A Poem for #TheSealeyChallenge

9334DF89-B46C-44C1-B8A9-D40934D8AF95

Cento: Dear River Dear Creek Dear Damned

 

To answer your question, yes
My people are the people

Por el East River y el Bronx
My empire made me

Look out, but don’t mistake it for forward
When the ocean comes to harvest

The green drapery is like a sheet of water
In the afternoon I see myself at night

This is my box of twilight and inside 
No one knew or at least

It is possible to rest here
The cicadas are so loud and large

Each sun sinks itself
Wears white & turns

Dawn again. And this is what we wake to
The sky black with swans—

                Okay fuck it, I’m on one.


*****

This is a cento of first lines from poems I read during #TheSealeyChallenge in 2020 and 2021. In a couple of cases, I changed the verb numbers to agree with the nouns. For the challenge, which was started by the poet Nicole Sealey, you read a collection of poetry a day for the month of August. I've done it a couple of years, and it's super fun. Starting August 1st, follow the hashtag #TheSealeyChallenge on social media, and get all kinds of great reading suggestions. More information here.

The Poetry Friday roundup for July 29 takes place at the blog of Marcie Flinchum Atkins. She's all about #TheSealeyChallenge, too!

 

Sources for the cento

Title: Kelly, Donika. “Hymn.” The Renunciations, Graywolf, 2021, p. 47. 

Line 1. Choi, Franny. “Afterlife.” Soft Science, Alice James, 2019, p. 20.

  1. Wilkinson, Caki. “Obstinate Gospel.” The Survival Expo, Persea, 2021, p. 49. 
  2. García Lorca, Federico. “Oda a Walt Whitman.” Poeta en Nueva York. 1940. La Moderna, 2018, p. 143.
  3. Akbar, Kaveh. “My Empire.” Pilgrim Bell, Graywolf, 2021, p. 24. 
  4. Hunt, Erica. “Instructions for the next chapter.” Jump the Clock: New & Selected Poems, Nightboat, 2020, p. 183. 
  5. Francisco, Ariel. “Harvest Moon—The Tide Rises Almost to My Door.” A Sinking Ship Is Still a Ship, Burrow Press, 2020, p. 37. 
  6. Trethewey, Natasha. “Mana Prieto.” Thrall. 2012. Mariner, 2015, p. 37. 
  7. Blanco, Richard. “Sitting on My Mother’s Porch in Westchester, Florida.” Looking for the Gulf Motel, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012, p. 27. 
  8. Salazar, C.T. “American Cavewall Sonnet [This is my box of twilight and inside].” American Cavewall Sonnets, Bull City, 2021, p. 5. 
  9. Gay, Ross. “ode to buttoning and unbuttoning my shirt.” Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015, p. 7. 
  10. Young, Al. “Poetry.” Geography of the Near Past, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1976, p. 71. 
  11. VanderHart, Hannah. “Locusts or Complaint as Protest.” What Pecan Light, Bull City, 2021, p. 32. 
  12. Nezhukumatathil, Aimee. “Bengal Tiger.” Oceanic, Copper Canyon, 2018, p. 67. 
  13. Harvey, Yona. “Even Disasters.” Hemming the Water, Four Way, 2013, p. 35. 
  14. Murillo, John. “On Prosody.” Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry, Four Way, 2020, p. 67. 
  15. Nguyen, Diana Khoi. “The Birdhouse in the Jungle.” Ghost of, Omnidawn, 2018, p. 41.
  16. Ginsberg, Aeon. [“Okay fuck it, I’m On One”]. Greyhound, Noemi, 2020, p. 21.

Photo by ST.


Hot Shakespeare Summer, Act I

IMG_5569

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures. [...]

Richard III, Act 1, Scene 1

Summer is beginning with the winter of our discontent, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Richard III is the first work I read and listened to in preparation for seeing a few plays over the next couple of months. In her popular podcast "Approaching Shakespeare," Oxford's Emma Smith points out that Richard is an enormous role, having 32% of all the lines in the play. He appears in 14 of 22 scenes, and he is Shakespeare's only character who opens his own play with a soliloquy.

The last time I saw Richard was in a show by Ireland's Druid Theatre in New York a few years ago, and I can't wait to catch up with him again. Aaron Monaghan had the title role back then; this time around, for Shakespeare in the Park, it goes to the actress Danai Gurira. "We are not going to re-gender the role, but what that means exactly we won’t know until we’re doing run-throughs,” Oskar Eustis, the Public's artistic director, told the New York Times.

Emma Smith says that Elizabethans would have thought of  Shakespeare as a poet first, then a dramatist. The poem "Venus and Adonis" was his most popular overall work in print, with Richard III the most popular play in print. I've never read V&A, so I'm adding it to the virtual queue. You can find an audio version (for free, with a library card!) on Hoopla; the same goes for R3 (with Kenneth Branagh as Richard).

