“Ear of the Behearer” is the center suite of Ascension, giovanni singleton’s first poetry collection with Counterpath Press. Written during musician and spiritual leader Alice Coltrane’s 49-day transition through the bardo on to her passage from this planet, singleton takes us on an intimate metaphysical sojourn. Through song, chant, verse, and concrete poems she conjures a journey that unifies so many different, and seemingly disparate, influences. Buddhism meets black folkways at organic parallel in singleton’s measured sophistication.
the readied hook
the swung rod
gets you hooked
and pulled up and
into open air.
let me tell you
where i’ve been.
By Day 13 of ”Ear Of The Behearer”, the reader is truly hooked, or as the poem infers, perhaps it is the poet who is on the hook? That slippery pronoun seems to be asking who exactly is the magic fish from the folktale able to grant wish of transcendence through their story, the reader or the one being read? Ethereal revelation commingles with the sinister and uncanny as in DAY 2:
blue poet stands
at the crossroads framed
in indigo light.
he reaches his hand around
to his left side, slits himself open
as if to gut a fish…
The effect of such imagery is an opening of the reader as well. Each poem can stand alone, but like a recurring dream, a narrative floats slightly above our consciousness. With each reading, geography emerges, tools needed, tips on terrain, and codes to passage, giving Ascension the feel of both handbook and dream-book. And like in a dream, passages are fraught with ghosts and omens:
dead fox beside the road. the risk
we all run.
In order to go on this journey, we must trust our guide, giovanni singleton. And we do. Though she promises that continuing on will indelibly change us:
things will no
longer be true.
from “Day 8”
Masks and rowboats, cupped hands, bent knees and speaking bowls; with a singular and distinctive voice, singleton presents this collection of visions, that at times feels like a curio shop of ritual and talisman used to gain entry to this world organically connected to ours. Voices rise and fade creating an interior travelogue about the denizens of this place:
the circle spins
widen and emptiness
the net catches its prey.
she swallows hard
“Ear Of The Behearer” is powerful companion to “Melanin Suite”, a meditation on shades of brown told in nine movements. Here, singleton gives burnt umber and sepia different characteristics not only through voice, but line, structure, and pacing. From murky, heavy darkness to brisk autumn parade, singleton’s ability to shape/code-shift brings both pieces together as a declaration of a strong voice from a “nocturnal”, contested space. giovanni singleton’s poems are soothing sayings and fierce seductions. Concise, playful, and profound, Ascension promises a new discovery with every reading.
Adrienne Rich, who ascended this week at the age of 82, called Michael Warr’s poems, “the real thing,” and Warr’s latest collection, Armageddon Of Funk (Tia Chucha Press) proves yet another of her prophesies.
Through “poetic memoir” we join his navigation through the “apolitical,” rigid morality of his Jehovah’s Witnesses upbringing – and his father’s crisis of faith – in San Francisco’s Hunter’s Point in “Then He Became The One”,
“Tracing wet footsteps to the bathtub we found our
mother’s Watchtowers and Awakes floating.
Pages of holy literature, our father baptized before
leaving for work, bled ink in their watery grave.”
We follow Warr through the revolutionary theories and free love of Black Panthers and Marxists; the promise of a bourgeois future from bank executives; a screaming soldier brandishing an AK-47 in his face, and on to a parched crisis in the Sahara in “Desert Lost (Leaving Timbuktu)”,
“Choked on petrol spiked with water,
by traders at Timbuktu, our Land Rover dies
in the desert, where Exxon is an illusion.
A barren landscape shifts into trees
as hologrammed-Africans wave us into
the inferno on foot.”
And further, to a man who has lived an exciting life as a poet, mostly watching and listening; excavating the gems of his experiences. The adventure lies not only in the settings and sights of Warr’s remarkable life, but in the telling. The title poem, for example, is an evocative list covering over fifty years of American history from “Watts rebels” and “Ginsberg Howls” to “Howl turns fifty” and “Voting rights are extended another inadequate quarter,” all tied together by a nut paragraph that simply says, “My only worry, at ten years old, is what will happen to the world if James Brown dies?”
As a kid who used to worry about the same Armageddon, I’m looking forward to the day I can create such a list, and such a chronicle, with as much black grace, fierce wit, and hard-fought compassion.
D. Scot Miller is a Bay Area writer, visual artist , teacher, curator. He sits on the board of directors of nocturnes review, and is a regular contributor to The East Bay Express, San Francisco Bay Guardian, Popmatters, and Mosaic Magazine. 2011 San Francisco Arts Commission recipient for AfroSurreal San Francisco Project, Miller is author of The AfroSurreal Manifesto and is completing a book of AfroSurreal poems, his Afro-surreal novel, Knot Frum Hear.