Denise R. Weuve

Ink Damage and Other Permanent Stains

Archive for the tag “National Poetry Writing Month”

Day ??? ~ Ocean Vuong

First this is Saeed Jones fault because he keeps posting pieces of Ocean’s poems, reminding me why I like his work so much.

First I suck at Poet a Day

First I rock for even trying to do this

First Ocean Vuong is a heart wrecking, earth moving, pen master that makes me want to move to New York so I can know I am breathing the same air, and perhaps somehow his talent will drift through taxi exhaust, pipe fumes, and Tuesday refuge pick up right into my lungs.  A girl has got to dream, doesn’t she?

If you have never read Ocean Vuong (who in 2016 when his book Night Sky With Exit Wounds from Copper Canyon Press no one will ever admit to having not read him) and not fallen in love with poetry, the line, the word, then your heart stopped beating long before this blog was ever written.  He has won took many accolades to list, and I am not as thorough as likes of Poetry Foundation where you can learn about those all, but I can tell you he is the reason poetry is as vital as breath, and has value.  So much value that if you are wanting Vuong’s chapbook Burnings (SiblingRivalryPress, 2010) look to pay anywhere between $200.00-$850.00.

This is the opening “On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous”:

Tell me it was for the hunger
& nothing less. For hunger is to give
the body what it knows
it cannot keep. That this amber light
whittled down by another war
is all that pins my hand
to your chest.

See what I mean?  You now want to read anything Vuong writes.  No need to wait. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Lazarus

He came into my room like a god
stepping out of a painting.

Back from the wind, he called to me
with a mouthful of crickets–

scent of ash and lilac rising
from his hair. I waited

for the night to wane
into years before reaching

for his hands, my finger tracing
the broken lines in his palm.

My shadow beneath his shadow
across the hardwood. And we danced

like that: father and son–
our bodies like a pair of legs

swaying
over a broken chair.

from The Paris American 2014

 

From Youtube, a reading by Ocean Vuong
The most recent I can find of him, but you need to turn up the sound up full blast

 

 

Day 22 ~ Jericho Brown

Have you read New Testament?  No?!?  Well today’s Poet Spotlight was going to feature Jericho Brown, I was going to explain how he was a student of Claudia Rankine, and she recommended I read him.  How I am grateful she did, and I was going to praise him.  Then this morning after I wrote the praise and  lead you to the poems “Elegy”  and “Heart Condition” this was in my newsfeed from poetry foundation.  Read this instead, The Contract so much better than anything I could have said and you will fall in love with Jericho because of his love for poetry that will make you jealous that you have never said any of this to poetry, when it has done so much for you.  You can also read the aforementioned poems, because you will need more.

Or watch him here.

Day 18 & 19 ~ Jeff & Tobi Alfier

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I have a bias to adorable people that make me wish I was in love; Jeff and Tobi Alfier over pour right into that bias cup. Individually they are remarkable poets, not simply because of their great writing, but because of their support they offer to other writers regardless of where they are on their personal journey.

These two poetic souls have been together since 2009 and have lit up the poetry scene ever since. I met them about three years ago at the now defunct Tuesday Poetry Readings, hosted by Murray Thomas, when I brought my high school creative writing students to their first poetry reading and to be honest, I wasn’t exactly a pro at these readings, I had very few under my belt, and simply figured I learn this with my students. One of my students was in love with a poem Tobi read, and Tobi just handed over her printed copy to the student. The student did not stop talking about it, and I thanked Tobi. Next thing I know Tobi was sending three of her chapbooks and three of Jeff’s chapbooks to my students. I was very new to the scene but that night taught me to hand over poems if someone likes it, you can print another. Far more importantly it taught me that poetry needs a community that looks out for each other, and wants to see each other do well. It’s not a competition people; we can all be happy (well is, we are writers) and successful together. There is room. Jeff and Tobi are pillars of the community.

Together they founded and edit San Pedro River Review. A lovely print journal that has seen the likes of Naomi Shihab Nye, Alex Lemon, Marge Piercy, and Frank X. Gaspar. They spend their time and their money, which is limited in the poetry world, doing this. Poetry is a shared love by these two beautiful people, both have multiple Pushcart nominations, and books a plenty. With each book they write they get better and better. And I bet each year they spend together will be better than the last.

