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.

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

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


Poem: Midtown Listing

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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?

Go.

 

©Susan Thomsen, 2021, draft

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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.


A Poem for Mrs. Teaberry

MrPutter

Together

 

 

Mrs. Teaberry was Mr. Putter’s neighbor.   

She dreamed of snowdrifts—           

something airy,                   

something light—                   

tulips and roses,                   

birds instead of fish.                   

He promised her a nice cup of tea.       

Mrs. Teaberry was delighted.           

They watched the snow fall               

all night long.                   

The two of them                   

sat a long time,                    

very happy,                       

living side by side.                   

 

"Together" is a found poem, a cento, of lines from four books in Cynthia Rylant's Mr. Putter & Tabby series for beginning readers. I didn’t go into the poem thinking that it would focus on Mrs. Teaberry and her relationship with Mr. Putter, but that’s how it turned out. She’s an important secondary character  in these books, and as much as I love Tabby, Mr. Putter’s cat, I also relate to Mrs. T, who likes strange things and makes dresses for her teapots. Paging through our copies, I once again admire Arthur Howard’s illustrations and how much they add to the story. The expressions, both human and animal, are priceless.

Sources

Title: Mr. Putter & Tabby Fly the Plane

Line 1: Mr. Putter & Tabby Feed the Fish 

Lines 2-4: Mr. Putter & Tabby Bake the Cake

Line 5: Mr. Putter & Tabby Fly the Plane

Line 6: Mr. Putter & Tabby Feed the Fish

Line 7: Mr. Putter & Tabby Fly the Plane

Lines 8-10: Mr. Putter & Tabby Bake the Cake

Lines 11-14: Mr. Putter & Tabby Walk the Dog

 

Bibliography

Rylant, Cynthia. Mr. Putter & Tabby Bake the Cake. Illustrated by Arthur Howard, Harcourt Brace & Company, 1994.

Rylant, Cynthia. Mr. Putter & Tabby Feed the Fish. Illustrated by Arthur Howard, Harcourt Brace & Company, 2001.

Rylant, Cynthia. Mr. Putter & Tabby Fly the Plane. Illustrated by Arthur Howard, Harcourt Brace & Company, 1997.

Rylant, Cynthia. Mr. Putter & Tabby Walk the Dog. Illustrated by Arthur Howard, Harcourt Brace & Company, 1994.

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Elisabeth Norton hosts the Poetry Friday roundup, at Unexpected Intersections on Friday, August 27, 2021.

Photo by ST. I found that teapot and at least a couple of those books at the local Goodwill store some years ago.


Talk the Talk: Poetry

Recently on the VS Podcast I heard a terrific discussion about editing. The hosts Franny Choi and Danez Smith were talking to Carmen Giménez-Smith about Be Recorder, Giménez Smith's most recent collection of poetry, and about Noemi, the small press where she is the publisher.

Together these three poets give us a real gift of a conversation, a free, hourlong seminar about writing, editing, and the importance of community. Speaking of Noemi, Giménez Smith says,

How do you make a book that is the very best book that it could be? So I think what we do at Noemi is we come to a manuscript and we see the vision and the gift of the writer, and we say, “Are you sure you’re—because we see that you’re not quite at, you know, maximum, you’re at seven, and we think you could be at 11.” And so, that conversation of editing is going from seven to 11, right, is like, “You’re so good at this thing in this moment. So how do we, like, amplify it across the book?”

I was nodding along and periodically chiming in "Yes!" as I listened. In the show's outro, Danez Smith told Franny Choi, "The other day after we finished that conversation, I literally felt electric." Whether you're a writer, editor, or reader, I think you'll enjoy the discussion, too. And Be Recorder? It's one of the best books of poetry I've read this year.

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The August 20, 2021, Poetry Friday roundup takes place at the blog The Apples in My Orchard.

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Photo by ST. Norwalk, Connecticut, basketball court, 2020. The mural was painted by the artists Jah and Vert.


Blackout Poem: Own Your Tomorrow

OwnYourTomorrow

Own Your Tomorrow

Faring forced sales

spread the coronavirus.

Workers monitor

$3 billion,

defects,

combustion,

short supply,

200,000 cars.

