Khalil Murrell, Program Associate, Poetry
SANTEE FRAZIER has rendered a collection of stories, through verse, alive with darkness and survival and humor and ugliness and intimacy—all the things that make us human. His debut collection, Dark Thirty, is not a book filled with flat characters: good people ‘paying it forward’ in the afternoon sunshine, or even evil-doers perfecting the midnight art of wrongdom. Instead, it is a book of unflinching witness and testimony. A book whose storytelling fixes our eyes on the revolting, loveable people in Dry Creek, Oklahoma. Frazier’s Whitman-like ability to observe—enough to make the staggering drunk seem, in some way, beautiful—leads us to become deeply vested in the complex lives of those living on the margins, roaming the dirt roads of Cherokee country. (See Mama’s Work and 10th Street Anthem). And somehow through all of this—domestic violence, substance abuse, and homelessness—the citizens of Dry Creek maintain their dignity and resist becoming cliche tragic figures.
The tension in Dark Thirty begins in its title, which can refer to an unpleasantly early time of day before the sun rises, and yet a kind of darkness foreshadowing a soon-to-come light. And carrying the poems is a vibrant language both unexpected and necessary. Frazier writes sometimes in quick and urgent fragments, sometimes in dialect, or long, prosy lines (“Mangled, Letters, and the Target Girl” and “Firecracker”), each of which creates a texture within and between poems. When asked about form, Frazier says, “A poem dictates to [him], after a few drafts, the form of the poem,” comparing his writing process to a sculptor who carves and carves until he is left with what he needs.” (Listen here for his complete telling).
But Santee Frazier, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, isn’t just about poems. Take a quick visit to his website and the accompanying blog and you will learn everything from his voyages through the southwest by train (Southwest Chief), where says he got much of his writing done, to great cooking recipes for inexpensive eating. You might also enjoy his 10-minute film, “Osama Like Fry Bread,” a satire examining stereotypes about Native people. For more poems by Frazier, check out “The Robbery” or “Bluetop” or poems on Fishouse.
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