In case you were wondering, they have a book of poetry together, courtesy Mojave River Press called The Color of Forgiveness that I highly suggest you purchase right now!

Jeffrey C Alfier has had an amazing past 6 years, not only has he married the pretties woman in poetry, Tobi Alfier (formerly Cogswell) but he has seen the publication of quite a few books,  Idyll for a Vanishing River (Glass Lyre Press, 2013), The Wolf Yearling (Silver Birch Press, 2013), Bluesman’s Daughter (Kindred Spirit Press, 2011), The Torch Singer (Kindred Spirit Press, 2011), Before the Troubadour Exits (Kindred Spirit Press, 2010).  If you have not read Jeff’s work may I suggest beginning with The Wolf Yearling.  There is a solid reason for his multiple Pushcart nominations.

 

The Drawbridge
~Jeff Alfier

1.
The frozen face of sleet searches morning,
wakens into hoarfrost. Six a.m. and the world
beyond my parent’s street fails visibility.
I start coffee—the machine’s gabbling growl,
click on dad’s warmed-over radio, behold
winter-spurned limbs of backyard trees
that sluice the early fog. I hear the Navy ammo
train trundling the near distance, a bodiless
voice echoing its way to port.

2.
Early evening now. Night sky breathes clear
of cloud and ice. I walk Shrewsbury River Bridge
to Sea Bright, scan the current passing under
the bascule’s frangible grate. Some constellation
I can’t name hangs in the deepening hour.
At the bridge’s coastal end I sip
false fire from a flask, watch two Iberian
tankers limn the end of the evident world.

3.
I thought I came here for the good rinse of night’s
ocean air. But it was only to walk this bridge,
pass a young woman in smart work clothes
and dressy heels, the drawbridge operator’s blue
silhouette inscribed against river blackness.
Whatever message beyond nods that passed between
us three in that failing light, we were children
whispering on Christmas Eve: any kind word to shine
across open water, bordering us against the sea.

 

 

Tobi Alfier (formerly Tobi Cogswell) has been published in 100s of journals, and has several Pushcart prize nominations to both her names.  Her poetry seems to have found a place in nearly every continent this world offers.  She runs a group that have 25,000+ members focussing on Poetry Editors & Poets via linked in. She has a few books you can read including The Coincidence of Castles (Glass Lyre Press, 2014),  and Lapses & Absences (Blue Horse Press, 2013).

Evening in Oban
~Tobi Alfier

A table for sitting,
the profile of your strong jaw
as you scan the horizon
for boats and wayfarers.
A rooftop chapel of silence
but for the outside flutes
of wind brushing leaves,
birds heading home,
and the crinkle of water
along the shoreline
as ferries slowly cruise to sleep
until beginning again with the sun.
Forested ruins spotlit by stars,
and us, holding hands,
a bottle of red and one of water
between us, our blended
observations deliberately low,
as an audience will whisper
while leaning toward the orchestra,
waiting for those first real notes
of night.

 

 

Day 16 & 17 ~ John F Buckley and Martin Ott

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Writing poetry is a solitary job, unless you are one of the 3 pairs of writers I will be spotlighting this weekend. Somehow these writers have learned to collaborate and allow their work to be inspiring and inspired by each other. I admire that, as a person that locks herself all alone in the world to write anything at all.

Today I begin the pair spotlight with John F Buckley and Martin Ott. These two writers work so well together that they have written two books together. That’s correct two books in six years of collaboration. Their first Poets’ Guide to America (2012) and their latest, Yankee Broadcast Network (2014). What I love about their latest book is it takes a look at society (and the writers, individually) and television. If you were raised in the 70s or 80s TV informed your life, as it did mine. I remember rushing home from school to watch Dance Party USA and being glued to the tube for Saved by the Bell, even when they went to college. Life revolved around television while parents worked, and outside was a bit too dangerous. These poets get that.

I highly suggest you pick up their latest book (which I see as a bargain, after all you are getting two poets for the price of one.) until that book finds it’s way to your home, here is a poem from each, which I asked them to pick for this spotlight. Enjoy!

