Book Review: ‘Heart Notes’ by Caleb “The Negro Artist” Rainey

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Heart Notes

Caleb “The Negro Artist” Rainey — Independently published

Caleb “The Negro Artist” Rainey’s second volume of poetry was self-published in October, just five months after his first volume (Look, Black Boy) was released. Heart Notes departs from race as its central topic and focuses on aspects of love, which Rainey explores through widely varying structures and types of poems. In fact, if you’ve ever wondered whether there’s a poetic structure that you can enjoy reading, you’ll likely find your match here. From haiku to wandering free verse, Heart Notes has a little bit of almost everything — although notably absent are his signature spoken-word texts. The structures throughout the book are unconventional, and, in some spots, experimental.

Throughout Heart Notes, Rainey offers musings centered on romantic love in its multitude of iterations. The volume opens with “Love Easy,” a poem that falls into what seem to be three distinct parts. The opening line — “My mother said I was a dangerous child / because I loved too easy” — sets up the poem, which then shifts to adult musings such as “I’m not sure I’ve mastered the art of loving / or if I’m just scared of messy love” and then moves on to reminders to self. Other poems are more singular in voice, focused on one person and a desire to love protectively, as in “To the Girl Who Wants to be a Poem,” or focused on the loss of love, as in “February 13: An Anniversary.”

In his reflections, Rainey wanders around romantic love, and in spots handles the topic quite deftly, such as in “Light,” where he writes, “. . . perhaps I mean the light / which is to say I’ve seen sunrays / in your eyes . . .” But in other places, the effect is less successful, as in the opening lines of “A Simple Love Poem,” which begins, “I’m so in love I may need a doctor / after a fall like that.”

Perhaps the most successful verses of this volume are a series of seven poems called “Magnet Poems.” One can imagine Rainey working on Heart Notes and taking breaks with a magnetic poetry set to create these concise beauties: “words we share / a secret safe / in my heart / a home for us / Always”.

When picking up a poetry book with a single topic as its focus, one wonders if it contains new meditations on it. With a writer as varied as Rainey, it’s clear that there can always be room for new poets to experiment and offer their voices into the chorus of human experience.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 275.

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