by Marissa Textor
Several years ago, Kim Addonizio wrote “everyday I am both terrified and amazed to be here.” I was a junior in college when I first read that declaration and it seems to have resonated more and more every year since.
Lately though, the balance is increasingly being tipped toward terrified: the Texas Education Board’s decision to literally revise history textbooks to please right right lobbyist, Arizona’s apparent desire to become an apartheid state (in regards to its noxious immigration law as well as its anti-ethnic studies policy,) the fact that BP ruined/runs the Gulf Coast, so forth and so on. (I dare you to make a list of your own.)
And then this morning, I read about Israel’s attack on the humanitarian flotilla. I can’t explain my reaction except to say that something inside me broke. Maybe it was a hairline fraction or a fault line that’s been threatening to tremble for awhile, but I went from being shocked to outraged to empowered (I started looking up plans for rallies and plan on attending one in Times Square tomorrow) to exhausted to helpless. I couldn’t get anything done. I would try to read and re-read some of my favorite books and I wouldn’t make it ten minutes. I would try writing and couldn’t get past the first sentence without wanting to cry.
I should confess that I tend to get highly emotional when I’m in a creative stretch and since I’ve been writing everyday and will continue to do throughout the summer, my emotions have gone from technicolor to HDTV. But I think it runs deeper than that. Today was about more than me being sad or weepy for no good reason. It was about me sitting at my desk and wondering if there was in fact a place for my poetry (or any poetry) in this world? If people are doing what they should be doing (reading as much current events publications as possible, rallying in the streets, volunteering,) would they have time to read the imperfect poems I’m constructing?
Recently a person asked me if my poetry was inspiring. Without a pause, I said that it was not. I stand by that self-assessment and yet can’t help but (from time to time) wish that I could write a masterful poem that provided some kind of answer, however partial, however complete: a poem that amazed more than terrified, a poem that answered at least one of the impossible questions we’ve been posed with, a poem that said “Here it is. Here we are. Now, walk this way.”
The post was supposed to be about literary escapism but it appears to have gone in a very different direction. That’s fine with me. It’s not my intention to get encouragement from you or anyone about my work and this world. Rather, I think that it’s our obligation as artists to pause for a moment and honestly consider where we are in this world and what our work has to do with it.
I’m not going to write a poem about Gaza tomorrow. At least, not that I know of. I will find a way to write to that tragedy through metaphors and veils and words tucked behind more words but it will take time and it will most likely happen months or years from now. All I’m trying to say, I suppose, is that I’m amazed and terrified and trying.
Although I recently moved across the river to Jersey City, my heart is still in Newark. Over the last two years, I’ve fallen in love with that city. We know Mayor Cory Booker is doing amazing things for the city (as well as consistently supporting Newark’s LGBT citizens) but there is an amazing movement of fierce advocates in Brick City who are making change happen one day at a time. I applaud Dinean Robinson, Kyle Rosenkrans, Larry Lyons, Darnell Moore, June Dowell-Burton and countless others.
And so, I can’t wait to read my poetry at a fundraiser next Saturday (June 5th) to support Rising Higher: Newark-Essex Pride Week 2010. It’s a crucial cause and there’s no where else I would rather be. If you’re in the area, I’d love to see you there. And even if you don’t live nearby, please visit NEPC‘s website & consider making a donation.
Snap for the kids!
(photos from The Boston Globe – go here to see the rest)
by Andris Feldmanis
Lately, I’ve been reading A Martian Muse: Further Essays on Identity, Politics, and the Freedom of Poetry by Reginald Shepherd. Many people are now familiar with Shepherd’s Oprheus in the Bronx the collection of essays published shortly after his death.
When I read the essays in Orpheus in the Bronx last winter, something in me broke open. I was sitting in a coffee shop, reading as much as I could before my poetry workshop that evening, and then next thing I knew, I was crying uncontrollably, embarrassingly. I can’t tell you what it is about Shepherd’s work that resonates so deeply with me. Perhaps it has something to do with my realization that so many of my black gay mentors in the word are gone: Melvin Dixon, Reginald Shepherd, Essex Hemphill, E. Lynn Harris, Don Belton.
It seems that I’m a student of ghosts. (Then again, most writers could very well say the same.) In tribute to these ghosts, I will be writing about their work throughout the summer. It’s quite possible you’ve never heard of them (or perhaps you love them even more than I do.) Regardless, I want to honor their memory & their words.
I’m working on a more elaborate post about Shepherd’s poetry but, for now, here’s a passage from his essay “What We Talk About When We Talk About Poetry” that I read yesterday & have been running over my tongue ever since:
Some years ago, when I lived in Chicago, I attended a screening of a film biography of the late Martinican Negritude poet Aime Cesaire, a fascinating and challenging poet who also had a rather interesting life. During the question and answer period someone asked, “What does this film have to say to the average black kid on the street corner?” I wondered, “Why does it have to speak to him? Isn’t there enough in our culture that’s addressed to him, that panders, however patronizingly and exploitatively, to him?” And isn’t it insulting to assume that he couldn’t find something interesting and engaging in Cesaire if he were given the chance to do so? To assume that the mythical “average person” can’t appreciate anything complex is rank condescension. But in our culture, anything “intellectual,” anything complex or difficult, is not only marginalized but dismissed as irrelevant or, most damningly, “elitist,” often by members of the socio-economic elite.
by Suzy Poling
There’s been a change in my bio. The sentence that used to read “Saeed Jones is currently a MFA student at Rutgers University – Newark,” now reads “Saeed Jones is a graduate of the Rutgers University – Newark MFA program.”
I’m a graduate.
Frankly, I think it’s a bit too soon for me to know what “being a graduate” means exactly, but I know what I want it to mean. Being able to participate in a poetry workshop every week (and I honestly enjoyed the workshops in all their variety; Rigoberto Gonzalez, Rachel Hadas, and Cynthia Cruz each brought something new to the table) was a bit of a luxury. Whenever I was struggling with a poem, I knew that eventually I could show it to a group of people I had come to trust and get some ideas. This in no way ensured the success of the poem, but it didn’t give me some options about where the poem could go next. Classmates would help me understand that lines that I thought were dead ends were, in fact, just alleyways.
For me, that’s what workshops have always been about: options & alternatives. Do the best you can with a draft of poem, share it, listen – really listen – to the feedback, and then go home and assess your options.
The challenge now is that I won’t be able to so easily access the feedback of my peers. Sure, I have poetry pen pals and will stay in touch with friends I made in the program, but I need to (and honestly, want to) be more independent. When I see a dead end in my poem, I’m going to have to turn it into an alleyway on my own. It may take longer, but it will happen – because it has to.
And so, when I say “every goodbye ain’t gone” I mean that, if I am serious about being a poet, being a “graduate” is not an end, but a means. The MFA is more of a comma than a period.
Still, though, “graduate” has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?
My poem “Mississippi Drowning” is in the current issue of The Collagist. Also, you are hereby required to read this amazing poem by Sandy Longhorn. She’s a friend of this blog and her poem is… deadly.
by Jeremy Geddes
“The whole language of writing for me is finding out what you don’t want to know, what you don’t want to find out.” – James Baldwin