 

John F. Buckley recently graduated from the MFA program at University of Michigan. He was a west coast man, for nearly 20 years but for now, is staying in Ann Arbor. We miss him on the west coast, but know how amazing he is doing.

 

The War on Drugs

Let’s agree to disagree about my righteous father
chopping down the finally mature pot plants
hidden so well in our grandmother’s backyard.

He wore his old Boston College windbreaker
and a handkerchief tied across his mouth
like a stagecoach bandit afraid of contact highs.

He dumped the plants at the curb for the trash men
and scrubbed his hands carefully with soap and water
and pontificated about disrespect and illegality

to the aunts and uncles gathered in Foxborough,
the Vegas smiler who was alleged to be a mean
drunk, at least when his brother-in-law was around,

the gourmet cook who execrated Ted Kennedy,
and the pharmacist with the endless prescriptions,
who explained family realities I couldn’t grasp,

while cousins complained about Boy Scout rectitude
and recovered the last few Baggies of buds
tucked away on the wooden shelf above the dryer.

 “The War on Drugs” first appeared in Existere Journal Volume 33, Issue 1 (Fall 2013/Winter 2014).

 

 

Martin is a former military man, and a writer who has seen many different states, but has decided to call California (Los Angeles) home, and often writes about the quirky city he now resides in.

 

Fruits of Labors

 

My friend’s new heart rests in a crevice
that housed the pacemaker; the wires fried
his old thumper like a zapped alternator,
doctors unsure this loaner will ever beat.
Blackberries float in a bowl on the counter,
separating out the spiders and veiny leaves.
Later, he tells me that he has gone to some
other place, a bifurcation of living and dead,
subterranean with a zenith, invisible susurrus
of some river, with trout, with kids splashing.
Thorns in those Michigan woods taught patience,
fingers careful not to burst the berry’s juices.
There is one surgeon that goes in to save
his legs with a pinnate precision, arteries
flushed, and who stays at his bedside
after rounds, after the new heart reboots.
The taste of the jam boiled and jarred
from fly-filled afternoons fills us still.
He is unconscious for more than a week,
with dreams that make me wonder about
what will come after the jam disappears
from the pantry, when childhood is near.

Previously published in Nimrod and will appear in Underdays, Sandeen Prize Winner, University of Notre Dame Press, Fall 2015.

 

Day 14 ~ Shivani Mehta

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 8.37.41 PMAnyone who personally knows me will not be surprised by my next pick of a poet spotlight. Not surprised, because I talk about this woman all the time, and how everyone needs to buy, Useful Information for the Soon-to-be Beheaded.  Shivani Mehta is a great prose poet. I’m not stretching the truth when I say she is my favorite prose poet. I see glimmers of those who have taught her in her work, Rick Burksy and Richard Garcia, but she has capitalized on what they taught and created her own voice that often mixes whimsy with pathos quite perfectly. Below I have chosen one of her prose poems to show you just how she does this, but to call her just a prose poet would be unfair, as she is a poet, without adjective.

Shivani is a mother, a wife, a friend, a former Lawyer, and an award-winning poet. If you ask me she deserves many, many more awards. There is just something so special about the woman who writes lines like Did you hear the night/aching around us?/You say it doesn’t matter/but I have known you since/my body was full of mourning/since before the sky. (From North American Review)

If I have one complaint it is that Shivani does not read out in public enough and when she does it’s far too short. Until she rectifies that take a read of the poems before and head over to Press 53 and buy her book Useful Information for the Soon-to-be-Beheaded.

 

Here is one of her recent and simply sublime prose poems from Wherewithal magazine.

The Bicycle

One morning I wake to find I’ve turned into a bicycle. At work, people notice. They talk, the way people do. There is whispering in corridors as I wheel by, my pedals gleaming. I make out phrases like so much promise, and that’s what happens when. The upshot is, men find me irresistible, they cannot help riding me around the block, stroking my wheels, my derailleur, admiring the sleek line of my down shaft. How the other women envy me now, how I love to see myself reflected on the concave surface of their eyes. How they seek me out at office parties and ask for dating advice. And every Saturday morning a crowd of reporters gathers outside my apartment for a glimpse of my shiny titanium frame, my perfectly oiled chain.

