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Today is Different

Brian Waldron   |   October 12, 2016   12:44 PM ET


A Black Boy's Fear

Quassan Castro   |   July 7, 2016    4:58 PM ET

Get up
Dry your tiresome red eyes
Bow down on both knees
Say your prayer
Light your candle for
Tamir Rice
Trayvon Martin
Sean Bell
Eric Garner
Rekia Boyd
Alton Sterling
Too many names to name
So --you cut your list short, if not
You'll be on your knees till 3050
Blowout your frankincense and myrrh
Grab your school lunch
Pack your Jansport
Give mother a hug
Give daddy a pound
Give grandma a kiss
Jesus piece around your neck
Smile at your honor roll certificate
Pack your silver and gold trophies
Fold your vision board
Give Sister J your book collection
Tell the righteous brothers from Sunset and South Orange Ave
Cook more food for the black revolution
Because black men and black boys are dying
Say your last goodbyes
Say your last goodbyes
Prepare to be shot
Cause they never loved us
Awaken in a black coffin
No eyes
No mouth
Eaten by white supremacy
Unloved by a jury
No story
Identity checked as invisible
Only to remain
Nameless with

What If Today, We Spoke Our Truth?

Alicia Henry   |   June 7, 2016    4:20 AM ET


Image: Solitude Above Clouds, Topanga CA (owner Alicia Henry)

It's been coming up in conversation quite often among my peers...truth. When should we speak it and why is it that we don't always allow ourselves to do so? ​Since there is no rule book on communicating truth, we have to abide by our trusty inner compass. Though, it's all too easy to drown out that guide and carry on with not speaking our truth. And so we get back aches, heartache, ​and our mind becomes filled with thoughts of "what ifs." What if today, with love in our hearts, we just said it. What if?

We Are

Tell them who you are...
Beyond your exquisite scars,
In your dimmest hour -- the dilly-dallying of your immense power,
Tell them how you feel...
In a single moment your vast truth
May break the mold, the plastic exterior of common conversation.
Tell him what you want...
For if you do, is it the end that you fear?
The resolution to repressed desires --
(An expansion of self may emit joy from your soul!)
Radiating past particularly practical underwhelming ways of unliving.
Tell her what you need...
Expression of doubt,
numbed mildly by the masculine idea of the masculine --
Self - doubt.
The strength in peeling back the layers of silence
into gifting words of transparent wishes,
No doubt, Received.
When we tell them who we are,
Baring our scars,
Burning flames of this human experience,
All shades of the same temperature,
Hearts beating - lit to be seen!
We are who we are.
When we meet ourselves in solitude our soul echoes out --
We Are.

Original Poem by Alicia Henry (2016)

Reading List: May 2016

Poetry Foundation   |   May 23, 2016    2:55 PM ET

By Lindsay Garbutt

The Reading List is a feature of Poetry magazine's Editors' Blog. This month contributors to the May 2016 issue share some books that held their interest.

Robert Adamson

I have just received my copy of Peter O'Leary's new book The Sampo. O'Leary's poetry transports me to a place where the act of reading is like rocket fuel for the brain, heart, and soul. This is a complex imaginative world built with brilliantly crafted lines loaded with mysterious ideas. I've been reading O'Leary's previous volume Phosphorescence of Thought for three years now and each time it's more rewarding. O'Leary is a visionary from a line of poets I couldn't do without: Robert Duncan, Michael Palmer (Notes for Echo Lake), Robert Creeley (Life and Death), Denise Levertov, and Charles Olson. I discovered most of these poets and their fellow contributors in Donald Allen's The New American Poetry during the 1960s—the wake of this anthology steered me towards the poetry of several poets who were too young at the time for its pages: Nathaniel Mackey (Blue Fasa), Jennifer Moxley (The Open Secret), and Devin Johnston (Far-Fetched). Another poet I have been reading in depth is C.D. Wright—her book The Poet, the Lion, Talking Pictures, El Farolito, a Wedding in St Roch, the Big Box Store, the Warp in the Mirror, Spring, Midnights, Fire & All is astonishingly good, rich in its mix of language, imagination, and hard lives in reality. Another volume I return to often is Letters, Poems 1953-1956 by Robert Duncan (in the beautiful edition with Duncan's drawings by Flood Editions), it's a turning point in Duncan's writing—between styles, like the period in Kandinsky's paintings where he crosses from expressionism into abstraction and meanings vibrate.

Read the full reading list on the Poetry Foundation website.

