells me worship in the bedroom,” and on and on, “I’ll tell you my sins, you can sharpen your knife.” The whole album carries this worship room vibe, complete with the too pure vocals.
For me the album lacks the type of personality one would expect from a man drawing so heavily on the blues tradition. It is as though in the interest of massive accessibility he only steps lightly into each segment of his influences, so that the grit and rawness of emotion typical of the blues and hearty folk is smoothed over into youthful sorrow and soap operatic tales of love. A few redeeming qualities amidst all of this is the command of language and the acknowledgement of reality, both of which are rare in the world of pop music.
In the track “To Be Alone” Hozier talks of the cathartic aspects of love in a chaotic world, singing, “All I’ve ever done is hide from our times when you’re near me.” And in the song, “In a Week,” sung with Karen Cowley, the two harmonize to say, “When the buzzards get loved, after the insects have made their claim, after the foxes have known our taste, after the raven has had its say, I’ll be home with you.” Here again is a beautiful account of two lovers escaping to the seclusion of love and nature to escape the looming downfall of humanity. Instrumentally the album is varied in its rhythms and sentiments, ranging from uplifting and gospel-like down to somber and haunting, but through it all the purity of voice, the worship room vibe, is inescapable, working to homogenize the sound.
It appears to me that Hozier has a decision to make as he walks along this fence between the green field and the bright lights. He can either allow the man in the suit to support him as he eases down from the top wire toward packed arenas, more television spots, commercials, grocery store gossip mags and astronomical numbers of dollars wielding that angel’s voice and striking good looks, or he can leap off the other side and go running wildly through the fields and down back roads to still packed smaller venues smelling of booze and cigarettes, keep moving on, grow steadily old, develop a weathered voice and a sure slide on a beaten up guitar, or whatever else he feels like, being free from the dubious clutches of fame.
Hozier is a good debut, but it’s not my cup of tea. Actually, yes it is. It’s my cup of tea when all I want is an oaken glass of whiskey on the rocks.
Overall Rating: 6/10
Bill Shultz is a Barista, Bartender, Poet and Painter living in Springfield, Missouri. He has a BA in Creative Writing from Missouri State University, with publication in the school’s literary magazine, Moon City Review II, as well as a MA in Studio Art and Theory from the Summer Institute for Visual Arts at Drury University. His latest visual work can be found at www.billshultzart.com. While poetry and rants exist at http://billshultz.wordpress.com.
Apocryphal, Lisa Marie Basile’s first full length book of poetry, opens with an epigraph from Anais Nin’s shory story, “Mathilde” – a story that interrogates sex, violence, exoticism, and eroticism. A story in which a woman thinks she’s safe in the arms of men but at the end is shown how her “little wound” compels men to wound her further. Like “Mathilde,” Lisa Marie’s collection interrogates desire, sex, violence, love, experience, &c; unlike Mathilde, however, Lisa Marie Basile’s speaker knows she is not safe in the arms of men. She knows how patriarchal constructions of femininity can constrain and threaten her: “… they pull me apart like petals,/ and put their wishes inside me to hatch.”
This is a book that is true but not true. This is a poetry that tells us these true-ish things by showing how the world is full of stories and these stories are of women and these stories are with apples and these stories come with wounds. There are women and the speaker comes from/is one of these women: “I was born bad because she was born for pain. this is a/ portrait of bad girls.” This speaker is a “bad girl” because she comes from a woman and will be a woman and women are, in the stories that inform patriarchal wishes, reified as body always. There is a garden and there are grails. So many grails. In the patriarchal logic that this book exposes and confounds, women are grails, are receptacles, are vessels of men’s desire, wishes, and fears:
fill me in as the Sistine.
chapels I enter
find a use for me: bend me down,
I’m a bad girl, bend me down, wash it up.
the things in this holy house
say clean the body off of your body.
We have been told the body is dirty, the body is bad. As women, we have been told a woman’s body is dirtiest and a woman having agency over her body is the worst thing of all. Basile’s poetry wrestles with these stories; her poetry battles these mythologies that still hold us captive and still hold us back:
there is always
a garden. there is always a garden.
there is always a woman. there is always a woman.
there is always shame. there is always punishment.
watch what you say,
I have knives in the brush.
