Testing Coins: On Al Basile’s Tonesmith

By Al Basile
(Antrium House, 2017, 147pp, $23)

The career path for poets has become a rut. You get your MFA, maybe another degree or two, and you enter the academic job market, chanting timor mortis every step of the way. It is often refreshing, then, to consider the lives and careers of poets who, for better or worse, cut their own peculiar paths. Al Basile is such a poet. One doesn’t speak of his career, but careers. His first collection, titled A Lit House: 100 Poems 1975-2011, at once announced itself as a debut and a retrospective. While writing the poems collected in that book, Basile was pursuing two other careers: one as a private school teacher, the other as a cornet player and blues singer. The latter career, still going strong, has amassed 14 solo recordings and numerous nominations for Blues Music Awards by The Blues Foundation. Both paths, as musician and teacher, as well as a stint in the Army, come together in his poems.