A Handful of Chisels: On Stones & Poetry by Claire Potter

Poetry Foundation   |   May 23, 2016    1:31 PM ET

By Claire Potter

Each month we feature a guest post from a contributor to Poetry's current issue. Claire Potter's poem "The Art of Sideways" appears in the May 2016 issue. Previous posts in this series can be found on the Editors' Blog.

In August 1913, Freud took a summer walk through the Dolomites with two friends, one of them being perhaps Rilke. In the idyll, Freud and the poet discuss how flowers and nature are prone to destruction and decay and possess an ill-fated beauty. And yet, in contrast to the poet's pessimistic view, Freud sees value, and therefore a heightened beauty, in transience, arguing that scarcity and limitation only augment worth. He explains that what spoils an enjoyment of transient beauty was an antipathy to mourning.

The question of transience—as an expression of mourning—is almost a silent one, residing perhaps between the lines of all great poems—it is the question that stretches, enquires about, what we hold onto in a poem, what remains once the page has been closed. In some ways, it is the infans of the child before they learn how to speak, building word upon word, like raising stones upon a fledgling tower. A tower built, in Mallarmé's terms, from words not ideas. Often these stones are not squared, their sides are not equal and their angles not perpendicular, leading perhaps to a sentence that wobbles, a wall that inclines, an architrave that bends. And here, residing within, is Freud's sense of an oblique mourning, a transience we cherish and hold for a fleeting moment, before it is gone, or from another angle, indelibly remains.

Read the full article on the Poetry Foundation website.

Chloris a più voci (Translation as Reperformance, Part 2)

Poetry Foundation   |   May 23, 2016    1:17 PM ET

By Jennifer Scappettone

As a child I lived with a reproduction of an image of Sandro Botticelli's Chloris—just the detail of the nymph's face in torment, looking back, a stalk black—with age?—in her open mouth—on the wall of my parents' living room. It hung there amidst the array of bizarre elaborated objects yielded from people's garages and the trunks of cars chosen to be kept temporarily, rather than immediately resold. The picture disoriented and terrified me for years, and I had no idea where it came from, or that it was part of a scene of rape ensconced within one of the most "popular" paintings in the world; I never ceased to try resolving the image in mind, and would only unsee it when I learned about Botticelli's painting at large, an allegory of spring, beguiled by the general exquisiteness of the thing.

When at the very end of a dozen-year period of translation, I decided that I would be remiss not to include the final section of Amelia Rosselli's final work in my collection, despite my editor's wish to keep the page count down, and began to disentangle one line from another, and finally apprehended—perhaps—the image of a woman absconding with a stalk in her mouth, something surged within me: the flood of an overwhelming, if momentary, sense of transit into this complex poet's orientation.

Cloud, fill yourself with breath, as if the twisted stalk in my mouth were that exaltation of a spring in rain, which is the grey that now is was suspended in air . . .

Read the full essay on the Poetry Foundation website.

Translation as (Re)Performance (Part 1: Moonstriking)

Poetry Foundation   |   May 23, 2016    1:08 PM ET

By Jennifer Scappettone

In 2014, after fourteen years of reading, researching, and translating the poetry of the polyglot poet Amelia Rosselli, I found myself faced in terms more immediate than ever with the task of transmitting her voice to an English-speaking audience. Invited to present at a salon in Madison, I decided to read from my recently published book of translations, Locomotrix. But lacking access to a sound system, I was suddenly forced to confront the heresy of relaying the "voice" of the Italian text with my own: faced with the limits not only of the usual semantic equivalents, but of phonemes and beats detached from their sonorous manifestation via Rosselli's person, tuned by political exile from Italian Fascism between four nations and three languages.

This poet's readings highlight the fact that her lines ply their way between linguistic systems. A comment on the displacing effect of Rosselli's language by one Italian critic is indicative of the way her voice testifies to a hovering between the imagined phonetic norms of nation-states: "non si capisce bene da dove venga" (one doesn't understand where it comes from). Rosselli's spoken accent, with its guttural r and other traces of alterity with respect to the faulty notion of a "standard" Italian, is the source of ample fascination, and some measure of condescension; I've heard it characterized as other to English, French, and Italian colleagues alike.

Read the full essay on the Poetry Foundation website.

