In the tradition of the Langton Hughes classic Montage of a Dream Deferred, Mitchell L. H. Douglas uses persona poetry to explore the personal and professional struggles of soul legend Donny Hathaway in his debut collection Cooling Board: a Long-Playing Poem. Evoking the sense of listening to a concept album, Douglas presents a narrative in two sides: side one focusing on Hathaway s development as a young musician and subsequent rise to fame and side two bearing witness to the adversity that plagued his later years. Readers will see Hathaway as true to his family, true to his faith, and uncompromising in his quest for musical invation. In a d to Hathaway s legacy as a musical trailblazer, Douglas implements a significant poetic invation in the format of the book. By including alternate versions or takes of poems throughout Cooling Board, the reader hears an echo of ideas that can be likened to an album with previously unreleased versions of popular songs. When the poems are revisited in alternate takes, new information emerges, and the reader is forced to consider new interpretations. Along the way, poems resembling liner tes and pop charts enhance the experience, never letting the reader forget that the heart of this ride is the music. Above all, Douglas depiction of Hathaway gives readers the human side of a man who has remained a mystery in the 30 years since his death. Not only does the poet speak in the voices of Hathaway and his long-time collaborator Roberta Flack, the reader also hears the voices of those closest to Hathaway whom we are less familiar with: his mother, Drusella Huntley, his grandmother, Martha Crumwell Hathaway s earliest music teacher and his wife, Eulaulah. As the book s first Liner Notes poem recognizes, Cooling Board is about life lessons, the difficult things you don t always get on the first take. With Douglas as a guide versed in the power of possessing many tongues, Cooling Board captures its reader like the best Hathaway song: passionately, honestly, and with an undeniable sense of purpose.
Mitchell L. H. Douglas' poetry has appeared in Callaloo, Crab Orchard Review, and the anthologies The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South (University of Georgia Press), America! What's My Name? (Wind Press), and Zoland Poetry Volume II (Zoland Books) among others. He was named a finalist for the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize in 2007 and nominated for a Puschart Prize in 2006. A founding member of the Affrilachian Poets, a Cave Canem fellow, and Poetry Editor for PLUCK!: the Journal of Affrilachian Arts & Culture, Cooling Board: a Long-Playing Poem, is his debut collection.