Monday, November 15, 2010

Art After 5 at Peninsula Fine Arts Center on Thursday, 11/18 @ 5:30 PM


Hey Hampton Roads, we're bringing the poetry across the water! The PFAC in Newport News is hosting a wonderful art after hours series this season and is featuring the words of four area poets: Shonda Buchanan, Luisa Igloria, Toni Wynn and me. We'd love to see you there! Details are below:

WHAT: PFAC has a special Poetry Night component of Peninsula Fine Arts Center’s Art After 5 this week. Noted poet and author Toni Wynn has organized some tremendous talent to read for us: Shonda Buchanan, Remica L. Bingham, and Luisa Igloria. Come out for some fine poetry, hear great music by Gina Dalmas and the Cow Tippin’ Playboys, enjoy wonderful food by Blackdog Catering, witness artist Brian Murphy at work, see lots of great art, meet new friends, and be part of the Peninsula’s most happening scene!Third Thursdays are free for Art After 5--a live music, poetry, and art happening with refreshments.

WHEN: Thursday, Nov. 18 from 5:30 - 7:30 PM

WHERE: Peninsula Fine Arts Center 101 Museum Drive Newport News, Virginia, 23606 757-596-8175

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Novel Nights Program at Chesapeake Public Library on Friday, 11/12 @ 6:00 PM


WHAT: In the tradition of the great intellectual salon experiences, wander the library sampling gourmet delights from Chef Donnie Franklin, talk literature with a variety of writers and poets, and listen to the sounds of Virginia with musician Bill Gurley.

**Share the passion of celebrated New York Times Bestselling Author Mary Alice Monroe as she tells about writing Southern novels highlighting coastal living, fly fishing, love, and family.

**Thrill to USA Best Selling Author David Poyer, as he vividly captures the excitement and drama of the Civil War, military history, and espionage.

**Engage with local authors and poets Kwame Alexander, Christy Barritt, Remica Bingham, Tinesha Davis, Booker T. Mattison, Raymond Harper, Judi McCoy and Jon Pineda as they exchange their thoughts on the joys and challenges of the writing life.

The gala evening event is co-sponsored by the Friends of the Chesapeake Public Library and the Chesapeake Public Library Foundation to benefit the Library and celebrate the power of the pen and the creative imagination. Tickets can be purchased in advance at any Chesapeake Library branch for $20.00, which includes the buffet and refreshments, or $25.00 at the door. Block tickets for groups of six or more are available for $15.00 each. For more information and a complete list of the authors visit the library webpage at or call the Library at 757.410.7105.

WHEN: Friday, 11/2, starting at 6:00 PM

WHERE: 298 Cedar Road, Chesapeake, VA

I finally have another reading in Hampton Roads (thanks to Kwame Alexander, writer and organizer extraordinaire) and this time I get to talk about love and loss with fabulous Tidewater poet, Jon Pineda. You get lots of bang for your buck at this one and it will benefit our local libraries. Fun, food, words galore, what more could you ask for! There will be a reception where authors and readers can mingle before the program begins and here's the schedule for the night:

7:30 – 8:15: The Drama Unfolds: Local Novelists Talk about their Writing Lives
Booker T. Mattison
Debbiann Holmes
Tinesha Davis

7:30 – 8:15: Who Did It? Reading by Local Mystery Novelists
Christy Barritt
Judi McCoy

800 – 8:30: Storytime: ReadingKwame Alexander, author of Indigo Blume and The Garden City, And Then You Know: New & Selected Poems

8:30 – 9:15: Poets and Writers on Love, Loss, and Literature
Jon Pineda
Remica Bingham

8:30 – 9:15: The Rest is History: A Talk with Writers
David Poyer
Raymond Harper

It should be a wonderful night. I hope to see all the local word-lovers there!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Reading in NY on Thursday, 10/21 @ 7:00 PM

WHO: Indigo Moor, Joanne McFarland and Remica Bingham

WHAT: Cave Canem Northwestern University Press Poetry Prize Reading

WHEN: Thursday, October 21 · 7:00pm - 8:30pm

WHERE: New York University Lillian Vernon House, 58 West 10th Street
New York, NY

WHY: Because Cave Canem and Northwestern University Press joined forces to create a much needed second book prize for African American authors. In 2009, my second book, What We Ask of Flesh, was a finalist for the prize.