Aborted Nurses: A Geopoetics, for Mother's Day (and the Formula Babies)

Poetry Foundation   |   May 20, 2016    5:25 PM ET

By Jennifer Scappettone

There are two human figures amidst the mayhem in Cathy Wilkes's I Give You All My Money, a centrifugal 2008 installation reconstructed for various locations over time, which I lived with, or rather worked aside, at The Renaissance Society in Chicago over the course of winter 2012. Two mannequins, to be exact, naked and with unirrupted breasts, dolled up with red, white, & blue Pierrot mask/faces as if cast in some Carnival revival of the 1980s twice removed. One of them lounged in that way that only mannequins can—unbendingly poised, suspended in permanent plantar flexion above contact with ground—upon a checkout counter; the other brooded upon a ductless toilet, her legs and wrists crossed with a dummy decorum to match the cross upon her cap. These figures of arid consumption and defecation made bedfellows of the marketplace and domestic space, and exposed the white gallery—littered with porridge-encrusted jars, dried petals, ashes, half-collected or half-strewn pottery shards and porcelain doll parts, and horizontal finger-paintings realized in the lap—as part of a vast and resolutely dysfunctional digestive system.

Hamza Walker invited me to give a tour of that show, explaining this choice in his introduction to the event by way of Jodie Foster's exclamation in Contact ("They should've sent a poet"); and I came up with what I called a mobile talk that at the time seemed inextricably mired in the very earthly stuff it described—stuff which seemed, in the terms of another, 2005 Wilkes installation, resolutely Non Verbal—but which I haven't since been able to discursively shake.

Perhaps that's because Futurism keeps coming up nurses.

But that part of the story may have to wait. Let me take a few steps back.

Read the full essay on the Poetry Foundation website.

Australian Poetry Now

Poetry Foundation   |   May 20, 2016    5:06 PM ET

By Bronwyn Lea

Once asked what poets can do for Australia, A.D. Hope replied: "They can justify its existence." Such has been the charge of Australian poets, from Hope himself to Kenneth Slessor, Judith Wright to Les Murray, Anthony Lawrence to Judith Beveridge: to articulate the Australian experience so that it might live in the imagination of its people. While the presence and potency of the Australian landscape remains an abiding interest, a great deal of Australian poetry has been innovative and experimental, with poets such as Robert Adamson, Michael Dransfield, Vicki Viidikas, John Forbes, Gig Ryan,   J.S. Harry, and Jennifer Maiden leading the way. The richness, strength, and vitality of Australian poetry is marked by a prodigious diversity that makes it as exhilarating to survey as it is challenging to encapsulate.

While the most convincing justification for the existence of Australia might come from its indigenous poets, Aboriginal poetry in Australia has been particularly overlooked, both its historical traditions and the innovative work being written today. Australian Aboriginal culture is thought to date back over forty thousand years, making it the oldest continuous culture on the planet. Of the 250 indigenous languages in circulation before European settlement in 1788, fewer than 150 survived the advance of English, and the numbers are dwindling. Fortunately, linguists have managed to transcribe and translate at least some of the rich and diverse Aboriginal oral traditions before they are lost.

Read the full essay on the Poetry Foundation website.

Color Coded

  |   May 20, 2016    4:42 PM ET

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Dear Sister Outsider

Poetry Foundation   |   May 20, 2016    4:30 PM ET

On Audre Lorde and writing oneself into existence
By Lavelle Porter

Dear Audre,

Two years, ago your name came up in one of the most improbable places. A few weeks before the St. Louis Rams drafted Michael Sam, making him the first openly gay player in NFL history, a white male sportscaster in Texas named Dale Hansen gave a passionate response to Sam's critics: "Civil rights activist Audre Lorde said, 'It is not our differences that divide us, it is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.'" I never thought I'd see the day that a silver-haired, Southern white sportscaster with a Texas accent would publicly quote you, a black lesbian feminist socialist poet, and would do so in defense of a black gay professional football player, but here we are. Hansen's full statement was powerful and drew attention. But the moment also made me wary. I thought about how this story of a gay athlete coming out in a major male sport was indicative of an assimilationist moment in queer politics. I wondered about your being reduced to an innocuous "civil rights activist" and not the militant poet who criticized the US invasion of your ancestral homeland Grenada, who spent time in the Soviet Union, and who might be critical of the macho, brutal sport that the young man plays or the billion-dollar corporation that runs it.

The lines that Hansen quoted are widely attributed to you on the web, but I can't find the original source. Some references cite the 1986 poetry collection Our Dead Behind Us, but it's not there. Certainly, the quote sounds like yours, and this idea of "difference" is one you expressed so well in your poetry and essays.

