Monday, November 15, 2010
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
7:30 – 8:15: The Drama Unfolds: Local Novelists Talk about their Writing Lives
7:30 – 8:15: Who Did It? Reading by Local Mystery Novelists
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
8:30 – 9:15: The Rest is History: A Talk with Writers
It should be a wonderful night. I hope to see all the local word-lovers there!
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
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
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...
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.
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
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
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
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
- Myth and myth-making
- The southern milieu
- WPA projects
- Michael Jackson
- Prodigal sons
- Mental institutions
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
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:
100 Best African-American Poems Anthology:
Thursday, January 14, 2010
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
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.