Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Paranoia

I wrote the poem below a long time ago. I lost it and now have it again thanks to my friend. The port which gives charge to my first laptop broke somehow, so it's been sitting dormant for two years now. I've been putting off getting the information taken off until recently. Since applying to graduate schools, I realized it would beneficial if I had the entire arsenal of my academic work: essays, poems, homeworks, and whatever else I can tweak to supplement my applications.



I got the idea for the poem from the movie I Am Legend which frightened me the first time I watched it, perhaps because one of my greatest fears is being abandoned. The movie just brought the fear of abandonment to an extreme, and I think it helped me sympathize with Smith's character that much more. The original version of the poem which I submitted to my undergrad poetry workshop did not include the reference to the movie, and interestingly enough only one person from my workshop got the connection even though the majority of my classmates had seen the movie.



In the original I included a line "...writing poetry convoluted with too many languages?" which has nothing to do with the movie. It was only caught by one person. It made me wonder what would happen if I pulled in more obscure details not taken from the movie. I suppose the poem wouldn't need the movie reference anymore, and furthermore would no longer be a poetic ekphrastic.

I would like to try and revise this poem but I no longer have the individual comments from my workshop. I do though remember one thing my classmates said about this poem. Who are the demons, and why are they stalking the speaker? Viable questions, I have not figured how to give this information without losing the fearfulness the reader feels for the speaker. I suppose I'll open up the Poet's Companion and try to find an exercise to open up the poem a little more. In the meantime, "Paranoia" as of present.







Paranoia



--From I Am Legend




What if my demons are not gone but waiting



for light to lift and let darkness? Foraging



pass dilapidated cars, abandoned streets,



crouching behind dull red brick buildings beside



a lone dumpster in a narrow alleyway -- waiting



for me to look back one before I enter



and bolt my door. What if all night they labor



making booby traps because they know I'm still



here? What if they know that I'm insane for my



psyche's sake: talking to mannequins, watching



reruns of events 7 years past, living in a ghost town?





What if they know I'm the reason they hunger for more human



flesh, gnash their heads against glass, roar like beasts?



What if they catch me, will they rip my lithe flesh



mercifully as I do a Sunburst tangerine? Or if they



hear me whisper a prayer, will they burst into doves?



This material is copyrighted. Small quotes and excerpts are permissible with the permission of the author. Any attempt to reproduce this information without proper notification to the author will indefinitely result in lawsuit.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Attempting a Villanelle

So I decided to attempt a villanelle. Villanelles are poems I always start and stop, mostly because it gets to be a lot of work. I must admit though that they're much simpler, in my opinion, than sonnets which I have trying to do successfully since I began seriously writing poetry. As an undergrad, I took a Renaissance Prose and Poetry course and remember how painstaking it was trying to scan the sonnets of Petrarch, Spenser, and Wyatt. And you think because it's a sonnet you can automatically assume it's written in iambic pentamenter, right? Wrong. I found myself questioning if I was pronoucing these words correctly. Nonetheless, besides being difficult, it was also very interesting as the way we scanned the poems seemed to more or less coincide with the mood being expressed in the poem. Thus, I came away from the course noting that tone and intent are key elements to note in scansion.

But back to villanelles. Villanelles only interested after I discovered paradelles, a parody of villanelles thought up by former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins. One of my favorite poets Kim Addonizio wrote a paradelle, "Ever After," that I thought was just about the coolest thing I'd ever read.

All this aside, the form of the villanelle goes as follows:

a1
b
a2

a
b
a1

a
b
a2

a
b
a1

a
b
a2

a
b
a1
a2

I was taught by my creative writing professors to respect form and tradition, even if it isn't particularly your personal style or taste. The values of form are multifaceted and I don't think I'm going to get into them here. What I am going to admit is that I find that form is the true test of your skill and focus as a writer. Everyone can write free verse, and in fact many people admit to writing poetry but form is definitely something that delineates the more serious writers. Writing in form is the culmination of all that serious writers do: the mulling, the rearrangement, the excessive time spent trying to reach the poem's max potential. The same is done for free verse poems but when dealing in form, every writer -- serious or not -- has to succumb to this laborious effort for the sake of the poem. And I suppose that says a lot considering that many an occasion I've started poems in form only to abandon them later. But today, not so. All this said, here is my attempt at a villanelle.


AFTERWARDS VILLANELLE

i watch my man gather to go
it's like fruit too fat for its bough. ripe;
the layer bruised from a blow

to the ground. no echo,
only the sun's sucking and trite-
like i watch him gather to go.

flies hover, circle, pitch low.
there is no fight. never a fight.
the layer bruised from a blow.

i skin the bed of its sheets, throw
them to wash. i flip on my porch light.
i watch him from the window as he goes.

the flies gnaw hollows; now full, they slow
their haste. fruit: dulled and blight-
racked, its layer still bruised from the blow.

who will call whom tomorrow?
who swallows the dried fruit for tonight?
i watch my man gather to go.
the layer bruised from its blow.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Pioneers! O Pioneers!

I've been really impressed by the newest Levi's brand jeans' commercial only because of the poem recited in the background of the flashing images of youth. I'm embarrassed to admit that I did not recognize it was Walt Whitman. But now again when I think on it, perhaps this is good thing. The fact that I was drawn by the words alone indicate that it is not merely the celebrity of Whitman that I am appealing to but the actual words, which I believe any poet -- known or obscure -- would appreciate. The poems included in the commercial are "Pioneers! O Pioneers!" and "America." Below, I've included the poems recited in the commercial, the specific parts included are bolded.

Whitman is lauded for pioneering American poetry. Before he came along, many poets were still convinced of poetry that looks and sounds like that of the English. Breaking with tradition, he created extremely long-lined, free verse poems. It was truly innovative at a time when people thought poetry had be in some sort of rhyme scheme or form. Moreover, Whitman took pride in making everyone subjects in his poem; in doing so, he aimed to create a space where Americans, all Americans, were identified and characterized even if the landscape or conditions of America did not necessarily allow for it to be so, (Whitman volunteered as a nurse during the American Civil War and was despaired by the plight of blacks and Native Americans during this time). In this view, he may be considered an idealist as he wanted the term American to identify a people who though different in physical make-up were similar in terms of their wants and needs -- that they all strove for a common American dream.

Pioneers! O Pioneers!

COME, my tan-faced children,
Follow well in order, get your weapons ready,
Have you your pistols? Have you your sharp-edged axes?
Pioneers! O pioneers!


For we cannot tarry here,
We must march my darlings, we must bear the brunt of danger,
We the youthful sinewy races, all the rest on us depend,
Pioneers! O pioneers!


O you youths, Western youths,
So impatient, full of action, full of manly pride and friendship,
Plain I see you Western youths, see you tramping with the foremost,
Pioneers! O pioneers!


Have the elder races halted?
Do they droop and end their lesson, wearied over there beyond the seas?
We take up the task eternal, and the burden and the lesson,
Pioneers! O pioneers!
All the past we leave behind,
We debouch upon a newer mightier world, varied world,
Fresh and strong the world we seize,
world of labor and the march,
Pioneers! O pioneers!


We detachments steady throwing,
Down the edges, through the passes, up the mountains steep,

Conquering, holding, daring, venturing as we go the unknown ways,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

We primeval forests felling,
We the rivers stemming, vexing we and piercing deep the mines within,
We the surface broad surveying, we the virgin soil upheaving,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Colorado men are we,
From the peaks gigantic, from the great sierras and the high plateaus,
From the mine and from the gully, from the hunting trail we come,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

From Nebraska, from Arkansas,
Central inland race are we, from Missouri, with the continental blood intervein'd,
All the hands of comrades clasping, all the Southern, all the Northern,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

O resistless restless race!
O beloved race in all! O my breast aches with tender love for all!
O I mourn and yet exult, I am rapt with love for all,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Raise the mighty mother mistress,
Waving high the delicate mistress, over all the starry mistress,
(bend your heads all,)
Raise the fang'd and warlike mistress, stern, impassive, weapon'd mistress,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

See my children, resolute children,
By those swarms upon our rear we must never yield or falter,
Ages back in ghostly millions frowning there behind us urging,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

On and on the compact ranks,
With accessions ever waiting, with the places of the dead quickly fill'd,
Through the battle, through defeat, moving yet and never stopping,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

O to die advancing on!
Are there some of us to droop and die? has the hour come?
Then upon the march we fittest die, soon and sure the gap is fill'd.
Pioneers! O pioneers!

