Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tough Boy Sonatas

Last year, it was my pleasure and my chore to read the poetry collection Tough Boy Sonatas by Curtis L. Crisler, illustrated by Floyd Cooper. It was a pleasure because Crisler has put together a collection of poetry specifically for teenage boys, and more specifically, for kids who come from the 'hood or the wrong side of the track (or those who feel that way, wherever they may be from). The collection includes stories of innocent kids in a bad neighborhood and stories of kids dealing with massive life issues: drugs, crime, racism, social isolation, politics, religion, and more.

One of my reasons for wanting to write about poetry for Guys Lit Wire is kinda summarized in the title of one of my favorite poems from the collection: "Boys Love Words".

boys love words
by Curtis L. Crisler

we slog to library to
do reports on satchmo
in rustic brick-red after-
school afternoons. little
brown-faced hood rats
sneaking chocolate-
covered donuts into library.
don't got milk or red cream
soda to stop-stick to roof
of mouth. half in study --
laughing, hungry amontst
tart, stale smell of old
books, cedar chairs -- dead
authors and miss library
-- she looks beyond
her white, cate-framed
glasses like we stink
of piss. we too breathe
the once dank lines of
whitman, the open pores
of petrarchan lady who
makes shakespeare sweat,
and we try nhot to sigh
when we open the hard
backs. she knows we
can smell the sex
bonded and glued,
sandwiched between
black and white lines--
no short attention span,
it's our curiosity in love
w/ the words she oversees,
checks in, hands out, in
love w/ what trickles out
our mouths, we flush her
cheeks, flex our callow
pecs-- callous lotharios
tugging at that new
itch in genitalia.

This is just one of the 39 poems that make up the collection, and it comes from the third section of the book, which is entitled "Tough Boy Sonatas". The first two sections are "Gary" and "Son of a City". The language used is indicative of the sort of rawness that appears in many of the poems, some more dark or violent, others more blunt or sexual. Each poem in this collection packs a bit of a punch.

This book is a great collection for teens interested in looking at edgy poetry for their age group, or who are interested in writing (in poetry or otherwise) about some of the inequities that still exist in today's American society, including racism, poverty, education and societal expectations. Most of the poems in the collection are serious poetry, almost all of them touching on serious issues, although with an infusion of sly humor now and again, as in "The Black of Gray", when Crisler writes:

. . .I prayed to the prototype
re-creation reprint of Jesus, never knowing this
dude was Michelangelo's relative or running
buddy or model . . .

Or in "Day Dreamer", which starts

In third grade on first floor of bliss
or was it hell? at David O. Duncan School

I'd lose chatter of overzealous teacher
talking-talkity-talk 'bout someone famous, white,

and dead or how many manias lived in texbooks--
how history declares, "Columbus revealed America"--

and we knew Indians gave Chris's ass a little help. . . .

The poems in Tough Boy Sonatas will challenge readers and make them think, which is probably one of the reasons that this book is on the 2008 ALA list of Best Books for Young Adults. The illustrations by noted illustrator Floyd Cooper contribute to the ambience of the book.

***All excerpts from Tough Boys Sonatas by Curtis L. Crisler, illustrated by Floyd Cooper (Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press, 2007)


sarahcross said...

Great review, Kelly! I love the title & the excerpts you posted. Thanks so much for bringing this to our attention!

slayground said...

Sounds powerful.

Kelly Fineman said...

Sarah: You're very welcome.
LW: It is tremendously powerful. And some of it is hard to read, not because of the writing, but because of the stories the writing conveys.

CHARLAX said...
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