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

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Eraser

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Happy December, everyone. Where has the time gone? I don't know what happened to November.

Recently I participated in a small-group chat about "Do not trust the eraser," by Rosamond S. King. It's amazing much discussion how this shorter, open-ended poem generated. It starts,

Do not trust the eraser. Prefer
crossed out, scribbled over monuments

I hadn't known King's work at all beforehand, and having read more of the pieces linked on her website here, I find it really powerful. Frankly, I'd enjoy continuing to talk about "Do not trust the eraser," so, if you'd like, let me know what you think! A couple of questions, just to get started: who or what is the eraser? What do you make of the punctuation? Why "mis takes" and not "mistakes?" There are no wrong answers, of course; these are just things in the work that I wonder about.

The December 2nd Poetry Friday roundup is at Reading to the Core.

Photo by ST: Pencil (with eraser) sculpture, Bridgeport, CT


Recommended Reading: Kevin Young's "Stones"

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I’ve just finished
Stones, Kevin Young’s latest collection, and admired the concision and short lines in this book (Knopf, 2021). Young is not only the New Yorker’s poetry editor, he is also the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. These poems are about history and grief and ancestors, and, a topic after my own heart, the South. In Young’s case, it’s southern Louisiana, where his relatives live. (“The roads here/only lately got names.”) 

My favorite work in Stones is “Speed Trap,” which you can read online at Literary Hub. It’s a found poem (or at least it looks like one), quoting roadside advertisements (“WE BUY GOLD/Soul Food Seafood/Stock Yard Café”), and Young drops in photo-like details of his own (“Stray couch wounded/beside the road”). Driving through, the reader sees the town, its pleasures ("Butts-n-Ribs") and dysfunctions (FEMA trailers, etc.), and the way the word “trap” functions as both a reference to out-of-towners who dare speed and to others, locals unable to leave for a myriad of reasons. 

Stones is well worth your time. It’s already given me some ideas for poems mixing found language with a soupçon of personal observance.

*****

The Poetry Friday roundup for October 28th takes place at Jone Rush MacCulloch's blog.

Photo by ST.


Shelf Expression

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Shelf Expression

The heart of American poetry:
Wherever I’m at,
on Autumn Lake—
The difference is spreading,
A Black Arts poetry machine.

Old poet? 

Own poet.

*****

This poem was inspired by a shelf of books at the New York Public Library's Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library, in midtown Manhattan. The first six lines consist only of book titles, but I didn't like ending with "old poet," which sounded too much like an epitaph. So, I pushed it down and tossed in a line that seemed to fit.

The Poetry Friday roundup for October 7th is at Sarah Grace Tuttle's blog. By the way, Al Filreis and Anna Strong Safford's The Difference Is Spreading and Edward Hirsch's The Heart of American Poetry are excellent. Both anthologies feature poems followed by essays on each poem.


"Siren Song"

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Last week I heard Saeed Jones and Isaac Fitzgerald talk about writing and friendship at a local literary festival. Both of these writers have new books out; Jones's Alive at the End of the World is a collection of poetry and Fitzgerald's Dirtbag, Massachusetts is a memoir in essays. Fitzgerald asked Jones which poems influenced him to start writing poetry, and in addition to work by the poets Jones calls "The Housewives" (Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton), he brought up Margaret Atwood's "Siren Song," which he read as a teenager. "Siren Song" is a persona poem, told from the point of view of one of the mythical beings, and Jones said until reading it he hadn't realized that a poem could could lie. It inspired him to go home and write.

I couldn't resist looking it up later, and must say that I like this one, too. Talk about unreliable narrators!

*****

Siren Song

This is the one song everyone
would like to learn: the song
that is irresistible:
 
the song that forces men
to leap overboard in squadrons
even though they see the beached skulls
 

*****

The Poetry Friday roundup is at Kathryn Appel's place on September 16th.

Photo by ST: The fountain (but not a siren) at the Yaddo Gardens, Saratoga Springs, NY


Poetry Friends

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A couple of weeks ago I mentioned how much I had liked the poet Kamilah Aisha Moon's book Starshine & Clay. Just this week I was reading Aracelis Girmay's 2016 collection, the black maria, and came across her beautiful poem "Moon for Aisha." The poem is a tribute to friendship and also speaks about the time before these two poets knew each other. I just love this excerpt, which reminded me of several of my own chums over the years.

& then you, all nearly grown,
all long-legged laughter,
already knowing all the songs
& all the dances,
not my friend, yet,
but, somehow—Out There.