 

 

Sources

"GM Reports Quarterly Profit Of $2.8 Billion," by Neal E. Boudet, The New York Times, August 5, 2021 (poem)

Charles Schwab advertisement, The New York Times, August 5, 2021 (title)

I looked for an un-literary base text to see if it lent itself to blackout poetry, and turned to the paper's financial section. In his use of strong nouns and verbs, the journalist here actually gave me a lot to work with. We can see that under the weight of the ginormous numbers are ones who keep the machines running: the workers. The events of this summer have really made me wonder what our tomorrow will look like, and so I chose that title, even though it may read ironic. In the end, I'm happy with the way the poem captured a time period that has been TOO MUCH is so many ways.

More poetry at the Poetry Friday roundup on the blog Wondering and Wandering.


An animal alphabet book by Langston Hughes

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The Sweet and Sour Animal Book

by Langston Hughes

illustrations by students from the Harlem School of the Arts

Oxford University Press, 1994

This collection of poems by Langston Hughes (1901-1967) is delightful, and, fortunately for us readers, still available for sale at the publisher's website and in quite a few library collections. The alphabet book for children features whimsical three-dimensional illustrations by students from the Harlem School of the Arts—who must be in their thirties by now! I'll definitely be bringing it along to read to my second-grade friends when school starts up again. Sure, it's an ABC book, but it's not for babies: on the L page, the poem begins, "A lion in a zoo,/Shut up in a cage,/Lives a life/Of smothered rage."

Second graders love jokes, and they'll enjoy the humor here, too. Just one example is the bee poem in the lower photo. The kid-created art may even inspire a project or two. The artistic medium for the goose page looks like Sculpey, or maybe Play-Doh; the artists were in the early primary grades.

Hughes wrote a number of works for children, but The Sweet and Sour Animal Book was published some thirty years after he died. The manuscript was in his papers at Yale's Beinecke library. (For a good story about how it came to be published, see Megan Drennan's 1995 article at EdWeek.) 

I photographed the street sign in Harlem at East 127th Street and Fifth Avenue, near where the author spent the last twenty years of his life. He lived in an apartment on the top floor of a brownstone there. The block of 127th between Fifth and Madison is known as Langston Hughes Place.

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The Poetry Friday roundup for August 6th is at A(nother) Year of Reading.

The Sweet and Sour Animal Book is my sixth book for the Sealey Challenge.

LangstonHughes


Borrowed Lines: "Going"

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Going

(from To Walk Alone in the Crowd, by Antonio Muñoz Molina; translated from the Spanish by Guillermo Bleichmar)

 

He has noticed

with a little dismay,

that travel agencies are becoming

harder to find,

like newsstands,

    stationers,

        hardware stores,

            grocery stores,

                birds,

                    gorillas.

 

For some reason

he can’t understand, almost 

everything

he is fond of

is 

going

 

extinct.

***

This excerpt is from a novel, not a poem, but it inspired me to shape the lines into stanzas and add a title. It’s from To Walk Alone in the Crowd, written by Antonio Muñoz Molina and translated from the Spanish by Guillermo Bleichmar (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021). Muñoz Molina’s narrator is a city walker, a practitioner of “perambulation studies,” following in the footsteps of Lorca, Melville, Baudelaire, and Joyce. He’s an eavesdropper, an assembler of collages of the “verbal and visual garbage” that we usually don’t pay attention to, and one of the most astute observers I’ve read in eons. “The city is an unending show, going on all the time,” the author recently told an interviewer.

The Poetry Friday roundup takes place at Rebecca Herzog's Sloth Reads blog on July 30th.

Additional Source

Book Launch: Conversation with Antonio Muñoz Molina, on the occasion of the English translation of Un andar solitario entre la gente (To Walk Alone in the Crowd), on the YouTube channel of the Cervantes Institute of New York. In English.

Photo by ST: Retiro Park, Madrid (2019)


#TheSealeyChallenge

9FD819D6-D0F4-49BA-8993-19F288D01D8CMy favorite literary event of 2020 was #TheSealeyChallenge in August, when I (and so many others) read a book of poetry every day. Yes, 31 books in a month! Even when a big storm knocked out our power, I was making coffee on the grill and reading the day's poetry book on the patio. So. Much. Fun. I learned so many things. Water takes a really long time to boil on the grill, and the work of Ashley M. Jones, Tommy Pico, Junious Ward, Nancy Willard, Jenny Xie, Alberto Ríos, Ocean Vuong, et al., is well worth seeking out.