Here is a poetry that is both destructive and productive. Here is a poetry that plays with the dichotomies surrounding sex, love, power, and family. Basile’s use of repetition is haunting and beautiful; her apocryphal “confessions” and the motifs that pattern them drive the reader to interrogate their own perceptions and how those perceptions are tainted by stories that shame the body and shame the woman. Basile’s poems contain both luminous joy and desperate pain; there is summer, there are white dresses, there is sex, there is Javi who leaves and Javi who comes back. Her poems bring to mind what Jeanette Winterson says is the purpose of art: “…[Art] leaves us with footprints of beauty. We sense there is more to life than the material world can provide, and art is a clue, an intimation, at its best, a transformation. We don’t need to believe in it, but we can experience it.” This poetry transforms shame into agency; this poetry transforms the “girl into sea.”
Ryder Collins has a novel, Homegirl! Her chapbook, The way the sky was now, won Heavy Feather Review’s first fiction chapbook contest, and she has two chapbooks of poetry, i am hopscotch without hop and Orpheus on toast. She wants to pull a cloud down from the sky & give it to you.
For years Leighton Meester has been known for playing the infamous and delightfully devilish Blair Waldorf on the teen soap Gossip Girl, so it might be news to some that she also has a résumé in music. What started out as a career of lending her voice to soundtracks of various projects she was involved in, eventually led to a recording contract with Universal Republic. In 2009 she shared the hit, “Good Girls Go Bad” with dance-pop band Cobra Starship, but her foray as a dance pop starlet didn’t extend much further. A few unsuccessful singles later (including a duet with Robin Thicke) an album was never released and Meester and Universal parted ways. Things were seemingly quiet on the music front for a little while, until late 2010 when she started working with the band Check In The Dark, writing her own songs after being inspired by her time on the film Country Strong (whose soundtrack she also contributed) and resulted in a five city tour exhibiting her new found folk/jazz sound that fans were rather receptive to.
Fast-forward four years later to the release of Heartstrings, and not only is the former dance pop starlet nowhere to be found (neither is the backing of Check In The Dark) but the folksy-twang still remains. To fans who might be perplexed with the slight melodic shift and lack of the Check In The Dark sound they’ve come to know and love, this is simply Meester finding her own sound instead of molding her songs to their sound. In fact, Leighton herself has described the album of re-worked songs as “dream pop” and it couldn’t be more accurate as the album lures you in with it’s hypnotic state, like a lullaby slowly guiding you to sleep, silently promising that everything will be alright in the morning.
Heartstrings as a whole grapples with the yin and yang of love with a self-awareness that is both refreshing and relatable; all the while displaying a vulnerability that admits its mistakes but carries no shame. It’s title track is a tale of love taken for granted and the independence that comes with finding out just how fine you are when you are no longer tied to what is no longer able to appreciate you. “Now I’m fine without you,” Meester euphorically croons and it’s hard not to feel bad for the poor fool on the receiving end. Runaway, easily the stand out track of the album, is about reminding yourself of why and how you fell in love and how that’s enough to try, when your relationship is falling towards the wayside. Good For One Thing, one of the more upbeat tracks on the album: a calling out of an insecure, full of yourself type that apparently is …only good for one thing. Sweet is easily the trance-iest ballad on the album, while On My Side is purely top-down music, meant to be experienced on the road, coasting down the highway at no less than 65mph. L.A. a quirky little song about you-guessed-it, Los Angeles, is a kind of retro dreamlike island jingle that the Beach Boys might have sung in another life. Dreaming, the most haunting song of the album and maybe the darkest, still manages to make you feel like you’re floating on the same cloud since track one. Though most of Heartstrings showcases her lighter vulnerable voice, Blue Afternoon has a more defined firmer tone that is reminiscent of the Check In The Dark era backed with twilight melodies, still keeping in theme with the rest of this reverie. Our last stop, Entitled, finds Meester at her most exposed. She recounts a time where she was so blinded by unrequited love, pointing fingers at both herself and her oppressor, “shame on you, but shame on me too.” (Okay, so maybe there’s a little shame)
Sonically, Heartstrings is impeccable, lush, bright and dazzling as it takes you along its journey. This is the album that Taylor Swift has always wanted to make, but hasn’t quite mastered yet. In doing so, Meester effortlessly gifts you with an assortment of ballads and anthems appropriate for any stage of heartbreak. That being said, her voice could be stronger, based solely on previous live performances and recordings. In the past she has demonstrated she can be commanding and deeper. Meester comes across soulful enough, just a bit delicate, which given the concept of the album is probably intentional. That assertive, striking delivery would have worked well on some of the albums more combative tracks (Good For One Thing, Heartstrings)
All in all, Heartstrings is a solid piece of work and a valiant first effort. Whether you were already a fan or just simply curious, I think it’s safe to say after a listen (unlike the inspiration behind the album) you won’t regret getting tangled in her heartstrings.
