November 2023

The Steiny Road to Operadom | Karren LaLonde Alenier |

Henry Crawford

Karren Alenier

Henry Crawford is a stand out poet
clearly positioned in the 21st Century.


On September 19, 2023, the Steiny Road Poet spoke with him about his new chapbook Prehistory: the earliest years (printF Books, 2023) which, as he pointed out, is NOAI—"Nothing contained herein was made in whole or part by artificial intelligence, machine learning systems, neural networks, or large language models." Crawford who is agile with computers, the Internet, and the intelligence that is pushing forth in our time and who has innovated his own brand of poetry with such full-length books as American Software (CW Books, 2017) and Binary Planet (The Word Works, 2019) is boldly self-publishing. Prehistory follows his earlier chapbook The Little Box Theater (printF Books, 2022).

Why is Henry Crawford self-publishing when he has established a record of publication in the small press market? He said because he wants control over the layout (yes, he also knows how to use page layout software). He says that he is uninterested in competing with others and taking away some other poet's window of opportunity for publication. Furthermore, he affirms that the freedom to make the publication happen is exhilarating.


The collection is a meditation on vulnerability and the balance struck between life and death. Here's how he describes coming into existence, which at the same time grounds him as a poet philosopher. Steiny says poet philosopher because life and light happen in the context of extinction (death) as a cycle of being.



My final tenure as a blot of Precambrian

cells ended in nervous collapse.

Sweet flesh all around

falling and half-falling into new beige

bands. Light was at a premium.

It was an absolute house breaking

wreck. Rumbling and more

rumbling to come. Until everything

that had happened before

tumbled into extinction

only to happen again.


Crawford names himself Mr. Defiance. He said in the case of Prehistory, he wanted to create a non-rational, non-linear book that went back in time to his first four years. The idea sprang from hearing Grace Cavalieri conduct poetry workshops where she assigned her students the task of getting in a metaphoric elevator to explore a floor of that student's life. What did they see there? What happened on that floor? Crawford was assisting Cavalieri with some technical aspect of her workshop. He wasn't in the workshop, but the assignment took hold.


What Crawford assigned himself was to write one-page poems that featured one or two images and to keep things as simple as possible. He wanted to emphasize experience and mine all the feelings of his early existence which presented to him as an array of colors. He said, "for example, red was usually angry and blue, the truth. The reality was he was raised by an acholic mother who had many lovers and none of these men ascended to the role of father. Crawford began the collection with Red and a glimpse at who?— most likely his maternal grandfather relegated to the basement and the coal bin to make possibly an improvement there.



In the basement

by the coal bin

my grandfather

put down his handsaw

with its curved red handle

and rusty teeth.

Shavings of curled pine

scattered on the floor.

Cut into the cinderblock wall

a window of webs

and coal dust

small as it was

provided all the light.


In this collection, men do not achieve respect or love even those blue truthtellers like the aloof "meticulous detective" or the policemen who put the boy to sleep after his mother had been beaten presumably by one of her many boyfriends. Crawford states that the Blue poem on page 17 is central to appreciating Prehistory and it marks when the child grows up and develops hope. Through bowling, the mother lets her children know that truth and strength are equivalent and will lead to winning this game where the goal is to knock all the pins down.

A companion poem to that of page 17 is Steiny's favorite on page 27.



Her leaving is a bomb

detonated more like a land mine

sounding round the house.

Guernica in blood color

without the bulls

or horses.

Her wants unwound

in pink lipstick


her bowling shirt

and scarf.

The fatherless night

adds an hour

for everything

to sink in

another to fall



While the poem is titled "Pink," it has a reference to the color of blood which of course is red. The departure of the mother signals danger to the child who then has neither father nor mother protecting him as he tries to sleep. Crawford's nightmare landscape is Pablo Picasso's painting inspired by Germany's bombing of the Basque region of Spain in 1937 during Spain's civil war and at the request of Francisco Franco. It was a controversial action because it involved the killing of many civilians.  Crawford picks this complex image to suggest that he felt he lived in a war zone where he did not know who his allies were.


Crawford calls Prehistory his Rosetta Stone for understanding all his emotions that erupted at that time, such emotions as anger, loneliness, and sexuality. This is a book that will appeal to adult readers at all levels of experience with poetry.


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Karren Alenier is a poet and writer. She writes a monthly column and is a Senior Writer for Scene4. She is the author of The Steiny Road to Operadom: The Making of American Operas. Read her blog.
For more of her commentary and articles,
check the Archives.

Index of Karren Alenier's
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©2023 Karren Alenier
©2023 Publication Scene4 Magazine




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