***

The Poetry Friday roundup takes place at the blog Reading to the Core on June 24th.

Photo by ST.


Talking about the Subway

 

This is a quick discussion with the University of Pennsylvania's Anna Safford and Al Filreis about a poem about the New York subway. (Or is it really about the subway? I'll let y'all decide.) I happily bumped into Vincent Katz's "On the Subway" this morning while reading around in the curriculum for Modern and Contemporary American Poetry, Penn's big, free Coursera course. (I'm a community TA there, and will put in a plug for the excellent The Difference Is Spreading: Fifty Contemporary Poets on Fifty Poems, edited by Filreis and Safford.)

I especially liked reading "On the Subway" and hearing Anna and Al chat about urban transportation because I'm currently grounded with The Covid. Not a bad case at all, but of course it derailed all my mid-June/end-of-the-school-year plans, as well as commuter-train and subway excursions. Fortunately I've felt well enough to read! I just finished and highly recommend Ada Calhoun's Also a Poet: Frank O'Hara, My Father, and Me (Grove, 2022). Vincent Katz is one of the people Calhoun interviews in the book.

***

For more poetic talk, head to the Poetry Friday roundup at Michelle Kogan's blog.


Birds & Ada Limón

Warblermural

A few weeks ago with birds on the mind, I posted a found poem about a thrasher, and so I was tickled to hear Ada Limón's introduction to Hai-Dang Phan's "My Ornithology (Orange-crowned Warbler)" on "The Slowdown."  "...[A]s birds go, I really like the Brown Thrasher," Limón says. "The bird ...wanders the yard like an upstanding citizen." I laughed in recognition at her description, and then listened to Phan's poem with great appreciation.

Milkweed just published Limón's new collection of poetry, The Hurting Kind, and my friend Mandana Chaffa has reviewed it at the Chicago Review of Books.  Mandana has a great big heart; I think you'll enjoy reading her article—and want to buy the book or check it out from the library.

The May 20th edition of Poetry Friday takes place at Teaching Authors.

Photo: "Townsend's Warbler" by muralist ATM. Part of the Audubon Mural Project, in NYC. Photo by ST, 2019.


Found Poem: Thrasher

3BFDE5C3-095F-4338-9E8C-5D0879F0EE8E

Found Poem: Long-billed Thrasher

Common, brushy,

Very similar to

Drabber, especially 

 

Grayish, whiter, blacker,

Blackish, even

Brown but less clearly

Rufous.

 

Blackish, grayish,

Whitish streak.

 

Source: The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America, written and illustrated by David Allen Sibley. (Alfred A. Knopf, 2003)

***

Method: I photocopied a random page of a field guide to birds, and concocted the blackout poem above. The last two lines often characterize my experience of bird watching, especially during the busy spring. I've seen the Long-billed Thrasher's Eastern cousin, the Brown Thrasher, but never the LBT itself. One day!

The Poetry Friday roundup for April 29th is at Jone Rush MacCulloch's blog.


Book Review Cento

EAC7BE0A-8D17-475C-ACCF-5B1CC7257D54


Book Review Cento: It Changes as the Day Does

 

Act 1, Scene 1/Enter woman,

With flowers standing on the balcony,

Heard a phoebe this morning—

You are in a beautiful language,

The subtle lilt in your speech,

A sound welling up through the throat,

Some flickers of nonsense remained,

Jewels in joy designed,

With all we’ve been taught to hope for.

A little turbulence just began…

I’m coming to find you

In flight from the land,

Where does the rainbow end,

in your soul or on the horizon?

*****

Last Sunday (4.17.22), the entire New York Times Book Review was devoted to poetry. I created the cento above with lines quoted in various reviews and poems. The issue is a beautifully curated selection of new poetry, plus a few recently re-published older works.

The Poetry Friday roundup is at Margaret Simon's blog, Reflections on the Teche.

Cento Sources: The New York Times Book Review (April 17, 2022). Title from Vinegar Hill, by Colm Toibin; 1. Woman, Eat Me Whole, by Ama Asantewa Diaka; 2. “In that life I would have dwelt,” by Yuri Burjak (translated from the Ukrainian by Nikolai Scherbak and Fiona Sampson); 3. Rapture and Melancholy: The Diaries of Edna St. Vincent Millay (edited by Daniel Mark Epstein); 4. Best Barbarian, by Roger Reeves; 5. Madness, by Gabriel Ojeda-Sagué; 6. Now Do You Know Where You Are, by Dana Levin; 7. Continuous Creation, by Les Murray; 8. “The Convergence of the Twain—Lines on the Loss of the Titanic,” by Thomas Hardy; 9. Canopy, by Linda Gregerson; 10. Venice, by Ange Mlinko; 11. Cicada, by Phoebe Giannisi (translated from the Greek by Brian Sneeden); 12. Flight and Metamorphosis, by Nelly Sachs (translated from the German by Joshua Weiner with Linda B. Parshall); 13-14. Book of Questions, by Pablo Neruda (translated from the Spanish by Sara Lissa Paulson)

Photo: A shout-out to "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe, with a fish crow playing the part of the raven.


