Monday, October 30, 2006
By far, the hardest part has been finding an order. At this writing my poems are in four sections, 55 pieces total, but I'm considering using two sections: a division into the personal and the private.
Now this is the best part--it is such a thrill to hold my life's work in my hands. Next to my marriage and my family, these poems are what I cherish most.
1. Update to-do list
2. Update poems with my hard copy edits
3. Reorder poems
4. Write acknowledgements and notes pages
5. Send to friends on Friday for first look
Also, here are some book titles I'm considering, from the titles of poems in the collection:
*Drinking and other poems
*The Small Plans
*Always There's Something
Any thoughts? Also, I don't have a poem called "Worth," but I hope to write one for Poetry Thursday.
Sunday, October 29, 2006
Ideally, I’d like to read 12 non-poetry books and 12 poetry books, a total of two a month. (Here's my original booklist post in case you missed it the first time.)
Autobiography—A Personal History, Katherine Graham
It's been on my list since her passing so it's time to take it off the shelf.
Memoir—One Art: Letters by Elizabeth Bishop
Another one collecting dust on the shelf. But I'm facinated by poetry biographies.
Memoir—Broken Music, Sting
I love Sting, and since he was an English teacher, how bad can this one be?
International Literature—Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
I've always wanted to read Achebe's first book.
History—Against All Enemies, Richard A. Clarke
This one is on my nightstand--may read it sooner rather than later.
Field of Interest—The Norton Anthology of African American Literature
I see myself skipping around, but I'd like to take a crack at reading it.
Author I’ve never read—Smilla’s Sense of Snow, Peter Hoeg
With a name like "Smilla," it has to be good!
Classic—Grapes of Wrath—John Steinbeck
Never read it but always wanted to.
Classic—East of Eden—John Steinbeck
Never read it, but loved the movie with Jayne Seymour
I tried reading it when it came out but couldn't get through the first chapter. Time to give it another shot.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
It's time. This one I've put off long enough.
Liar's Poker: Rising Through the Wreckage on Wall Street, Michael Lewis
I read Moneyball, which was execellent. Just as an aside, Lewis is married to MTV's Tabitha Soren.
Re-read—Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott
This book is my touchstone.
So what else should I be reading?
Saturday, October 28, 2006
The story is without flowery language or embellishments. Names and places are authentic.
Thanks to Sunday Scribblings for the cool prompt.
The Apple Story
Once upon a time, there was a little boy named Alex. He was known as the Prince of Parramatta Road. One day, he noticed that the leaves on the trees had changed color and he needed a sweater to go outside. So his mother, the Queen, and his father, the King, decided it was the right time of year to go apple picking.
So the King, Queen, Prince, and little Princess (Alex’s baby sister) picked a bright and sunny day for apple picking. The Queen explained that in their kingdom, there are farms that only grow apple trees. Rows and rows of apple trees with all colors of apples: red apples, yellow apples, blue apples, purple apples, orange apples, green apples, pink apples, and brown apples. (In this part of the story, Alex tells me the color of apples.)
The royal family picked all the apples on the trees until there were no more apples to pick. They went back to their castle with their baskets full. Little did they know they picked so many apples, there was nowhere left to put them.
They put apples on the table
They put apples in the drawers
They put apples in the stable
They put apples on the floors
They put apples in the bathtub
They put apples in the sink
They put apples behind the shurbs
They put apples in fruit drinks!
So the Queen and the Prince started cooking the apples. They made all sorts of goodies: apple pie, apple sauce, apple pancakes, apple ice cream, apple spaghetti, apple steak, apple lemonade, apple pot pie, apple stir fry, apple scampi, apple pizza, apple hamburgers …
They made lots of yummy foods, but still there were too many apples for the King and Queen and Prince and Princess to eat. So they did the only thing they could—they opened the castle doors and gave away the excess apples to their friends and neighbors.
There were just enough apples to give to everyone in the kingdom. And just enough to last through the long winter, past Halloween, and Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and New Years, and summer, until the next time they could go apple picking. So every time the Prince ate an apple, he was reminded of that time of year when the leaves fall, the temperature cool, and the land is filled with apples--just for him.
(And then my son says, “And now, tell me the story about bananas!”)
Friday, October 27, 2006
(Top to Bottom: What Narcissism Means to Me, Tony Hoagland; Against All Enemies, Richard A. Clark; Wind in a Box, Terrance Hayes; Pictures That Got Small, Jim Brock; Breath, Phil Levine; Norton Anthology of African American Poetry, Henry Louis Gates et al.)
These books on my nightstand represent the books I should be reading.