Chantel Williams is a writer, blogger, & music enthusiast living in California who spends way too much time making playlists and not enough time sleeping. When she’s not being a faux DJ she enjoys writing poetry and short stories. You can find her at TheArtOfWrite.com and @hittingrefresh
by Allen Salerno
From the title alone, a reader would expect Saeed Jone’s Prelude to Bruise to revel in the jagged and interruptive. But this is not a collection where words do their painful work with only a localized accuracy–the blow of a fist, the puncture of an awl–but rather, like an eroding tide, with something altogether more constant and cumulative. At once deeply personal and painfully universal, this is a collection that embraces the lyrical, with all its capacity to leave a lasting mark.
In its scope, Prelude to Bruise is not quite narrative, not quite without narrative. “Beware / of how they want you; / in this town everything born black / also burns,” concludes the opening poem, inaugurating Saeed’s thematic throughline: sexuality, race, body, desire, all ricocheting through a world marked by danger and threat. In the opening section, the reader is introduced to the unnamed “Boy”–conscious of his difference, experimenting with sex, at times a figure in drag, at times a confused child–in a home fractured by his father’s revulsion; as the volume continues, this story is dropped and taken up again, so that the intervening poems become at once the mirrors of Boy’s experience and all the events that occur, as possibilities, in the interstices of his life. They are his and not his, the endless combinations that might arise from the same ingredients, the same catalysts, and with the same potential for sudden cataclysm as the Harlem bus passengers suddenly drawing curbside as a building collapses: “Passengers / choking on the dust rushed / to escape the wreck / of someone else’s memory” (“Skin Like Brick Dust”). This play of refraction is one of the collection’s greatest strengths; it binds the individual poems into a greater sense of unity than many books of poetry achieve. If a certain sense of repetitiveness creeps in now and again–many mouths are pressed in many different ways, for instance–the repetition itself could be said to serve this larger thematic point.
There is much to admire about Jones’s precision of language. Landscape imagery and domestic imagery are often the descriptions of choice, but he modulates both into something stranger and more somber:
after shards of glass like misplaced stars,
after the black bite of frost: you are the after,
you are the first hour in a life without clocks; the name of whatever
falls from the clouds now is you (it is not rain),
a song in a dead language, an unlit earth, a coast broken–
how was I to know every word was your name? (“Postapocalyptic Heartbeat”)
Achieving its poignancy from a catalogue of the ordinary, this excerpt ends a sequence of poems seemingly about the death of a father, but could stand in for any death, any loss, any moment when the heart’s vacuum sucks in even what is most uncongenial to fill the gap. (Jones is also one of those rare contemporary poets who uses interruptive spaces for logical, rather than merely aesthetic, purposes, and even then he employs them judiciously.)
He is also a poet unafraid of classical weight. If many of his poems are culled from nature (in both senses of the word, and with all the casual violences see in it) and deeply invested in the injustices of the modern world (homophobia, racism), he nonetheless delights in allusion. Ganymede makes two appearances, and Daphne–“in the branches / of her raised arms, birds”–becomes the avatar of a night of pill-taking. “Guilt,” which hinges on dogs that may or may not have been hit by the speaker’s truck, is in some ways a riff on the Acteon myth. And in “Room Without a Ghost,” the Sibyl’s prophecies become a way of disavowing the body: “Papers rustled, then scattered around the room / mean nothing. Do not read them / in the wind’s order. Do not fall to your knees, / deciphering the air and its invisible ink, or look up wide-eyed / expecting. No one is standing there . . . ” Metamorphosis, or its failure, is Jones’s abiding interest, his core architectural device.
Or, more accurately, I think–and with a nod to the Sibyl–translation. These poems attempt to render what constantly threatens to escape representation, but even more so, try to chart the experience of moving from one state into another. It isn’t the change itself but the act of changing that fuels apprehension. That this never fully completes, that the act might be precipitated by violence but is a disruption in and of itself, a moment of conscious erasure, that one cannot help but bear the bruises–this is the wonderfully worked keystone of the collection. “If you cut open Boy’s head, at least fifty notebooks would fall out,” the speaker notes, “each full of what Boy had written down with his eyes” (“History, According to Boy”). Telling equals incision. Before understanding must come the splitting of the body. The best result, perhaps, is approximation, and that approximation always reveals the magnitude of what can’t be conveyed. It is no accident, then, that Jones inverts a typical poetic pattern; where many contemporary poems–if they use metaphor at all–wrest the poem back to the literal by the end, he will let the poem pool into the figurative: “Climb the broken stone stairs into the hills. / Climb them into the night’s throat”; “I could be the boy /wearing nothing, a negligee of gnats”; “[her blue dress] is only the moon sees me floating through the streets, is me in a / blue dress / out to sea, is my mother is a moon out to sea.” It is for this reason, too, that the most literal of his poems, like “Ketamine and Company,” are the ones that resonated least for me. This also includes the long final section, a lyrical prose-poem in which the history of Boy is narrated more or less chronologically. There is much to admire in it–flashes of phrases, an aching tone, descriptions of teenage surfeits (like glances up a boy’s gym shorts) and sheepish acknowledgements (like silent sympathy for Achilles and Patroclus in a school reading assignment) that every gay reader will recognize instantly–but it concretizes some of the mystery and elusiveness that the collection creates elsewhere. Because the contours of Boy’s story have become more defined–his father discovers his porn stash and leaves a gun in its place; tableau-like, Boy stands with the gun pointed at his parents in their bed, then moves away having taken up his name–we’re in danger of slipping more toward melodrama and away from the tough delicacy of the bulk of the poems.