Read the full essay on the Poetry Foundation website.

Poetry off the Shelf: The Uses of Anger

  |   May 18, 2016    5:18 PM ET

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The Manly Pursuit of Desire: 10 Days in Havana, Part Four

Perry Brass   |   May 15, 2016    8:09 PM ET


The living room of Ernest Hemingway's casa.

I spent ten days in Havana, Cuba, from February 9, 2016 to February 19, 2016--roughly a month before President Obama made his historic trip. It was my first trip to Cuba, and I kept a close journal of my time there. I also wrote poetry there and I will include some of it in journal entries.

Sat. February 13, 2016. 8:38 AM

Beautiful morning; I slept really well.
Two kids we see at Cuba Libro often: Peter, a bilingual, bisexual poet and translator who rollerblades "professionally," that is, he makes videos of his rollerblading, and is into martial arts, especially jiujutsu--he got a 2nd degree black belt from North Korea, that in itself is a story; and his girlfriend, Julia, a doctor who works as a chef and tattoo artist. In Cuba, that is not unusual. Doctors make so little pay that they often quit medicine. All medical services are free (including plastic surgery)--though the waits at clinics are famous--so doctors are paid less than cab drivers. Cuba does not have a doctor shortage, since medical education is also free, but it does have a shortage of specialists. So medical specialists are forbidden to leave the country. How they keep up with progress in their fields is a mystery to me.

There is no advertising--commercial, private--in Cuba. No billboards with models selling looks or products you can't have. No ads in Cuban newspapers or magazines. Except for ads, or billboards, for the government, the Revolucion.

Hugh noticed that on Ash Wednesday, the day after we arrived, there were no ash crosses on any foreheads: in a formerly, almost all-Catholic country. We have seen a few nuns, and there are still working churches. The Pope was here Friday to meet the Prelate of the Russian Orthodox Church in a media-catching attempt at "rapprochement," and Hugh was sure he saw at least one priest at a big hotel in full Russian Orthodox "drag." But no one is talking about the Pope: not one cab driver or waiter. There are no pictures of him sold on the streets, no souvenirs of his visit. Hugh feels that the R.C. Church is rearing to make big-time come back here once U.S.-Cuban relations have been "normalized," i.e. we take back Cuba as a "trading partner." I'm sure that Christian fundamentalists, the Mormons, and other groups are as well.

We get approached often by friendly, talkative Cuban men who tell us how much they love the U.S.--one went rhapsodic about the Yankees and wants to "see Yankee Stadium before I die!"--and Americans. They want to know where we're from, and how we like Cuba; then they ask for a "CUC." [equal to $1 USD]. One old man asked if we were married back in the U.S. and if we had kids. Hugh told him, "We are married to each other." The man's face went still for a moment, then he said, "Cuba is beautiful, si?"

Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. 10:15 A.M.

Valentines's Day is very importante in Cuba. Raul, our host at the casa, congratulated us at breakfast. "It is the day of lovers and friends."

There are posters up all over town about it, and every restaurant has a greeting for the festivities. It may be the second most important day after New Year's, except for anniversaries of events in the Revolucion.

Yesterday, after a leisurely breakfast, we arranged for a taxi driver to take us out to San Francisco, a town about an hour out of Havana, where the Casa and Museum Hemingway is. The car had no springs at all, the road mostly corrugated ruts, but the drive was interesting--very run-down, poor area, like one constant Cartier-Bresson photograph: people being their real selves every moment; outdoor markets; bus stops; schools; very scratchy-looking railroad stations for a country rail line; energetic kids and young people everywhere.

The view from the highest point at casa Hemingway.

Finally, we turn off the road, past a small farming settlement to the Hemingway "finca," or farm--a working farm he bought in the late 1930s. Probably cheaply. His house, which is actually closed to the public [except for certain high-paying tourists] but conversely "open" with large, view-capturing windows everywhere through which you can look in and take pictures, is on a beautiful high promontory. Views back to Havana, to the sea. Gleaming rivers nearby where he fished. Inside, herds of animal heads he shot: antelopes, cougar, buffalo. The rooms have been beautifully preserved, all of his personal articles--books, typewriters, boots, his World War I uniform, toiletry items like hair brushes, even toothbrushes and combs, even magazines he read or was featured in, like Life, are on display. There are pictures or formal portraits of him at various points in his life, and large, framed bullfight posters. The light, softly filtering through large trees and copious vines, is beautiful, like being in this nostalgic dream of a lost time, the 1940s through the end of the 1950s, when Ernest Hemingway was one of the world's most famous people. Ava Gardiner, Frank Sinatra, among other luminaries of the period, were house guests.


