28 April 2008

Quote of the week (and not just for writers, either....)

If I were allowed to say only one thing to other writers in 2008, speaking both as editor and writer, I think it would be this: If you are truly serious about doing distinctive work that will make its mark, slow down.

A great poem or story or essay is not a line on a vita, a selling point in a job interview, or a ticket to tenure. Any person who writes one great poem or story or essay per year for twenty years will take his or her place on the short list of the finest writers of all time. Slow down. Read voluminously, year after year, both for pleasure and to be reminded of all that you must not do, all that you must exceed, in order to make your special, indelible mark.

-- Stephen Corey, editor of The Georgia Review
in Poets & Writers Magazine (May/June 2008)

22 April 2008

Poem: "Where" by Mary Jo Bang

I was reading Mary Jo Bang's extraordinary book, Elegy, over the weekend, and had wanted to post a poem from it...yesterday's news about Toni Brown makes me feel it even more imperative that I put something up. This is also a slight tip of the hat to John, who'd asked me about Elegy earlier this month, and has done an amazing job of posting a poem a day this April.


In this cicada city, we are dead,
We are quiet, we are home.
Here, you belong

To me. I, to you. The trees lurch
Toward later summer, reach
Toward the window

Where glass makes mirror
Of the sitting. Lightning forks.
All directions lead to my empty head

Bent over a box of cicatrix ash.
My mothering lips are stitched
Shut by sorrow.

What was once a mind
Is pried open.
Look, doctor, at the tangle

Of synapse
Where the pearl should be.
And then, distraction --

The pink Mobius strip dips down
And begins its torturous twist.
The current catches

The tree and drags me forward.
Toward the missing beginning.

(Graywolf Press, 2007)

21 April 2008

Toni Brown (November 2, 1952 – April 19, 2008)

Toni Brown Memorials

Friday, April 25, 2008
Trinity Episcopal Church
3 Goddard Avenue
Rockland, Massachusetts

Sunday, April 27, 2008
Painted Bride Art Center
230 Vine St, Philadelphia, PA
2 - 4 pm

Condolences may be sent:
In Memory of Toni Brown
c/o Ian Yancey
161 West Abbottsford Avenue
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19144

Another day, another loss...what a shock to lose a gentle and hilarious sister-poet. We always had a great time together, and hers was one of the warm and welcoming presences I'll always remember that greeted me in Esopus New York my first year at the Cave Canem retreat. I'm still working on a poem that riffs off one of hers that she read the last time I saw her a couple of years ago. I'm sorry I won't be able to surprise her with the gift of it.

The news from Cave Canem:

Dear Poets,
I am sorry to write that Toni Brown (1997, 1998 and 2002) passed away on Saturday, April 19 from respiratory complications.

There will be two memorial services in: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Rockland, Massachusetts. If any friends of Toni would like to read a poem in one of the services, contact Toni’s sister, Gina Brown, at browngmd@gmail.com (please put CAVE CANEM in the subject line). There will be more information on the services at a later date.

Dante Micheaux

Two poems including an audiorecording with percussionist Barbara McPherson

Toni in Prairie Schooner

Her more steamy work can also be found in Bed: New Lesbian Erotica (Haworth Press, 2007)

The woman w/maggots in her legs
dozes in an over-stuffed chair
Flies orbit her head, blacken the walls,
make love to the soft holes in her body.

She whispers to the pipers who call her Granny,
bring her potato chips or warm ginger ale then
curl into the room's dark corners.
Their match flames reflect in her dull eyes
Sulfur mixes with the smell of garbage.

The women w/maggots in her legs
never changes her clothes.
Her socks writhe against her ankles
Her shoes appear to be full of rice.

She dreams of sheets boiled white,
sunshine through clear window panes.
The tickling in her body is the touch of God,
the buzzing, the wings of angels.


these ropes of hair
This is how
it would have grown
on my head
in the bowels of a ship
long ago

we dark still living
who crawled or
were dragged
hair matted flat
into this New World
would have been

from Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem's First Decade (University of Michigan Press, 2006)

from Postcards from Cave Canem

Naked against the moon’s fingers
rolling on the floor in the sheets
licking the sweat off my upper lip the cool rain
off the window sill Twisting my hair into knots
eating only sunshine and the songs of birds
Who heard my cries through the heavy oak door
while 15 poems had their way with me?

won’t be home this week
will call soon
Love, Toni

Love to you as well, Dear Toni!

