The Second Chapter, or I’ve Been in San Francisco for Five Days



I moved to San Francisco five days ago. When my flight broke through the fog and touched down, I made my way to Mission Street with a roller suitcase and manbag. The rest of my possessions – six boxes of books – are being shipped. I’ve come here to start over knowing full well there’s no such thing as starting over.

At night, I sleep on the floor of my friend’s Isaac studio apartment and dream my way through scenes of the book I’m writing. Dreaming is how most of my writing starts. Obsessed over whatever paragraph I was working on the previous day, I dream about the paragraph on a loop, my ghost self locked in the paragraph’s room.

I wake up at 6:12 am because I have to pee. I lay back down to sleep and my head lands on my macbook which I keep beside my pillow. So, I start to write. I’m only five pages into a new draft. I write in false-starts, writing and erasing the same paragraph until words start to jive, until the sentences say that they don’t want to be erased.

They almost always want to be erased. So, I write a page or two a day. The following day, I re-write most of those pages and maybe walk away with three pages. It’s a weird dance.



Poet Cynthia Cruz on Madness, Bodies and Bodies of Work

I was fortunate enough to be able to study with poet Cynthia Cruz at Rutgers -Newark while completing my MFA. She’s a generous teacher and her poetry rattles me in the best way possible. (Her first collection Ruin is what I consider to be “required reading.”) Anticipating the release of two new poetry collections, Cruz sat down with Lisa Wells from The Rumpus for an amazing interview. Here’s an excerpt:

Lisa Wells: Can you talk about the madness in your work? Or is it religiosity operating there? Some marriage of the two?

Cruz: To begin with: we are all mad, it’s simply a matter of where we are on that continuum. My mind is what saved me, as a child. Thank God, I was able to vanish into the world of my mind. But, conversely, it can also be a dangerous thing. The mind can play tricks. Was Joan of Arc mad? Simone Weil? Glenn Gould? Where’s the line between bravery and honesty and genius and madness? Sometimes it overlaps. I suffered from anorexia for many years (from the age of eleven) and that is quite certainly a kind of madness. My mind told me things that quite simply were not true. I had to fight against my mind.

And then, as you say, there is the spiritual. Back to Joan of Arc and Simone Weil: mystics or mad women? Virginia Woolf? Was she “mad” or driven mad? Finally, I am not content with the idea that people who suffer from madness of any kind ought to be marginalized. Nearly everyone I know in New York City is on one kind of medication or another for anxiety or depression or what have you, so again, it’s a matter of where we fall on the continuum which is really, in the end, just luck.

And later in the interview, Cruz gives a response that I’ve been reading and re-reading.

I was anorexic for many years (from eleven years old well into adulthood), and it has not gone unnoticed that the entire “project” of anorexia is not dissimilar to the act of making poetry. Both are a kind of miming, a kind of spectacle, a way of enacting how one feels. With anorexia, I, for one, was, of course without being conscious of it, performing as a means to show the world how I felt. I wanted both to be noticed (I felt invisible) and I wanted to not be seen (I felt I was too intense.) Anorexia served its purpose. It was a deliberate translating of experience, a means of communication: by compressing all my feelings, which were overwhelming for me, I made a kind of porcelain figurine of myself. I became a symbol, a code. Anorexia was a whirring machine into which I poured everything and, as a result, through anorexia, I was able to survive these feelings and experiences. With poetry, I do much the same thing: it is also a whirring machine I put all my thoughts, feelings, and experiences into. I compress and revise compulsively (again, like anorexia, a kind of compulsive repetition and deletion of parts of the self {the self being poem or self}) until I have a perfect box of words that then stand in for experience, feeling, thought, a kind of perfect diorama, a world in miniature. I would not be alive today were it not for both anorexia and poetry.

Read the interview in its entirety here.

On Reading Abroad

Since the end of June, I have been to Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, London, Glasgow and Edinburgh. At the moment, I’m writing to you from Bangkok, Thailand. It certainly has been quite a journey — by turns ecstatic, overwhelming, hilarious and challenging — to say the least.

