Reviewed by James Bourey
By Jason B Crawford
Here I sit in a nearly all-white rural community, an old white man, not particularly well educated, somewhat conservative in my worldview, with only a few connections to the wild diversity of urban America, and, for some reason, I’ve been asked to offer a review of Summertime Fine by Jason B. Crawford. Mr. Crawford and I don’t have a lot in common. As his biography puts it “He/They is a black, nonbinary, bi-poly-queer writer.” He/They is also a young person, well-educated and erudite, obviously more in touch with modern culture than I am. But I think, after reading and re-reading this fine book of poetry, we share one important thing – a love of language.
Summertime Fine is a collection of twenty poems and a poetic introduction sprinkled with dialect. There are three sections in this collection, each titled with definitions from UrbanDictionary.com – The Function, The Jump Off, The Heat. In the introduction we are treated to a description of a scorching summer day in a big city neighborhood; “Where we wait for the temperature to drop/ to a mosquito breeze so we can sit by the court with a fresh cup of Auntie Jane’s lemonade." The introduction ends with: “We made this summer burn brighter than anything the sun could shatter into.” It’s not often that an introduction is such a clear indicator of the finery that lies in the pages ahead, and all the poems in this collection are fine indeed.
The six poems in the first section, The Function, take us to family dinners, parties, and observations on food and hair care. The language is direct and often in the patois of Black urban America. The details bring images as vivid as photographs and are full of sense-memories. We smell the food at the block party and at “The Chicken Spot”. We hear laughter and affectionate conversations between grandmothers and kids and just a little bit from risqué aunties. There is a soft melancholic note in these remembrances, but never any false or overworked sentimentality. The opening poem of this section is “Untitled (Tanna)”. The poem is about a block party, family members, food, and the kind of connections that create a fierce loyalty to our beginnings. Another particularly interesting poem is “Ode to the Waves Underneath my Wave Cap.” The narrator begins by describing his hair and its care and then moves on to make a sort of existential connection between his waves, his neighborhood, and the Universe. The whole poem is told with gentle humor though the feelings imparted are serious.
The Jump Off section begins with “Untitled (Arge)”, which begins as a prose poem. The only Arge I vaguely remembered was a character from Greek mythology – a daughter of Zeus and Hera, a nymph and huntress who ends up transformed into a doe. At first, I couldn’t see the connection between this poem and that character, however the transformation might be the key. The poem, however, works very well without being too concerned with the reference. It is a lively piece, full of motion and conflict and some neighborhood mythology. And the final two sentences of the first part of the poem actually do clarify the classical connections: “We tell a million stories of the immortal, every retelling becomes more a myth. We are trying so hard to live… “.And then, in the second part of the poem, which moves into variable free verse, celebrating youthful freedom and hope there is a second conclusion: “There isn’t a quicker way to an angel than/ being black and alive in this city/ Here I get to stay god all summer long.” Other poems in this section address being young, black, and sexually inquisitive. The poems “On Jukin’ wit a White Boy”, “Space”, and “On Twerking in a White Space” all reach deep into the rhythms of the street while the language slips in and out of black vernacular. These poems are Hip-hop eloquent and they have the ability to reach the heart of a jaded old, white guy.
There are ten poems in the final section of this collection. The section title is The Heat and it is as time