Monthly Archives: November 2008

Feedback: My Friends Contribute Their Own Book Lists

Some of my friends were nice enough to send me their own lists of books that matter.

The Tantalizing Tara Betts:

Books That Influenced My Poetry (I’ll just name 10)
1. 100 Love Sonnets by Pablo Neruda
2. Imagine the Angels of Bread by Martin Espada
3. Blacks by Gwendolyn Brooks
4. Neon Vernacular by Yusef Komunyakaa
5. Homegirls & Handgrenades by Sonia Sanchez
6. The Collected Poems of Anne Sexton
7. The Book of Light by Lucille Clifton
8. The Collected Poems of Stanley Kunitz
9. Ariel by Sylvia Plath
10. The Gold Cell by Sharon Olds

To Understand My Writing Understand These Books
1. Some of Us Did Not Die by June Jordan
2. Deep Sightings & Rescue Missions by Toni Cade Bambara
3. Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
4. On Being Female, Black and Free: Essays by Margaret Walker
5. The Black Poets edited by Dudley Randall
6. Interracialism by Werner Sollors
7. bell hooks (too many titles by her, but definitely “Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center”, “Where We Stand: Class Matters”, “Teaching to Transgress”, “Ain’t I A Woman”, “Sisters of the Yam” and “Homegrown”)
8. A Formal Feeling Comes edited by Annie Finch
9. Patricia Smith (esp. her first three books, but all of her stuff) and Marilyn Nelson (esp. “Carver”, “A Wreath for Emmett Till” and “Homecoming”)
10. Live from Death Row by Mumia Abu-Jamal
11. Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey

The Quotable John Owen:

Spring and All -William Carlos Williams

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind

Dancing in Odessa -Ilya Kaminsky

October: grapes hung like the fists of a girl
gassed in her prayer. Memory,
I whisper, stay awake.

Heaven and Earth -Albert Goldbarth

Too much isn’t the felled tree, or the company’s
eight-car train of trees in the mill lot, it’s
one palomino-colored shaving spiraling as delicate
as a pubic curl from the whittler’s stick;

Plus Shipping -Bob Hicok

What she likes about the word Bolivia
beside the sexual things it does to the tongue
is her feeling that anything you do there
might cause people to dance.

Names Above Houses -Oliver de la Paz

So you want to levitate, to float in the sky the way the tops of trees jut out? Wind-stunned sparrows will nibble your earlobe. Bees will make a hive of your your hair. In rain you’ll be so high no roof can cover your head. You will fear music from brassy instruments because their notes sit in your brain with no one to sing along.

Rose -Li-Young Lee

Donna undresses, her stomach is white.
In the yard, dewy and shivering
with crickets, we lie naked,
face-up, face-down.
I teach her Chinese.
Crickets: Chiu Chiu. Dew: I’ve forgotten.
Naked: I’ve forgotten.
Ni, wo: you and me.

Elegy -Larry Levis

Someone always interrupting. My head ached
And I would walk home in the blackness of winter.

I still had two friends, but they were trees.

Transformations -Anne Sexton

No matter what life you lead
the virgin is a lovely number:
cheeks as fragile as cigarette paper,
arms and legs made of Limoges,
lips like Vin Du Rhone,

One Train -Kenneth Koch

Adam and Eve may hide the real Adam and Eve.
Jerusalem may hide Jerusalem.
When you come to something, stop to let it pass

Meditations in an Emergency -Frank O’Hara

In times of crisis, we must all decide again and again whom we love.