All the pulses of the world,
Falling in they beat for us, with the Western movement beat,
Holding single or together, steady moving to the front, all for us,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Life's involv'd and varied pageants,
All the forms and shows, all the workmen at their work,
All the seamen and the landsmen, all the masters with their slaves,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

All the hapless silent lovers,
All the prisoners in the prisons, all the righteous and the wicked,
All the joyous, all the sorrowing, all the living, all the dying,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

I too with my soul and body,
We, a curious trio, picking, wandering on our way,
Through these shores amid the shadows, with the apparitions pressing,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Lo, the darting bowling orb!
Lo, the brother orbs around, all the clustering suns and planets,
All the dazzling days, all the mystic nights with dreams,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

These are of us, they are with us,
All for primal needed work, while the followers there in embryo wait behind,
We to-day's procession heading, we the route for travel clearing,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

O you daughters of the West!
O you young and elder daughters! O you mothers and you wives!
Never must you be divided, in our ranks you move united,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Minstrels latent on the prairies!
(Shrouded bards of other lands, you may rest, you have done your work,)
Soon I hear you coming warbling, soon you rise and tramp amid us,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Not for delectations sweet,
Not the cushion and the slipper, not the peaceful and the studious,
Not the riches safe and palling, not for us the tame enjoyment,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Do the feasters gluttonous feast?
Do the corpulent sleepers sleep? have they lock'd and bolted doors?
Still be ours the diet hard, and the blanket on the ground,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Has the night descended?
Was the road of late so toilsome? did we stop discouraged nodding on our way?
Yet a passing hour I yield you in your tracks to pause oblivious,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Till with sound of trumpet,
Far, far off the daybreak call-hark! how loud and clear I hear it wind,
Swift! to the head of the army!-swift! spring to your places,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

America

Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
All, all alike endear'd, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,
Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,
A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
Chair'd in the adamant of Time.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Ishtar


I've been doing some research on a goddess known as Ishtar, goddess of fertility, sex, war and love in the Babylonian pantheon. She is often compared to the Greek of Roman goddess Venus or Aphrodite. But of course, many civilizations have their own equivalent, such the Sumerian goddess Inanna, who I became familiar with in the novel The Red Tent. Ishtar is particularly interesting because even though she represents all these good things (save for war), she is essentially a very volatile character. She is spoiled, bad-tempered, and not to mention all of her lovers she comes to scorn. When she appears in the Epic of Gilgamesh trying to win over Gilagamesh, this is what he has to say to her:
"Listen to me while I tell the tale of your lovers. There was Tammuz, the lover of your youth, for him you decreed wailing, year after year. You loved the many-coloured roller, but still you struck and broke his wing [...] You have loved the lion tremendous in strength: seven pits you dug for him, and seven. You have loved the stallion magnificent in battle, and for him you decreed the whip and spur and a thong [...] You have loved the shepherd of the flock; he made meal-cake for you day after day, he killed kids for your sake. You struck and turned him into a wolf; now his own herd-boys chase him away, his own hounds worry his flanks."

The poem I wrote today is a recanting of Ishtar at the underworld gates in her own voice. I debated whether to retell the entire story and ultimately decided that I wouldn't, at least for now. Also, I was further inspired to write this after reading "Medusa" by Patricia Smith.




ISHTAR AT THE UNDERWORLD GATES


I came to the gates and demand they let me enter.

I am not the kind of woman who stands in line by the street. I

have places to be seen at and people to screw.


I told them

they had one more minute to act like they didn't know me--

before I got Big Bad Wolf in here. I'll huff and puff and blow this

shithole to the ground. Do you know who I am?


I'll call up the dead and have them gnaw you lifeless. I'll

call up the dead and have them take all this over. What

choice did they have? Of course they let me in.


But they were still hating on me, talking about I had to take off

one article of clothing each gate I passed though knowing I'd be

naked by the time I even reached in there.


Joke was on them though. I live in the nude. Nobody's body

talks as loud as mine does. I mean, anybody who sees me

wants to touch me, that's how shiny, how sweet I am.







Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Chapbook

While going through literary reviews to submit some of my work to, I came across contests for poetry chapbooks. I must be completely honest, though I had a vague idea of what a chapbook was (a dull memory of my senior course, Renaissance Prose and Poetry, comes to mind) I had no idea why it would be necessary for modern literary purposes. But since reading up on them they are a good precursor to a first book of poetry. Also, if you enter a poetry chapbook contest and win, it helps bolster your resume of work by having it published. One chapbook contest in particular is being conducted by Finishing Line Press. The deadline is February 2010 and they require that you submit 26 pages of poetry, along with a brief bio, acknowledgements, SASE, and cover letter. The reading fee is $15. I chose this contest to begin with because it was entitled 2010 New Women's Voice Chapbook Conpetition. Like literary reviews, you try to rifle through and find a contest that best suits or would most likely publish your material.

I am sure that I have 26 pages of poetry but I need my poems to tell a story; be cohesive. In order to do this I began by brainstorming potential chapbook titles. By brainstorming a title that best suits a majority of my poems, I can better narrow what needs to be in the chapbook and what doesn't. So far, I've come up with four titles that I really like: Girl Meets Woman, Cataloguing Fear & Other Fly-By-Nights, Touching a Man, and Love's Residue.

Most of my poems have a certain female character who is trying to maintain control of her relations whether familial, platonic, or sexual. To maintain control, I've developed, subconsciously, a woman who has become an inspiration and likewise my muse. She's a dominant voice that when I write is tapped almost effortlessly. She owns every statement she makes, pitches them fast at your head; will you duck, flinch or stand and absorb them? She is a Goddess. I often refer to her in the title of the poems as Muse, but I've been thinking lately that I ought to give her a name. But what would I call her? Perhaps She, Noir(a), perhaps Lilith. Maybe she is better without a name, better if she remain an illusion, no one live to cling to.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Mayda Del Valle @ the White House



video


Mayda del Valle is a favorite spoken word poet of mine. Her words are always forceful, as though she's shoving them bit by bit hard into your ears and heart. It's as though she wants them to reverberate in you as much as they do in her. This poem I'm sharing with you today I especially love. She performed it at the White House this past May along some other spoken word artists Jamaica Osorio, Joshua Bennett, and Lin Manuel Miranda.

I first fell for her when she performed "The Gift" on Russell Simmon's Def Jam Poetry. From there I began learning more about her. An earlier piece, "Mama's Making Mambo" is especially nice. I enjoy writers who aren't afraid to bring their culture, history, homelands, and ancestors into their poetry. It makes poetry that more rich, and Del Valle is a poet who sees her culture as a highlighter, something she can use to set herself apart from other writers.

Del Valle attended Williams College where she studied Art. She latered moved to New York where she worked her way up in the spoken word scene, winning the National Poetry Slam in 2001. She made history as the first latina and Nuyorican to win the competition. For more information on Del Valle visit her website at http://www.maydadelvalle.com/.

The format, syntax, punctuation are my take on Del Valle's poem, and so is the title for that matter. I'm not sure what Del Valle may call it (as it's not included in the video) though I'm sure this is the appropriate title. I hope you enjoy the words and video. It's brilliant shit I must admit.

ABUELA HOW DID YOU PRAY?

grandmother our common thread began in my mama's womb

spun my fetus like a record in her cipher, sampled your stubborn

and mixed in her father's posture. our connection is full circle.

abuela you bearer of children you seer of spirits

you are truly miraculous.

you are the whispers of litanies and white tableclothes,

your melody is captured in the spilled candle wax of my skin.

my tongue's a broken needle scratching through the grooves

of a lost wisdom trying to find a faith that beats like yours.

what secrets do your bones hold? what pattern does your dust settle

into when i beat these drums inside my ribs?

what color was the soil of your grandmother's garden?

grandma how did you pray?

did you store the memory of your creator in strands of hair tucked

into scented soap boxes or placentas buried under avocado trees?

what reservoir did you pull your faith from?

was it anything like this gumbo, this sancocho, this remix of rituals

and chants sampled from muscle memory and spirits that visit my dreams

that I struggle to stir into discipline to honor the unseen

with these shells, this sage, these rudraksha

and rosary beads, these white candles, crystals,

statues, this sweet water, honey, rum, and sweetgrass.

abuela how did you pray before someone told you who

your god should be? how did you hold the earth

in your hands and thank her for its fecundity? did the sea

wash away your sadness; how did you humble yourself

before your architect? did you lower yourself to your knees

or rock to the rhythm of the ocean waves like i do? grandma

how did you pray?