In 2000, writer Bob Hostetler wrote a very good article that appeared in Poets & Writers magazine called “The Intentional Reader.” In it, he talks about being deliberate about what you read as a way of fueling your writing when you get stuck. And while it’s certainly important for fiction writers, being well versed in all sorts of subjects and forms is huge for a poet.
Hostetler creates an annual detailed booklist in which he chooses titles to entertain and to further his growth as a writer. His list consists of at least 20 must-read titles, leaving room for picks that he discovers throughout the year.
You can read his article for the full text, but to summarize, some of the subject areas he pulls from include:
- one biographical title
- at least one memoir
- a healthy dose of at least four classics
- a minimum of two writing books
- at least one history book
- at least two books by authors I’ve never read before
- a minimum of one poetry book each year
- a minimum of two books in my general field of writing expertise
- a minimum of two books in a new discipline or field of interest
at least one children’s book
- two selections from a short list of books I’ve decided to re-read every few years, some serious, some life-changing, some fanciful
- a recent addition to my plan has been the discovery of new works of international and inter-cultural literature
- at least one book of great heft, the intimidating sort of book I might not otherwise read
I think it’s a great idea—reading deliberately. However, I don’t have time to read this many books in a year. But recently, I have thought about trying again for 2007, reading 12-16 books from specific genres in a year.
So, based on this list, what books would you recommend to others to add to their booklists for 2007? And what do you think about using a book list as a tool? I’ll post my preliminary list Sunday evening based on Hostetler’s article, your comments, and my poetic spin.
I have to admit, I a good time taking the kids to the concert. Watching their reactions as the band (and I use the term "band" loosely) took the stage was priceless. Imagine being at home watching The Wiggles on TV, and then seeing them live a few hours later--that's big deal for a kid.
Who would have thought songs with lyrics like "Fruit salad, yummy yummy!" would bring in millions of dollars. My friend told me that The Wiggles have opened a theme park in Texas. Go figure.
Despite taking Wednesday off from work, I caught a cold, so I'm feeling run down as of late. But this weekend, I'm hopeful that I'll make time to blog and continue working on my manuscript.
Beauty mate! (A Wiggles expression.)
Thursday, October 26, 2006
However, I did take Wednesday off from work to work on my poetry manuscript. Now that was a mess! I nearly had a panic attack trying to impose an order on my poems. But it's done, so now I can revise the text and see what should stay and what should go.
In the process of looking through my poems, I did find this one for Poetry Thursday. It's an older one, a bit Sharon Olds-esque. (Can't seem to get the lines to break correctly in Blogger.)
Hope to get caught up enough to read everyone else's poems and respond to your blog posts. Remember, I'm still in a Wiggles-induced funk.
And yes, Twitches, I had a great time :)
When my father snores
he sucks in the whole world
and releases it in one pure breath.
At night I’d come into his room
where he would pass out on the bed—
too drunk to change his clothes or
put out his cigarette, which had
burnt itself down to the embers. I pulled
off his shoes and watched him sleep,
smelling his sweet, stale breath
fill the room in waves. He was so out of it
I could put my finger into his mouth and pull it out
before he inhaled.
Once I let my finger linger a second
too long and his tongue touched the flat of my tip.
I thought of going in deeper, first a hand, then an arm;
the tender cutlet of my body swallowed whole by my
father. But I was barely enough to make him cough.
He rolled over on his side, leaving a well in the space
where his body had been. I crawled back into my own bed,
as my father slept the peaceful sleep of ogres, feeling
the house shake with his rhythmic tremors.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
- Can’t wait until tomorrow. I’m taking the day for a little personal time and to work on my manuscript. The kids will be at day care so I’ll have eight hours all to myself.
- Also tomorrow, The Wiggles are coming in concert to Boston. We’re taking both kids, and I’m kind of looking forward to it. We’ll pick up the kids in the afternoon, go into the city for an early, kid-friendly dinner, and then it’s Wiggle Time! (Did I just say that?)
- Hope I don’t get bogged down in housework, which I tend to do when I want to avoid my manuscript.
- Most of the leaves have fallen off the trees in New England. We live on a tree-lined street, so I find nothing sadder than tree skeletons barren of green leaves.
- I really hope the Democrats take back Congress in November.
- One of my next posts will be about compiling a book list for 2007. If you haven’t guessed, I’m a planner. But as a writer and technician, reading things that pull me out of my comfort zone will help me be a better craftsman …eh … craftsperson.
- I’ve got to start exercising—I’ve put it off way too long. I hate paying for a gym that I don’t use even though I know gym time will recharge my batteries. So I’ve got to get away from my computer and move once in a while.
