Staying The Course
by Seneca Turner Jr.
PO Box 109 Camden, N.J.
Trade Paperback. 2005.
"Who will tell Herbert Lee's story," Seneca Turner Asks in his latest collection, about a Negro Mississippi cotton farmer who tried to vote and was shot by a white legislature for doing so, when that wasn't a crime. Who will tell the story of a woman raped and killed during the Nanking Massacre, or of Amadou Diallo caught "Between the crime of color / and / the American Dream," all those in Rwanda thrown into "Mass graves...screaming babies / sucking empty breasts of dead mothers," of those who died on 9/11: "My country tears of thee."
Even where it wasn't possible, there's a nagging feeling, "I should have been there / So that I could keep the record straight." It is important not to "forget to listen to the blood / For it speaks /... to celebrate the songs of / the people's history."
Memory is our salvation: we mustn't forget men like Joe Louis who won "when it was a lynchable offense / to strike a white man, as well as those he loved who are gone: his mother, Sister Dixie: "I see the faces / clearly / ...those that knew me / before / I came to know myself." There are the women he loved, one whose "madness coiled around me / embracing my own" who..."died that I might sing this elegy."
Seneca Turner's rhythms are as vital to his poems as the words. The improvised jazz feel does not lesson but adds to the incredible precision of his phrases, the rightness of every image that evolves naturally from the poem. Psalms, Song, and Hymns are the titles of a few whose biblical rhythms and repetition propel them. Turner never overstates or spells out anything for the reader; he leaves us dangling on the edge of a phrase he often repeats for us to grab hold of.
While Turner is an African American with strong roots in the black community, his vision extends to humanity in general, those who've become "the anonymous spoils of war" of prejudice, of all the cruelty people are capable of. He hears the "Ancient voices..../ the ancestors: Listen! the say / Thou shall not forget."
Nor will you be able to forget Seneca Turner's poems in Staying The Course; you'll hear speaking long after you've put down this book.