So come one, come all! I hope to see the NY folks for the reading and the after gathering, too :-)

Oh! and I've been told I better not hit NYC without taking in a performance of Fela! (guest staring THE Patti LaBelle), so if you can't make the reading but still want to hang out, you can catch me dancing in the aisles to this:

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What we should be teaching our children...


Now, to be fair, I must admit that I am not the biggest fan of Billy Collins' work, but I am a fan of teaching our children the wonder of words right from their start. Obviously, this three-year-old boy's parents feel the same way:

And here is the poem as you'd encounter it on the page:


You are the bread and the knife,
The crystal goblet and the wine...
-Jacques Crickillon

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general's head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman's tea cup.
But don't worry, I'm not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and--somehow--the wine.

--Billy Collins

Honoree Jeffers mentioned this video to me yesterday and, when it appeared in my inbox this morning, I watched it and marveled at how precise and filled with emotion this child's recitation was/is. How many of us--even those of us who call ourselves poets--can recite poems we love this way? I'd like to imagine I can embody poems by several of my beloveds--Lucille Clifton, Sharon Olds, Derek Walcott, Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughes--at the drop of a hat, but have I taught any of the children in my life to embrace words this way? I doubt that I have. Of all the workshops and reading classes I've taught that have included poetry, I haven't once used memorization as anything more than an extra credit exercise, and I don't believe in all my years of schooling that recitation was taught to me either. But this has not always been the case.

I routinely hear folks who have come one or two generations before me talk about how they were made to memorize poems and speeches during their formative years. At one time, this was a routine part of the educational system. What happened to this tool? Surely, we can make the argument that memorization and repetition help bolster critical thinking skills, so how and why has 'progressive education' all but abandoned this technique? Being an educator, I have a strange suspicion that, because there is no room for oral presentations when administering standardized exams, this learning tool has been deemed unnecessary and a waste of properly used classroom time. But what a shame that is. Imagine what children might learn, retain and grown to love (or at least remember fondly...) if we taught them to pour over words until they stuck. The toddler in the video above gives us a small glimpse of the opportunities we're missing.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

You have to read this poem...


This is the best poem I've read in weeks, and it is truly terrible in its beauty (as the formatting is flushed left below, please click the poem's title to see it formatted correctly):

Prayer for the Man Who Mugged My Father, 72

May there be an afterlife.

May you meet him there, the same age as you.
May the meeting take place in a small, locked room.

May the bushes where you hid be there again, leaves tipped with razor-
blades and acid.
May the rifle butt you bashed him with be in his hands.
May the glass in his car window, which you smashed as he sat stopped
at a red light, spike the rifle butt, and the concrete on which you'll

May the needles the doctors used to close his eye, stab your pupils
every time you hit the wall and then the floor, which will be often.
May my father let you cower for a while, whimpering, "Please don't
shoot me. Please."
May he laugh, unload your gun, toss it away;
Then may he take you with bare hands.

May those hands, which taught his son to throw a curve and drive a nail
and hold a frog, feel like cannonballs against your jaw.
May his arms, which powered handstands and made their muscles jump
to please me, wrap your head and grind your face like stone.
May his chest, thick and hairy as a bear's, feel like a bear's snapping
your bones.
May his feet, which showed me the flutter kick and carried me miles
through the woods, feel like axes crushing your one claim to man-
hood as he chops you down.

And when you are down, and he's done with you, which will be soon,
since, even one-eyed, with brain damage, he's a merciful man,
May the door to the room open and let him stride away to the Valhalla
he deserves.

May you—bleeding, broken—drag yourself upright.

May you think the worst is over;
You've survived, and may still win.

Then may the door open once more, and let me in.

--Charles Harper Webb

This poem is from the book Shadow Ball: New and Selected Poems published by one of my favorites, University of Pittsburgh Press. (Ed Ochester--head honcho at Pittsburgh and one of my fabulous teachers--never ceases to amaze me with his selections.) The poem above is just one small glimpse into the kind of work they are looking for in the Pitt Poetry Series. The poem is vindictive, bleak, vengeful, nostalgic and mournful all at the same time. In short: it's complex. Just like our lives and all the horrible, beautiful, frightening, enlightening moments that help craft who we are and how we maneuver in the world.