- Since my birthday is in February, I’m thinking about having a chocolate party. It will be adults only, I’ll have appetizers and lots of chocolate goodies, and a signature chocolate drink for the night. Can you tell I’ve been thinking about this one for a while?
- Also in late February, I’m planning on attending the AWP conference in Atlanta. I’ve been on the fence about going. I mean, I don’t to go if I don’t have a different story to tell about my writing career. Does that make sense? I tend to see a lot of the same people at these conferences so it would be nice to say, “Yes, my manuscript is under consideration.” Or, “I have a few poems in publications coming out next year.” But maybe I’m looking at this all wrong. Maybe I should go to strengthen my connections in the poetry community—remind editors and other poets that I’m still out here working away. I don’t know. Why do I need this validation?
- Another plus about going to Atlanta is that my grandparents, aunt, and my best friend lives there. I can see them; stay for free; and take my daughter, who has not been properly introduced to my mother’s side of the family.
- Recently, I’ve wanted to visit my parents in Virginia just to surprise them. I may do it in the next few weeks.
- I can’t blog or respond to other’s blogs as much as I would like. But I think that’s a good thing. Maybe it will keep me from burning out as so many bloggers have recently. To my surprise, my blog has become my most useful writing tool. Who’d of thunk it?
- Didn’t think I’d have anything to talk about, but, as it turns out, I had a lot to get off my chest.
Monday, October 23, 2006
Found this meme at Brilliant Donkey's blog and since I haven't posted a meme in a while, I thought it was time. Feel free to tag yourself.
Fill in what you’ve “done”:
( ) Smoked a joint
( ) Done cocaine
(X) Been in love
( ) Had a threesome
(X) Been dumped
(X) Had feelings for someone who didn’t have them back
( ) Been arrested
(X) Made out with a stranger
Absolutely, in fact, once upon a time, my friends and I considered my husband a "drag back" because we met and hooked up at a bar.
( ) Gone on a blind date
(X) Had a crush on a teacher
(X) Been to Europe
(X) Been to Canada
( ) Been to Mexico
(X) Seen someone die
(X) Thrown up in a bar. I threw up in a limo once. That was special.
(X) Met a celebrity. Met Johnathan Demi, Will Smith, Connie Chung--passed JFK Jr. on the streets of NYC.
(X) Met someone from the Internet in person
( ) Been moshing at a concert
(X) Gone backstage at a concert
(X) Lain outside in the grass and watched cloud shapes go by (Is "lain" gramatically correct?)
(X) Made a snow angel
(X) Flown a kite
(X) Cheated while playing a game. I play a mean game of Uno. And I've been known to bend the rules on occasion.
(X) Been lonely
(X) Fallen asleep at work. That was my Friday.
(X) Fallen asleep at school
() Used a fake ID
() Been kicked out of a bar
( ) Felt an earthquake
() Touched a snake. I held a tarantula once--does that count?
( ) Slept beneath the stars
( ) Been robbed
(X) Won a contest
(X) Run a red light
( ) Been suspended from school
( X) Had braces
(X) Felt like an outcast
(X ) Eaten a whole pint of ice cream in one night. It was sorbet and I was pregnant. The next day I went in for a pre-natal checkup and the dr. couldn't figure out why my sugar levels were so high!
(X) Had deja vu
( ) Totaled a car. I didn't total my car but it got into my first wreck last year. That sucked royally.
( ) Stolen a car
(X) Hated the way you look
( ) Witnessed a crime
( ) Been to a strip club
( ) Been to the opposite side of the world
(X) Swam in the ocean
( ) Felt like dying
(X) Cried yourself to sleep
(X) Sung karaoke
(X) Paid for a meal with only coins
(X) Done something you told yourself you wouldn’t
(X) Made prank phone calls
(X) Caught a snowflake on your tongue
( x) Been kissed under the mistletoe
( x) Had a bonfire on the beach
(X) Crashed a party
(X) Seen a tornado
(X) Had a wish come true
( ) Gone bungee jumping
Bungee jumping no, parasailing yes. Twice.
( ) Screamed in public
( ) Told a complete stranger you loved them
(X) Had a one night stand
( ) Kissed a mirror
( X) Had a dream that you married someone
(X) Gotten your fingers stuck together with super glue
( ) Been a cheerleader
() Sat on a roof top
( ) Talked on the phone for more than 6 hours straight
(X) Stayed up all night. As a DJ in college, I did an all-night show and drank Jolt cola to keep me awake. Bad idea.