There are more poems to read at the Poetry Friday roundup at The Teacher Dance.

Photo: Corner flowers, NYC, 2022. ST.


Charles Bukowski + Mary Oliver

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New Neighbors

 

Bored with the Bs, Charles Bukowski

bopped down a few shelves to

visit Mary Oliver, wedged himself

between her Handbook and the 

New and Selected, like a bro

at a bar on Saturday night. 

“I want to drink wine with

 the assassins,” he said

by way of introduction.

Dreaming of kale’s

puckered sleeve, Mary

expressed no interest in the con-

versation. Such silence.

But there he remained,

more than a week.

Anyone seeking his fix of

Bukowski would not

have thought to 

look among the

gannets and the whelks

and the poppies—or

at Blackwater Pond.

“I would kill an elephant

with a bowie knife,”

he announced. Dorothy

Parker re-applied her

lipstick, red matte

since you ask,

and smiled in

his direction: “Wild and fickle

and fierce is he!”

Misfiled yet again,

Meghan O’Rourke

sought an escape, or

at least a return to

alphabetical order. 

“It’s warmer this August

than it has been for decades,”

she declared, only to hear

“I’ve been bombed out of

better places than this.”

But Aimee Nezhukumatathil

leaned over to yell,

“I know you are dangerous.

I see it in your shiny teeth,”

which caught Mary’s attention.

She sensed a shadow— 

and wait,      is someone

smoking?—over

the Guidebook’s shoulder. 

Who’s there?

O, a turnip-hearted skunk cabbage,

No wonder. 

“In the past couple decades, 

we had a long-standing rule of 

keeping Charles Bukowski 

behind the register,” 

the bookseller said.

*****

Origin story: Someone had put Bukowski’s Storm for the Living and the Dead in the middle of the Mary Oliver books at the local Barnes & Noble, and I thought it was a funny poetry in-joke. After taking a photo, I decided to write a poem that brought together the two wildly popular and wildly different authors along with some of their shelf mates.

“The kale’s puckered sleeve,” and “turnip-hearted skunk cabbage” are phrases from Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems: Volume One; “Such Silence,” “Gannets,” “Whelks,” “Poppies,” and “At Blackwater Pond” are titles of poems. “Such Silence” actually comes from Oliver’s Blue Horses, not the New and Selected.

The Bukowski verses are from Storm for the Living and the Dead. Meghan O’Rourke’s quote is from her collection Sun in Days, and Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s is from Oceanic. The Dorothy Parker line can be found in Enough Rope: A Book of Light Verse. The bookseller’s words belong to Annie Metcalf, who was quoted in a 2017 article in Electric Lit.

*****

Head over to author Tanita S. Davis's site for the Poetry Friday roundup on August 26th.


August, Versified

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For everyone participating in the Sealey Challenge, how's it going? I am behind! But I am reading poetry every day, which has been grand. Use the hashtag #TheSealeyChallenge to find recommendations on Twitter and Instagram.

I had really looked forward to catching up with the work of Kamilah Aisha Moon, and I was not disappointed at all! Her book Starshine & Clay was poignant, heartbreaking, beautifully crafted. Knowing that Moon had passed away in 2021 made finishing this library copy hard because I wanted to stay in the poet's company. I'll buy my own Starshine & Clay (Four Way Books, 2017), as well as an earlier work, She Has a Name (Four Way, 2013). One of Moon's "literary North Stars," as she wrote in Mentor and Muse, was Lucille Clifton, so I want to go back to her work as well. Here's a good place to shout out Clifton's Generations, a spare & lyrical memoir recently reissued by New York Review Books; I read it earlier this year.

Other highlights so far were Claude McKay's Harlem Shadows (Modern Library, Centenary Edition, 2022) and Harryette Mullen's Sleeping with the Dictionary (University of California Press, 2002).

My current book is Jane Hirshfield's Ledger (Knopf, 2020). The Poetry Foundation says, "In recent decades, Hirshfield has become increasingly known as a poet working at the intersection of poetry, the sciences, and the crisis of the biosphere," and I know that Ledger will appeal to many of my Poetry Friday peeps. So far my favorite poem is "Today, Another Universe," which you can read on Maria Popova's site, The Marginalian.

*****

The Poetry Friday roundup takes place at the blog Leap of Dave on August 19th.

Photo by ST: Kimchi the cat with a new stack of books for #TheSealeyChallenge


A Poem for #TheSealeyChallenge

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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

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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.