some say faith is for the weak or small minded but I search

for your faith everywhere, need it to reassemble myself

whole from these shards of Chicago ice and island breezes

so i can rewrite the songs of your silence and pain, your lonely

fists, broken toothed smile and burdens into a medley of

mantras. wish you could have shown me its shape but i know

it's in your sacred breath. in the shadow of trees that you

visit me in. in the flicker of flames i stare into searching for

what's divine and i know my body is the instrument my

maker uses to rearrange the broken chords of your history

into a new symphony for my unborn children's feet to dance to,

and i see you grandmother gathering with your sistren to chant

the names of the living and the dead and remind us all that

whether gathered in marble temples around a midnight fire

or block party speakers we have always raised our hands to the sky

trying to touch the invisible force that holds these cells together

into a fragile mass. children of different nations but the same vibration.

we be sound to beat to bass to bone to flesh.

we be sound to beat to bass to bone to flesh.

we are all truly miraculous.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Literary Reviews

Though I have no list to order what I ought to do next in terms my "writing career," I am now on step two or three, theoretically. Today I submitted my work to some literary reviews, in order to get my rejections out of the way. I did the Ampersand Review and the Ward 6 Review. Though most reviews allow you to submit up to five poems, I decided to only submit three: "approaching Lost," "Muse," and "Owning" (formally named "Firsts"). In retrospect, I should have included "Willing Back Grandmother" but I was concerned about bearing my work with too much melancholy material, especially since "approaching Lost" is so gritty and bleak . I didn't want the reviewers to think of me as morbid or overtly sexual. But that's the issue with poems, they are what they are and not the sum total of their maker. It's still always a little unnerving when you have to share your poetry with others without them making some sort of snapshot of you based on thethings you say in your work. It is for this reason that I am of the camp that believes poetry stands aside from its creator.
Poets & Writers (http://www.pw.org) has a catalogue of reviews for budding and professional writers alike. I wasn't able to rifle through them all but I did enough research on the two I submitted to to be confident of my submissions. Although the Ampersand Review was so hilarious I thought I ought to submit a more funny poem. Maybe. I decided to send them a poem with ampersands instead, hopefully that counts for something in addition to the fact that I think it's a damn good poem. Either way, they're the final say. And as stated before, I'm simply getting my letters of rejection out of the way. Perhaps if these three do not work, next time I'll try writing something funnier.

Monday, October 26, 2009

How You Like These Apples?

I discovered an interesting poet on CaveCanemPoets.org
whose primarily subject matter is religion. It strikes me because of the way she captures it; though Lauren Kizi-Ann Alleyne writes free verse, she does best with structures of her own making. In truth, anyone that can write within the confines of a set format, whether traditional or self-made, and still relay something as powerful and full as Allenye does is inspiring. I struggle with format more than benefit from it. Sometimes, I start a poem anticipating it a sonnet, pantoum, or villanelle and get completely lost in the rules of the format and as a result the subject matter suffers. That's one of the reasons I am so in awe of this lady. To talk of a such a loaded topic as religion and frame it so well is a good bit of skill and talent.

Allenye is an islander; she was raised in the twin republic of Trinidad and Tobago, another one of the reasons why I like her. In 2002, she received her Master's in Creative Writing from Iowa State University; and in 2008, she received her MFA in Creative Writing and Graduate Certification in Feminist, Gender and Sexuality from Cornell University. She has been published in The Caribbean Writer, The Banyan Review, the Black Arts Quarterly to name a few. In 2003, she was declared winner of Altantic Monthly's Student Writing Contest among other honors. She is now a visiting assistant professor at Hobart and William Smith College in Geneva, New York. I am going to include three of my favorites: "Fear and Trembling, "Ash Wednesday," and "Taste of Apples." Enjoy!


Fear and Trembling
-- After Kierkegaard
Lauren K. Allenye

And there are many ways to come undone
—some more exquisite than others. Ask Eve,
she will tell you apple-lust unwrapped her
left her cold and with a word for shiver.
Lot's wife is witness that a backward glance
is enough—nostalgia pillared her. But,
I imagine the somewhat greater deeds:
picture the Red Sea unstitched like a braid;
the lion's den, its many hungry mouths;
Isaac's bewildered screams: why, daddy, why?
And what terrible choice to peel back doubt
like a bandage, without question or lack
to say Here am I, to renounce relief:
step in, seize the knife, and to know belief.


Ash Wednesday
Lauren K. Allenye

This is where the journey begins: at the end
of a thumb blackened: imprinted: set apart:
sacrificial: hairshirted: mea culpa & I'm sorry,
Lord, so sorry: surrender: reconciliation: a pact:
the body reviled: the body denied: the body
transformed to holy hunger: the temple
sealed for a necessary restoration: gutted:
these the stripes: this the desert: the constant
question/confession: despair: this is where
the journey begins: on the knees: supplicant:
eyes desperately shut: give me a sign:
& is this even prayer: I mourn a simpler faith:
the mustard seed: the certainty of ashes: mass
the sun piercing the window: its stained glass


The Taste Of Apples
Lauren K. Allenye

These days there is speculation; they say it was not an apple Eve held to Adam’s mouth
and ground against his teeth; it was a fig, they say,

maybe a mango, perhaps a pomegranate, a plum – fruit more exotic and tempting,
more worthy of the Fall. I know apples, polished

skin like blood like wine like war binding tight the white flesh, the black pits
pressed into the narrow center sleeping like sin like sex

like hunger. They say Paradise was tropical, filled with sultry days and balmy nights
too unlike the chill autumn winds needed for apples

to thrive, to come to full fruit. They say it comes down to the geographic impossibility.
I know apples, the way the taste of them knots

the tongue in thick accents, the sandy bite, the sharp sound of separation and the jagged hole
it leaves, the tempered flow of juice of tears of sweetness.

They still say that Eve should have known better, been wiser; should never have strayed,
or disobeyed her creator’s command. But I know apples –

the way the first bite sticks in the throat, the dark rush of knowing, the heady flavor,
the echo of the serpent’s hiss, saying taste, taste and see.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

muse's monologue 1

muse's monologue

"what do you like ba(b)y? cigarello sweets or dull weed?

i have something to confess. i come faster than the

average woman. only be afraid if you can't swim. (haha).

i also may get lost in the music but not lost like can't find

my way lost like time runs faster than my eyes can capture

or darkness flapping its wideness down. something about

your love feels like the rubberiness of cartilage. i don't think

i like it. there is something barbaric about sadness. the sounds like

wailing, bawling, thrusting deep undercurrent to the warmer

things you say. i am holding love in the pitch dark of my eyeballs. few

notice it there. it is a good hiding place. love is an party invitation

i have often not rsvped to. i am a woman who touches herself often

if the right music is playing. will you play the right music for me? do you

know the minnie riperton song 'inside my love' where she belts for

like a minute straight? can you make me come so good i sound like that?"

Friday, October 9, 2009

Relative Sickness

In a poetry workshop, we received a prompt to write a poem about an object. I chose a necklace my father gave me and it became a poem entirely about my feelings about him. Looking back it was not a very good poem, though it was replete with all the techniques I'd learned: concrete imagery, voice, dialgoue, suitable format -- more or less. Perhaps it was all too much. My feelings were much stronger in my mind than my amatuer attempts to demonstrate them, or so I thought. When I look over it now, I recognize them as my feelings, but something about the experience with my father has changed. We have not become any closer or more distant, rather I've moved past anger to resentment, a path leading to indifference. I don't want half-hearted people around me. I want to forgive him but it is hard for me to care. It's a gash that for too long has gone undressed. I often feel that resentment towards an absent father is such a cliche, and another reason why I ought to give up my anger. Still I think this sort of hurt has contributed to the individual I am, and not necessarily in a bad way. I would like to think that I am not the only victim in our relationship. So long as I carry on without a care for my father, it is something deep down that I want, that makes me feel better.
When I discovered PoetsOnline (which has a blogspot to accompany their site) I had to revisit the topic of my father again. Their prompt for the month of October is about sons and daughters or mothers and fathers. I decided to write about my father again. He is the subject of "Relative Sickness." I wish that I could write about my mother but I feel -- and this is probably a terrible thing to admit but true nonetheless -- that I have no strong feelings positive or negative that would drive me to write about her. I appreciate all the love she gives me and care and consideration but there is nothing in her character that intrigues, or bothers me to a point that I would seek to immortalize or verbalize it in my poetry. Perhaps that is more of a reason why I should continue to try.
I will submit my work to their site for the month of October after a few more hours of workshopping, hopefully they accept. The deadline for submissions is November 1. I suggest anyone else out there in cyberspace payng attention to me blog, submit a poem to the site as well. Until then, this is what I've done so far. For more information on PoetsOnline, check out their website at poetsonline.org or their blog at poetsonline.blogspot.com.