() Not taken a shower for three days. Now that's just gross.
() Made contact with a ghost while playing a Ouija board
( ) Had more than 30 pairs of shoes at a time
( ) Gone streaking
() Been skinny dipping
( ) Been pushed into a pool/lake with all your clothes on
(X ) Had sex in a public or semi-public place
(X) Been kissed by a complete stranger
( ) Broken a bone
( ) Caught a butterfly
( ) Mooned/flashed someone
( ) Had someone moon/flash you
( x) Cheated on a test
(X) Forgotten someone’s name
(X) Slept naked. Tonight!
Sunday, October 22, 2006
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
I almost feel like a cheat posting this poem. But when "good" came up as the prompt at Sunday Scribblings, I couldn't resist. Of course I thought of the opposite. I thought of how the terms good and evil have been corrupted in the War on Terror. I thought about my son, trying to explain the gray area between good and bad. I even thought about Sheryl Crow's song "Good Is Good," and idea that if you're not looking for love you could miss it. But in the end, this poem calls me back to the things of this world.
I wonder if Mary Oliver knew how powerful this first line would be when she wrote it.
I don't think I give myself enough room to fail and start again, hence my quote in the page header from Sam Becket. I don't have to be good, I just have to be myself, or "let the soft animal of [my] body love what it loves." I have to remember that in those moments of doubt, I am never alone. And as a writer, I only have to lend myself to the world to find something to write about.
This poem reminds me that every day is an opportunity to do good, to do better.
Saturday, October 21, 2006
So when I think of feminism, I’m really benefiting from the toil of others. Most days I feel as if I’m stepping on the backs of the smart, brave, beautiful women who came before me. I appreciate their efforts and am proud to call myself a feminist, and I’m proud of its rich history—all of it.
Over the years, I have wondered about the place of a middle-class black woman in today's society. My problems are just like my non-black counterparts: I worry about everything from the state of the world to the price of milk. Yet, I feel when I go through the doors of a grocery store, I’m looking for other faces of color—female faces of color. Massachusetts is not the most diverse state in the union.
And while I’ve had great job opportunities, I have this constant feeling that I have to work three times as hard to fit in, yet fly under the radar—in other words, I have to be accepted. Not because I worry about job security. It’s because I’m never quite sure I’m being paid as much as the man (or woman) next to me. These are the thoughts I’m constantly having as I black woman. I was born with a healthy sense of skepticism; I question all motives and never take anything at face value.
Irrational or not, digression or not, my feelings about feminism are tied to civil rights. Maybe it all comes under the header of “do unto others.” I’m going to quote a passage I wrote about the Dodge Poetry Festival:
Probably the most important message I took away was something poet Taslima Nasreen said: “We [women] cannot be free until we are all free.” There are women in all corners of the world suffering. Not one of us is safe unless we all have the freedom to live our lives free of oppression.
I cannot imagine a time when I could not vote, work, take birth control pills, wear pants instead of a skirt, sit wherever the hell I wanted, or order dinner instead of cook. As far as I’m concerned, these are inalienable rights.
So what are the five things feminism has given me?
The right to choose
The right to vote
The right to use contraception
The right to smash the glass ceiling
The right to wear pants
(Thanks Twitches and Chief Biscuit for helping me tap into my inner feminist. If you're reading this and want to try this meme, consider yourself tagged.)
Thursday, October 19, 2006
During the last few weeks, I've heard poems from William Carlos Williams, Langston Hughes, Phil Levine, Mary Oliver, Adrienne Rich, Margaret Atwood, and Robert Frost.
I'm not hip on the technology (I listen in iTunes), but click here to get the link for the podcast.
Admittedly, I didn't read about the optional poetry assignment on reading poetry I tend to avoid until late, but I think it's a good one. Some of the poets I routinely avoid are Ezra Pound, W.B. Yeats, and W.H. Auden. (Maybe I'm avoiding poets with initials as first names.)
I've always wanted to understand their works; more important, I want to enjoy them. But I firmly believe you have to be ready to read certain writers before you can enjoy them. For instance, I look at T.S. Eliot much differently now than when I first started reading him more than 20 years ago. I think that's because I have much more life experience to help me understand his motivations and influences.
So in the spirit of broadening my horizons, I will pick one of these poets to read (probably the least dense of the three) and offer my humble thoughts on the experience.
As for today's poem, well ... I did write it just a few minutes ago. And now I'm off to start my morning routine. Can't wait to read everyone's offerings today.
If you find yourself awake
and alone at 4:30 in the morning,
you wait. You wait until you hear
that first bump against the wall,
the shifting of sheets,
the coil and recoil of bed spings.
