Harold is one of nine children, raised by his mother. In the Introduction he tells us about public moments that have shaped his life (Martin Luther King’s ”I Have a Dream” speech, Muhammad Ali’s “I can float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.”) as well as very private ones like attending the wedding of a girl he was still very much in love with. This not only gives us an insight into the person behind these poems, it helps us understand their inspiration and connection to things outside of the words. “The Bee in the Web” draws on the “butterfly”/”bee” of Ali’s boast, yet expands on it to a message of racial harmony as opposed to one of militant aggression and separatism.
There are some great titles (“The Martian and the Wino,” “W Stands for Wrong”, ”Fasten Your Seatbelt”) and lines that make us think (“Sometimes I feel that life’s a curse, has front-wheel drive and no reverse” and the very poignant “I hate in order to protect yourself—you pack a gun or mace. So why don’t I say what the hell and hate the human race.”) There are also some bad lines: “Her skin is cream, her body is slim. Looking at her makes the average saint sin.”—perhaps, but what or who is “the average saint”? The book ends with a sweet poem by Charla Angeline Hultmann (and I really like the candor of her bio) called “Gift” and “giving” is the real spirit of this book of poetry.
I will be honest, I am not a fan of rhyme. There is a delight in adjacent sounds rubbing together—vowels held and savored, consonants clicking in a row—but “easy” rhymes (“head”/“dead”; “love”/”dove”; “moon”/”prune”) tend to overshadow poetic subtleties, determine word choice and the words themselves lose their meaning, becoming clichés. But this is the music of this poet’s generation, and there is no denying that poetry is more alive, more meaningful and more accessible than it has ever been at any other time during my life. PS I do love the “Osama” “mama” rhyme. In general I think it would benefit Harold Nash’s development to read more of the published contemporary Black poets.
But form aside, this is an honest (courageous and unflinching) look at life today—one we need to share together for the survival of us all. That is “Rhymes of the Times” message. And it is a good one.