 

And the poem that started my love of Shivani’s work, that I would have never found were it not for one Martin Ott‘s Writeliving site:

Useful Information for the Soon-to-be-Beheaded

The following is an excerpt from a pamphlet designed by the Commission on Public Severance, handed out to condemned individuals as they waited in line for their turn at the guillotine.  Reproduced here with permission:

1.  Close your eyes tightly so as not to get dizzy when your severed head falls off the executioner’s block and rolls across the wood platform, picking up splinters and human debris.

2.  When you cease to feel movement, it is safe to open your eyes.  Remain calm as you watch your body dragged off and stacked on a pile of headless bodies. Your head will be tossed or kicked into the basket of severed heads.[1]

3.  This is likely to be the last time you will see your body. Expect a period of adjustment to the separation. You may experience a lingering sensation of movement in limbs you no longer have. This will pass.

4.  This is where your head will remain for whatever period of sentience it has left.[2]  Your vocal chords will not work. You might begin to feel a sense of freedom, of lightness, buoyancy, like a balloon that is suddenly untethered.

5. Think back to the day you were born, remember what it felt like the first time light fell across your closed eyelids, the weight of air on your forehead. Remember the last time you were born human, the sensation of trailing your fingers in a lake, cupping water in your hands. Or, think of the time you were a bird, remember stretching your wings, pushing against the wind, taking flight. Remember that it always ends this way.


[1] If the basket contains other heads, they will ease your transition. If your’s is the first head in an empty basket, try not to think about the abrupt separation from your body.  Focus instead on the details of your new surroundings: the closely woven fibers of the basket in which your head lies, the checkered spaces between the weave where sunlight passes through, the intermingled scent of sweat, tears, blood that permeates the air.

[2] On average, severed heads retain approximately fourteen seconds of sentience. However, exceptions have been known to occur.  It has been reported that some severed heads remain sentient for several hours, and in a few cases, for more than a day.

Day 13 ~ Nick Flynn

From Nick Flynn's website

From Nick Flynn’s website

Why do I love Nick Flynn? Blame Cathy Smith Bowers. She read a poem of his in class, and well, it became my favorite poem for a good 3 months. I read it to strangers, to friends, and my own students. My poor students, who already question my state of mind, had a stronger reason when I taught “Bag of Mice”. This poem is heart wrenching and I have actually seen visual interpretations of this poem, in a graphic novel, that made it all the sadder. Recently I have included this poem in workshops that I teach outside of the high school environment.

Obviously there is more to like about Nick Flynn’s work than simply that one poem, and from his memoirs to his books of poems there is a stark realism that is refreshing. His poems mix a current political situation, his personal history, and the magic of our confused world, most obviously in “Haiku (failed)” which is anything but a haiku.

There are plenty of chances to see Nick Flynn, he travels quite a bit, and with his new book of poems My Feelings which should have premiered (unofficially) last weekend at AWP, he will be promoting. Earlier this month I spotlighted Brendan Constantine, who will be at Sarah Lawrence the weekend of April 25th for The Poetry Festival. So all you lucky readers in New York, quite a few of the poets I am spotlighting will be heading your way. I wish I were you . . . .

 

This poem appeared in the Boston Review

Forgetting Something

Try this—close / your eyes. No, wait, when—if—we see each other / again the first thing we should do is close our eyes—no, / first we should tie our hands to something / solid—bedpost, doorknob—otherwise they (wild birds) / might startle us / awake. Are we forgetting something? What about that / warehouse, the one beside the airport, that room / of black boxes, a man in each box? I hear / if you bring this one into the light he will not stop / crying, if you show this one a photo of his son / his eyes go dead. Turn up / the heat, turn up the song. First thing we should do / if we see each other again is to make / a cage of our bodies—inside we can place / whatever still shines.

 

And from Youtube.com Nick himself reading.