You wait for the first toy
to be kicked and some obnoxiously
loud children’s song to disturb the air,
and the shuffle of footed pajamas
on hardwood floor to follow.
You’ve waited for this moment
all night, maybe all your life,
when that ghostly half figure
enters your darkened room,
nothing visible but his outline.
Before your box of a voice
finds its first words of the day,
you wait until your son
tugs on your arm and says, Mommy?
All you have to do is say,
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
I like those words much more than
“sincerely,” “best,” and “cheers”—
words that have become trite
yet expected at the end of a card
or a thank-you note, losing their meaning
when out of context. Tell someone to take care
and you’ve given a directive.
Protect your strange and beautiful
underlife. Protect yourself from
the boundless nimbus:
what mothers fear a child will find
once she leaves the oval of her arms.
A wish for you, love, to move against
the abstract, ever present danger
that calls all things to an end
like a letter, or a poem.
This past weekend, Cave Canem celebrated its 10th-year anniversary. CC is a writers group dedicated to the advancement of African American poets. I have been a fellow since its second year, and had planned on attending the festivities in NYC. But life with two kids does not allow such luxuries sometimes.
In any case, check out the CC blog to see photos and read posts about this glorious reunion.
Monday, October 16, 2006
To-Do List (revised)
Write three poems. Done
Start to revise and reorder poems for manuscript. In process
Read a book of poetry that I bought from the Dodge Festival. I'm reading Ross Gay's first book of poems, Against Which. It's phenomenal.
Attend one poetry reading locally.
Write one poem. In process
Work on manuscript.
Mail poems to two journals (new addition)
Week 4 (end of month)
Hand off manuscript to fellow poets for critique.
Write one poem.
Mail poems to two journals.
With that housekeeping out of the way, I could use your advice. I'm seeking help on how to put together a collection of poems.
When I first arranged my manuscript years ago, I put my poems together chronologically because it made sense at the time. Since I've been blogging and writing more poems, I've had to move away from that. At this point, I see three major sections: public, universal poems; poems about my childhood; and motherhood poems. I have about 60 poems to work with.
Any suggestions/tips/do's and don'ts on how to arrange a manuscript collection would be greatly appreciated. And if you have never put together a manuscript, tell me what you like to see when you read a book of poems. As a reader, what do you enjoy about reading a book. Do you notice the structure? Do you like themes? What don't you like? Tell me everything!
Thanks, in advance.
Sunday, October 15, 2006
Saturday, October 14, 2006
Those who know me personally think I am an only child. But that’s not entirely true. My father was married for a brief time before I was in the picture and had a son. After he divorced, his ex did not let Terence, my half-brother, have any contact with my father. So I grew up without a sibling. And while I knew of him growing up, we didn’t meet until our early 20s.
Earlier this week, Terence passed away. I didn’t know him very well, probably hadn’t spoken to him in almost 15 years, so the loss, while tragic, does not bring a great sadness to my heart. It is what it is, I guess. Rather than going into a lot of details, here’s a poem I wrote for Terence.
No need to express your sympathies—I’m fine, and I appreciate it. If you’re stuck for something to say, just say, “Nice poem.” Or answer yesterday's Q of the Day. As for Sunday Scribblings, if I could stop time, I don’t know if things would be different. But, the post gave me the opportunity to think about Terence, and for that I am thankful.
Also, I can’t help but think, “Now I am an only child, again.”
When a man dies,
you must lay your ear
to his chest, hear the
non-beating of his heart,
be drawn in by the silence
that bonds you to this moment.
Even if you have nothing to say
even if you do not know the deceased
even if you never loved each other,
lean in closer. Closer.
Lower yourself into the casket.
Slip your hand under his shirt.
The last touch of this world
Friday, October 13, 2006
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Looking forward to reading your poems this week.
True Story #2: Devotion
To prove his fidelity,
a Filipino man cut off his penis
wrapped it in newspaper
and threw it through
the window of his wife’s parent’s home.
She opened the newspaper
and there it was:
soft, deflated, delicate.
In the center of her hands she could feel
He yelled to the balcony,
“There! So you will not suspect I am courting another girl,”
and then hobbled off into the night.
his shocked wife gave it to the police
who sought the help of an embalmer to preserve
the severed member until her husband could be found:
this marker of past glory,
an elegy for all that once was.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
A boy cries despite each futile gasp.
Just kindness & love, mom.
No other poem.
X = your Zzzzzz’s.
