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October 2021

Richard Wright's Haiku

Wright Haiku

Although I associate the author Richard Wright more with Mississippi (his birthplace) and Chicago (the setting of Native Son), he did live a number of years in New York before moving permanently to France. One of the places he lived, in the 1930s, was on Carlton Avenue in Brooklyn. He used to spend hours writing in nearby Fort Greene Park.

In addition to his works of fiction and nonfiction, Wright wrote some four thousand haiku. Currently the Poetry Society of America is sponsoring "Seeing Into Tomorrow," a project in which seven of these have been turned into public art in and around downtown Brooklyn, not far at all from Carlton Avenue. Several more are on the way, too. I recently spent an enjoyable fall afternoon traipsing around the Borough of Kings to see them.

The poems in the project are reprinted from Haiku: The Last Poems of an American Icon (Arcade, 2012), and in an introduction, Wright's daughter Julia says that writing these poems kept her father "spiritually afloat" during the last years of his life. After seeing the work in Brooklyn, I now want to look at that book! At her School Library Journal blog, Betsy Bird reviewed a children's book about Wright's haiku, also called Seeing Into Tomorrow (Millbrook Press), back in 2018. Featuring the photographic illustrations of Nina Crews, it sounds good, too.


You'll find the Poetry Friday roundup at Reading to the Core on October 1st.

Wright apt house

Photos by ST. Upper: Wright haiku at the Jay Street–MetroTech subway station in downtown Brooklyn. Lower: Front door and steps of a building in which Wright lived in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn.

"Celia" Remix

Celia Cruz mural

Laugh and Cry

A found poem of bits of dialogue from the telenovela “Celia,” translated from the Spanish by Susan Thomsen


I don’t want to talk about that with you.

Is that clear, my heart?


This can’t be happening to me.       

It’s okay. Calm down.


Good, my life. It’s your turn.

You have to forgive me. It was all in my head.


Tell me, tell me.

Yes, my love.


Give me a hug.


Azúcar, azúcar,

What do you feel for me?


Listen, listen, get up.

My heart feels everything for you.


Tomorrow is another day.

I promise you.


One day I would like to see the rest of this show of 80 episodes, but for the longest time, I could not re-find it. (Update. It's now streaming on Peacock TV. Yay!) When I stopped watching, the Cuban-born future Queen of Salsa had neither won the big singing contest nor left the island for Mexico (and later the United States.) There is so much more to come. You can tell that there's a love story at the center, right?

For the poem, I translated some dramatic moments, and then remixed them. The title comes from "Rie y llora," a hit from 2003. "Azúcar!" was a trademark Celia Cruz saying. (See the Smithsonian's Marvette Perez explain it here.)

The Poetry Friday roundup for September 24 is at author Laura Purdie Salas's blog.

Photo by ST of artist Eliezer Leicea's mural honoring Celia Cruz. It's on the wall of the restaurant Amor Cubano, Third Avenue and 111th Street, NYC.

Below is a favorite video of the real Celia Cruz at a soundcheck in the 70s. That voice!


Found poem finds home

Happy Poetry Friday! A quick bit of news today. A local journal here in Connecticut published one of my found poems, "Out of all the ways you could have went about this scenario"; it's in issue #9 (Sept. 15, 2021) of Scribes*MICRO*Fiction.

The poem begins,

Is this the train to New Haven?

You never know

What’s your course?

Someone just texted that they saw me in Miami

Read the rest here. You'll need to scroll down on the page to find it just above a photo of the subway.

Denise Krebs has the Sept. 17th Poetry Friday roundup at her blog, Dare to Care.

Good, Better, Best

Some good September news: on the 28th, Scribner publishes The Best American Poetry 2021. Former poet laureate Tracy K. Smith is the guest editor, with David Lehman maintaining his role of series editor. It's a favorite series of mine; I always "discover" someone whose work I want to read more of. If you are naturally inclined to snoop (not that I am, of course), you can read the table of contents via Amazon's "look inside" feature, and see that the book includes work by Billy Collins, Rita Dove, Natalie Diaz, Evie Shockley, Major Jackson, among others. Titles that have me intrigued are "The End of Poetry" (Ada Limón), "What Is There to Do in Akron, Ohio?" (Darius Simpson), "Ode to the Boy Who Jumped Me" (Monica Sok), and "love poem that ends at popeyes" (Destiny O. Birdsong). Speaking of Ada Limón, The Slowdown podcast announced that she is taking over the host duties—from Tracy K. Smith, no less.


The Poetry Friday roundup is at The Miss Rumphius Effect on September 10th.


Photo by ST. Mural at the Harlem branch of Spring Bank, Frederick Douglass Blvd. and West 111th Street, NYC .

Poem: Midtown Listing


Midtown Listing

Start the poem with

an 8-foot steel egg

and a Halal Boys food cart.

Toss in red and yellow umbrellas,

and picture a mostly bald man smoking a cigarette,

four electric bicycles,

an American flag,

the Warwick Hotel,

a bed of myrtle

(Don’t count the myrtles

It will take you too long,

but say the bed is green,

or, even better, verdant).

And never lose sight of

the Soap Mobile,

the sidewalk, and

West 54th Street.

Get a cab in there, too.

Are you ready?



©Susan Thomsen, 2021, draft


Heidi Mordhorst has the Poetry Friday roundup on September 3rd.

Photo by ST, August 2021. The sculpture, "SEED54" (2012) by Haresh Lalvani, is on the southeast corner of Sixth Avenue and 54th Street, NYC.