The Octopus Publishing Tom Hunley:

1. Lies by CK Williams
2. First Course in Turbulence (and everything else) by Dean Young
3. Sleeping with the Dictionary by Haryette Mullen
4. Hinge & Sign by Heather McHugh
5. Howl by Allen Ginsberg
6. The Collected Poems of Kenneth Koch
7. Collected Poems by Kenneth Patchen
8. The Body Mutinies by Lucia Perillo
9. My Twentieth Century by David Kirby
10. Between Angels by Stephen Dunn

The Jubilant Jesus Valles:

1. Teahouse of the Almighty by Patricia Smith (every single page of this book is incredible to me)
2. Como Agua Para Chocolate/Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel (I read it in elementary school because I saw the movie first. It made me want to cook and fall in love so hard)
3. I am not myself these days by Josh Kilmer Purcell
4. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
5. Domestica: Immigrant Workers Cleaning and Caring in the Shadows of Affluence by Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo
6. Voices In The Kitchen: Views of Food and The World from Working-Class Mexican and Mexican-American Women by Meredith Abarca.
7. Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa by Rigoberto Gonzalez
8. The Hours by Michael Cunningham
9. Chicana Falsa by Michelle Serros
10. The Glory Box by Tim Miller
11. Besame Mucho: New Gay Latino Fiction – an anthlogy edited by Jaime Manrique (If you ever get your hands on this, read “The Two Miracles of The Gringo’s Virgin” and “Mara’s Marvelous Match”!)
12. The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
13. The Dirty Girl’s Social Club by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez
14. Bang Crunch: Stories by Neil Smith
15. Couldn’t Keep It To Myself: Testimonies from our Imprisoned Sisters – Wally Lamb and The Women of York Correctional Institution
16. Doin’ Time: Through The Visiting Glass by Ashley Lucas
17. Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood by bell hooks
18. Harmless Medicine by Justin Chin
19. Selected Poems / Blacks by Gwendolyn Brooks
20. Unsettling America: An Anthology of Contemporary Multicultural Poetry edited by Maria Mazzioli Gillan and Jennifer Gillan (Elena by Pat Mora is the bomb)
21. Borders, Agua Santa, My Own Name, Aunt Carmen’s Book of Practical Saints, and The Desert is my Mother – all by Pat Mora.
22. As Bees In Honey Drown by Douglas Carter Beene
23. Fat Girl: A True Story by Judith Moore


Books That Matter to Me. How About You?

I really think one of the best things we can do for one another (aside from offering perspectives on writing) is to share our perspectives on reading. We do it all the time, but so often we do it in private. I think it would be great if we could share/confess/list books that matter to us. My lists are below. The first list consists books of poetry that have influenced my writing. The second list recognizes non-poetic books that have nonetheless influenced my writing. You will notice that I’ve grouped several books together under one point because I tend to view various works by a single author as a collective entity.

Books of Poetry that Have Influenced My Poetry (in no particular order)

1. Tell Me – Kim Addonizio
2. To Bedlam and Part Way Back – Anne Sexton
3. Archaic Smile and Hapax – A.E. Stallings
4. Gathering Ground: A Celebration of the First Decade of Cave Canem – Various Authors
5. Macnolia – A. Van Jordan
6. Wind in a Box – Terrance Hayes
7. Meadowlands – Louise Gluck
8. You Don’t Miss Your Water – Cornelius Eady
9. Tales From Ovid – Ted Hughes
10. Blood Dazzler – Patricia Smith

To Understand My Writing Understand These Books (in no particular order)

1. Strange Pilgrims and Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
2. Sula, The Bluest Eye, Beloved, and What Moves at The Margin – Toni Morrison
3. Feminism is for Everybody, Where We Stand: Class Matters, and Reel to Real – bell hooks
4. A People’s History of the United States – Howard Zinn
5. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – Edward Albee
6. The Witch Must Die: The Hidden Meaning of Fairy Tales – Sheldon Cashdon
7. King Hedley II and Fences – August Wilson
8. The Seafarer – Conor McPherson
9. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
10. The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin – Vol. 1 – Nichiren Daishonin

This Week’s Form: The Bop


A recent invention, the Bop was created by Afaa Michael Weaver during a summer retreat of the African American poetry organization, Cave Canem. Not unlike the Shakespearean sonnet in trajectory, the Bop is a form of poetic argument consisting of three stanzas, each stanza followed by a repeated line, or refrain, and each undertaking a different purpose in the overall argument of the poem.