Monday, October 09, 2006
Anyway, this is what I wrote as a result of the Sunday Scribblings writing challenge. I don't think I'll come back to it but it was fun to stretch myself a bit. I do see a line or two I may reuse. After I wrote my description, I started work on two new poems so it feels like my time was well spent.
Sunday Scribblings at Starbucks
This is where she comes to breathe.
She curls up in the corner
on break from classes at
the nearby college, types notes
on her laptop while reading
Coming to Peace with Science.
She drinks her grande, sighs to
a classmate about her professor,
bob haircut hiding her eyes
as she curls herself into an egg.
Should she drop out?
Should she change classes
turn day into night
and write her life’s story?
“Let me figure out what I have to do next,”
Miss Latte says, “so can move on.”
Friday, October 06, 2006
Since I’m constantly inspired by Writer Bug, and since I’m feeling a bit like I should put up or shut up, I’m posting my poetry to-do list for October. And maybe, just maybe, by making my list public I can get something done for a change.
Write three poems. (I have ideas for all of them.)
Mail poems to two journals. (I have a growing list of places I’d like to send my work.)
Start to revise and reorder poems for manuscript.
Read a book of poetry that I bought from the Dodge Festival.
Attend one poetry reading locally.
Write one poem.
Work on manuscript.
Week 4 (end of month)
Hand off manuscript to fellow poets for critique.
Write one poem.
Mail poems to two journals.
Hmmmm … what else should I be doing?
Thursday, October 05, 2006
1. I'm still in a Dodge Poetry Festival funk
2. My son's third birthday was yesterday, I'm pooped!
3. I have two new poems brewing, one of which has to do with my writing challenge.
I encourage to scroll down the blog for the past few days and read/see pictures of Dodge.
As I look through my poems to find something for Poetry Thursday, I realize that I don't have many poems that focus on the body. But I do have this one, which I wrote when I was reading a lot of Ted Kooser poetry at the time. I like the prompt so much that I may add it to my poetry to-do list for this month. (Yes, I keep a poetry to-do list. Do you?)
An hour before sunrise,
I put on my red robe
and walk the dark halls of the house,
listening to its creaking under my feet.
I look into the bathroom mirror,
see the oval of my mother’s face,
warm chestnut. She reminds me
to wipe the sleep out of my eyes
to smooth lotion on my skin,
keeping it soft and ageless.
Not a laugh line or crow’s foot to be found.
I ask her how this poem should end.
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
While at Dodge, I heard Jim Daniels read his poem, “You Bring Out the Boring White Guy in Me,” which is a takeoff on Christina Acosta’s poem, “You Bring Out the Dominican in Me,” which is a takeoff on the original by Sandra Cisneros, “You Bring Out the Mexican in Me.” If you search the Web, there are dozens of imitations out there.
The poem is basically a list. So write your own version and see what you get. Post a note here when you have written and posted yours on your blog or Web site, and let’s see what Sandra, Jim, and Christina bring out in you! (My version will be closer to Jim’s poem.)
Below is Sandra’s poem. Also, here’s an audio version from National Public Radio.
You Bring Out the Mexican in Me
You bring out the Mexican in me.
The hunkered thick dark spiral.
The core of a heart howl.
The bitter bile.
The tequila lágrimas on Saturday all
through next weekend Sunday.
You are the one I’d let go the other loves for
surrender my one-woman house.
Allow you red wine in bed,
even with my vintage lace linens.
You bring out the Dolores del Río in me.
The Mexican spitfire in me.
The raw navajas, glint and passion in me.
The raise Cain and dance with the rooster-footed devil in me.
The spangled sequin in me.
The eagle and the serpent in me.
The mariachi trumpets of the blood in me.
The Aztec love of war in me.
The fierce obsidian of the tongue in me.
The berrinchuda bien-cabrona in me.
The Pandora’s curiosity in me.
The pre-Columbian death and destruction in me.
The rainforest disaster, nuclear threat in me.
The fear of fascists in me.
Yes, you do. Yes, you do.
You bring out the colonizer in me.
The holocaust of desire in me.
The Mexico City ’85 earthquake in me.
The Popocatepetl/Ixtaccíhuatl in me.
The tidal wave of recession in me.
The Agustín Lara hopeless romantic in me.
The barbacoa taquitos on Sunday in me.
The cover the mirrors with cloth in me.
Sweet twin. My wicked other,
I am the memory that circles your bed nights,
that tugs you taut as moon tugs ocean.
I claim you all mine,
arrogant as Manifest Destiny.
I want to rattle and rent you in two.
I want to defile you and raise hell.
I want to pull out the kitchen knives,
dull and sharp, and whisk the air with crosses.
