"I'm blue da ba dee da bad aa," sings Jeffrey Jey, lead singer of euro-dance group Eiffel 65, co-writer of this hit song ("Blue (Da Ba Dee)") which took the top spot in many European music sales charts, notably ending the reign of Lou Bega's hit "Mambo No. 5." Preceding the famous chorus of the song, Jey sings, "Yo listen up, here's the story / about a little guy the lives in a blue world / and all day and all night and everything he sees is just blue / like him, inside and outside." Obviously, when reading the introduction of Platypus Press's anthology, A Portrait in Blues: An anthology of identity, gender & bodies
, this introduction written by another lovely Jayy, Jayy Dodd, lyrically singing about their blues and describing the blue world that one will enter with this collection, I hear the 128bpm chorus — da ba dee da ba daa, da ba dee da ba daa, da ba dee da ba daa
— exciting me and filling me with a tremulous desire to know this world. For the blue world that this collection works toward, of bodies and minds and colors and smells, is a world that thrills and disturbs.
The opening poem in the anthology, Terry Abrahams' "evening, before," starts the readers with a command: "bite / bite down hard"; the unknown flavor permeates the reader's mouth. What do you smell? In its wonderfully small body, the poem evokes sensations that dazzle and wonder me throughout the collection. Yes, when the poems sing for me I bite; when the poems trace me, I still bite. I have learned while reading that we have teeth other than canines.
As the reader ventures further into the anthology, one encounters Lydia Frank's "untitled no. 1" offering another command, "think about what you know / of your own skin." The line break and rumination both caused me intense, startling introspection. I know that my hands are both soft and blistered. But just as much as Frank places us into our skin, Joey De Jesus sings the troubling-challenge of "what did you think / would come of un- / earthing all this death?" I know that I have a chicken pox scar under my floating rib. Frank's second poem, "a poem ending with a body in ruins," in the anthology rings out a response to seemingly both the airiness she breathes in her first poem, and the challenge by De Jesus with "i tell him, I want to live in a world where / everything is measured in water.
" These poems etch out the parameters that one has to measure their world, to form boundaries, and to understand their body's space.
Many of the poems in this anthology deal with location — locating the body within or as an environment, defining its boundaries or expansiveness — Anika Prakah discusses belonging to a world, a home, in "Upon Visiting the River in Vučjak in the Dead of Night." Prakah writes, "This is their home
, I told her, my palm // pulling at hers, flesh ripened and pink. / This is our home too.
" So much of the work of this anthology is sculpture: sculpting the body, sculpting the earth, and understanding what it means to have the power of sculpture. It is soft and sensuous in the same moments that it is rough and tugging.
I can't leave this without discussing Edil Hassan's beautiful "Febbraio, 1986." She writes, "your mother has been catching mouthfuls of frankincense. Crushing cinnamon bark between her teeth until her breath // is grit at the bottom of tea pots." This poem floored me. I can still name and feel the warmth, tingling, jittering, brisk, contradictory sensations that the smells and images in this poem evoked in me. This enchantment is paired with its subtle game — the game of influence.
Dodd talks about "A genre built on anxiety & release," through George Hannah's "Freakish Man Blues," and I offer Nat King Cole's "Just Another Blues" as my accompaniment. Cole sings, "Then someone got the notion that I could revive, / He took away my sadness and he gave me jive; / He added boogie woogie and when he got through, / He made my blues a blues that anyone could do.
" My hope is this collection allows your blue to be a blues that anyone could do, but even if your blues ends up remaining individual I am positive it will be just as powerful for you.
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