When I first read Curtis Crisler and Kevin McKelvey's remarkable collection of poetry, “Indiana Nocturnes,” I was a bit confused.
We are informed at the back of the collection that the poets alternate poems in the odd sections of the book and feature solos in the even sections. Yet, the poems are not individually identified so it is difficult at first to discern who wrote which poem.
Then I realized that this is probably a point the authors are making. A point that blurs and questions voice and identity, race and economics, and geography, thus establishing a third, multifaceted voice that narrates this fascinating Indiana road trip.
We witness through their startling images the tenderness and brutality of factories and farms, cities and small towns, and a history that examines Native Americans, Black Americans, white settlers, lynchings, and people as diverse as Otis Archey and Abraham Lincoln.
It is a satisfyingly exhausting trip full of pleasures, unexpected shocks and insights that lead, finally, to wisdom.
Both Crisler and McKelvey are well-accomplished poets in their own right. Together they combine to make a many-banded radio station broadcasting out into our Midwestern night.
Here are two endings of two different poems by each poet:
“And if I don't recognize the person, I wave my two fingers
From the steering wheel as welcome, to witness.”
“...the placenta of
every kernel of knowledge
I need, and you you you
Please enjoy this important book in our current, fractured times.
This review is made possible by the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Awards and Indiana Humanities.
Matthew Graham is the Indiana poet laureate. Graham is the author of four books of poetry, most recently “The Geography of Home.” His work has earned numerous national, regional and local honors and awards.
Curtis L. Crisler
Curtis L. Crisler was born and raised in Gary. He received a bachelor's degree in English, with a minor in theatre, from Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, and an master's degree from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He is an associate professor of English at PFW.
He has two poetry books out: "Don't Moan So Much: A Poetry Musiquarium" and "This Ameri-Can-ah." His poetry chapbook "Black Achilles" was released in 2015. His previous books are "Pulling Scabs" (nominated for a Pushcart Prize), "Tough Boy Sonatas" and "Dreamist: a Mixed-Genre Novel." Other chapbooks are "Wonderekind" (nominated for a Pushcart), "Soundtrack to Latchkey Boy" and "Spill," which won the 2008 Keyhole Chapbook Award.
He is the recipient of a residency from the City of Asylum (Pittsburgh), and fellowships from Cave Canem, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and Soul Mountain. He's been a guest resident at Hamline University and Words on the Go.
Crisler has received a Library Scholars Grant Award, Indiana Arts Commission grants, Eric Hoffer Awards and the Sterling Plumpp First Voices Poetry Award. He was nominated for the Eliot Rosewater Awards and the Jessie Redmon Fauset Book Award. His poetry has been adapted to theatrical productions in New York and Chicago. He edited the nonfiction book "Leaving Me Behind: Writing a New Me."
Kevin McKelvey is a place-based poet, writer, designer and social practice artist. He teaches at the University of Indianapolis.
At the University of Indianapolis, he founded Etchings Press, a student-run publisher, helped start a community garden and microfarm, and has contributed to numerous interdisciplinary efforts for students and the community.
McKelvey's poems have appeared widely in journals, books and as pieces of public art. Dream Wilderness Poems is a poetic trail guide for the Deam Wilderness Area near Bloomington.
McKelvey regularly creates poems to be viewed publicly.
With inspiration from his students and teaching, McKelvey has drafted a novel and numerous essays about the till plain region where he grew up in rural Boone County. His essays also capture his work in social practice art and creative placemaking.
McKelvey has been a writer in residence in the Long-Term Ecological Reflections program at the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest in Oregon and at Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior. This inspired him to bring this model to Indiana, working with local land trusts to create annual, centuries-long creative and scientific reflections on natural areas.
NICHES Land Trust runs an annual canoe trip on Wildcat Creek, and ACRES Land Trust started a 200-year project at Wing Haven Preserve.