The author beguiled by the Hemingway mystique.

There is a short walk to a once-refreshing, deep pool--now drained; all dry concrete--with a cabana for changing, and an area under a classical portico for, I'm sure, snacks and drinks. Next to the pool is Hemingway's boat, the Pilar, up on supports, long out of any water. Down the hill, at the gift shop, filled with Che and Castro souvenirs, they sell miniatures of it.
The house is so moving, private, and yet not that isolated or isolating, really, that I had a private, tearful moment remembering how much I loved his work when I was young. I wrote this, my own souvenir of the place.

At Hemingway's "Farm"

How could Papa leave this? The
terrible sadness of it--this hairy-
chested macho display of animal
heads, and
Torero posters; the books; the paintings;
the tiled floors and reaches of windows
to catch the Cuban breeze. How could

he leave the blue-veined flowers,
growing on the veranda roof and
the palms outside stroking the face
of every cloud, and the intense perfect sky
clear as passionate youth, as tears,
as heart beak, as everything you wanted
to be in your own youth, your own
passage when you lived in Paris
and in Spain and Cuba in the leathery
lush potency of his books? At the
And you wanted to be a friend of Lady Brett
and Jake Barnes and Nick Adams and the boys
who swarmed to you because you
understood death the way boys need to:
as a gift of life, a fantasy, a delirium, a

pushed past orgasm and bullfighting
and trout fishing and drinking and
darkness, when you went down that alley
and saw Gary Cooper and raised
your arms
and would not let him go.

Feb 13, 2016
Hemingway "Finca"
San Francisco, Cuba.

[A few notes for non-Hemingway people: In stout middle age, the once dashing Ernest Hemingway became known as "Papa." Lady Brett and Jake Barnes are characters in his great novel of young Americans in Paris, The Sun Also Rises; "Nick Adams" was the protagonist of his series of short stories named after him. Hemingway left Cuba in 1960, and his "farm" was confiscated by Castro's government. H was very attached to Gary Cooper, and supposedly wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls with the intention that Cooper would star in the movie; he did. Hemingway committed suicide in Ketchum, ID, in 1961.]

2016-05-15-1463356205-6265824-Hemngway5.jpg The Pilar, with the graves of Hemingway's dogs in front of it.

Multiple award-winning author Perry Brass has published 19 books. His newest is The Manly Pursuit of Desire and Love, Your Guide to Life, Happiness, and Emotional and Sexual Fulfillment in a Closed-Down World which just won a Silver Ippy Medal for Best LGBT Non-Fiction, but was banned on Facebook as was his previous The Manly Art of Seduction. His thriller novel Carnal Sacraments, A Historical Novel of the Future Set in the Last Quarter of the 21st Century, has just been translated into Italian. He can be reached through his website, www.perrybrass.com.

Voicing Counterpoint

Poetry Foundation   |   May 6, 2016    6:03 PM ET

Tyehimba Jess brings 19th-century black musicians back to life.
By Kyla Marshell

Tyehimba Jess's new book, Olio, is big in size and grand in scale. In an intricate assemblage of history, fiction, and poetic form, Jess brings to life Scott Joplin, Blind Tom, the McKoy twins, Sissieretta Jones, and others, black musicians of the 19th century who were legends of their time yet never recorded. Jess also writes in the voices of Paul Laurence Dunbar, Booker T. Washington, Henry "Box" Brown, and Edmonia Lewis, and many others speak to this transitional moment in American history, post-slavery, when blacks were legally free yet still bound in innumerable ways.

In our conversation, Jess and I talked about the inherent conflicts among these characters—in politics, power, and otherwise. Jess is known for his use of contrapuntal poems—sonnets formatted to be read down columns, across the lines, even backward (he uses the terms interstitially and antigravitationally). In a book about musicians and individuals whose opinions greatly differed during their lifetimes (such as Joplin and Ernest Hogan), it makes sense that counterpoint, a musical device, is the one Jess employs to put these characters into conversation. Or, as he writes through the voices of conjoined twins and singers Millie and Christine McKoy, "We've mended two songs into one dark skin / bleeding soprano into contralto / —we're fused in blood and body—from one thrummed stem / budding twin blooms of song."

Read the full interview on the Poetry Foundation website.