Sunday, November 16, 2008

Whenever, Wherever, Whatever...

You will not believe what two fabulous writers helped me do last Maxwell (yes, that is him looking all pretty up above) turned out the Landmark Theater and I was determined to get close enough to reach out and touch him. Well, everything came together: averted a few minor crises, got the cameras in working order, landed the most fabulous seats and came with reinforcements. I thought for sure security was going to trip me up, but even they gave in after I reasoned with them for a few seconds.

There is a good reason that I am clearly having some time of conniption fit in the picture below...this is me after I convinced security to let me run down into the orchestra pit and sidle up right below Maxwell...

Here's the full view of the same photo (thanks to Princess). There's me again at the bottom and what's that in Maxwell's hand, you might ask?...

Need a closer look?...

Just in case you're still not sure...

Yes, that is Maxwell, he is in the middle of tearing the house down and he does have an autographed copy of my book in his hand!!! This, of course, just after he reached down and took it from me while thanking me profusely for it...I always knew his Mama raised him right :-)

We had such an amazing time last night and I wouldn't have been nearly as successful at offering up some poetry (he is not going to remember who gave him those flowers or who threw those unmentionables on the stage!) to the man who inspires me in so many ways were it not for my two fabulous friends. Here's a shot of Princess and Lamar, all euphoric and beautiful after the show...

Oh and security wasn't stopping anyone from whipping out the heavy artillery, so I held it together long enough to record this...This Woman's Work is done and done well :-)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Poem of the Month

Everybody is buzzing about the news that Obama was caught with a book of poetry in his hands yesterday. Of course, the poets were thrilled about this, but were even more interested in what/whom the president-elect was reading. I think we were all happy to hear it was Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott, brilliant ambassador of poetry from the Caribbean.

I always teach the same Walcott poem at the very end of every one of my creative writing/poetry classes and it is one of the most important mantras in my life:

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

--Derek Walcott

Even as I am typing this, I am in tears. Walcott is simply stunning here. And as you grow older (or as I do) the words have new meaning each time you reach and surpass a milestone in your life. The poem is about all the things we're ever told but find it difficult to remember: you are good enough; you are worthy; this too shall pass; this is a learning experience; no can love you until you learn to love yourself. This is the same thing we get from parents and self-help books, but Walcott uses a fraction of the space and time to say it so much better. You get the sense that he is convinced this is true and so you are convinced.

First, the opening declarative statement--"The time will come"--as opposed to a less forceful one such as 'The time may come', instantly creates a kind of omniscience on the part of the speaker. This authoritative voice is used throughout the poem to impart clear and essential advice to the reader. Walcott sets up a 'mirror image' in the first stanza. The poem is written using the second person point of view, so the reader immediately gets the sense that they are being given some personal life lesson. All of the action that takes place in the poem is that of the reader looking in on himself. He arrives 'at his own door', looks into 'his own mirror' and dines at his own table.

By the second stanza, the reader has the sense that they are meeting and old friend, but here the "me, myself and i" cliche is handled with more subtlety than it is in other art forms. There is much to be said about the infusion of the meal imagery here. The 'breaking of bread' is a sacred thing in most cultures. We have inferences of it some of our our pinnacle art, especially in the black community, not least of all Langston's reference to the table.

The original use of the term, and the imagery, is biblical. People literally broke bread together and shared not only food, but sustenance, literal and spiritual, around the table. Hence, Walcott's choice of cuisine--bread and wine--are deliberate and important. This particular food and drink has been a staple since ancient times. Everyone, from monarchs to paupers, partook in some form of the two. When Christ instituted the new passover memorial, he used bread and wine to symbolize his pure blood and body; he told his followers to do this 'in remembrance', to continue breaking bread together as a symbol of their devotion to righteousness and their commitment to continue to strive to be holy themselves.

All of this is evident in Walcott's poem. His overarching point is that, eventually, after superficial love, we will begin to recognize our own power and 'holiness'. In time, we will recognize 'the stranger who was your self' and love that person--whom we deny for an infinite number of reasons--as the great love/friend/confidant we've searched for.

By the time we reach the last stanza, Walcott's declarative statements become imperative ones. The speaker commands us to recognize our journey and power. In essence, he says you must "Sit. Feast on your life." The clarity of Walcott's language here is not to be confused with simplicity. His word choices are deliberate and sharp. Another principle example is the phrase "by heart" in the third stanza. Normally, knowing something by heart means merely that we've memorized it, but here it has a layered meaning. The 'stranger' here has not only memorized the mannerisms and choices of person the speaker is referring to but also literally knows this person's intimate thoughts, emotions and innerworkings, because they are one in the same. No one knows 'you' by heart more than you know yourself. And knowing one 'by heart' also means that there is an implicit love, one that is inextricably linked to a person's history--good or bad--that you always have, and eventually re-discover, for yourself.