17 April 2008

Au Revoir, Césaire

One of the greats, a giant of diasporan Surrealism, author of one of the masterpiece Cahier D'Un Retour Au Pays Natal (Notebook of a Return to the Native Land), staunch critic of colonialism and a founder of the "Negritude" movement, the poet (and politician) from Martinique, Aimé Césaire passed away today at the age of 94.

Aimé Césaire website (in French)

His page on the Academy of American Poets website

New York Times Review of "The Collected Poetry" translated by Clayton Eshleman and Annette Smith

New York Times and International Herald Tribune obituaries

A poem from his 1948 collection (translated as either Beheaded or Decapitated Sun) from The Negritude Poets


Man too bad you don't notice that my eyes
slings and black flags
that murder every time I blink

Man too bad you don't see that you see nothing
not even that beautiful signal-system of the railroad that
under my eyelids makes the red and black disks of the coral-
snake which my munificence coils in my tears

Man too bad you don't see that in the depths of the reticle
where chance has deposited our eyes
there waits a buffalo drowned to the guard of his eyes
of the marsh

Man too bad you don't see that you can't
prevent me from building for his sufficiency
islands to the egg head of flagrant sky
under the calm ferocity of the immense geranium our sun

-- translated by Clayton Eshleman and Denis Kelly

16 April 2008

Monday Night Live: By the way, meet Vera Stark by Lynn Nottage

It will be my honor to join
Kimberly R. Moffitt, Ph.D. (Mass Communications, Howard University), and Dr. Sheri Parks, (Associate Professor of American Studies, University of Maryland), for a discussion of gender, passing, race and film "From Hattie to Halle" after the staged reading this Monday night.

Center Stage's First Look Series:
By the way, meet Vera Stark, by Lynn Nottage

Just announced – Tracie Thoms, of CBS’s “Cold Case” and the movie “Rent,” returns to CENTERSTAGE (A Raisin in the Sun) to participate in the reading of Lynn Nottage’s latest play, By the way, meet Vera Stark on April 21st at 7pm. Ticket price is $5. Please call the box office at 410-332-0033 to reserve your seat!

Poem for Your Pocket: Bishop's "The Map"

(@Left: Young people from Upton -- my old neighborhood -- participating in the Maps on Purpose project)

In honor of April 17th's "Poem in Your Pocket Day" and of the current delicious blockbuster exhibit "Maps: Finding Our Place
in the World / Mapping the Cosmos
" at the Walters Art Museum, and other locations around town as part of the Baltimore Festival of Maps -- including us --, a poem from the great Elizabeth Bishop, from her amazing first book, North and South.

The Map

Land lies in water; it is shadowed green.
Shadows, or are they shallows, at its edges
showing the line of long sea-weeded ledges
where weeds hang to the simple blue from green.
Or does the land lean down to lift the sea from under,
drawing it unperturbed around itself?
Along the fine tan sandy shelf
is the land tugging at the sea from under?

The shadow of Newfoundland lies flat and still.
Labrador's yellow, where the moony Eskimo
has oiled it. We can stroke these lovely bays,
under a glass as if they were expected to blossom,
or as if to provide a clean cage for invisible fish.
The names of seashore towns run out to sea,
the names of cities cross the neighboring mountains
-the printer here experiencing the same excitement
as when emotion too far exceeds its cause.
These peninsulas take the water between thumb and finger
like women feeling for the smoothness of yard-goods.

Mapped waters are more quiet than the land is,
lending the land their waves' own conformation:
and Norway's hare runs south in agitation,
profiles investigate the sea, where land is.
Are they assigned, or can the countries pick their colors?
-What suits the character or the native waters best.
Topography displays no favorites; North's as near as West.
More delicate than the historians' are the map-makers' colors.