Day 12 ~ Saeed Jones

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I can’t imagine you do not know who Saeed Jones is. You probably do. I can’t imagine not wanting to be Saeed Jones’ friend. You probably are. I can’t imagine what happens in his mind that makes him so damn good. It has to be a beautiful place. I only recently read Prelude to Bruise. I was immediately turned into awe when I read the first poem in the book “Antracite”, the last sentence which rolls over 4 lines Beware/of how they want you;/in this town everything born black/also burns. Nevermind the fact that coverage of young black men being murders adds pathos to these lines, but the lines without that knowledge have such an attachement to not only the poet but the history that it transcends pathos, and brings ethos and logos along for the ride in a beautiful poem. Name a great poem that doesn’t do that? You can’t.

Very dear to my heart is the use of mythology in several of his poems. What if the myths took place in present time? What were the mythological characaters like before their myth? Or what happened to them after the myth was over? Jones wrote a piece called “Daedalus, After Icarus” that is just as moving and tragic as the story we all know of Icarus.

If for any reason you do not have Prelude to Bruise, please BUY it, you need this book in your life. (Cool Factor-He’s Buzzfeed Lit Ed)

 

The first poem is courtesy PBS, Weekly poem and the title of his book

 

Prelude to Bruise

In Birmingham, said the burly man—

Boy, be
a bootblack.

Your back, blue-black.
Your body,                     burning.

I like my black boys broke, or broken.
I like to break my black boys in.

See this burnished
brown leather belt?
You see it, boy?

Are you broke, or broken?
I’m gonna break your back in.

Good boy. Begin: bend
over my boot,

(or I’ll bend you over my lap–rap rap)

again, bend. Better,

butt out, tongue out,
lean in.

Now, spit-shine.
Spit-polish.

My boot, black.
Your back, blue-black.

Good boy.
Black boy, blue-black boy.
Bad boy–rap rap.

You’ve been broken in.
Begin again, bend.

 

And from Youtube, the poem I mention in the first paragraph. Antracite

Day 11 ~ Elena Karina Byrne

 

Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 10.57.37 AMTonight Beyond Baroque brings the rare treat of two amazing women poets that have given their hearts and efforts to the City of Los Angeles. Yesterday I spotlighted Suzanne Lummis, and today I spotlight the renouned Elena Karina Byrne. She has worked so tirelessly in the arts for so long, that many of you already know and admire her. Her poems “irregular Masks” was featured in The Best New American Poetry 2005 and she is a Pushcart Prize winner.

She curates poetry readings at Ruskin Art club and is the moderator for Poetry at the Los Angeles Times Book Festival.

If you are at all near the Venice area tonight. Perhaps taking in a lovely dinner, than you need to get over to Beyond Baroque to hear this woman read along with Suzanne Lummis.

More importantly you can be part of the celebration when she is awarded the George Drury Smith Outstanding Achievement in Poetry Award and Distinguished Service Award, tomorrow night. Elena Karina Byren epitomized both outstanding achievement and distinguished Service. A wise choice by Beyond Baroque, and you can see her accept this award by purchasing tickets.

Here is a taste of the poetry you will be treated to, tonight, courtesy youtube.

 

Day 10 ~ Suzanne Lummis

SL
This Sunday, LA is honoring two powerhouse forces in poetry. The first I am spotlighting is Suzanne Lummis. This woman is indeed a fabulous poet, but she is also a teacher, editor, performer, historian, and an inspiration. To inspire is to breathe life into and there is proof that she does this, not just through the many students she has taught via UCLA extension courses and her workshops but her very words.   What Ms. Lummis does for poetry in Los Angeles is far reaching and celebrates the city’s history. There is an interview on NPR with Suzanne conducted by Jacki Lyden that you must listen to, the interview covers Suzanne in the city of angels, from her mugging to her love of the L.A. River.  She loves this city, and she celebrates her with the poetry of the noir.

 

Suzanne has been a staple in the L.A. Poetry scene for over 30 years, recently releasing her book Open 24 Hours that won the Blue Lynx Poetry Prize (2103). The Wide Awake: Poetry of Los Angels and Beyond had the great fortune of having her as an editor. But I first saw her work in a very used copy of Stand Up Poetry that she co-edited with Charles Harper Webb. In this anthology she showed us all that humor is possible in poetry as is with and mastery of the word. I always sold my books back to the bookstore, always, I was poor. I didn’t give that book back, and I still have it in my bookshelf nearly 20 years later. (Side note, I reread the whole anthology before writing this, and confirmed it will go nowhere). The New Yorker featured poems from Suzanne about six months ago, and you can hear the poem here.