It's difficult to elaborate critically on such a seamless poem. Walcott has done more in his fifteen lines than I could ever do here. I think it is one of the few perfect poems I have ever read and that may be the reason I've come to cherish it so. Glad to see that others, Obama included, have been mulling over this light. Maybe this will inspire new folks to turn to poetry in times fear or hope or celebration.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Group D -- Doin' the Doggone Thang :-)

CC '06 Group D is back in full effect. We're on day 24 of a 30-day write (a poem a day for thirty days) and have been encouraging each other every step of the way. I'm not sure who planted the seed (Christina? Dante? Lita?) but we began in the middle of last month and I can't believe we've gotten this far. This is a great exercise because it pushes you to find time for poems, despite whatever else is going on in the world or in your life. I had literally sent out my second manuscript the day before we began and I felt like I was all tapped out. I didn't want to see another poem, much less write one. Of course, we complain (or at least I do) while writing and submitting every poem, but I've been writing steadily and that's not something I am usually able (or willing) to do. The best part is, there are no real constraints. We don't even have a steady stream of comments on each poem--folks chime in when they want to and, most of the time, folks don't say anything at all. This practice has given the whole group time and space to just create freely without consequence or the perpetual fear workshop can create. Though we haven't finished yet, I just wanted to highlight some of the beautiful music we've been making, check out a few of the nice lines I've read from each...

Demetrice Worley:

"my livelihood


"Tell me about the cruelty of the sea."

"When last troops searched the dead, I laid down
on the nearest corpse and shielded the sun with my bare hands."

"Most days my crotch is cleaner than my hands."

"Arrogance is a genuine virtue."

Lita Hooper:

"The fire dims as the pot trembles

"I test the dangers of these streets."

"I will lie to him, just as my lover did
about tomorrow's plans."

Hallie Hobson:

"I reject this gift
here is my cosmic no"

"meditate on
wet flesh and time"

"I wish this for you: a handful of ash and a string
of ruined days"

(Reginald) Dwayne Betts:

links men to God.
Not nights sleeping
under another cat’s
dreams, or days knuckling
up with the burden of an hour."

"A bus drove
us towards the country &

"It is a man. He is someone’s son. A heartache.
When he screams, our eyes open again."

Samiya Bashir:

"This is not a poem
this is a cry."

"sparkle brighter than full
moon's midnight and northern lights"

"It's round about wine-thirty and I
got tail to shake and sense to make."

Christina Archer:

"I had loose arms
and dreams once"

"thirsty for samba at twilight and some honeyed song"

"You come as a nightmare
angry and yelling for our mother"

There has been a glorious bounty these past few weeks. I've even found a small symphony in our complaints. Here's a found poem using the disclaimers we all threw around by e-mail every day:

I Am Not Krunk

I'm so amp'd now.
I've been excited that this day was coming.
I love that it was ushered in by the full moon.
I stink because I forgot about the deadline
Greetings from Paris. Poem attached.

Here is yesterday's late creation.
I was having a very Harryette Mullen kind of day.
In addition to ignoring the muse,
I am also studying for my finance exam.
I am on the intermittent poetry plan,
slogging through the best I can.

I'm getting confused with all of these
messages, comments, poems.
I'm not taking enough risk in my work.

Just wanted to voice my discontent and boredom.
I did what you said and this is what plopped out.
Even though I've fallen off y'all are holding

me up with your brilliance.

It’s getting heated now.
Man, it’s getting hectic.
This is all I got today.
I'm reaching for poems.
An imitation of sorts.
P.S. I know the titles
are getting pretty generic.
Sorry about that. See attached

A day late and a dollar....
A poem behind. This joint slums too.
Still on the road, still running behind.
This one was really rough on me.
I’m gonna slush through this.
This one is kind of 'iffy'...but I like it.
Whew! I kicked
another one out.
See attached.

Hey, I wonder if this counts as today's poem? :-) Nah, my group is surely not going for that. Anyway, grab some friends and start your own poem-a-day writing project. You'll be dazzled by what you can do.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Workin' Day and Night

It has been a long time since I had time to post (and truth be told, I'm really stealing time now!) but I wanted to give some updates. Above is a print from a Hale Woodruff painting. His lines and coloration are so lovely. I am now intent on seeing this piece in person.

Over the past month I've been away from the blog, but here are some things I've gotten done:

--"Finished" my second manuscript, What We Ask of Flesh (more on this soon...)

--Sent the manuscript and chapbook, The Body Speaks, out to some contests and book prizes

--Went to court in Emporia (where they still have town-wide fire alarms) and felt happy that I wasn't the woman in the room caught doing 99 in a 55 mph zone

--Began conversing with a talented and enthusiastic young poet named Tierra Key thanks to the fabulous Dr. Joanne Gabbin

--Jumped headfirst into a thirty-day write (i.e. a poem a day for thirty days) with 2006 CC Group D

--Put Robin Thicke's Something Else and John Legend's Evolver in heavy rotation. Currently loving this...

--Read The Secret Life of Bees (which had its problems, but was a lovely read) and read and re-read Jericho Brown's new book, Please, which is nothing short of brilliant

--Worked as a reviewer for a wonderful arts organization in Kentucky

--Tested over 800 students (I am so ready for a vacation!)

--Tried to learn the new Beyonce moves more than once in my full length mirror

--Started prepping for a teen poetry workshop I'll be teaching soon at my local library

So, lots of good things happening and I'm just trying to keep up :-) More soon...