Me sacas lo mexicana en mi,
like it or not, honey.
You bring out the Uled-Nayl in me.
The stand-back-white-bitch in me.
The switchblade in the boot in me.
The Acapulco cliff diver in me.
The Flecha Roja mountain disaster in me.
The dengue fever in me.
The ¡Alarma! murderess in me.
I could kill in the name of you and think
it worth it. Brandish a fork and terrorize rivals,
female and male, who loiter and look at you,
languid in your light. Oh.
I am evil. I am the filth goddess Tlazoltéotl.
I am the swallower of sins.
The lust goddess without guilt.
The delicious bedauchery. You bring out
the primordial exquisiteness in me.
The nasty obsession in me.
The corporal and venial sin in me.
The original transgression in me.
Red ocher. Yellow ocher. Indigo. Cochineal.
Piñon. Copal. Sweetgrass. Myrrh.
All you saints, blessed and terrible,
Virgen de Guadalupe, diosa Coatlicue,
I invoke you.
Quiero ser tuya. Only yours. Only you.
Quiero amarte. Atarte. Amarrarte.
Love the way a Mexican woman loves. Let
me show you . Love the only way I know how.
Copyright Sandra Cisneros
Happy Birthday, baby boy! My sweat pea. My bug.
I can’t believe you’re three years old. Promise me you’ll stay a boy a little while longer. Mommy can’t handle thinking about the first day of school yet.
The world is a much funnier, happier place with you in it. You never cease to amaze me, like last night when you crawled into our bed for the first time because you wanted to be near your daddy. You are so full of surprises.
Today is your day, Alex. Eat all the cupcakes you can. Drink lots of juice. Run run run until you can’t run anymore. Later, we’ll enjoy fine dining at Chuck-E-Cheese’s and have more cake and ice cream. And the presents—let’s not forget the presents. When it’s time for you to go nite-nite, I’ll tell you the story of the prince who ate all the apples in the kingdom, the story you and I make up as we go along.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Incredible. Mommy loves you.
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
While Saturday was rainy, Sunday perked up nicely for my last day at Dodge. (Pictured with me are poets Joseph Legaspi and Phebus Etienne.)We went to two sessions before heading out: Women and Poetry (discussed in a previous post) and a Festival Poets reading with Tina Chang, Jim Daniels, and Richard Silberg.
I wasn’t familiar with their works, but I was impressed by all of them, especially Tina and Jim. And while Jim has published nine books and edited many anthologies, I can’t figure out why he’s considered a Poet Among Us instead of a featured poet. He read a poem called “You Bring Out the Boring White Guy in Me,” which is a takeoff on a poem by Christina Acosta, which is a takeoff on the original by Sandra Cisneros (maybe we all should try a takeoffs on this poem). Anyway, going to the smaller venues to watch poets I’ve never seen before is what Dodge is all about.
Throughout the weekend, I was constantly amazed at the passion all of us have for the craft of poetry. Makes me proud and lucky to be a member of such a diverse group of writers and readers.
By all accounts, poetry should be dead. It competes on a daily basis with television, iPods, the Internet, video games, etc. It is the least-selling genre of book in the world today and yet it flourishes and nests in places like Waterloo Village. As I do every two years, I take the gifts of Dodge—the poetry, rekindled friendships, renewed commitment to be a disruptive seed—and bring it back to the everyday. I have been to the well and feel excited and invigorated about the poetry to come.
Monday, October 02, 2006
It was my great privilege to attend a discussion featuring four amazing women poets: Toi Derricotte, Taslima Nasreen, Linda Pastan, and Anne Waldman.
The format was an open-ended conversation about how these diverse women came to poetry. Linda was a housewife for many years before eeking out a space of her own. Anne spoke about her mother, who encouraged her to make her own path in life. Toi discussed her clouded family history as a light-skinned black woman. And Taslima was raised in an oppressive patriarchal society where women are not supposed to learn to read much less write poetry.
Now that I have given this oversimplified summary, here are a few points from this enlightening conversation.
1. Duty and Domain—two words that seem like opposite ends of the spectrum, but are points on a linear track. The women spoke of how they were raised to be good girls: grow up, get married, have babies, keep a clean house. But all of them went against the grain to make a path. Yet even as writers, they felt certain subjects were in the male domain, as if they didn't have the right to write about the body, sex, unfulfilled desires, etc.
2. All of the women spoke about how they had no models for being a poet. Toi even referenced Lucille’s poem, “won't you celebrate with me.” So as you might imagine, community was a common theme among these poets.
3. On the flip side of community, there was much discussion about a how women tend to break each other down instead of supporting each other.