This poem landed in my inbox this morning and hit me in the gut. It made me cringe and tear up, then shake my head and marvel all in the span of a minute or two. This is what good poems can do. I just thought I'd share that power with you...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I love when it gets good like this...


The summer is well underway and so is all the writing angst/excitement/frustration/pleasure that comes with it. I've begun reading some fantastic books and 'filling the well' always feeds my own work.
Writing is often the most difficult task, actually getting to the page and staying there until some spark pushes you to fill the waiting space. With new family obligations and more demands on my time, I've been finding it especially tough to find that quiet resonance I need to make sense of things I don't understand. I've been flirting with so many themes ideas, some of which have been:
The list goes on and on. The problem is finding a way to settle on one or two (or, really, three) and writing my way into them. I usually start with one poem and that poem grows into sections or a sequence, then that sequence grows into a group of poems connected by theme, then that group flourishes to become part of a larger body of work (Chapbook? Manuscript? Does it matter as long as the work is coming???)

Over the last few days, though, (after a bit of a self-pitying slump about inspiration/ambition and everything else writers find to complain about) I've hit a nice groove. I decided to stop agonizing over a manuscript I've been working to death and seeking publication for and start looking at the work I've completed outside of the manuscript over the past few years. Just as an exercise and as a way of reminding myself that the work is coming and will (try as I might to stifle it) continue to come, I went to the computer and printed out every new usable poem I'd written and hadn't included in any larger body of work. To my surprise, by the end of the day, I'd "discovered" at least one hundred poems and even started piecing together another manuscript (or two). All this tangible work sitting in my hands gave me some hope. This morning, I woke up exciting about researching, discovering, putting together pieces of new puzzles and heading back to the page, which is all I could ever really ask for.

I'm sure most writers would attest to that fact that living this writing life is mostly about resolve. The rejections arrive but as long as the writing continues, there's a reason to keep going. This--this questioning, this need to make sense of the havoc around us each day--is what you do; it's how you live.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Back on the Block: Summer Reading List


So, I took a few months off to teach some grad workshops and get married (see the hubby and I trying to dash away in the photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths above...) but now the summer's looming and I'm ready to dive headfirst back into all things literary. Here are the books I'll be exploring in the months to come:

The Shadow of Sirius by W.S. Merwin (Click the link to hear a great NPR broadcast with Merwin.)

The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation by John F. Baker Jr. (Recommended by a student! -- I'm just excited to know they're still reading after the semester has ended!)

Amorous Shepherd by Dante Micheaux (As an added bonus: Here's the link to Dante's fabulous poem and photo at the Poetry Society of America --not to mention the others featured in the Cave Canem/Ars Poetica project.)

So, what's on your summer reading list??? Any good suggestions?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Work in the World...

Lots of good things happening in my writing life and I figure it's time for me to do some self-promotion, mostly because I'm so grateful for all the interest in poetry that keeps returning...

Podcast on Phillis Remastered:

The ever-sassy Honoree Fanonne Jeffers has a series called "You Gotta Read This" on her blog and she invited me to take part in the program. She also convinced the wonderful Rachel Eliza Griffiths to slip her the photo up above. We talked about Conversion, spirituality as well as my journey as a writer and generally just had a good 'ole time :-) Feel free to listen here or you can subscribe to the Phillis Remastered podcasts on Itunes!

Scholarship Speech at Old Dominion University:

I began teaching a poetry workshop at my alma mater, ODU, this term and was asked to also venture back to speak at their annual scholarship luncheon. The speech is about the fact that all good things find their way back to us in time. You can watch it below:

Black Nature Anthology:

Hard-working poet and editor, Camille Dungy, has helped birth another beautiful anthology that was released in December. Black Nature spans four centuries of writing and includes work from heavyweights and newcomers alike. In celebration of the anthology, I'll be on a panel with Camille Dungy and contributors E. Ethelbert Miller, Greg Pardlo, Thomas Sayers Ellis and Mark McMorris at the Split This Rock Poetry Festival in Washington, DC next month. Click here to get more details on the anthology and don't miss Split This Rock!

