March 24, 2007

Review: Crow Call

Crow Call
West End Press, $12.95 paper
ISBN 0-9753486-6-3

A book-length elegy, a meditation on loss and love, a call to action, Crow Call is an unusual book of poetry. Inspired by the murder of Cincinnati homeless activist Buddy Gray, these poems boldly call upon Henson’s “ancestors”: Debs, Tubman, King, Neruda, Whitman, Lorca, Blake, Florence Reece, Tom McGrath, Joe Hill, and Molly Jackson.

Tough company, but this book takes great risks, and they pay off. One of the results is that the book possesses duende, Lorca’s term for that death-defying ability found in great art. You hear it over and over it these poems, which at times echo Lorca’s “Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias.” Henson too uses repetition to build deep emotion, as can be seen in these lines from “Song of Wounds":
Wounds blackened in the asphalt of the beltway
Wounds with the marks of teeth of the wind
Wounds in the bellies of small brown children.
Wounds sleepless at four in the morning
Wounds in the disordered ladders of the cell
Henson’s “at four in the morning” even evokes Lorca’s “at five in the afternoon,” but if Henson’s influences are manifest, so is the power of these poems.

Part of the power of the book is the relentless focus, the reoccurring images: crows, moles, cold, streets, and bullets. Once again, it’s risky, but Henson knows how to use crescendo and silence. And he also knows the strength of direct statement, as can be seen in the closing lines of “The Day”:
It is sad, to leave such richness and grief,
but it was love that called us out,
and I think it is love who calls us back,
into the earthen lap and wintering birth of the world.

Readers who tire of the poetry of clever displays of technique and ego, or who believe that poetry of resistance no longer can be found are in for a surprise with Crow Call. We need more poetry like this, and more poets with Henson’s courage.

by John Bradley