Some poetry bests

Super Slide

Publishers Weekly recently announced its list for best poetry books of the year:

The Essential June Jordan, edited by Jan Heller Levi and Christoph Keller (Copper Canyon)

Frank: Sonnets, by Diane Seuss (Graywolf)

Playlist for the Apocalypse, by Rita Dove (Norton)

The Sunflower Cast a Spell to Save Us from the Void, by Jackie Wang (Nightboat)

A Thousand Times You Lose Your Treasure, by Hoa Nguyen (Wave)


A few weeks ago the National Book Award for Poetry contenders were long-listed; then the finalists were posted. The roster of the latter overlaps with Publishers Weekly on two books.

What Noise Against the Cane, by Desiree C. Bailey (Yale)

Floaters, by Martín Espada (Norton)

Sho, by Douglas Kearney (Wave)

A Thousand Times You Lose Your Treasure, by Hoa Nguyen (Wave)

The Sunflower Cast a Spell to Save Us from the Void, by Jackie Wang (Nightboat)


Last week the T.S. Eliot Prize committee announced the contenders for 2021's award; these books are from British and Irish publishers. I do recognize one name, Kevin Young, as American. Young is the New Yorker's poetry editor and the director of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture.

All the Names Given, by Raymond Antrobus (Picador)

A Blood Condition, by Kayo Chingonyi (Chatto & Windus)

Men Who Feed Pigeons, by Selima Hill (Bloodaxe)

Eat Or We Both Starve, by Victoria Kennefick (Carcanet)

The Kids, by Hannah Lowe (Bloodaxe)

Ransom, by Michael Symmons Roberts (Cape Poetry)

single window, by Daniel Sluman (Nine Arches Press)

C+nto & Othered Poems, by Joelle Taylor (The Westbourne Press)

A Year in the New Life, by Jack Underwood (Faber)

Stones, by Kevin Young (Cape Poetry)


I think of these lists as great starting places for learning more. For instance, Kevin Young's name is the only one I know on the Eliot list, but now I have a bunch of other authors whose work I might like to check out.

The Poetry Friday roundup is at Jama's Alphabet Soup.

Photo by ST, 2021.

October in the park

Pond at the park

I am so happy that a search for a poem to go with this photograph has led me to "The Properties of Light," by Eric Gamalinda, which has me looking forward to reading more of his work. The poem begins,

Mid-October in Central Park, one of the elms
has changed early, burning with a light
grown accustomed to its own magnificence,

You can read the rest at the Poetry Foundation.

Before signing off, I'll add another recommendation: Paige Lewis's Space Struck (Sarabande Books, 2019). Publishers Weekly says, "Like the natural environment that they often reference, Lewis’s poems are sincere, strange and vulnerable, a combination that makes this work both fragile and vital." You can hear their wonderful interview with Franny Choi and Danez Smith at the VS podcast here. I'm hoping to recommend a collection of poetry each week, and I'd love to know what you're reading, too. 

The Poetry Friday roundup, with links to more verses and poetry talk is over at Bridget Magee's place.

Photo by ST: The pond, Central Park, mid-October 2021.

Tempest, a poem about tea

Today's post is a rerun of a prose poem I wrote some years back.




Take trip to Ireland. Read Edna O'Brien. Drink lots of tea. Return home. Think of nothing but tea. Make tea with tea bags. Terrible. Not it. Unable to read Edna O'Brien. Lunch with friend who spent year in Australia drinking tea. Friend says bought teapot after similar tea experience. Friend also recommends English Breakfast. Resolve to purchase teapot. Find two-cup teapot for eight dollars. Bargain. Realize loose tea is key. Milk and sugar cubes, too. Buy loose tea in tin at fancy deli. Have never in life made tea without tea bags. Have never made much tea, period. Cast yearning glance at unresponsive Mr. Coffee. Panic. Australian adventurer unavailable for counsel. Remember not knowing how to bake potatoes. Who knew? Fannie knew. Consult Fannie Farmer Cookbook on tea. Fannie knows. Fannie tells. Love Fannie. Boil fresh water. Warm teapot with boiling water. Pour out. Add big spoon of tea, more water. Strategy involved but do okay. Let pot, tea leaves, water sit. Five minutes later—tea. Breathe sigh of relief. Read Edna O'Brien.

by Susan Thomsen
published in Tea: A Magazine


The Poetry Friday roundup for October 8th is at author Irene Latham's blog, Live Your Poem.

Fannie Farmer

Photo by ST. My well-worn copy of the Fannie Farmer Cookbook.

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!


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.

A Poem for Mrs. Teaberry





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.


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



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.


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.


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


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

Blackout Poem: Own Your Tomorrow


Own Your Tomorrow

Faring forced sales

spread the coronavirus.

Workers monitor

$3 billion,



short supply,

200,000 cars.




"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.