The first stanza (six lines long) states the problem, and the second stanza (eight lines long) explores or expands upon the problem. If there is a resolution to the problem, the third stanza (six lines long) finds it. If a substantive resolution cannot be made, then this final stanza documents the attempt and failure to succeed.

Tough Encouragement For Writing

We all have our ups and downs, especially when it comes to producing work we are happy with. This past week or so, I had what I like to call a min-writer’s block. I get them from time to time, usually when I’ve been writing about the same subject matter over and over again. Instead of freaking out, I tried to find other things to do, to experience. I went to the NY Comedy Festival and a rooftop party in Tribeca. It’s not that I was looking to distract myself so much as to find new things to think about and eventually write about. And it paid off. Tonight, I sat down at my desk and the words just started flowing.

Anyway, in that spirit I wanted to share an excerpt from a poem by Charlotte Delbo called “Prayer to the Living to Forgive Them for Being Alive” —

I beg you
do something
learn a dance step
something to justify your existence
something that gives you the right
to be dressed in your skin in your body hair
learn to walk and to laugh
because it would be too senseless
after all
for so many to have died
while you live
doing nothing with your life

Major Jackson, Charles Bernstein, and Cecily Parks…

will be reading at the New School tonight at a reception for the launch of the new issue of American Poet, the journal of the Academy of American Poets. Tickets are $5 and available at the door.

Here’s the address: 65 W. 11th Street, 5th floor, Rm. 550

This week’s form: the kwansaba

I just found out about this form a couple of weeks ago and thought I’d share it with you. It consists of seven lines with seven words in each line and no word with more than seven characters.

Here’s an explanation of the form via Janet Grace Riehl:

The Kwansaba came into being as a praise song. Drumvoices Revue has used the Kwansaba form to praise Richar Wright (2008), Maya Angelou and Quincy Troupe (2007), Jayne Cortex (2006), Amiri Baraka and Sonia Sanchez (2005), Katherine Dunham (2004), Miles Davis (2003). Outside of haiku and the blues, the Kwansaba is one of the most portable forms. It distills content economically.

In 1995 the kwansaba—a new poetry form—was invented in East St. Louis. The Eugene B. Redmond Writers Club, organized and chartered in March 1986, brought together cultural workers and creative artists searching for “new tools, concepts, vehicles, and challenges within regional and global contexts.”

In the early 1990s Kwanzaa (based on a 7-day ritual) Celebration based around the Nguzo Saba (Seven Principles) was introduced to the United States by Dr. Maulana Karenga. Eugene Redmond says in a 2004 Drumvoices Revue that “Over several months I toyed with the Swahili words Kwanzaa (first fruits) and Saba (principles) until the term kwansaba hit me like fresh–or ancestral—love.”

The Kwansaba is a poem consisting of seven lines. Each line has no more than seven words. Each word has no more than seven letters. Thus, the form, revolving around the number 7, adding up to 49 words, is based on the seven principles of the Kwansaa celebration.

Redmond continues to explain the importance of the number 7 in “astronomy, numerology, and mythology.” In 2004 Drumvoices Revue published a special series of Kwansabas for Katherine Dunham, who arrived in East St. Louis in 1967, “at the height of the Black Arts Movement and one year after the invention of the Kwansaba.”

A Peculiar Kind of Writer’s Block

I’m not going to lie ya’ll. I’ve been trying to write all damn day and I have very little to show for it. Often, when I’m having trouble putting lines together, I will change things up. Having trouble writing in free verse? Maybe the poem needs some meter. Try writing it as a triolet. Give yourself a set number of syllables for each line.  That little trick usually helps me get the words flowing, but not today. Honestly, I’m too anxious about this election. It’s been two very long years.. well, eight very long years, now that I think about it, and so much is at stake. I sent in my absentee ballot a couple of weeks ago and prayed (literally, prayed) that my vote would be counted. There seems to be so many horror stories going around about ballots being tossed out for shady reasons. With all this anxiety and excitement going on, it’s hard for me to find my rhythm. It’s not the end of the world. It just means I will start again tomorrow. Hopefully, I will be able to write a poem about Michelle picking out new curtains for the Oval Office.