Relative Sickness


I want your absence something forgiveable

like a day spent at home because you're sick

the whites of eyes cracking into redness

from the body’s racking itself to sleeplessness,

the eyelids only slightly parted,

the mucus seeming to multiply,

the perimeter of face marked with sweat,

the muscles of the stomach wickedly pulsating,

the nausea rising its mashed tawny and pink bile of yesterday's eaten,

the constriction of the throat,

the swelled scarlet tonsils,

the hacking thrusting the clammed head forward,

then the driness, the voice scratched and unfamilar sounding,

and the room warped after lying still so long.



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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Draft 1: Summer Short-Short

Summer

It was summer -- I know because it was the only time I ever visited my Uncle Menas and his wife Etta. I imagine that with names so glittered, they were destined for a wooden stage in a shadowy blues night club with old-fashioned microphones like the ones Sinatra would sweep from left to right. Aunt Etta would come out in a crimson bedazzled dress fluttering out down about her ankles; and she would sing a song much richer than her own voice could do justice. The crowd would find the contrast savagely melancholy and her voice, raspy from years of smoking away her nervousness and paranoia, would bump up against the most human parts of your divinity. Uncle Menas would sit behind her, wrenching the tunes from the tight strings they were locked in, all the while with his eyes closed, his whole body transfixed in its duty of medium for the melody streaming out.Together they would pitch the little blues club, perhaps with a name like Starlite, back and forth between dysphoria and delight.

The actual life of Uncle Menas and Aunt Etta could not begin to live up to my elaborate fantasy. My uncle worked as a television cable installer and my aunt, if I am remembering correctly, had no job at all. Still, I can scarcely recall her ever being at home. On the morning of her funeral, I would hear my mother and her sisters talking about the fact of her being a druggie and a thief. I remember her as a woman that would have been pretty except for some thing was always awkward. Her lips were very dark, and she sought to enhance this by wearing even darker lipstick, mauve was her favorite. Being that her lips were also large and in a permanent frown, her mouth seemed to me like that of a clown. Her skin was smooth and all one color, I can't recall a birthmark, scar, mole or blemish anywhere on her, at least the parts I saw. And she was always rubbing herself down with something: sweet smelling lotions, oils, creams. Her skin shone everytime she stepped outside into the fierce light of the summer sun.

At the end of the school year, my aunt and uncle would choose which of their siblings' children, which wasn't many, would come stay at their house for the summer. This particular summer there were five of us; Drew, Uncle Menas' son from a previous relationship; Dale, Aunt Etta's son from an abusive relationship; Charmain, my Aunt Karen's (Uncle Menas' sister) excessly prissy daughter; and Kadiann, Aunt Karen's other daughter, who I suppose to polarize Charmain was by nature a tomboy. We are all various ages, I was 13, Drew was 12, Dale was 16, Charmain was 14, and Kadiann was 13.

I did not get along with Charmain, in fact no one got along with Charmain, save for her sister and that was only half of the time. Drew, Dale, and Kadiann spent most of the time playing video games in the basement which was where all of us would rather be. It was an entertainment center set apart from the rest of the house, you could be as loud as you wanted without disturbing anyone upstairs, which was especially great at night because we stayed up until three in the morning almost every night yelling back and forth and laughing. The basement had a miniature fridge, a bathroom, stereo, and the home computer. Drew, Dale, and Kadiann hardly ever left from down there. They hogged everything, especially Dale, I didn't care so much about using the television because I could always watch television upstairs in another room but I could never use the computer. Dale was always instant messaging girls and fussing at anyone trying to use it.

I was always the odd ball, or so I felt. Of course Charmain was on her own as well but that was because she choose to isolate her herself. Everyday she would get up and go sit out on the porch with a radio Uncle Menas gave her and listen to music and paint her nails all day long. I realized towards the end of the summer that she did indeed make friends, with the guys stomping up and down our block many years her junior. Charmain was pretty, in a monotonous way. She had fair skin, light brown hair, which she styled as adult-like as possible. Sometimes Aunt Etta, if she were home, would offer to curl or krimp her hair. She offered to do me as well but I just remember looking awkward. Charmain had the eyes of a feline, green and maple swirling together. If she happened to style her hair with enough gel that her hair appeared darker, her eyes would become hypnotic, commanding attention away from any and everything around. Charmain was a very well developed 14-year old. She flaunted about in short shorts and midriffs. Somedays, she'd sun bath on the porch in her bikini flipping through a magazine with her sun glasses about her head.


Workshop/Further Revision

Questions for revision include whose story it should be, Aunt Etta's, Charmain's or the narrator's? As of now, everyone seems to be competing to be the prime focus of the short. Is there a way to mesh or relate their stories beyond the fact of everyone sharing a summer together? Also, the title, I am well aware it sucks what to do with it is the question. I thought I might call it Aunt Etta, if it were her story, if it were Charmain's or the storyteller's I'm not so certain. Perhaps if I continue writing with Aunt Etta as the focus, at least that would take care of two things.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Who's the Big Kahuna (of Writing Programs)?

Up until recently when I decided that I wanted to pursue creative writing in graduate school, I had only a handful of writers and their respective styles in mind. And of that handful, only one writer and style did I actually see something of my own (or what I assume is my own) personal writing style. The other writers I think I am merely in awe of, or have been trained to consider the ground broken by way of their work, most of which are contemporaries.

When I began looking for a graduate program I wanted to attend a school with some Caribbean roots so I applied to the University of the West Indies in Cave Hill, Barbados for Cultural Studies. I am yet to hear from them. My recommendor sent them her letter over three times before they said they received it. It's been four, almost five months, and they have yet to get back to me with not so much as a yay or nay regarding my application for Fall 2009! And if you check the date on this post, its well into the fall season. Anyway, I choose Cultural Studies because I was drawn to the field of humanities and anthropology. I studied Religion in addition to Creative Writing as an undergrad and thought I could continue studying various Caribbean (indigenous) religious traditions in the process but none of this worked out. I still get upset thinking about it. (I'm going to write UWI an angry email, one among many I've written over the past few months, after I finish this post.)

Since my attempt at Cultural Studies did not work, I thought up the next best thing. I would research schools with Caribbean English faculty and apply there. So while compiling this list, I decided on Kwame Dawes, Lorna Goodison, and Merle Collins. I also had some more writers but of course they were based out of none other than the University of the West Indies, which I decided to have sit out this list of potential schools.

U.S. News and World Reports every year, without fail, comes out with a list of the top 50-100 colleges in the U.S. for anxious high school juniors racking themselves mad over SAT prep. It also rates the best graduate programs in law, medical, business, liberal arts, and even fine arts programs, but did you know that no where on any of those lists is a ranking for creative writing? It's not ranked under English or Fine Arts. So basically what the U.S. News and World Report are trying to tell you is, if you plan to write creatively (because journalism is damn sure listed) for a living, you can kiss their behinds.

So how does one come up with a good list of creative writing graduate programs. Well first off you do some soul searching because creative writing may very well lead you down a path of no money, and second you consider some professional writers in your own space, professors and graduate students for instance. They're in the boat you're longing to catch. Also, research to find out what sorts of writers and/or styles you like. I'm tempted to say that you should also consider aligning yourself to a movement, though I'm pretty sure movements are only considered so after the fact, not during; and what's more, its difficult from our vantage point to see differences in style and form as being even grander manifestations of thought working to polarize writers into distinct groups.

Either way, be glad now writers have their own forums, seasonal publications, which handle some of these needs. Consider The Atlantic which just came out with an issue of the U.S.'s top creative writing programs. My alma mater is ranked at number 2, (and in all honestly it's always very high on the list, and it makes me wonder why don't apply there and then I think, I've already been there, and I really really do need a change of scenery.) The Atlantic does a really great job because it separates the schools based on varying factors such as how well funded they are, if they're innovative, up-and-coming, most distinguished faculty, and notable alumni just to name a few categories. If you're interested just take the following link to the article/rank and learn more.

http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200708/mfa-programs#

Sunday, September 20, 2009

muse: undersexed, draft three

I think I may have had a breakthrough with a poem I've been dealing with for a year and a half now. I think I've managed to eliminate the vulgarity of the original poem while salvaging those phrases I really loved. I'm talking about none other than "Muse." I wrote about it a few days ago and the original version in all its sexdom is also noted further in the past somewhere on this blog. The extravagant format I originally placed it in, meant to somewhat mimic Opal Adisa's "The Painter, is gone here but nonetheless the poem stands for itself. (Also, this is something I will not be ashamed of getting critiqued by my recommender.) Enjoy!