I kept track of the books on Twitter; others used Instagram, Facebook, blogs, etc.

The new edition of the challenge launches on Sunday, August 1, 2021. The poet Nicole Sealey (Ordinary Beast, Ecco Press, 2017) started this endeavor. From the website:

"in 2017, balancing her administrative work with the promotion of her first book left poet nicole sealey with little time to read for pleasure. nicole decided to challenge herself to a personal goal: read a book of poems each day for the month of August. nicole announced her intention on social media and the challenge quickly took off, inspiring its own hashtag: #TheSealeyChallenge!"

You can borrow books of poetry at the library and through inter-library loans (start requesting now!) and buy them at your favorite bookstore. Some good apps for reading e-books include Hoopla, Freading, and Libby. All free, in various systems, with a library card! Don't forget about audiobooks; I plan to to listen to Eve L. Ewing's 1919.

What to read? Follow the website's advice: "while the books you choose are up to you, The Sealey Challenge encourages reading books by marginalized poets. for ideas, browse blog posts from past participants."

The roster of interviewees (and hosts) at the Poetry Foundation's VS podcast and the one at the New Yorker's poetry podcast are also good resources. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the online journal Jacket2 and its podcast, PoemTalk, as well. And Stephanie Burt's books The Poem is You: 60 Contemporary American Poems and How to Read Them (Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 2016) and Don't Read Poetry: A Book About How to Read Poems (Basic Books, 2019) contain multitudes.

For books of poetry for children, the LA Public Library's article "21st Century Kids: Embrace Diversity Through Poetry" provides a good reference, and so do NCTE, 100 Scope Notes, the Cooperative Children's Book Center, Lambda Literary (scroll down for the poetry books), and Sylvia Vardell's Poetry for Children blog, among others.

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For more poems and poetry talk, check the Poetry Friday roundup at author Kathryn Apel's blog on July 23rd.

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Photos by ST (2020). Top, NYC mural by Rone, part of a series curated by the organization Education Is Not a Crime. Below, Share TMC graffiti, Westchester, New York.


Poem: Provincetown August 16, 2018

Provincetown August 16, 2018

after Frank O’Hara’s “The Day Lady Died” (1964)

 

Afternoon at Land’s End

boys everywhere

stopping and shopping

picking up charcoal

filling cars with gas

lining up for ice cream

flying through town

on clunky bicycles, dressed only in

Speedos

 

Good night, Mom, a bass voice called to me

from a porch the night before

Good night.

 

I go for a swim alone at

Race Point, my friends want to

eat lobster,

buy t-shirts in town

The water, the ocean, 

cold but calm and I

can float with my toes

in the air like I always

do, unaware of the 

Great White Shark, 

who waits until tomorrow 

to make the news

 

In the car hot from the sun,

I plug in my phone and read

 

Aretha

 is 

gone.

 

Later

in town, on Commercial, friends found,

a sea-glittery float in the 

Carnival Parade passes, two bearded mermaids

dancing, their speakers blaring

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

And we dance, too.

 

@Susan Thomsen 2021


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Photo by Susan Thomsen. Carnival parade, Provincetown, Mass., 2018.

Links

"The Day Lady Died," by Frank O'Hara, at the Poetry Foundation

The Poetry Friday roundup for July 16, 2021, will take place at the blog Nix the comfort zone.

"[Photographer] Joel Meyerowitz Reflects on the Magic of Provincetown," at Aperture


Poem: March 2020

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March 2020

from Bartleby & Co., by Enrique-Vila Matas; translated from the Spanish by Jonathan Dunne (New Directions 2007)

 

Full of doubts at home

I must change something

Stammering life, a voice over flow

I let that word 

the impossibility of it 

out of the blue.

 

@Susan Thomsen, 2021

For other poems and poetic talk, check the Poetry Friday roundup at the blog Reflections on the Teche.