Arthur Pfister was one of the original Broadside poets of the 1960s: talented artists whose works were displayed on one-sided posters that expressed strong feelings during that chaotic decade of political and cultural unrest. In the intervening years, he has been a spoken word artist, an educator, speechwriter, and winner of the 2009 Asante Award for his book My Name is New Orleans. Eventually, Pfister began writing under the name Professor Arturo.
He recently released his latest book of poetry titled A Love Supreme. Jazz devotees will recognize that title from John Coltrane’s 1965 album, which combined Coltrane’s musical devotion with his faith in God. In Arturo’s book, we get God, but we also get women, bawdiness, and a raw and festive sense of humor. Examples of the latter are these lines from a 2014 found poem called “Lies Men Tell Women”:
That’s my niece’s number on the cell.
I’ma give that back to you on payday.
[ . . . ] I’ma be right back. I gotta get something outa my car.
He turns the tables with “Lies Women Tell Men”:
You’re the best I’ve ever had.
[ . . . ] He’s just a friend.
Each of the two poems wraps up with that often misapplied “I love you.”
Another relationship challenge is blocked in “To a Temptress”:
Your lips are enticing
your sweetness, such icing
your laughter, seductive
your words, so instructive [ . . . ]
But I don’t do evil so willingly
[ . . . ] or consign my feelings freely
[ . . . ] to break a vow so quickly
Elsewhere, Arturo writes more serious poetry as he addresses God with lines like these from “Acknowledgment”: “I write these words so that the unborn can take heed from my recklessness / for the things of the world are impermanent and wretched.”
He moves on to a chapter titled “Supplication,” and his two-part long poem called “Second Line” speaks:
for the poets
for the scribes
the vernal fire-spitters and Ancient-Agers
(Blessed be their hearts and jiggly parts)
Later in this poem, Arturo cleverly employs dozens of aphorisms attributed to “Poets like Aunt Sweet and Momma Rachel”: “Don’t rock the boat—‘specially when you sittin’ in it…[ . . . ] Figures don’t lie, but liars figure [ . . . ] Now git out my face boy . . . I gots washin’ to do”
His selections in “Relationship Therapy” were less dear to me. They are a series of love poems, though I’m not sure whether they are addressed to a real or imagined woman. In “Lady in the Picture (Poem # 105),” he writes: “I can’t remove your scent from memory / or erase your lipstick on the poem you gave me,” and in “Illumination:” “I take refuge in the sublime treasure of her remembrance / for she is woman [ . . . ] forever inspiring and blacknificent.” His passion comes through, but by the time I got to these lines from “Mosaic”: “A mosaic of emotion gushes forth / as I write of the rapture of her enticing elegance / and the constancy of this amorous adventure in the seas of satisfaction,” I was ready to pack it in.
Then he recaptured my attention with “Hate Speech.” Rather than being about the current popular interpretation of hate speech, these lines appear to be a list of sentences Arturo has heard addressed to himself. Examples include:
“You haven’t bought me anything lately.”
“You’re always trying to buy my love.”
“Why can’t you have another drink with me?”
“You drink too much.”
One of my favorites, because it shows the range of Arturo’s imaginative thinking, is a very long poem called “I’m a Hater (to all the haters in the house).” Here are a few random lines: “I hate so-called poets who think Amiri Baraka is a character in Mortal Kombat,” “I hate people who call every person of Latino decent a ‘Mexican,’” and “ I hate people who have their own opinions and make them their / own facts.” And I really love his ending:
I hate the word “hate”
and I especially, ‘specially, ‘specially
who write long poems
Most of the poems in A Supreme Love were written and/or performed between 2011 and 2014, with a couple of earlier ones revised for this edition. Even though the book is a combination of hearty praise and outspoken criticism of our social order, my impression is that Arturo is in love with the world. Perhaps his next book will give everyone a reason to love the world as well.