I love where I work… @chipublib #booknerdsunite #bookpartybus #literacyonwheels
The first time you read a new poem it’s like a first dance. You’ve spent so much time choreographing the steps, practicing the movements, pauses, turns. You’ve built an experience between the two of you that now brings you to this moment, ready to present yourselves publicly.
You have the audience anticipating what’s to come, a mixed crowd, coming with their own, varied understanding of anything and this reading. Maybe this poem is the first poem your read, or maybe it’s the last of your 10-12 min. slot. Maybe the audience already has an idea of what it is you have left to say.
Watching the dynamics change as you read, either new or old poems, is always intriguing. There are some that you know have tuned out many poems or poets ago, attempting still to appear alert and interested in the way you’ve just played with “space” or serial poems. And when you’re the last poet to read, you feel the weight of having to carry yourself and your poems through. Order, here, matters.
Recently, for me, this was exactly the case. As the last poet to read at a reading, I was charged with “bringing it home.” During the intermission I shifted and shifted and shifted my poems’ order, wanting to live up to my duty as The Last Poet to Read. Do I read the poem that ends “snapped broken on the ground” last or “touching everything that breaks” last? Both are great closing-liners, but the poems have such a tonal differences. Decisions. Light / heavy? Heavy / light? Is the light poem really light? Go with what you know. Go with what you know.
In the end, I decided to end with the rookie poem, the one that could go either way. It was a new style and a new tone, a venture into some sort of humor. Never considering myself to be humorous by nature, let alone poetically, I didn’t know how this one would fair. Leading up that moment I could tell the audience was ready for something to shift in my reading. The old standbys were not producing the expected reactions or moving of spirits. What would this last poem do? What if they don’t find it even awkwardly funny? Nonetheless, I pulled it out as I finished reading the poem before it and we started our dance.
The first few lines came, a few, small chuckles followed. The third and fourth line flowed out and then more laughs came, surprising and genuine. I continued to read and felt the air become lighter. I was breathing again. Who knew I could write a poem that could make others laugh?! Certainly not me. Did I discover some unknown crawlspace within myself filled with dusted, un-mined treasures? Maybe. Or maybe it was something else, something very simple. Maybe it was that this audience and this poem had their first dance. This was dance that didn’t belong to or, in some ways, even included me. Poems, whether new or old, are always a first dance with whomever is hearing them for the first time. During a reading, poems, whether new or old, are serious of first dances with whoever hears them for the first time and are touched or moved in some way. These dances, ballroom-like, happen simultaneously and you as the poet are somewhere in the middle of it all as observer and orchestrator.
I tell my students that we do not choose to be poets, but that we are born poets. We have born with the purpose of telling the stories of those who cannot tell them themselves. Our words should touch, heal, or change something in someone. And so our poems are never meant to stay with us as our partners, but meant to go out to others and fall in rhythm where and with whom they are supposed to. I know this — but in the moments when I can actually see it happening, watch something move or shift in the air, it is so magical. This reading showed me a new way that my poems can move, how they do move, and who they move with. I am so exited to take the news and run. Who knows though, the next time I read it, that finale poem may trip all of over the feet of the lady in the third row constantly adjusting her glasses or lose sync with the guy by the bar drinking his 3rd PBR Tallboy. Yet and still, I know that at lease one time that poem danced harmoniously with someone, and will do so again.
You and I have been estranged for far too long and I miss you. You remain with me, but as some shadow confined to a corner, turning only when called. I’ve been selfish, expected you to expect to know your place as supplier, misunderstood your true purpose and lost sight of my love for you. I was afraid of you and your power, the unconditional nature of your being. Your proximity to me made me uneasy every time I questioned whether or not I was capable of fulfilling our potential. My faith in you wavered and for that I am sorry. There can be no relationship if there is no trust.
I lost my way and have had trouble finding it back to you. So much has happened and perhaps I’ve built those capsules of moments and years around you to quiet your voice of expectations. I knew you were there. You were always there. You were close enough to call and I knew you would come, prepared to give. I rarely, if ever, replenished you in the way that was necessary, that demonstrated my love and appreciation for you. How disingenuine of me! There were times when I asked you to show yourself, a servant treasure to my art. You gave me what you could and reserved the rest.
I’ve neglected you for far too long. It is time to make things right. I will set aside my fears and learn to listen, to hear you and to trust you. Who knows me better than you?
Please forgive me. Stay.
A. Van Jordan! #printersrowlitfest
Patricia Smith story time. #ltab
Within the first 10 days of this new year, I’ve come across a few blogs, statuses and tweets of those “resolving” themselves for 2013. I, myself, have often been one of those people, demanding newfound and cast-aside undertakings where I will be a better lover, better friend, better bodied, and most importantly, a better writer. I do admit that I often completely and utterly fail at holding up my end of the bargain. Sorry self.
That is why this year I am not going to talk about it, but be about it. For those of you who know me well I have the tendency to talk myself and your ears through my thought process until I have finally discovered my point. However, times are a-changing. I always thought that if I talked to myself and anyone else about what I was going to do I would be bound to follow through. After all, I told the world and now the world had expectations of me and I didn’t want to disappoint the world. This theory rarely worked in my favor. Not in 2012, and honestly not since finishing grad school in 2008. This year will be different, though. The act of doing will not manifest itself through the act of talking. If I’m going to call myself a writer then i’m going to have to just shut up and put out.