FEMME FATALE


I come like relief from heat,
chilled breeze blown
through a shaft somewhere

beyond your head. Women know me
by my stance, legs so wide I can easy
fit their man inside. I hold my body like

the haughty bitch they think
I am, watching their man
suck the side of his mouth,

rub palms against jeans,

trying to keep the silhouette of my
nakedness from ballooning outside

his head or pushing out onto
the balls of his eyes. You see, I

exist to pluck passion from the stockpile of metal

it may be obscured in, to have men want to utter
the syllables of my name, sounds riding on an
upturned tongue, lips pursed as if awaiting a kiss.
Like summoning a demon, or pleading in prayer

that’s what wanting looks like. But I am just a
woman, my serpentine flesh is not the eve of nativity

or naiveté, but with it alone I’ve nuked saints

and gods, broken up and thrashed time, all

because men must have me. They never
lose my scent, their noses snuffing far away
bars scattered with my aura, the air – the way it

taste of ripe mango after I’ve left. I don’t need to see
them to know they do it. I can read the room’s Braille
in the cushion of my fingertips when I wave good night.


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What Do You Believe?

An exercise in my Poet's Companion book led to this, in my opinion, quite funny poem. The overall intent was to create an "authoritative" voice. The instructions were simple enough, they asked you to list six things you seriously believe in, then three silly or outrageous beliefs (which from the instructions, I wasn't clear whether these three silly or outrageous beliefs were things I had to seriously believe in or if they had to be silly or outrageous in general). Anyway, then you had to make another list of rules for yourself, four having to do with how you conduct yourself as a person and two having to do with you as a writer. Then another list with two statements of disbelief and three statements of things you would never do.

Coming up with things I seriously believed in was difficult until I had to brainstorm things I didn't believe in. I suddenly realized how many things I believed in and it made me feel good because sometimes I feel as though I'm always losing faith in things. The other day I admitted to a friend of mine that I don't believe in anything; it makes trying to create or write more difficult, empty and meaningless. I enjoyed the exercise for reminding me of the things I appreciate most, things that make me -- me.



BECAUSE MY YOUTH IS NO EXCUSE, I BELIEVE

in simplicity like hardness pushed up against softness, double

D-cups, black shorts and peep toe heels on five-foot ten

inch sable women; I believe in being one of the prettiest girls

in the nightclub, unsmiling for no apparent reason, vodka

and energy drink stinging the pink flesh of the throat,

laughing at jokes made by guys who buy me these drinks;

I believe in oxtail bones I can suck the gravy out of; I

believe in fucking strangers, giving them all my pinking

anger and leaving it to roost on their clammy flesh; I believe

in love at first sight the original instinct; I believe in

ex-boyfriends being imaginary, something I dreamed up

because I was lonely but have since outgrown; I believe in

subject areas where conscience is the prime matter at hand;

I believe in reading everything by Nikki Giovanni, making my

own phrases as memorable as "then i awoke and dug/ that if i

had natural/ dreams of being a natural/ woman doing what a

woman/ does when she's natural/ i would have a revolution;" I

believe in watching romantic comedies for a cry, waiting for the

aha! moment when the leads realize their love budding like fruit;

I believe in appearing as intelligent as possible without being

snooty, speaking only when my two cents is required; I believe in

day time talk shows with guests whose lives make normal people's

appear less reckless; I believe in many gods representing colors and

the elements of the periodic table; I believe in damn good music,

manipulated word sounds and melodies making out the language

of soul; I believe in taking time to be alone, walking aimless through

my neighborhood until I can think of nothing but the brilliant green skin

of the iguanas crossing in front of me; I believe in practicing cynicism

only when it's funny or when I'm telling my friends the truth; I believe in

cussing in the home tongue where feelings are as raw as they are

ugly; I believe in me like I believe in the possibility of glass breaking; I

believe in forgiveness I don't have to get on my knees.



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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Willing Back Grandmother, Draft Three

Okay so this would be draft three of this poem. I think, knock on wood, that this may be it. It's symmetrical, and not too sentimental to the point of redundant or afterschool special. I don't read it tomorrow and say otherwise though. Nonetheless, here it is.

WILLING BACK GRANDMOTHER

If I flew an airplane into interrupted space
and made a big enough dent in time, I could
get her back on Sunday greasing my scalp,
tearing through parted tufts of hair, fiercely
weaving the wildness together, whipping
my fingers with the wooden brush if I felt
the tender spots were she pulled too hard.

She said man cannot live by bread alone so
she'd make codfish and callaloo greens. But
who's going to make them for me now? Who's
going to wash them and steam them just so?
Lay them out in front of me? Cuss me when I
don't eat them? Lash me with a switch from the
cherry bush when I bawl I don't want to eat them?

I stand for long whiles watching her gravestone,
commanding her memory to rush out from
behind me and cut me with its eyes or slap
the openness of my cheek or fret when school's
long been out, and night has fell, watching the tip
of Belleview Heights Hill for a skinny brown girl
walking with her shadow towards the house.



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Friday, September 18, 2009

Willing Back Grandmother

The poem I'm going to share with you today has some issues and for that reason is still being revised. One thing that I do like about it is the ending; I love the ending image, it's clear slightly melancholy and it gets the point across. However, a problem that I'm having with it is that I believe the middle and perhaps even the first stanza are not doing enough. Without saying it, I want to say why the young girl misses her grandmother. I feel that the speaker has reason to be upset and yet she isn't, she's young after all and the grandmother is cruel for no reason. I want the middle stanza(s) (during more rewrites) to convey that there is some redeeming quality to the grandmother's anger, though I worry that my attempt to justify her anger will eventually be my downfall if I try to revise it with this in mind. I would also like to capture the young girl drawn to the grandmother despite her angry disposition. Either it is because she is young and knows no better or because she can't help loving her, probably the former because it's less sappy and/or corny. Either way I hope you enjoy it.


WILLING BACK GRANDMOTHER

if I flew an airplane into interrupted space
and made a big enough dent in time maybe god
would take me seriously so that I could get her back
on sunday greasing my scalp, braiding my hair, whipping
my fingers with the wooden brush if I felt the tender spots
where she pulled too hard.

she said man cannot live by bread alone. what else did he need i
wanted to ask? perhaps a side of codfish & callaloo greens
but who's going to make them for me? who’s going to wash them and
steam them just so? lay them out in from of me? cuss me when I don't eat them?
lash me with a switch from the cherry bush? if I don't eat them,
who's going to make me eat them?

i stand for long whiles watching her gravestone commanding her memory
to rush out from behind me and hug me, or cut me with its eyes, or teach me
the history she didn't want to tell me, or fret when school's long been out
and night has fell and watch the tip of belleview heights hill
for a skinny brown girl walking with her shadow towards the house.



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Teamwork & Muse...again

I have wonderful news to report. I found a place nearby that does poetry and spoken word, at a venue called The Goddess Store & Studio in Downtown Hollywood. They have open mic poetry this upcoming Sunday evening; and I'm really excited about it. Earlier I mentioned that it's crucial for any writer, beginning or professional, to have a group of writers to surround themselves with because it gives your work an audience that can one day become a movement. And isn't that what all writers are looking for, to be a part of something big enough to have its own theme?

The audience of writers is particularly important because if you're writing with the hopes of improving your craft, their opinions and tips can always steer you in the right direction. Poetry readings and open mics are not exactly the same thing as workshopping but they are a good place to find out what works and what doesn't in a particular piece. Primarily being a page poet, I value what the experience of having your work voiced can do for growth. It allows you to tell the story as you intend for it to be told, something that countless times doesn't always come across in poetry that you have to read and analyze for yourself. The audience responses, or silence, can gauge whether or not the message you are trying to convey is being relayed successfully.

I remember sharing my "Muse" poem with a group and wondering if they understood what was going on. The images were overtly and purposefully sexual, but heard out loud perhaps pushed the character's sexuality to a field completely out of bounds. I wondered whether the poem simply worked better on white space, one in which the reader could take their time following the story of the speaker. Or perhaps it was the way I presented the poem -- yes it was sexual, but was I bringing the character's energy, their raunchy and deviant persona to this reading? And the answer had to be no, I wasn't. I was embarrassed to voice this sort of vulgarity, especially in front of people who had come to know me a certain way. Perhaps all these things contributed to my failed attempt at sharing "Muse."

