October 2011
A review of

Negro League Baseball

by Harmony Holiday

Central Question: How fast can poems go without losing their readers completely?
Representative sentence: “These many languages I favor into one swoop of order: that I need to exempt water, to tension air, to land-land, terrain, when, there you are looking famous as a coin face, vague and exchangeable word for yourself, my any abolitionist, my gambling habit, I forget your name, but lights flash, and win pour out, and I use the loud metal for our house-place to go place, another round”; Atypical aphorism: “Ideas are the saddest thing Ideals are the next saddest”; Musicians named, in order of appearance: Jimmy Holiday, Michael Jackson, Edith Piaf, Al Green, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Cannonball Adderley, Gil Scott-Heron, Josephine Baker, Devendra Banhart, Betty Carter, Ornette Coleman, Maynard Ferguson; Negro League Baseball players named: none; Years during which the Harmony company manufactured the Holiday line of electric guitars: 1965–67

Harmony Holiday’s father was the successful soul singer Jimmy Holiday, who died in 1987, when she was five. Her shortest poem, “The Soonest People,” becomes his almost-straightforward memorial: “My father was Jimmy, dad / was weeping so frankly it came like gazing had.” Other poems bear musical titles: “Duets,” “Certain Ballads,” “Nine Key Chord,” “Errand boy for rhythm,” “Dixie is a two beat thing / 11:11.” You could try to read this first book as a long, weird elegy to the father she never much knew—in fact, its musical elements almost tempt us to read it that way—but then it speeds away, into other subjects, other riffs, other lines. Its fast, trippy poems, most of them in prose, are sometimes kinds of elegies, but always kinds of escapes; kinds of homages, but also ways to leave home.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please visit our store to purchase a copy of the magazine.

—Stephen Burt

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