For all its immersion in the present tense, Prelude to Bruise is, at heart, a kind of memory work, and the poems act just as memory does. They slip full categorization, precise placement. Their strength lies in Jones’s ability to show us how we are shaped, with all the loneliness and liberty that glimpse backwards might yield.
Coffee House Press, $10
Allen Salerno teaches in the English Department at Auburn University.
Among hip-hop heads, if an MC has a penchant for delivering clever, complex rhymes, people will often say “[insert name]’s got bars.” Well, after reading through Nate Marshall’s latest chapbook, Blood Percussion, it’s obvious that this poet most certainly has bars. My use of that phrase to describe the work is relevant for a few reasons: (1) Nate Marshall is a talented rapper as well as a traditional poet; (2) Marshall draws upon tenets of hip-hop in order to shape his poems. Throughout this text, it is clear rhythm was a focus-point for Marshall. As an example, consider the opening poem, “prelude.” Marshall writes:
we ain’t got graffiti over here
like for real art stuff but maybe
in the 80s he was optimistic. this was his all
city attempt all over the hood.
I find the above excerpt representative for its pacing. It has very natural resting points for the voice (after “here” “stuff” “optimistic” and “hood,” respectively), and each sentence also features use of internal rhyme, a common literary device employed by the most lauded rappers. But beyond the cut of language employed here, this poem and Marshall’s Blood Percussion more broadly commune with hip-hop in a more important way: authentic subject-matter.
Blood Percussion, above all else, is the honest testimonial of a young black man coming of age on the South Side of Chicago, persisting through the spells of violence that implies and consumes many of the people depicted in this poetry. In Marshall’s Introduction, he recalls his excitement over the song “Walk With Me” by a Chicago-based rapper named DA Smart, “a dark, dystopic picture of the city’s South and West Sides.” Marshall writes, “This was the first time I ever heard my hood articulated on any piece of art… There was a kind of power in DA telling the world on record I existed, however flawed, and that I could not be erased or ignored.” That, in effect, sums up exactly what kind of effort Blood Percussion is: an attempt to document the lives of Marshall and his neighbors in a way that is lost in political or academic discourse.
To that effect, Marshall’s book is a triumph. Every poem bleeds an authenticity and clarity that is both refreshing and hard to swallow; in this book, violence is a frequent guest. The reader is forced to grapple with death, with fear, with pain and anger. In true hip-hop fashion, Marshall uses language authentic to his subjects – what they speak of, how they say it – and therefore creates a work that can represent where he comes from and prove accessible to the people he is trying to give voice to. Never is this more apparent than in a poem such as “dare,” which is written entirely as a dialogue between Marshall and a second, unidentified person from his neighborhood:
What you got change
so you saying if I run
yo pockets right now
there won’t be nothing?
You ain’t finna
run nothing right
here. i’m not the one
you wanna try. i ain’t got
Dialect is an important marker of place, and Marshall makes sure to build from that. Everything is presented at street-level, every experience is fair game to be talked about, and every poem serves a specific purpose that sings in choir with every other piece included. The end result is something that is beyond confessional – it’s a type of salvation. There is much to praise here beyond the phenomenal “Praise Song,” and for that reason, I recommend that admirers of contemporary poetry and hip-hop alike pick up this book to hear an important voice cut through the static. Much like the poet on its final page, Blood Percussion, through its tangible ambition and transparency, begs of us “hold me before I disappear.”
Button Poetry, $10.00
Cortney Lamar Charleston is a macaroni & cheese connoisseur living in Jersey City, NJ. If he’s not eating mac & cheese, he’s probably lurking on the Real GM basketball forums, watching Real Housewives with his girlfriend, or writing poems. You can find some of his poetry in Control Literary Magazine Issue #2 and various other places.