In an earlier post, I tried to tone down the sex in the poem, make it more grandma-friendly but something keeps telling me it's meant to be this way. I still struggle with the ending, something about the rhythm is off near the end. I think the words have too many syllables or something. I ought to try to do some scansion perhaps keeping the rhythm intact will help me tone it down a bit.
For more on The Goddess Store and Studio, check out their website http://www.goddessstore.com.
And more information about poetry events at this location, check out http://www.meetup.com/378.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Sprung. "Firsts" Drafting.

I have another version of this poem entitled "Firsts" on this blog, but after consultation with fellow writers and some re-reading, I've realized this may be the better draft. I don't know, you be the judge.


SPRUNG

You think because he calls me up from abysmal wells and runs wayward

that he’ll always be lost in songs he can’t escape living in or places

he can’t pronounce, that he is master over me. But you don’t see the way

he drops his arms, knocks back his hardness when he is faced with me.

He wishes he could wring his skin of me the way he does beautiful

women too faint to be heard over his wolfing nights. I give to him the

pieces of me I can bear to lose, the openings and the parts already dead.

He imagines me a hot water unguent bottled beside him. He seeks me

out like the money he’s been missing, knows I’m like grass, always a

few staggered steps away. I reach into his wood hollow and pull out prayer,

grate it into his bicep with my razorblade of tongue. He gives me powers

to hear his time crackling and sparking pretty like ember. Poor thing,

watches a room arouse itself with smoke wanting to savor, his mouth

open and drying, its wetness wishing to God it were steam.




Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Revising Firsts Part 2

I last left off saying that I would try to do a stream-of-consciousness write for the speaker of "Firsts," and what I realized in the process is that the she, let's call her J (I thought about the way all my literary examples last time had their main character female with first names beginning with the letter J and thought maybe that's a formula for a good romantic tale, or not), is not as meek or as passive as the original draft will have you believe. Writing in J's voice, I found that she holds her appeal as a covert weapon, one not easily discerned for the outside. Her character is so much more alive and interesting than it had been before that it seems to betray her age, which when I wrote the first draft I imagined to be a teenager. But then when I think about it, isn't it in your teens that your chest must be puffed out the most? When you are most insecure of yourself but so sure about decisions you've already made? Perhaps I was living in a cliched idea of how a young girl losing her virginity ought to feel. I ought to know better, my own lost of virginity episode was as anti-climatic as most, but what was most significant about it was how sure I was in my decision and even in the process. It's a sort of blind confidence that's harder to maintain now that I've matured, a-hem all-around, that makes decision-making a much more pain-staking task than ever before.

The next step in this process will probably be how to marry the images of the first draft to the voice of the speaker. I'm starting to hate my first draft, I wonder if that's progress.


You think because he calls me up from abysmal wells that he is master over me,

but you don’t see the way he levels his arms, knocks back his hardness

when he is faced with me. He wishes he could wring his skin of me the way

he does other women too faint to be heard over his wolfing nights. I give

to him the pieces of me I can bear to lose. He imagines me hot water.

Truth is I know his name better than he knows his own. I reach into his wood

hollow and pull out prayer, grate it into his bicep with my razorblade of tongue.

I hear his time crackling and sparking pretty like ember. He seeks me out like

the sleep he’s been missing, knows I’m like grass, always a few staggered steps

away. You think because he runs wayward that he’ll always be lost in songs

he can’t escape living in or places he can’t pronouce. Poor thing, watches

a room arouse itself with smoke wanting to savor, his mouth open and

drying, its strange wetness wishing to God it were steam.



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Saturday, September 5, 2009

Revising Firsts

"Firsts" is about a young couple coming together for a night. My recommender noted that while the poem is alive with good imagery, there is still a lot left unsaid with regard to what is ultimately at stake for the characters, specifically the young girl in the story and her fascination with the "he" involved. She asks, "Who is the 'he,' and why is this interaction with him significant to the speaker? Can this poem become more than just the description of an evening tryst?"

What is at stake for both characters? Romeo and Juliet have their fueding families, Janie and Teacake have their community, Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester have their past looming like the present. But what do my characters have in the way of their love? While the beginning of the poem begins as though this is somewhat of an illicit meeting with the girl sneaking out of her house, it doesn't continue that momentum, the pressure of being caught, if that in fact is what is at stake, is not kept up through out; the two meander through the town without a care. So perhaps what is at stake is not them being caught but what effect this particular night will have on the lives of both of them, or maybe just the girl, since she's the speaker.

In the original version of this poem, the girl wanted "his innocence in her memory forever" though because these were the last few lines, I was blasted for it. Too abstract, especially for the last lines. It seems in this current and past version that my concentration on images over what needs to be explained...Explanation I stumble here. I've been taught not to do it, let the images speak for the scene. Perhaps the images I'm giving aren't explaining what I want them to explain.

All this considered, to begin revision I 'll do a stream-of-consciousness write in the persona of the speaker, to get to the core of her feelings towards the guy in the poem.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Untitled (for T.J. Nicholson)

You are so much more than my feeble words can say. So much more beautiful, so much more inspiring, so much more effulgent, so much more delicious than my feeble words can say.



i've always wanted eyes the shape of almonds

because they are poetic & romantic

& to me an analogy redolent of nature.

but mine are small,

each eye one perfect half

of a perfectly formed almond,

each concaving pupil as symmetrical as ocean shoreline to sky.

i wonder if my quinep-like eyes

breaking through their pliant slits of skin covering

will always be squinting. if they are as open as they can be.


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Revising BabyGirl Part 2

Is this a "finished" product? I do like this draft much more than the first but I wonder if the last two stanzas appear as though they're competing to be the last words. The current last line was the last line of the last draft which I decided to move down in order for the new entries, stanzas 4-6, to have the best possible placement. Still, line 12 seems to command a statement worthy of the last line. In order to combat its finality, I added a "just" after the refrain, I wonder though if it is enough or if I ought to consider shuffling some more or simply scrapping one of the stanzas all together.

Also I pared down the formality, resorting to non-capitals and ampersands. I wanted to create the feeling of this girl's experiences being inconsequential, expendable, and easily forgotten in the form of the poem as well as the language. Maybe it's over kill, maybe it's not. In either case, it is all in the name of re-visioning and as a result the poem is definitely toting a new air.

Also, I mulled and I picked at possible title ideas. I tried to pick out a nice word from the poem but I thought doing this would give too much privilege of one image over another. Then I thought about what the poem was about and I immediately came up with the token words: abandonment, melancholy, sadness, longing, lost. They were helpful and kept me from teetering too far off the end finding a title. I thought first okay in the poem there is a lost girl. Lost Girl, whack. Okay, I thought, what about an inversion, Girl Lost, better but still eh. Then I thought more about the poem; the girl wasn't lost yet, what is really going on is her slow deterioration. So I thought okay, Approaching Lost. It is still a little if-y but it is definitely a step up from the previous title, Baby Girl, gag I know.

Without further ado, I give you draft numero dos.

approaching Lost

let's say i'm still bow-legged & broad-backed, foot bottom hard
from dragging in the okra-colored garbage bin to the back;

let's say i'm a gash that for too long has gone undressed,
gangster pathogens have readied me for labor so i'm paying;

let's say the amphetamines you gave me keep my teeth from
rattling & my bones from turning cold on my sheetless bed;

let's say i'm forgetting where to find the planets you say give
absolution of typhus & words like the color of your hallowed dog;

let's say i tell time by the number of bowls i've stirred, dusty corn
meal & milk residue live in the ionosphere of my salty fore arms;

let's say the tears i get diving into clay bases are stigmata,
& my hair is like a peach i saw you bite into when you were here.

let's just say i'm losing you pulling up alongside, asking me to come
with your sun-diluted eyes, saying i'm pretty, asking my name.

Revising BabyGirl

Yesterday, I received an email from one of my recommenders who is also a former poetry instructor about the poems I sent her to review. I sent her a copy of "Baby Girl", "I Don't Know Why", "Willing Back My Grandmother", and "Firsts", two of which, "Baby Girl" and "Firsts", are available somewhere on this blog (check the archives tab under August). The two already on this blog are the ones I am going to revise publicly. (This is going to be quite embarrassing. The inner workings of revision is normally done in private, it's like changing clothes, the fanfare of technique and skill are stripped to rawness and every amatuer or paltry verbiage is exposed. These lines mock so-called talent and skill before you finally, short of breath, exhausted unearth right fits, form, style.)