4. Anne talked about how she had to raise her voice to be the loudest voice in the room.
5. Toi was struck by the degree of passion many women poets have. For Toi, being able to write is what she called "coming to voice." There are some days, where she doesn’t feel like she’s even feels worthy to write. I sat there thinking I know what she means. It goes beyond thinking that I’ll never been as good enough as a male. It’s the feeling of never being good enough as a black poet and as well as a woman poet. It's the feeling of never being good enough as a black and a women. I could see many people, white and nonwhite, nodding their heads as Toi spoke. We all have some stone in the bottom of our hearts weighing us down.
6. Linda reminded the crowd that being a poet means that you can write about anything. You can write about political topics or you can write about flowers if that's what you want. I think we forget sometimes that writing a poem can make a reader open his or her imagination. As Linda said, "The job of the poet is to make the imagination work."
7. There was concern among the women in the audience about the next generation of women. Girls today don’t seem to have a sense of history, and are complacent about what’s going on in the world today. Concern about girls on cell phones trying to be like their pop idols with no regard for what’s going on in their communities and homes. Are we, as women, providing enough guidance and wisdom as mentors?
8. Probably the most important message I took away was something Taslima said, “We [women] cannot be free until we are all free. There are women in all corners of the world suffering. Not one of us is safe unless we all have the freedom to live our lives free of oppression.
At this point, the conversation turned political. Why, other than Cindy Sheehan, are their no female voices speaking out against the war in Iraq, against poverty and injustices across the globe. Where have all the poets gone?
I think there’s a lot of truth in that last statement. The Bush administration has done a bang-up job of silencing voices of decent. And by letting the silence continue, it’s almost as if we’ve given up control—which is not uncommon for women to do. Poets and writers—male and female—have to let their voices be heard. Whether it’s in the home or on the page or in front of an audience, we must not be silent any more.
I’ll leave you with this poem from Taslima Nasreen, who has published more than 30 books that have been translated into 20 languages. She lives in exile in Europe from her birthplace of Bangladesh.
WOMEN AND POEMS
With as much pain as a human being becomes a woman,
That much pain makes a woman a poet.
A word takes a long year to be made,
a poem an entire life.
When woman becomes a poet, she is totally a woman.
Then she is mature enough to give birth from her suffering heart,
Then she knows how to care for a word.
You have to be a woman first if you want to give birth to a poem.
A word without any pain is fragile, breaks when touched.
Who knows more than a woman all the lanes and alleys of pain!
Sunday, October 01, 2006
I'm here at the Dodge Poetry Festival but I wanted to add my two cents to the conversation about skin. (Scroll down for pictures and posts from the festival.)
Being comfortable in my skin took years of practice. My perspective has always been a minority one. When I walk into a room, usually I am the only one of color. I see it in grocery stores, at the office, in my neighborhood. So to a certain extent, I've always felt comfortable with who I am because this is how it is. It also means that I have the opportunity to be the first person of color going through the door, making things happen, changing perspectives--now that's an opportunity I can't pass up.
As I sit here typing a few miles away from Dodge, I am reminded of something that one of the panelist said at a session on race and poetry. This particular panelist was (is) African American; he said (I'm paraphrasing) that as African Americans, we know more about white culture than they know about us. We've spent our whole lives adapting, changing, working to be accepted--but it hasn't been a reciprocal relationship. Poetry (and spaces like Sunday Scribblings) gives us a common ground to have open discussions, and can be a way into the lives and histories of others. From there, we can start to understand what it's like to be in someone else's skin.
So when I think of skin, I think of color, but I also think of the possibilities for change. Being able to talk about what it's like to be me through poetry allows me to start a dialogue with you, a virtual stranger. Again, it's the opportunity to walk through a new door that I can't pass up.
1. Dodge is AWESOME! I know that doesn't tell you much but for a poet this is nirvana. Everyone comes with open minds and hearts. Nowhere else can I hear 19 poets read in 10 minute intervals. Nowhere else can I hear Billy Collins and Anne Waldman read on the same stage.
2. I just don't get Anne Waldman. Really, someone explain her to me. Can you call her screeching and histrionics poetry? I know she's associated with Allen Ginesberg and the beat poets. I know she's got the Jack Kerouac School for Disembodies Poets and Niropa. But really, WTF? Her performance poetry scares me. I want to understand her so I'm going a session with Anne, Toi Derricotte, Taslima Nasreen, and Linda Pastan called Conversation: Poetry and the Lives of Women. Wish me luck.
3. I really should say more uplifting things about poets I don't like.