“You Ain’t Ever Gonna Fly”: Listen to Poet Ed Mabrey’s Blackbird Airlines

by William Abbott

Ed Mabrey just released a three-cd collection called “Blackbird Airlines,” and it is remarkably sharp, the sort of poetry and music and drama that slides along your subconscious. The idea of Blackbird Airlines is that of an airplane that you never leave, that is taking off and landing. First class is always reserved for police officers, second class is reserved for media and politicians, and coach is always exclusively reserved for blacks. With that set up, you are ready for poetry.

The overall theme is that of inequality, of the microaggressions and macroaggressions and discriminations, especially from the police. It’s about Black Lives Matter and how society tries to sabotage and disassemble that idea. It’s poetry. It’s storytelling. It’s music. With snatches of the Beatles’ “Blackbird” and various versions of Nina Simone’s very different “Blackbird.”

There are a number of poems spread through the first two cds, from “Truths about Black Superman” to “Libretto of the opera: Death of a Black Boy” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMxopjaPBsA) to “Passacaille Africanus.” Mabrey uses his wit to even out the seriousness of the messages: “Black Superman uses his laser vision to write #blacklivesmatter across the face of the moon.” And the comments and asides about being able to breathe are both smart and harsh: a reference to “Can’t breathe Wednesday” is one of many. The poem “Human,” asking if black people can be human and not less-than, with so many examples of how white society holds them down, is almost a manifesto in itself. And the poem “Dear White People” will make you very aware of how uncomfortable white people can be with talking about racism and the ways white people try badly to relate to them.

In any collection of poetry, one worry is that of boredom. If you listen to the same poet reading for a whole cd, much less multiple ones, many expect to lose interest. But mixing your poetry with different music and related stories, along with a remarkable stage/vocal presence, Mabrey will keep your attention focused on his message.

Of course, we’re here expecting the poetry, but the music, remade and remixed in different styles, will make up your soundtrack for days. Passing mention of songs you already know, with different lyrics, will fit over what you expect, changing what you expect. And the story of black people on the airplane being abused and frightened and intimidated in so many directions by so many people. The third cd, “Blackbox,” is made up of more of the music and stories.

The cd also comes with a series of posters and art of various sizes, and the cd case itself is art. The number of people in the cast, visual artists, and musicians is a large list in itself, making this a large-scale effort and a very successful collection. But you should expect little less from such an accomplished poet and performer: a TEDx speaker, a four-time winner of the Individual World Poetry Slam, a two-time winner of Indie Southern Fried Regional Poetry Slam, a poet who has been touring for a decade now, and a touring comedian. Ed Mabrey may not be on your poetry radar yet, but you should expect him. Until then, grab “Blackbird Airlines” from his website, www.blackbirdairlines.com or download from CD Baby and listen for yourself.

Interview with Poet Ed Mabrey

by William Abbott

Ex-Dayton/ex-Columbus/Charlotte poet Ed Mabrey has released a three-cd set called Blackbird Airlines. This work is an ambitious collection of poetry, music, artwork, and storytelling. I contacted Mr. Mabrey to ask some questions about his new work.

You’ve had a long list of accomplishments since we first met. Do you want to hit the highlights for the readers?

Mabrey: TedX Dayton, Ohio speaker 2016, 2016 Individual World Poetry Slam Champion (4x), 2016 Southern Fried Regional Poetry Slam Indie Champ (2x back to back), Comedian, 10 years touring professionally, etc etc.

You have really interesting packaging and art work for Blackbird Airlines. Tell me about how it came to be.

Mabrey: The Blackbird Airlines project is a living project, in that the goal is to create more artistic items involving the “world” it was created in and then encourage others to take inspiration from it and add their own contributions to that world. It came to pass as I wanted to create an album that covered issues on race, bigotry, LGBT-phobia, socio-economic bias and prejudices. However, in doing so I wanted it to be an album you could ‘see’. So it was intended to be an experimental concept album with only a handful of poems and Nina Simone’s song “Blackbird” as the primary focus. However, after a two-day recording session, I left Ohio and realized that while we recorded tons of material, I hadn’t recorded a single poem. From the need to record the poems and they not have a ‘slapped on’ feel to them, there arose the need for an actual concept. I dreamt of this mystical, mythological plane that was so long it was always taking off, always landing. Sort of a Hotel California on wings. Once that dream was written down and I asked myself a few hard questions, the rest fell into place. There’s still more items coming out to flesh out the ‘movie’ that triple album is. With that said, I couldn’t have just any type of art for an album of this magnitude. The outside art was actually painted by an artist while I was performing the poem “Libretto,” which is on the album. I asked his permission to use it and he was gracious enough to say yes. The flying Blackbird Airlines was created by another artist to be the actual logo for the airline I created. All the rest of the interior artwork was created by me. The idea was to make an ‘explodable’ album. This means that you can separate the pieces of the album and actually frame them for artwork. Every piece of the album, including the actual cds, can be removed and framed.