But first, here’s what I confess before the court of writer-dom:
1. I haven’t finished a single poetry manuscript.
2. I probably wrote a total number of 10 new poems in the past year, give or take a few.
3. I can tell you what happened on the last seasons of Atlanta Housewives, New York Housewives, Flipping Out, Basketball Wives, Chef Roble, T.I. and Tiny, and so many more I am nearly ashamed to admit, than I can about the latest books or music.
4. I often doubt my writing.
5. I compare myself to much to those I know who have been and are being published.
6. My biggest fear with regard to writing is discovering that I will always be a mediocre writer and even worse, realize writing was never meant to be my true talent.
So here it is, all laid out. From this point forward I will resolve to push through the fear and doubt. I may not always make it through the other side, but I will push through. At the end of 2013 I won’t dwell on all of the things I didn’t complete or compare my successes to my losses, but cut myself some slack and CELEBRATE all of the things I did accomplish and things I accomplished that I didn’t the year before, beginning with this blog.
For the first time I’m not going yap about all the things I want to do, but just fucking do them and not punish myself the way I have for so long for not being where I thought I should be by now.
So hello 2013. That’s all. Hello…
Every writer needs his/her own support group, a group of people who get you. I love my friends to death and they are very supportive, but there is nothing like being around people who completely understand why you froze in place as Yusef Komunyakaa walked by you like he was Denzel, D'Angelo, and Maxwell in one, or even know who he is and why you would feel such a way because poets your favorite poets are your celebrities. Oh, and you need them to help figure out if this line is working or what the hell it is you’re trying to say in this poem by them time a reader’s reached the end, stuff like that.
I mean, I haven’t sat amongst a group of writers and thoroughly gone through a poem since my last day of workshop my last semester of grad school. I am not a disciplined writer. I cannot write 30 poems in 30 successive days. Now, I always have the noblest intention of doing so, but it doesn’t happen. Don’t confuse this as my resignation of my ability. I’m simply saying it has not yet happened and I forgive myself.
I really missed being held accountable for providing a poem to someone for something. I’ve tried to be held accountable to myself and well that hasn’t turned about to be as productive as I’d hoped it would. So I decided to get a bunch of writer friend and writers I admired together for a writing group. They reached out some of their writer friends and we met for the first time yesterday afternoon. The cool thing is that I was able to meet writers in the city I’d never met before and it was the same of others. I love when stuff like that happens. New friends are cool.
So, my house was filled with 6 poets who are all talented and amazing individuals. We dished about poetry, the poets we’re afraid to admit we hate, the current state of poetry, MFA programs, and eventually got around to reading and critiquing each of our poems. Then we commenced to dishing again for those who came late. What was slotted for 2 hours ended up being 4 hours and it was 4 hours of poetry goodness over Tostitos and Sweet Tarts.
I have a whole new motivation to create new work and am inspired by the work of my friends. Simple as that. My writing group is pretty much dope.
One of the books I obsessively gathered amongst the stack I fished out when I discovered where the Harold Washington Library was hiding all the contemporary poetry (and here I thought they just weren’t getting with it!) was Divide These by Kaskia Hamilton. I was unfamiliar with this poet and randomly picked up her book in pursuits of exposing myself to poets I have yet to read.
I did what I always do when trying to determine if a book is worth the potential late fees I will most likely accrue on my library card. I closed my eyes, flipped to a random page, began reading whatever poem was destined for me, and from there determined if the book in my hands would come to be a newfound love. Seeing as how I’m sitting here under my cozy covers and typing this blog, you can very well guess the outcome of my latest journey through the library stacks.
So, Divide These thus far: Dream-like. Phantom-ish. Real. Excitingly puzzling.
The first poem, “The Weight of the Inside of the Body,” is the welcome mat of the book. It does exactly what the title might imply and grounds me in what I am still not yet sure of. But I know that I know where I am although I don’t know exactly where I am, but wherever I am I am supposed to be here, ready, and standing before a doorway skirted with mists that will open up and invite me into its wonder and mystery. My curiosity will get the better of me and I will be fated to indulge that curiosity, enter in, and – .
Yeah, it really is like that. And I love it!
What I love so far about these poems is that it is just enough abstraction and narrative. I do miss the days where poetry took some figuring out, some inspection and deconstruction to discover its meaning, and this book carries elements of that. Ed Roberson once said that while LANGUAGE poetry appears abstract in nature, there is always a thread that can be followed throughout the poem that serves as its spine, its trail of bread crumbs to guide you through. (Now, those may not be his exact words, but you get the gist.) Hamilton’s poems carry this disposition, but also provide us with images we can grab a hold of and call out by name. When you feel like you may be treading off the path, she pulls you back in and reminds you that you are anything but lost.
Anyhoo, as I said, I’ve just begun reading it and will most likely have more to concrete ideas to share. However, it’s late and I’ve started to ramble. I’ll be sure to tell you more as I read and actually post up some excerpts so that all of this will make more sense.
Goodnight, Dear Friends.