April Poem

E90235F3-1971-4F84-9BFE-CC0AC155D12E

I chose Jessie Redmon Fauset's "Rondeau" for Poetry Friday today. This wonderful spring poem begins,

When April's here and meadows wide 
Once more with spring's sweet growths are pied 
    I close each book, drop each pursuit, 
    And past the brook, no longer mute, 
I joyous roam the countryside.

You can read the rest at the Poetry Foundation.

"Rondeau" was one of my favorite poems in the book Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance, by Nikki Grimes (Bloomsbury Books for Children, 2021). Grimes writes, "It should come as no surprise...that the names of gifted, even prolific women poets of the Harlem Renaissance are little known, especially as compared to their male counterparts." She anthologizes a number of works from that historic period, plus she includes poems of her own inspired by those of Fauset, Anne Spencer, Ida Rowland, and others. It's a gem of a book, beautifully illustrated by contemporary Black women artists.

In her role as literary editor of The Crisis (the official publication of the NAACP), Jessie Redmon Fauset (1882-1961), published Langston Hughes's "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," among other important poems. Morgan Jerkins writes in the New Yorker, "though [Fauset] helped to usher in a crucial period of artistic flourishing, and was herself a vital participant in that flourishing, she was not destined to get much credit for it." (Jerkins' fascinating piece can be found here.) I really like Grimes' idea of getting the word out to younger people about the women of the Harlem Renaissance; the rest of us readers benefit, too.

The Poetry Friday roundup for April 14, 2022, is at Matt Forrest Esenwine's blog. See you there!


Fruit Crazy

Wine grapes baja

Go, Go, Grapes! by the late April Pulley Sayre was my pick (ha!) of the week for one of the classes where I volunteer. Subtitled "A Fruit Chant," it's a lot of fun to read aloud: "Rah, rah, raspberries! Go, go, grapes!/Savor the flavors. Find fruity shapes!" Each page has a large photo of delicious-looking fruit, and, as you can tell, the text is really a poem of rhyming couplets.

This particular group, a smaller combined class of K-2 kiddos, shares complements freely. One friend told me, "Nice job, Miss Susan," when I finished reading. The children enjoyed trying to remember all the different kinds mentioned, and I asked them what their favorite fruit was. "Ice cream!" replied another friend. "Oh, ice cream is delicious," I said. "But what about fruit?" After insisting again on ice cream, he eventually admitted to raspberries.

So, a poem of a book for a Friday during National Poetry Month. I recommend it!

The Poetry Friday roundup is at Janice Scully's Salt City Verse on April 8th.

Photo by Tomás Castelazo, from Wikimedia Commons. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

 

Go, Go, Grapes! A Fruit Chant

April Pulley Sayre

Beach Lane Books, Simon & Schuster, 2012

Cvr9781442433908_9781442433908_lg


Spring News

IMG_7074

First up is a link to UNICEF and its humanitarian efforts in Ukraine. While I've intended to do so for some time, I'm going to make my donation as soon as I finish this post.

*****

I have no smooth transition from that to some good personal news, but I'll go ahead. In the fall, I started submitting a lot of my work, and recently two poems have appeared online. Unlost Journal published my cento "You Keep Me Waiting in a Truck" in #28: Discomfort Index, and "Now or Later," a New York "overheard" poem, found a home at the UK-based Street Cake Magazine. (It's in Part 2 of the current issue.) I was thrilled with both of these acceptances. Street Cake is currently open for submissions, so if you have some poems that lean toward the experimental, why not give it a shot! Same for Unlost, which specializes in found poems, when it reopens.

*****

The Poetry Friday roundup for March 25, 2022, is at Amy Ludwig VanDerwater's blog, The Poem Farm. (How can it be the end of March already?)

Photo by ST. Part of Nancy Blum's glass mosaic "Roaming Underfoot" (2018) at the 28th Street stop of the #6 subway line, Manhattan. Fabricated by Miotto Mosaic Art Studios. Commissioned by MTA Arts & Design and New York City Transit.