What does the listener have to look forward to in the poetry?

Mabrey: If the listener just listens to the album in random order, they can still enjoy it. I suggest going in order with cd 1 cd 2 and then the Blackbox album. Headphones and even an eyemask (which I actually mailed to some people who purchased the cd in a pre-sale special) are strongly recommended. The entire album has been arranged so that the listener can ‘see’ what is happening throughout the album. They should expect to laugh at the right and wrong times, get a little upset, get very upset, be moved to tears, cry, be afraid, sing along, have moments of pride, and hopefully walk away from the experience different than when they first pressed play.

“Blackbird Airlines” is available for purchase from Mr. Mabrey’s website, blackbirdairlines.com, and is well worth it. 


The Bright Corners of a Writer’s Mind: A Review of Kim Addonizio’s Bukowski in a Sundress

by William Abbott

Kim Addonizio has released Bukowski in a Sundress: Confessions from a Writer’s Life (2016, Penguin), a book of essays about herself and writing. From the first essay, where she picks up a man at the hotel bar and takes him back to her room, which she is sharing with another writer, this collection is a sharp and funny look at life as a poet and a writer.

Addonizio, who has become well known for Ordinary Genius and The Poet’s Companion (written with Dorianne Laux), has released this series of essays as “Confessions from a Writing Life.” Some of these essays are craft essays (“How to Succeed in Po Biz,” “DOA,” “The Process,” “What Writers Do All Day,” “How I Write,” and others), with varying degrees of advice. This is fine, of course, as this isn’t an advice book (cf. Ordinary Genius in particular). But it is a mirror, showing her reflection on how writers can waste time, or how they can be insecure about their work.

Some of her more personal essays also show how she works her life into her writing. It also shows a very real, very human person who has to care for her elderly mother (“Flu Shot” and “Space”), avoids her dysfunctional brother lest he try to take advantage of her financially (“Simple Christian Charity”), worries about screwing up her daughter (“All Manner of Obscene Things”), looks for love and sex (“Penis by Penis,” “How to Fall for a Younger Man,” and more), and enjoys her alcohol (“Cocktail Time”).

Through it all, Addonizio employs a witty, sarcastic style that gives you plenty of reason to like her. “Many are they,” she wrote, “who harbor the burning desire to become successful poets and rise to the top of their profession. To see one’s name on the cover of a slender paperback, to have tens and perhaps even dozens of readers, to ascend to a lecture podium in a modest-size auditorium after being introduced by the less successful poet, who is unsure of the pronunciation of your name – these are heady rewards.”

Her writing about writing is especially engaging to other writers. “I write crap, shit, clichés, whiny complaints, black speculations, goofy formulations, and give up. I go back and write, ‘nada nada nada I suck why can’t I write anything,’ and give up again. I write something I like, and the next day I realize it’s shit.” We’ve all been there. Like, daily.

The essays on being a writer and on how to write are the most interesting to me, and likely to most writers. The book talks about the stress, the distractions, the chaos of the writer’s life. It talks about how research can turn into the rabbit hole that distracts you from writing. It talks about how writers mine their real lives for more writing material, and the essays demonstrate the truth of that statement.

The exploits with men are entertaining. The family stories are heartfelt. The alcohol runs throughout the essays. You’re pretty certain she’s being truthful with you, but if she isn’t, she’ll probably write an essay someday that tells where she lied, as she did in “Pants on Fire,” where she breaks down how she embellished stories in some of her poems, line by line. Her eye toward craft doesn’t blink often, and the reader is likely to enjoy her insights, laced as they are throughout the whole work.

The title of the book, according to the author in the eponymous essay, comes from a negative comparison of her from a judge for a book award, and after having read this book, I’d suggest it was 25% Bukowski, 75% sundress. Just the balance I was hoping for.

Summer 2016 Issue!

Dear Readers,

Our latest issue has arrived! Please enjoy at your leisure.

Over the course of a summer, often a period of restoration and change, decisions must be made. During the off season, we must assess our deepest, most immediate desires. In doing so, we must mend, maintain, and sever relationships based on these cravings. These searches for purpose and meaning often lead us back to our beginnings, back to where our journeys began. Summers mark our returns to the metaphorical nests of our beginnings.

In this issue, you will find mother-child relationships vitalized by unique points of view, characters struggling with the realities of untimely deaths, and the metaphysical journey of a droplet of water in the summer heat. Wherever you are in the waning moments of summer, you will be faced with the choice of what to take with you and what to leave behind.

Best Wishes,

Carly Plank

Editor-in-Chief, Oxford Magazine