GO FIND YOUR FATHER / A FAMOUS BLUES
by Harmony Holiday
Ricochet 2014; 59 & 49 pp
Reviewed by Annie Won
A FAMOUS BLUES / GO FIND YOUR FATHER exudes deft musicality in its genre-bending movement. Turn a little, turn a lot, turn upside down, read the book from the other side — like a cassette tape, side A turns to side B. The work is compendium of two books. A FAMOUS BLUES features a collection of epistolary elegies, with many pieces titled “DEAR DAD,” often situated in prose blocks. GO FIND YOUR FATHER riffs and flies with pieces titled or otherwise named as blues variations. Holiday’s work evokes history. It comes as no surprise that Holiday’s father is the late songwriter Jimmy Holiday, that music runs in her blood and fuels her search for blood lines, for origin. Writes Holiday, "the blood of the thing is the truth of the thing" ("ALTERNATE ENDING / WHY WE ARE A DESTINY / WHY ARE WE A DESTINY").
Holiday speaks to dichotomy and duality; she explores the evolution of black and (or) white biracial identity and the healing of her childhood into womanhood through real and imagined memories. Movement is central to the central mapping of Holiday's history and identity. Holiday writes, "so much of it depends upon the way the drums pick up and snag just when you're about to heave into the body of an animal and release the blood from the spirit...That's the birth of the search" ("ALTERNATE ENDING / WHY WE ARE A DESTINY / WHY ARE WE A DESTINY").
Duality is not only a thematic positioning but also a conscious meditation. Holiday writes, "This sense of duality is really key to delusion / Was your father a hero too? / ... Was your father cool too? Cruel too?" ("THE NIGGA ARE YOU BLACK? BLUES / SWEET DOUBLE HIPNESS"). Holiday's words evoke the legacy of Gwendolyn Brooks's "We Real Cool," her childlike rhymes belying a heavy gravity. Holiday continues. "And here too? Where to? Did he come true like a dream? If he didn't beat you, did he at least join you?"
Single lines bleed into fast-paced prose into visual vestiges of childhood scrawlings ("ROCKET APROACHING OUTER SPACE"), news clippings, destroyed music lines, song catalogues, and family photos to comprise a self-described "memoiresque." Words mutate into other animals: "Great it passes on / Passing on, it becomes remote / Having become remote, it returns." (THE BLACK ENTERTAINER'S QUIT COPYING ME BLUES). History erases itself, repeats itself. Color is a continuum of American legacy, of cultural dialogue, of identity, of song, of love. The blues becomes "blue black," which turns to "Pre-black / habit," and then "Am I blue, you'd be too" ("THE NIGGA ARE YOU BLACK? BLUES / SWEET DOUBLE HIPNESS"). Holiday writes, "I was high yellow...what did he do to be so black and blue...a symptom of this country's chronic post traumatic slave syndrome" ("MY FUNNY VALENTINE IN TIME"). Also, "I'll pick the cotton candy if you sing...a blues...Dye hue number 7 blue. But don't use that word…Don't talk about color anymore, either."
Holiday’s fearless words reinvent the page; text takes over title space, creating a sudden friction. Soon after the title, "THE CURIOUS YELLOW BLUES / MUSIC FOR CHAMELEONS," is written, "Welcome to Violence. / You punch in the face and red flowers bloom." Some pieces riff with footnotes, afterthoughts, currents, such as, "Love is war(m)(n)ed for Miles." What is to be said about love? Holiday runs fast currents around the subject. "The last words I remember him / saying were but if you guys leave me I'll die. My romance doesn't have to have a heart" ("MY FUNNY VALENTINE IN TIME").
All stories conclude within themselves. Holiday writes, "now that the myth seems to be within reach I think the real needs to be guarded with equal enthusiasm." Holiday's speaker considers the search for love much like, "an addict, addicted to replicas of your father who, in exemplifying him, make you more beautiful to yourself, in both memory and imagination ("HE'S A RUNNER"). Love and death come full circle, as Holiday writes, "Sometimes I think we confuse re-inventing love with re-inventing death and I think maybe we even like it and need it that way."
Sometimes we do need it that way. The lines between reality, perception, and imagination collide as the whole story, all the lines, all the in-betweens compile. GO FIND YOUR FATHER / A FAMOUS BLUES is to be read with care, again, with a friend, with yourself, upside down, singing. Harmony Holiday would like that.