Tuesday, September 4, 2007

In the Shadow of the Lizard: A Review of Grey Crow’s The Underside of Flight

The Underside of Flight is a stark, poetic chronicle of one artist’s journey into the darkness brought on by losing his job after 10 years and facing the uncertainties that poured forth from such a deep, piercing wound. It is a collection of 120+ pieces categorized as Poems, the writer’s own Quotes (e.g., “Life is a granting of living; when is the last time you lived?”), and Mind-Blasts (e.g., “Some of my favorite madmen were scholars of their craft”).

The collection opens with a page full of dedications to family and friends—a signal that although the word-shaman has gone into the wilderness, alone, to seek the darkest of caves and deepest of rivers, he has not forsaken his vital connection to his Tribe.

These works are some of the most raw, honest, and at times brutal that I have read in quite some time. The artist wrote with his mental blood as he bled and was not so presumptuous or cowardly to feel the need to go back and cover his tracks, soften his truths, or make any apologies in the form of veiled allusions. He was “cast into the mystery of misery” and took the journey (“a map appeared as an engraving upon his eye-lids”) with eyes and ears open. When he says “I can testify,” it is well worth listening because he went into places the vast majority of people won’t even explore third-hand and he lived to tell the tale. In truth, the experiences have strengthened him and given him the ability to fly (“IF NOT FOR THE DARKNESS/I would have no wings.”)


Grey Crow and I share an affinity for the poetry of James Douglas Morrison (one of several alter-egos of the rock god most people know as Jim Morrison, front-man for The Doors) and I saw a great deal of direct influence throughout The Underside of Flight. The book opens with a quote of Jim’s about poetry, and phrases such as “mystic rivers,” “hello…I lust you!,” “glide immaculate,” “a butterfly; screaming,” “dancing naked in a forest,” and “I died between her gates” seemed to stem from the same palette of ancestral and mythic images Jim was working from, and there were also more direct uses, such as the phrase “dance on fire” and a quote by Jim (from the song “Peace Frog,” itself an amalgamation of two poems)—“Blood is the rose of mysterious union”—placed right in the middle of a poem. Given that Morrison borrowed freely from Blake and Rimbaud and a host of other writers, this connection and extension of such words and images seems all to the good.

We also share a connection with Crow and are both exploring the condition of the Visionary¬–Shaman. Grey Crow says in one poem: “I’m told that the visionary dies slow” and in another he asks: “did those without vision crucify them?”—meaning the gods and (s)aints of the poem’s title. The author has experienced some of this first hand as he says they “rape my shine” and “nailed me there/stitched to the sun.” When he writes “I have been throbbing within the throb,” “My wants have even been screamed as pleas,” and “In my mind I’ve died a thousand times,” it does not read like a would-be artist of no experience throwing around bullshit lines of pseudo-feeling, but the words of the Initiate, who has begun his or her journey through the secret death rites and has begun to emerge, reborn and transcendent.

Raw and untempered though the poetry may be, there are some notably well-wrought phrases along the way. In “Pulse and Pause” he says: “Her eyes were ice storms circled by flames…her flicker grazed my flesh.” While in Dar-nger he writes: “I saw an angel named Jersey rise from the grains—/of tan shores painted by on coming tides./Shells fell from her hair—/As the surroundings launched from her piercing eyes.” Many of the poems evoke the image of the blood-goddess Kali, the serpent queen of wisdom, Sophia, Lilith, Proserpine, and a host of other misunderstood and vital aspects of the Sacred Feminine.

The collection never holds too long to one path or one level of spiritual, cultural, or political consciousness. Poems like “Dry Love and Liars” are unapologetically slicing when it comes to the current political situation in America and the larger world, whereas poems such as “Your” are erotic explorations of the male–female blood-bond.

Speaking of the political, one passage in particular stands out: “They have these ideas of what the perfect-productive-piece of shit-numb-programmed-multi tasked-walking corpse should be like. The sad thing is that it is working.”

Proud of and shaped by his life-long connection with Detroit, Grey Crow brings a sense of place to his poetry that is akin to Jim’s connection to LA and Jacques Roubaud’s or Charles Baudelaire’s to Paris.

In his publicity materials, Grey Crow says that his work has been compared to that of EA Poe and William Blake, and these comparisons became readily apparent as I made my way through the book. In the case of Poe, there are plenty of dark images of ravens, razors, vampires, and the like, while the ghost of William Blake seems to be breathing sacred life into poems that speak of beauty in unlikely, counterintuitive places.

I’d like to add another favorable comparison, because of the flight, wing, and bird imagery (and the tone and themes of “De Authors Prayer”)—James Joyce, especially in Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, which opens with the quote: Et ignotas animum dimittit in artes, which the mythologist Joseph Campbell translated as “He turns his mind to unknown art.” In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, from where Joyce took these stirring words, Daedalus decides to fly from his island prison of Crete to the mainland of creative abundance on the wings of his Art. This was Joyce speaking of Dublin, and I sense that Grey Crow has sought his own escape from mental prisons in much the same way.

I wish him safe and speedy journey, as all of us learn that the darkness burns just as thoroughly and cleansingly as the sun to which Icarus flew too close. Intent is everything, and Grey Crow’s intentions, as illuminated in his “Author’s After-Flight” are well worth exploring either before or after reading his works.

You can order this fine collection and learn more about Grey Crow’s other artistic endeavors in both music and short story by visiting his My Space page at www.myspace.com/greycrow or by e-mailing him direct at GreyCrow2099@yahoo.com

Tell him his brother Crow Feather sent you.

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