Saluki Week--Curtis L. Crisler

In honor of Southern Illinois University Carbondale's men's basketball team making it to the Sweet Sixteen (Go Salukis!), I'm going to shine a little light on my alma mater this week.

I could spend the time and space talking about the basketball team--easily my favorite college team (and, man, do I love college basketball; these past four days are pretty much my favorite four days of the year). I've been watching them for the past five years, and I even had one of the starters as a student in the first class I ever taught (I won't say his name because, you know, this is a blog, but he was an awesome student, and I've loved watching him play ever since he started getting PT as a sophomore.)

No, instead of basketball, I'm going to focus on the MFA program at SIUC, which turned ten years old this year.

While I was watching the SIUC basketball game yesterday, the announcers mentioned fundraising, and how the basketball team used to hold car washes to help them pay for their travel expenses. That kind of sensibility is pretty much exactly why I chose to attend the MFA program there.

But the truth is, besides that kind of sensibility, there's some great work being done down in Carbondale--and out of Carbondale, by people who've attended the program over the past ten years--and this week I'm going to highlight a couple of them.

Up first is Curtis Crisler. Curtis is a poet, and he was on his way out (as a third-year student) when I was on my way in (as a first-year student), but we still chatted quite a bit. I even have in my home office a signed galley of a poem of his that appeared in Callalloo. In short, Curtis is a very cool guy, and a pretty great poet, and his first book (which arrived at my house the other day) is out now.

It's called Tough Boy Sonatas. As far as I know, the book fairly resembles Curtis' thesis--a book of poems--but it's been marketed as a young adult novel, and the tough, gorgeous poems are now accompanied by gorgeous illustrations by Floyd Cooper. Really, if I had a young adult around, this is exactly the kind of book I would want him or her reading. In fact, I may have to order an extra copy for my nephew D, who will, soon enough, be a young adult.

But the book, of course, like most things marketed to young adults, isn't just for them. The poems are wise, hip, and full of truth and compassion, and everybody should check it out.

I mean, when was the last time you read a book with pictures?

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