11 April 2008

Lit Up

As a teaser for next Saturday's City Lit Festival (Central Pratt Library Saturday April 19th), a poem by Baltimore's own Wei Yafeng -- aka 'Afaa' Michael Weaver ("Perhaps the only established African American poet who speaks, writes, and reads Chinese" according to Poets & Writers magazine, which featured him on its cover at the end of 2007). Baltimore City is proclaiming April 19th "Afaa Michael Weaver Day" in honor of him and his new book, The Plum Flower Dance: Poems 1985 to 2005.

My Father's Geography

I was parading the Côte d'Azur,
hopping the short trains from Nice to Cannes,
following the maze of streets in Monte Carlo
to the hill that overlooks the ville.
A woman fed me pâté in the afternoon,
calling from her stall to offer me more.
At breakfast I talked in French with an old man
about what he loved about America--the Kennedys.

On the beaches I walked and watched
topless women sunbathe and swim,
loving both home and being so far from it.

At a phone looking to Africa over the Mediterranean,
I called my father, and, missing me, he said,
"You almost home boy. Go on cross that sea!"

From My Father's Geography (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1992)

Weaver's personal story is amazing, and I admire both his work, and how he is a walking, breathing 'symbol of growth' -- not many black men who start in East Baltimore end up as professors and students of Chinese.

Weaver on Black Male Poetics

Listen to an audio clip of him reading "Theme For Intermediate Chinese", from the Academy of American Poets website

Even in the short time I've known him, his constant desire to learn and improve has been truly inspirational. I am not ashamed to say he's someone I look up to (figuratively and literally:). I'm looking forward to seeing him again, and to all the other writers -- Dr. Ben Carson, Dan Fesperman, Laura Lippman, Manil Suri, and children's book author Carole Boston Weatherford among them -- literary journals and just plain olf fans of reading who will be joining us on the 19th. Hope to see you there!

02 April 2008

Happy National Poetry & Jazz Appreciation Month!

April, April....a very dreary beginning to the month yesterday morning here suddenly blossomed into a glorious and warm afternoon and evening. Considering all the flowering trees (..and my blooming sinuses) Spring (or something like it) has arrived.

In honor of the 12th National Poetry Month -- an excerpt from a poem by the great Jay Wright on this year's poster(viewed at right: download the pdf here) -- and also of the 8th Jazz Appreciation Month ([El]La Fitzgerald from the Verve Songbook series seen at left: pdf here), the librarian in me recommends:

Sascha Feinstein and Yusuf Komunyakaa's Jazz Poetry Anthology and The Second Set (The Jazz Poetry Anthology, Volume 2)

Sascha Feinstein's journal Brilliant Corners

Art Lange and Nathaniel Mackey's Moment's Notice: Jazz in Poetry and Prose

and the Kevin Young edited Jazz Poems

My own small contribution to the party and the joys of the month appears below, from 10 Tongues. Enjoy!

Dad on Tenor

Paint me a dream of the late
1950's: men in somber suits
and skinny ties. Everyone
wears hats. The South exploding
with the new thing -- "Civil Rights"
The North feeling bewildered,
superior again.

My father plays his horn 'Round
Midnight and beyond, dances notes
into Eisenhower's straightlaced sky
higher than a Sputnik, is the Negro
giving wet dreams to beatniks
across the tops of cities contemplating jazz...

The universe fits onto a 10" record,
and every blue note is a gem,
filled with epic rhythms
rolling louder than a drum.

Rock and Roll is Chuck Berry,
a painted Little Richard, white boys
stealing The Blues, imitating Louis Jordan
badly, a kid from Mississippi your mother
swears has some cullud in him somewhere

My mother's hands snake around him
sweet and sad as a bass line, her body
just as bowed with child. White girls wink
from the corners bright
high notes trilled from the piano.
The discords of the '60's wait to mug him
at the far end of the street. For now

the world is his, whispers like a lover
All the Things You Are into his ear
as he steps up to the mike, wets the reed,
wraps a smile around the mouthpiece.
Far off a voice calls out