Mutt Spirituals

Mutt Spirituals, out in October/November 2021 from San Francisco Bay Press, is, ahem, a full-length collection. It checks in, cover to cover, at 110 pages; it features 63-75 poems (depending on how you count poem sequences) plus two creative non-fiction essays. All the work (except for one one page biographical note) has been previously published, in journals, in my Blue Nib chapbook, or in both.

 

It's a generous, substantial volume, and reads a little like a retrospective: the pieces are more often than not autobiographical, and they are are arranged to follow the course of a life. So the first poem, for example, called "First," is about my first memory; the first section takes us through childhood into the speaker's twenties; the second section leaves Europe for America, where I indeed moved in my twenties; the third and fourth sections feature a lot of pieces about aging, and death, and deep thoughts. While it's clear that the speaker isn't always me, my guest speakers have been invited in to help me inspect and clarify those deep thoughts.

 

In fact, there are more persona poems than there might appear to be, and even if the speaker is indeed a version of me, I like to tell stories, and I make up stuff. Sometimes whole cloth. More often the memories are true enough, but I've had to spackle them—memory, as the first poem reminds us, is unreliable—or I've chosen to shift and sharpen details to help the poem discover what it wants to see, and say, and mean them. All pretty normal! Memoirists get into trouble when they fudge and get fanciful; poets are allowed. For the record, the creative non-fiction pieces here are as unfudged and fanciful-free as I could manage. And so are a few of the poems ("Getting Married," for example) which read like creative non-fiction. But not many of them.

 

About the title: I hope the word "spirituals" conveys something about the intended tone of these pieces. And that "mutt" tells you about theme. Yeah, there are a lot of dog poems. I make a central metaphor of that kind of doggy mutt. But more crucially, this is work about growing up mixed race, sometimes in places where that was difficult; they're about coming to terms with "otherness," both as my identity and in outreach— to embrace the other others, and broaden the range of who we are, in celebration of the mutt world; and a little bit, they're about writing, for philosophical reasons, across the aesthetic map.

 

Actually, in my work as a whole, even just in my serious poetry, I'm usually more adventurous in that last respect. In tone, in approach, in formal variety, I find the range of the work I've chosen a little narrow. But perhaps that was necessary, to focus it and shape a book. Still, in the next one, Sort by Title, I'll seek to redress that balance.

 

I'm posting six sample poems here, and three more in the Blue Nib folder. And one of the "Mutt Spirituals" creative non-fiction essays is in PROSE PIECES.

 

You'll eventually find links to me reading several others at the PLAYGROUND tab: check out "Performance."