Of all the poems, she believed the one that was most interesting was "Baby Girl" which details a young girl lost. It is a rather awkward poem that I wrote haphazardly and rather quickly. She says, "Of all the poems, this one is the strongest. What I like about it is your use of language, which is very alive and jumpy and inventive. I also like the specificity of the imagery—you’re really showing me the action here, as opposed to telling me, which is a trap you fall into in some of the earlier poems. " She suggests adding four more lines to the poem, so two more couplets. She also suggests changing the title which I agree with. I hated it when I wrote it but I figured I needed something to catalogue it with. In the meantime, the following lines are ones I'm considering. Possible titles to come.

let's say the bulbousness below my breasts smells of hot sugar
cane you'd hand me, the length of your arm, veiny & crude;

let's say i tell time by the number of bowls i've stirred, dusty cornmeal
& milk residue living in the ionisphere about my salty fore arms (like skin);

let's say i forgot where to find the planets you say give ablution
of typhus, & words like your name & the color of your hallowed dog.

let's say i stopped lying about the scrapes i got sliding into bases being stigmata,
& my hair is almost like a peach i saw you bite into when you were here.

Monday, August 31, 2009

new poem: insomnia

INSOMNIA



each raised pore is a spirit's home


there are many living in my face




when i can't sleep

i know spirits are gathered over me.

they vie for my patient ears to hear

their stories too melancholy for the daylight,



my skin picks them up

from the places i've travelled

and refuses to put them down.



my eyes have always been dull,

each fidget with the pillows

or shift to the other side,

they hold their calloused tongues. i cry for them

in the same way i would cry for myself.

soft.restless.stoned.



i envy them -- but only in the superficial ways i'm supposed to

not because they are like me,

wanting to share a story but with no one to listen--

being elegantly free

in the same space with me

as if i was the Free

they are trying to escape to.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Poem in the Shop

Not so special treat today, I have a poem that is currently in the shop, meaning it's untitled and unfinished. In the following weeks I'll try to workshop it and see what evolves. In the meantime, enjoy the appetizer.


a brown man like a boy toddles forth in my thoughts
eyes so wide they see only me
i am remembering
things he said
(but forgetting places he touched) and wondering
where i stopped loving him –
was it in jamaica when i saw men give of themselves like fruit trees
or was it in jersey where the concrete walks
resound so hard against timberland boots they make rain come down?

i want to call the sort of love he gave denial
but his fishlike eyes say he knew no better,
that i am the one mistaking fat cherubs for lovers.

where are the fingers to rewind my lukewarm-satirical
romance?
in this performance i am the shrewd to be tamed with bright words
like plucked strings like wind chimes tingling (because) when he comes
he is like the wind
as hard or as cool as he wants to be

but no. it's like pinching. when i think of him. a pain so sly it waits
to burn you.




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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Not Reading

I am over him - my legs pinning his own in one of the awkward

positions that cars force them in. He places his hand shyly

on my haunches and I turn to him, his eyes - behind his thin frames -

the only light in the coal-color of night and I snatch off his baseball cap

and top myself off with it. He only stares at me, the way you would

something unfamiliar. I lean my head on the crook of his neck, I want him

to feel that I want him, though I don't. He makes no more moves. (my skin

under his palm. warm. the whiteness of the windows. stubbled legs. toughness

of clothes.) I reach for his hand, slipping my long fingers

between his. I admire our hands together, or maybe just my own. I wish

he would place a finger or two between my legs instead. "You know,

I really like you," he whispers on my neck and I squeeze his hand.

"I like you too," I soothe back; meanwhile my vagina sighs.


This material is copyrighted. Small quotes or citations are permissible with the permission of the author. Any attempt to reproduce the above material will indefinitely result in lawsuit.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

We Live Up Here


When you are an immigrant or the child of immigrants, there rests on your heart and thoughts what must be done in the name of dual loyalties. The home and new country do not war for affections, only space in your memory, space in your creations. Lenelle Moise is one such poet who finds that the integration of Haiti and the United States into her pieces elevates her work to a whole new level. Originally born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, her family migrated to Massachusetts while she was young enough to remember and later recall its impact. Primarily a slam poet, she finds her background has made her pieces more definitive. Her poetry spans topics like Haitian politcs, pomosexuality, feminism, migration, and much more.

I first heard of Moise from Word Warriors: 35 Women Leaders in the Spoken Word Revolution, which I picked out while shopping for books for class. In it, she details a story of how she was first introduced to poetry through her uncle, Sergo. Sergo is described as being "cruelly handsome, a bit of a philanderer and slightly effeminate...blend[ing] three different women's perfumes to create a potent, aura-outling signature scent." Sergo performed his poetry in Creole for their church congregation. Though services were performed in French, the "standard" or formal language, Sergo delivered his poems in the langue-lakay, or home-tongue.

Lenelle continued to write, taking the advice of her somewhat eccentric uncle. He later disowned her when she admitted she was a pomosexual. Despite that, she still credits her uncle for showing her that the marriage of words to performance is as natural as able-bodied lovers.
"If [Sergo] could see me now - one hand punching the air with my fierce, feminine, feminist fist - perhaps his heart would sing. If he could hear me now, singing protests songs in our langue-lakay, I think my crazy, troubled uncle would be so proud. "

"we live up here" is one of my favorite poems by her, hopefully you will enjoy it as well. To find out more about Moise's work (she's also a playwright and performance artist), check out her website, http://www.lenellemosie.com/ She also has a blog of her own, subscribe to it, http://www.lenellemosie.blogspot.com/


we live up here by: Lenelle Moise

roxy has a secret and i know it.

roxy--fresh
from the dominican republic--
lives on the first floor
and me--a haitian talking
american-- i live
on the third, she's twelve
years old
and i'm nine but we're friends cuz
neither of us is allowed
to go outside. there is no play

for the daughters of immigrants
who rest under project ceilings.
we are our parents'
only investments.
in their dreams, we birth
second-story houses in the suburbs, strong
fences and theft-less streets, jewish
neighbors walking well-groomed
dogs, graffiti-less
two-car garage doors.

there is no room
in our parents' fantasies
for the brown
folks of our dreary daily lives
who work or loiter
or die around us. who don't know
coconuts and guava, mango
and kenepas. who don't muse over
lost motherlands and ancestral languages
the way we do.

here we are kept
away from the dark
men who grab
their nuts, blare
boom-box blasphemy and deal
medicinals that never heal. i say,
there are great expectations
and no play
for the daughters
of immigrants.

so when roxy and i get in from school
or church, we poke protected
heads out of our respective dense,
scraped windows and watch
hood rat games of tag, ambulance
arrivals, dss departures, welfare
check elation, various evictions
and arrests, we watch our people
who are not our people
from the safetry of our homes.

roxy's english is still
thick with spanish
and mine's so thoroughly bred
in cambridge, massachusetts, that we avoid
speaking to each other. instead we communicate
by lifting bored brows, frowning or rolling
our eyes, sometimes she asks me
what curse
words mean -- slut, asshole, screw --
and when i tell her, sometimes she smiles.

but most times roxy hates me
cuz i am her
mirror: trapped and also brown.
i throw down
the drawings i make of her.
she winks
up at me, fellating
bananas
and in this way, we
are close.

roxy has a secret and i know it:
while her parents are asleep or out waging
their undocumented minimum,
roxy has a white boy
climbing
in and out of her
first-floor window.
he's irish and athletic, in high
school and cute. he
brings beer.

roxy sticks sepia
arms out -- pulls
him through her plastic pane,
into her prison
which i imagine is painted pink and stinky
with perfume, cluttered
with neglected porcelain dolls, purple
diaries plastered with stickers of fake
locks and keys
that probably never get used.

for hours, i wait, missing
the top of roxy's head
as i imagine moans and firm
bananas going mushy
on her thighs, inside. eventually,
it is time for him to leave and i spy
his lean body withdrawing
from her bedroom, his tongue
fast-knocking the roof
of her tongue. she says,

te amo and he whispers
tambien like
tom-ben and she giggles
like the girls do
in the movies and me and roxy
rest rapunzel-like
elbows on our sill--palms
crushing the faint chin--hairs
wewill later pluck to feel
more american. we become

women as we study
her boyfriend's flat butt, fleeing
our end
of this broken world, back
to his house in the 'burbs.

one day my mother says, i'm so glad
we live up here. and that's how
i guess roxy's secret
is out. i hear noises
through her window
now: an aging mother hailing
mary loudly, a father
weeping then breaking
things, beating her.
and when she finally hangs her head

out of the window again i say, hi
over and over then ask where
is your boyfriend? to which she replies,
screw you, asshole, and i think
slut but dare not pitch it.

these days, roxy wears
the sweatshirts the missing
boyfriend gave her
to conceal the swell of her
belly, these days, roxy
wears headphones, repeating
the standard inflections she hears, trying
to sound like the new
american duaghter
she's expecting in the fall

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Malapropism: Good Poets Suffer, the Greats Lie


Today on poems.com the featured poems, "The Good Son" and "Ocean," were from the late Jason Shinder. His poetry is frank, and slightly reminiscent of Modernist imagism though slightly less patchwork. He died of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and leukemia. From the outside, he seemed to ignore the magnitude of his illness, choosing to spend his summer on a writing retreat in Greece rather than starting chemotherapy. After his death, his friends uncovered that he dealt with his illness through his work using it to work out his denial and other feelings. He was quoted saying, "Cancer is a tremendous opportunity to press your face up against the glass of your mortality."
"The Good Son" is my favorite of the two because the feelings expressed are much more frank than what you would expect from the speaker. By this I mean that the speaker's voice and tone denotes someone who is normally diffident, especially regarding their true feelings. The poem serves as a confessional for him, something he is not supposed to say -- that his own pain is not secondary but above that of another's.