A Revealing Subway Ride

2FFB7771-D246-46D5-BB0F-6140AF080CD5

"The Lovers," by Timothy Liu, is a cool poem that I glimpsed recently as I was leaving the shuttle that runs between Grand Central Terminal and Times Square in New York.

The trains were pretty empty that day, and right after I jumped back onto the shuttle to grab a photo of this work, I noticed a man there taking pictures of a young woman. She was wearing a coat, and underneath it, she was naked from the waist up. Facing the guy, she held the coat wide open as he snapped away. I had stumbled onto, well, I don't know what I'd stumbled onto, but it was a bit more than I expected at 9 a.m.

Anyway. Below I have a picture of some of the art represented with the poem. The original series of mosaics is installed at the subway stop for Lincoln Center. Titled "Artemis, Acrobats, Divas, and Dancers" (2001), it's by Nancy Spero. Both that art and the poetry fall under the auspices of the MTA Arts & Design program, which "encourages the use of public transit in the NYC region by presenting visual & performing arts."

When asked about why he writes, Timothy Liu told the Kenyon Review, "At its best, poetry is a calling, a practice, a guide. It helps me get where I want to be going."

5539B7DA-FA09-4C9E-8A18-1CB856546E7F

 

Photos by ST.

The Poetry Friday roundup takes place at Elisabeth Norton's Unexpected Intersections today.


Overheard Conversation & Inspiration

Today a group of writers known as the Poetry Sisters has published poems inspired by overheard conversation; Mary Lee Hahn has the links. Y'all know I love it! Thank you for the shout-outs, Sarah Lewis Holmes, Michelle Kogan, and Carol Varsalona. I'm still working on my own compositions in this particular genre and trying to get them published. Most journals want unpublished work and count blogs as publication, so I haven't been able to post them here. Argh. 

That said, I do have something super fun to share: poet Bernadette Mayer's extensive list of journal ideas ("write once a day in minute detail about one thing") and writing experiments ("Write a work gazing into the mirror without using the pronoun I"). It's housed at the University of Pennsylvania's Electronic Poetry Center. Penn is the home institution of one of my all-time favorite classes, "Modern and Contemporary American Poetry," on Coursera. (It's free. Take it!) Mayer is one of poets whose work we study. In the introduction to a series of essays on the poet, the journal Post45 says, "If the last half century has a poet of daily life of its dreams, babies, children, jokes, meals, sex, love, labors, and writing she is Bernadette Mayer."

Irene Latham has the entire Poetry Friday roundup at Live Your Poem. Photo, ST: Mural by Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada for Street Art Mankind, NYC, 2019.

Mural nyc


TV Room Epigrams

IMG_6728

TV Room Epigrams

after Bernadette Mayer



I am the VCR

Unused, undusted,

Unavailable.

 

***

 

Over there the Smart TV,

A giant phone, it

Bristles with apps.

Only one in the family

Speaks its language

With fluency.

The other two

congratulate each other

when they arrive at

PBS Passport

in one try.

 

***

 

I am the chair,

Recovered, but

Stained afresh

By blueberries.

Still watching TV,

Appraised at practically

Nothing,

But spared from donation.

 

***

 

Here is the coffee table,

Home to too many books

And half-finished projects,

Hosting winter boots

On the lower level

Where they shed

Their grit

Inappropriately.

 

***

 

I am the charging station,

Currently charging the air

Or trying to,

Because your cellphone

Is in your purse

And you ignore electricity.

 

I’ve been reading Bernadette Mayer’s poetry collection Scarlet Tanager (New Directions, 2005), and was tickled by the section “Toy Epigrams.” (No online link is available for the written version, but you can hear her read them at PennSound, the fabulous archive of poets’ recordings.) That was my inspiration to write these “TV Room Epigrams” in the place where I also have my office, such as it is. An icy day and cancelled plans gave me a chance to read and, consequently, write.

The Poetry Friday roundup for January 7th will take place at the blog Beyond LiteracyLink.

Photo by ST. Queens, New York, 2021.


Poem: Mid-December

0C01C287-6C20-4BBF-BD59-685C77D0E17A

Mid-December

 

It’s harder to hear

what everyone is saying

because of the masks

muffling so much

of the usual exchanges,

but a few things

slip through:

“Stay safe,”

“I’ll call you later,”

“Okay, baby, thank you,”

and in Harlem, on 125th Street,

an echo of a man

walking west and singing,

“Alleluia, alleluia.”

 

I wish I had a turn,

something wise to declare,

to inoculate us against

the feeling of Here

We Go Again—and

everything else—

but all I have is that

unexpected but welcome 

“Alleluia, alleluia.”

 

© Susan Thomsen, 2021

*****

The Poetry Friday roundup is at Jone Rush MacCulloch's blog.