-Thomas Sayers Ellis
Roosted at Fender Rhodes piano and veiled beneath a supernatural Apple cap, Donny Hathaway narrated the many rivers of the human heart in un-ironed sweet song. In Cooling Board, Mitch Douglas, our new bard of Black musical memory, hears the call of Hathaway’s piano, peeks beneath the signature hat, then steps bold into the river of Hathaway’s iconic sound. This is Mitch Douglas’ neophyte troubadour baptizing. The poet is drenched, then, set sailing, in what is found on bank and shore of Hathaway’s life. The poet crafts a bright theatre of response, a rhythmic, un-authorized, long-playing poem on the life of the Chicago/St. Louis genius, who gave us notes we had never heard before and will never hear again. Those of us raised on his black octaves know that this 8 track of a winding story cannot bring Hathaway back to us, but it does peel our hearts back far enough to feel the pouring in of both the critical Eulaulah and the unusual ukulele of Hathaway’s piercing balladry. Douglas does his poet-job. He makes us hunger for Hathaway, he makes us reach for his every hummed-up and moaned-out word, underwater, with our ears sloshing full of Hathaway’s high notes, holding our breath to the end.
Author of The World is Round
Cooling Board, Mitchell Douglas’ debut collection, is a labor of love and gives expression to poetry’s most intimate function: to save what we love. Beyond moving Donny Hathaway out from a corner and in toward the center of what came to be called soul music, this “long-playing poem” honors the essential mystery at the heart of one who heard voicessometimes bedeviling ones but more often perfectly pitched angelic ones, to which his music points. That mystery is like the hole at the center of a long-playing album, a metaphor that gives shape to this beautifully conceived collection. Douglas knows where the grooves are, and with the delicacy and precision needed to set the needle down between tracks, he has honed then sequenced each poem, mindful of the advice given by Miss Martha, the gospel-singing grandmother who raised Hathaway: “Circles, baby. In circles.” In his complex circlings in and through the difficult facts of Hathaway’s life, Mitchell Douglas has succeeded in the nearly impossible task of surrounding the sublime ache for the ineffable with sound.
Debra Kang Dean