 

There is no wonder that this Sunday Suzanne is receiving Beyond Baroque’s

George Drury Smith Outstanding Achievement in Poetry Award and Distinguished Service Award. And she epitomized both outstanding achievement and distinguished Service. A wise choice by Beyond Baroque, and you can see her win this award by purchasing tickets.

 

If you haven’t the time to make it to the award ceremony, but find Saturday night open, Suzanne will be reading her work (with her co-recipient, Elena Karina Byrne) at Beyond Baroque and you can be there to hear it. Check out all the information here.  Hope to see you at one or both of these events as we celebrate Suzanne Lummis

 

The Perfect Man
         By Suzanne Lummis

     For the men who’ve asked me,
      “Why isn’t there a perfect man
      in any of your plays?” 

.                 He’s lonely.
There is only one of him.
He’s like the last-of-its-kind
someone captured
and shipped back to the zoo.
.                  Except he
has never been captured, only
by the mirror which captures
his image, speaks
the same reassurance:
you are the fairest…
He sighs and straightness his tie.
It’s terrible being a myth.
Why can’t he do goofy
ordinary things —
cruise down boulevards,
be in a play?
.                  He turns
and moves through his rooms,
their identical
fields of light, their curious
absence of shadow.

Why can we not find him?
.                  Late,
very late, when the women
of this earth lie asleep,
he sighs, then packs up his costumes:
the formal wear, leather jacket,
the ski gear of a down-hill racer…
You see?
He’s obliged to break into our dreams.
Now he will begin his long run,
through cities and provinces, from
sleek condominiums to the Highway’s
last chance hotels.
It’s a delicate task
getting in.
If we wake we might catch
the tapping of his small
silvery hammer, its ping
ping…
We might think we hear
for a moment,. just
as it vanishes, the sledge
of some convict, some far away
prisoner, crazy to get out.

 

From Caffeine Destiny

 

 

Suzanne Reading Femme Fatale (from youtube.com)

 

Day 9 ~ Brendan Constantine

Brendan ConstantineWell it had to happen, and so it has, today I spotlight the uber talented Brendan Constantine.  If you have not seen him perform/read his work and you had the chance to, you have cheated yourself out of an experience you will not forget. Outside of being an absolutely great feature if you have your own reading you host, Brendan is a teacher. He teaches children, he does workshops at CAFAM (Craft and Folk Art Museum) and he volunteers with the Alzheimer’s Project. My mother has Alzheimer and I often fear this will be my final outcome, and I certainly wish there was a Brendan in my mother’s life earlier. Someone who would help her get out all she had to get out through writing, and feel creative and powerful again. This is what I truly love about Brendan he does that for people. He makes them feel powerful through words whether they are a 10 year old or 80 year old. He brings joy with words. When Brendan submitted his work to Wherewithal, a magazine I co-founded I felt honored that he even knew we existed.

I have gushed over this man enough, just let me say Brendan tours (those of you in the Los Angeles area have about a million opportunities to see him this month, New Your you only have Sarah Lawrence Poetry Festival) and when he does catch him, please, it’s for your own good. Until that time, buy Letters to Guns, and then you can also pick up his other two books once you fall in love with his words.

 

First let me show you Brendan doing his thing so that you want to run out and see him.  This video is from youtube, where you can find many more.

 

And here is a poem that I was so grateful to him for allowing us to feature on Wherewithal Magazine.

 

Phototaxis

Whatever gets between us and the sky
becomes the sky / It’s how we start to
wish on the flicker in a smoke alarm /
how sometimes the bed seems hidden
under moss / We sit long after the lamps
go down / The park so dark / the moths
dive at our phones / It makes sense to
laugh down the street / The street waits
its turn / then rolls out its black receipt
for things we don’t remember / We
can’t read the numbers / What we owe
is somewhere behind those trees in
the wallpaper / or way the other way

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