Winner of the 2011 Lexi Rudnitsky Editor's Choice Award
The musical, muscular poems in this touching second collection depict the lives of a southern black family after the death of its matriarch. Mitchell L. H. Douglas gives voice to the spirit and ghosts of one community’s America with a mix of fierce conscience and deep tenderness. He "has built ‘an altar of remembrance’ that is at once personal and collective." (Donna Seaman, Booklist) His /blak/ /al-fə bet/ is a volume of unforgettable melody, integrity, and warmth.
“Like Al Green who ‘sings of the corners’ jut to meet you, the pain of the angle, how one street runs right into the next,’ Mitchell Douglas navigates sacred and secular avenues, the age-old aches and new age joys, the uptown and downhome worlds of his people. Vignettes of landscape and culture blend until “there is no curb between street & skin” in these wonderful new poems. Like its author, blak al-fe bət is a force of scrutinizing intellect, imagination and soul.”
author of Lighthead
“This book reaches back to a recent past that now seems far away, as if the speed of the present is causing that past to shrink and dim. Many of the poems capture a world just before it changed, before it became less centered, less vital. And that makes this a book of profound grief—grief for what we miss, and a further grief for what is missing now. ‘No one loves like this anymore,’ Mitchell Douglas observes. He’s right about that, and he is right to have made this deep and moving book in tribute.”
author of The Gone and the Going Away
“It was clearly impossible for Mitchell Douglas to improve on the deftly-honed character sketches of his acclaimed first effort, Cooling Board. But he simply wasn’t fazed by the specter of impossibility. Between these covers are fresh stanzas of drum and muscle, documenting the addictive dramas of colored folk. Every line is threaded with funk and ferocity, conjuring a world that is as relentless and essential as the alphabet."
author of Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah
In the tradition of the Langton Hughes classic Montage of a Dream Deferred, Mitchell L. H. Douglas uses persona poetry to explore the personal and professional struggles of soul legend Donny Hathaway in his debut collection Cooling Board: a Long-Playing Poem. Evoking the sense of listening to a concept album, Douglas presents a narrative in two sides: side one focusing on Hathaway’s development as a young musician and subsequent rise to fame and side two bearing witness to the adversity that plagued his later years. Readers will see Hathaway as true to his family, true to his faith, and uncompromising in his quest for musical innovation.
In a nod to Hathaway’s legacy as a musical trailblazer, Douglas implements a significant poetic innovation in the format of the book. By including alternate versions or “takes” of poems throughout Cooling Board, the reader hears an echo of ideas that can be likened to an album with previously unreleased versions of popular songs. When the poems are revisited in alternate takes, new information emerges, and the reader is forced to consider new interpretations. Along the way, poems resembling liner notes and pop charts enhance the experience, never letting the reader forget that the heart of this ride is the music.
Above all, Douglas’ depiction of Hathaway gives readers the human side of a man who has remained a mystery in the 30 years since his death. Not only does the poet speak in the voices of Hathaway and his long-time collaborator Roberta Flack, the reader also hears the voices of those closest to Hathaway whom we are less familiar with: his mother, Drusella Huntley, his grandmother, Martha Crumwell—Hathaway’s earliest music teacher—and his wife, Eulaulah.
As the book’s first “Liner Notes” poem recognizes, “Cooling Board is about life lessons, the difficult things you don’t always get on the first take.” With Douglas as a guide versed in the power of possessing many tongues, Cooling Board captures its reader like the best Hathaway song: passionately, honestly, and with an undeniable sense of purpose.
"Roosted at Fender Rhodes piano and veiled beneath a supernatural Apple cap, Donny Hathaway narrated the many rivers of the human heart in un-ironed sweet song. In Cooling Board, Mitch Douglas, our new bard of Black musical memory, hears the call of Hathaway’s piano, peeks beneath the signature hat, then steps bold into the river of Hathaway’s iconic sound. This is Mitch Douglas’ neophyte troubadour baptizing. The poet is drenched, then, set sailing, in what is found on bank and shore of Hathaway’s life. The poet crafts a bright theatre of response, a rhythmic, un-authorized, long-playing poem on the life of the Chicago/St. Louis genius, who gave us notes we had never heard before and will never hear again. Those of us raised on his black octaves know that this 8 track of a winding story cannot bring Hathaway back to us, but it does peel our hearts back far enough to feel the pouring in of both the critical Eulaulah and the unusual ukulele of Hathaway’s piercing balladry. Douglas does his poet-job. He makes us hunger for Hathaway, he makes us reach for his every hummed-up and moaned-out word, underwater, with our ears sloshing full of Hathaway’s high notes, holding our breath to the end."
author of Head Off & Split
"At a time when most series writing has been reduced to metaphor’d-fact and young poets, in the pursuit of the bleached mask of Post Race cultural aesthetics, have lost their kinship to the nuances of the oral tradition, let alone soulful journeys into Soul, comes Cooling Board, a passionate, layered plea and low swing into the Go Tell It Corner and MountainBottom of human genius, its lineage, tutelage, maturation, triumphs, loves and losses. Whatever Soul is, it’s all here––struggling through the pain of secular impulse, and the note-reaching psychological drama-duets that haunted the vision of Donny Hathaway’s gift and unique approach to song. Mitchell Douglas deepens, inward, the extensions of prosody, adding inspired improvisation to the unknown knowns of persona, collective and personal. Cooling Board might just be the last necessary series, the one with church-basement and chart-topping swagger, the one that amens the rise and alternate takes the fall."
author of Skin Inc.: Identity Repair Poems