I’ve written a bit about my adventures for Ebony and will continue to do so as I go along, but I just wanted to take a moment and note all of the wonderful books I’ve been reading along the way. Earlier this year, I was able to see Toni Morrison read from Home. During the Q & A that followed, she remarked that “words are [her] home.” As readers and writers, I’m sure many of you feel the same way.

I certainly do and have found that reading novels while traveling has allowed me to create maintain a sense of familiarity while surrounded with the unfamiliar. In any case, here’s what I’ve been reading:

My Dear Friends in America by Daisaku Ikeda

Big Machine by Victor LaValle

Pym by Mat Johnson

Black Cool edited by Rebecca Walker

Erasure by Percival Everett

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Beautiful Tiny Things by Cheryl Strayed

The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle

Visible Man: On Double Consciousness and Bike Riding in Berlin

From my latest for Ebony:

It’s my last week in Berlin. I pedal down Martin Luther Strasse. In 1530, the street’s namesake wrote “They are trying to make me into a fixed star. I am an irregular planet.” In Ancient Greek, the word “planet” means “to wander.”

Sometimes I catch people staring as I bike past them. Wide-eyed, mouths slightly open as if to question the color of my hair. Red like Mars, like the rings of Jupiter… In the split-second of my passing, I wander into and through their idea of what a black man is supposed to look like.

Go here to read the rest.

“I run past what I thought was the end / of myself.”

“Five years and a funeral later, I dream I’m driving across that same bridge with my mother in the passenger seat.”

by Christoffer Relander

So happy to have “Nocturne” in the latest issue of Union Station magazine. Here’s an excerpt:

Five years and a funeral later, I dream I’m driving across that same bridge with my mother in the passenger seat. A bright, cloudless afternoon, music is playing on the radio and the windows are rolled down. My mother keeps waving her suddenly wild hair out of her face. We are laughing or, at least, I hear laughter.

The bridge is different in daylight; under this bright sky, the bridge does not end. Driving at 40 miles an hour, we have been crossing this bridge all day, but mother does not notice. She keeps waving strands of hair out of her eyes and switching radio stations. Music is playing but I can’t hear the music. The bridge keeps going and, with one hand still on the wheel, I reach over and touch her hand.

I put my hand back on the wheel, but the part of her hand that I touched turns an iridescent blue, tinged with green. Soon, a peacock stain marks where I touched my mother and we stare at each other.

This is how I know she is dead.

She tries to apologize, but I look back at the road ahead and press down on the gas. The bridge just won’t stop.

Go here to read the rest.

“Be your own kind of wild.” – Samuel F. Reynolds

by Bruce Munro

My year of travel has begun. I’ve already been to Memphis and New Orleans. Rocking out in San Francisco at the moment, but that doesn’t mean I’m not writing. Can’t stop, won’t stop.

  • Emilia Phillip’s wrote an amazing review of WHEN THE ONLY LIGHT IS FIRE.
  • Blackbird has features two new poems of mine alongside an amazing line-up of poets.
  • My latest piece for, “Traveling Man” is up and running.
  • And – if you haven’t already – follow my tumblr to keep up with the words and images from my travels.

My Last 3 Poetry Readings in NYC Are This Week

by Saeed Jones

It’s finally happening. I move out of my apartment in three days. I leave New York on Sunday morning. I leave the country for a year beginning on June 24. My flight to Madrid has been purchased. Movers are on their way to my apartment as I type.
It’s on! But before I go, I’m saying goodbye to my New York friends the best way I know how…

New Author Photo

Photo by Christine Zilka

What do you think?

“Need another double-black / kiss. I’ve got more hunger than my body can hold.”

by Sarah Garzoni

So happy to have my poem “Last Call” in the Drink-themed issue of Muzzle Magazine alongside my word-brother Rickey Laurentiis. Pour yourself a drink and then click here to read.

I, for one, prefer Johnnie Walker Double Black on the rocks.