100 Best African-American Poems Anthology:

I am honored to have been selected to have work in Nikki Giovanni's newest editing endeavor. The anthology is being published this spring by Source Books. I'm especially proud to have had my poem "Mercy Killing" chosen by actress Novella Nelson to be read as a part of the CD that will accompany the anthology. Pre-order your copy here!

All this seems proof positive that hard work does eventually make its way into the world and good people make their way into your life with each turn. Now, I'm looking forward to all that's coming...

Full post can be found at:

Thursday, January 14, 2010

...if we just let it be

So much going on in the world...we lost another powerhouse voice. Teddy Pendergrass, of his own and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes fame, passed away. Radio has been playing old interviews and I think clips (like the one above) that feature his voice in its purest form are the best testament to his gift.

Listening to "Wake Up Everybody" this morning, I couldn't help thinking about those in Haiti. It's always difficult to tell who can help and how we can do something but there are are few links swirling around the web, so I'll post them here:

American Red Cross

Doctors Without Borders

Save the Children - Donate to help the children of Haiti.

Partners in Health - One of the largest nongovernmental health care providers in Haiti.

Yele - Grammy-Award winning musician, humanitarian and Goodwill Ambassador to Haiti Wyclef Jean founded Yéle Haiti in 2005.

Lambi Fund of Haiti - The fund channels financial and other resources to community-based organizations that promote the social and economic empowerment of the Haitian people.

Event: Bowery Poetry Club's Haiti Earthquake Relief Fundraiser
Start Time: Saturday, January 16 at 10:00pm
End Time: Sunday, January 17 at 4:00am
Where: The Bowery Poetry Club
308 Bowery (Between Houston and Bleecker) F train to 2nd Ave, 6 to Bleecker 212-614-0505

I've recently begun teaching another poetry workshop and part of my task this term will be to try to convince my students that poetry is a necessary entity in all our lives. In times of love, in times of distress, in times of fear, in times of elation, everyone turns to poetry. This morning, I've begun re-reading the poems of my friend Phebus Etienne who passed away a few years ago. She was born in Port-au-Prince and wrote often about heritage, family, home. Her attention to detail is what always strikes me the most. I think--in the wake of the uncontrollable and in these last days--more often than not we are forced to piece together what minuscule details we have of those we've loved and lost:

Preparations for the Afterlife

In the doorway of an attic, a daughter stood between guilt and uncertainty. How could she exit, eliminate rent income to an uncle, multiply distance from few living blood relations?Her mother had not been prone to doubt. She had packed for diaspora in one suitcase and left Port-au-Prince with warning to none.

Sirens drowned creaking eaves, but she heard her mother’s voice giving precise direction. Cotton on Main Street should handle the arrangements. Red petals are for the joyful, unprepared to leave. No reception after the funeral. The bedroom set should go to someone in need. Keep the white sheets I bought for last days in Haiti.

Mandates were delivered with panorama of slights and rivalries. Her mother tallied debts owed, resolving, For any good I did, for being caretaker, no regrets. Her exhausted eyes mirrored the future like a sage reading bones. Mwen pa vlé kité ou pou kont ou. Yo pap aidé ou. The daughter did not accept this prediction of aloneness until divisions solidified, until some became angry when nothing was left in their names, until she embraced legal threats for unpaid medicals, until she listed what was worth selling, until visitor passes to her sick room idled at a front desk while staples burned a horizontal scar on her uterus. You have been present and useful, so love for you will be measured by conditions. Viv tankou moun ki pa gen fenmi.

She played her mother’s last instruction like a favorite ballad. She parceled clothing, unworn shoes to a Miami ministry and hauled mattress and box spring to a friend in Brooklyn. The daughter sealed embroidered linen in plastic as if afraid they would dissipate like clouds. Movers loaded belongings unto a truck and as the October wind rattled oak leaves to the path at her heel, she began saving her own life.

Mwen pa vlé kité ou pou kont ou. Yo pap aidé ou. - I don’t want to leave you alone. They will not help you.

Viv tankou moun ki pa gen fenmi. – Live like someone without a family.

--Phebus Etienne