For more on Shinder's life and poetry check out poets.org and this New York Times article, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/28/magazine/28lives-t.html.

The Good Son
If God had come to me and said,
if you are willing to forget your self

you will find the cure for heart attacks and compose
the greatest symphonies,

I wouldn't have been sure of my answer.
Because there wouldn't have been enough

attention to my suffering. And that's unforgivable.
But I keep on forgiving myself

with God's love. And it's strange I should say this
because my mother died of a heart attack

after months in a hospital room full of a silence
that lodged itself like a stone in her throat.

And she thought I was wonderful
and would do anything for her.



Ocean

Goodbye again. Say there is a little song in my head

and because of it I can't sleep or change my mind
about the future. Now the song runs all the way down

to the beach where I sit as if the sky

were my room now. No one, not even you,
can hear me singing. Not even me.

As if the music rose from the mouth of the ocean.

No mouth. Like rain before it reaches us.
Like wind twirling dresses on the clothesline.

Who has no one has the history of the ocean.

Lord, give me two more days. So that
the last moments may be with someone.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Truth The Living Know

The poem I am sharing with you today is inspirited by Anne Sexton’s “The Truth the Dead Know”. This poem however is different in that it focuses on life, as a result of a new born, as opposed to death. I followed Sexton’s structure of a four-lined four stanza poem, my own exceptions being that my second and fourth lines have an extra, tabbed line. Also my own does not follow a specific rhyme scheme of abab/bcbc/efef/ghgh.

Sexton detailed two particular events in her poem, her relationship with her significant other and a funeral procession, presumably that of her parents. The weight of the procession drove her to recounting her relations with her lover. I believe this is done in large part to parallel the intense sadness of the lost of a loved one. In talking about her relationship with her lover, she is able to build up the same intensity through another related though different emotion, love.
My poem seeks to express the immense joy of a new child by displaying the intensity of a relationship between two lovers. I’ve often heard people say that raising or caring for children is taste of divine responsibility and power. Keeping this in mind, I wanted to bring the image back down to earth – so to speak – and acknowledge that human capability is often far beneath those of their aspirations. And finally, the last two lines are meant to be alluding back to Robert Frost’s “After Apple-Picking”, as I felt the point of human limitation was best exemplified with this image.

I've included a copy of both Sexton's and Frost's poems below my own.


The Truth the Living Know

Here, he’s here, I hear my mother yelp repeatedly about the blank-walled hospital,
Refusing to acknowledge the weighty sadness of this initiation,
Allowing him to be ogled and photographed like a first place trophy.
It’s June, time for soggy soil, fermenting air – I’m weary of its heat.

We drive slowly – and quietly, taking the main streets instead. I knead
My spirit in the slighted rays flashing on and off my russet skin through
the window; in the same way, your own hands press into my tenderness
in the late nights and early mornings. In every country people die,
and ones like our new are washed out to replace them.

My lover/best friend, did you know that our unintelligible sounds unlock
Ethereal mysteries – is a barbaric, adlibbed paean susurrating purples and
Autumn colors into the pitch black of our bedroom? With you, I could never
be alone. Our bodies are unfixed currency in a falling economy.

So what can be said of the living? They push hard up against soft bodies,
In their most vulnerable states. They are more human than they are divine,
Unwinding themselves until there is no more, or until there is another. They
Refuse the curse of life fiercely – arms too short to grasp
a pristine new apple high up in the tree.



The Truth the Dead Know by: Anne Sexton

For my mother, born March 1902, died March 1959
and my father, born February 1900, died June 1959

Gone, I say and walk from church,
refusing the stiff procession to the grave,
letting the dead ride alone in the hearse.
It is June. I am tired of being brave.

We drive to the Cape. I cultivate
myself where the sun gutters from the sky,
where the sea swings in like an iron gate
and we touch. In another country people die.

My darling, the wind falls in like stones
from the whitehearted water and when we touch
we enter touch entirely. No one's alone.
Men kill for this, or for as much.

And what of the dead? They lie without shoes
in their stone boats. They are more like stone
than the sea would be if it stopped. They refuse
to be blessed, throat, eye and knucklebone.



After Apple-Picking by: Robert Frost

My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there's a barrel that I didn't fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn't pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it's like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.

Legends

Legends spend autumn nights naked
bowled in wetness dreaming a fretful freedom
Pinching their lips on a stale slice of American pie
awaking hours before dawn hungry
sweat sopped in the crotch
Why don’t they tell us legends are born and reborn in muddy waters
drink until their eyes favor opals
tread roads alone -- dust/ash trailing behind them
(If legends knew their fathers like they knew their mothers perhaps they’d just be saviors)
G-d sees fit for their deeds to live longer than the gyre of forever
Legends follow the route etched in their palms
There is a metaphorical prison they’re running from
a broken iron fetter the ever-present reminder of cemented untruths and delayed deaths
Years after school teachers with the softest hands and the brightest eyes
will call their agoraphobia and mania
simply beautiful



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Friday, August 14, 2009

Love Sirens

What they do not tell you is that love is not different.
It is like any other emotion that at any moment like
white smoke passes into nothing right before your
eyes. But it's a feeling, unlike the others, that is quickly
missed. Months spent scouring love's residue off places
where it's hardest - the elbows and behind the knees -
are easy forgotten. The anger that comes sporadic like
a metallic rain shower pelleting its heaviness where
there is none. Moments where quiet makes you mad.
If you lay in bed alone, love memories crawl up beside
you - fingering your better judgement and fondling your
will to remember pain - with songs that sound a lot like
the pleads and promises of former lovers.



This material is copyrighted. Small quotes or citations are permissible with the permission of the author. Any attempt to reproduce the above material will indefinitely result in lawsuit.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Wow...Nicolas Guillen


Yesterday I shared a contemporary with you, but today we're going back a bit. I became aware of Nicolas Guillen from The Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse. Guillen is an Afro Cuban poet(1902-1987), he is best remembered as the poet laureate of Cuba. Though I know very little about his background, I do know that he was a member of the Communist Party and his poetry was often infused with issues of social and political concern. While the issue of politics is a heavy handed subject, Guillen's poetry is never overwrought by it. He is very clever when it comes to critique, and image construction.
Most of what I have read by Guillen is translated and for that perhaps I am at a disadvantage. Translations provide definition and general meaning, but what they cannot do is carry the sounds and connotations of a language's history. It's what separates it from another. Still what I have read by Guillen is nothing short of extremely well thought out, and brillant. Two of my favorites, incuded below, come from his collection of poetry the The Great Zoo translated by Robert Marquez.


The Usurers

Ornithomorphous monsters
in wide black cages,
the usurers.

There is the White Crested (Great Royal Usurer)
and the Buzzard Usurer, of the open plains,
and the Common Torpedo, that devours its offspring,
and the ash-colored Daggertail,
that devours its parents,
and the Vampire Merganser,
that sucks blood and flies over the ocean.

In the forced leisure
of their enormous black cages,
the usurers count and recount their feathers
and lend them to one another for a fee.


Hunger

This is hunger. An animal
all fangs and eyes.
It cannot be distracted or deceived.
It is not satisified with one meal.
It is no content
with a lunch or a dinner.
Always threatens blood.
Roars like a lion, squeezes like a boa,
thinks like a person.

The specimen before you
was captured in India (outskirts of Bombay)
but it exists in a more or less savage state
in many other places.

Please stand back.