April 7, 2015

NPM 2015 - April 7 - Tracy K. Smith

I heard of Tracy K. Smith some years ago when she won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her book, Life on Mars. (Per her Poetry Foundation bio and poets.org bio, she was born in Massachusetts in 1972 and got her BA from Harvard University and an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University.)

An excerpt from one of her poems as today's poem. 

    My God, It's Full of Stars
    by Tracy K. Smith


    We like to think of it as parallel to what we know,
    Only bigger. One man against the authorities.
    Or one man against a city of zombies. One man
    Who is not, in fact, a man, sent to understand
    The caravan of men now chasing him like red ants
    Let loose down the pants of America. Man on the run.
    Man with a ship to catch, a payload to drop,
    This message going out to all of space. . . . Though
    Maybe it’s more like life below the sea: silent,
    Buoyant, bizarrely benign. Relics
    Of an outmoded design. Some like to imagine
    A cosmic mother watching through a spray of stars,
    Mouthing yes, yes as we toddle toward the light,
    Biting her lip if we teeter at some ledge. Longing
    To sweep us to her breast, she hopes for the best
    While the father storms through adjacent rooms
    Ranting with the force of Kingdom Come,
    Not caring anymore what might snap us in its jaw.
    Sometimes,  what I see is a library in a rural community.
    All the tall shelves in the big open room. And the pencils
    In a cup at Circulation, gnawed on by the entire population.
    The books have lived here all along, belonging
    For weeks at a time to one or another in the brief sequence
    Of family names, speaking (at night mostly) to a face,
    A pair of eyes. The most remarkable lies.

The full poem can be read here.
P.S. Coincidentally, just found that she is in the New York Times today in one of their cooking related features - Close at Hand, which "celebrates the objects, practical or precious, that cooks find indispensable."

April 6, 2015

NPM 2015 - April 6 - Deborah Paredez

Deborah Paredez is an American poet, scholar, and Associate Professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin. [wiki].

Here's one of her poems for today.. you can hear her read the poem at the link.

Wife’s Disaster Manual
by Deborah Paredez

When the forsaken city starts to burn,
after the men and children have fled,
stand still, silent as prey, and slowly turn

back. Behold the curse. Stay and mourn
the collapsing doorways, the unbroken bread
in the forsaken city starting to burn.

Don’t flinch. Don’t join in.
Resist the righteous scurry and instead
stand still, silent as prey. Slowly turn

your thoughts away from escape: the iron
gates unlatched, the responsibilities shed.
When the forsaken city starts to burn,

surrender to your calling, show concern
for those who remain. Come to a dead
standstill. Silent as prey, slowly turn

into something essential. Learn
the names of the fallen. Refuse to run ahead
when the forsaken city starts to burn.
Stand still and silent. Pray. Return.

April 5, 2015

NPM 2015 - April 5 - Sherwin Bitsui

Today's poem is by Sherwin Bitsui, who was born in 1975 and is ..
"from the Navajo Reservation in White Cone, Arizona. He received an AFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts Creative Writing Program and is the author of the poetry collections Shapeshift (2003) and Flood Song (2009). Steeped in Native American culture, mythology, and history, Bitsui’s poems reveal the tensions in the intersection of Native American and contemporary urban culture. His poems are imagistic, surreal, and rich with details of the landscape of the Southwest. Flood Song is a book-length lyric sequence that explores the traditions of Native American writing through postmodern fragment and stream of consciousness."

And here's one of his poems for today, via Poetry Foundation

by Sherwin Bitsui

When we river,
blood fills cracks in bullet shells,
oars become fingers scratching windows into dawn,
and faces are stirred from mounds of mica.

I notice the back isn’t as smooth anymore,
      the river crests at the moment of blinking;
its blood vessels stiffen and spear the drenched coat of flies
collecting outside the jaw.

Night slows here,
      the first breath held back,
clenched like a tight fist in the arroyo under shattered glass.
But we still want to shake the oxygen loose from flypaper,
hack its veins,
divert its course,
      and reveal its broken back,

the illusion of a broken back.  

... from Shapeshift. Copyright © 2003 by Sherwin Bitsui (University of Arizona Press). 

April 4, 2015

NPM 2015 - April 4 - Jon Pineda

Jon Pineda (born 1971) is a poet, memoirist, and novelist, who earned his BA from James Madison University and an MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University and currently teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Queens University of Charlotte and is a member of the creative writing faculty at the University of Mary Washington [wikipedia].

And here's a poem by Jon for today...

Cinque Terre
by Jon Pineda

Between the train's long slide and the sun
ricocheting off the sea, anyone
would have fallen silent in those words,
the language of age in her face, the birds
cawing over the broken earth, gathering near its stones
and chapel doors. In the marina, the sea and its bones
have grown smaller. Though the tide is out,
it is not the tide nor the feathers nor the cat
that jumps into the street, the dust
lifting with each wing and disappearing. The rust-
colored sheets that wrap the sails of ships,
I don't know their name nor the way to say lips
of water in Italian and mean this:  an old woman
stood by the tracks until his hand stopped waving.

from The Translator’s Diary. Copyright © 2008 by Jon Pineda.

via Poetry Foundation.


April 3, 2015

NPM 2015 - April 3 - Kevin Young

For April 3rd, a poem from Kevin Young, who has received many accolades and been much in the news (to the extents poets are in the news!) as a young upcoming poet... but first a short bio, this excerpt via wikipedia:
Kevin Young (born November 8, 1970) is an American poet and teacher of poetry. Young graduated from Harvard College in 1992, held a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University (1992–94), and received his Master of Fine Arts from Brown University. While in Boston and Providence, he was part of the African-American poetry group, the Dark Room Collective. He is heavily influenced by the poets Langston Hughes, John Berryman, and Emily Dickinson and by the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.

And now to one of his poems..

by Kevin Young

Wake to find everything black
what was white, all the vice
versa—white maids on TV, black

sitcoms that star white dwarfs
cute as pearl buttons. Black Presidents,
Black Houses. White horse

candidates. All bleach burns
clothes black. Drive roads
white as you are, white songs

on the radio stolen by black bands
like secret pancake recipes, white back-up
singers, ball-players & boxers all

white as tar. Feathers on chickens
dark as everything, boiling in the pot
that called the kettle honky. Even

whites of the eye turn dark, pupils
clear & changing as a cat's.
Is this what we've wanted

& waited for? to see snow
covering everything black
as Christmas, dark pages written

white upon? All our eclipses bright,
dark stars shooting across pale
sky, glowing like ash in fire, shower

every skin. Only money keeps
green, still grows & burns like grass
under dark daylight.

from To Repel Ghosts: The Remix. Copyright © 2005 by Kevin Young, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.  Reprinted by permission of Steerforth Press


I'll leave you with a more recent link from 2014 to an interview with Kevin Young with Terry Gross where he talks about blues, poetry, and 'laughing to keep from crying.' 

April 2, 2015

NPM 2015 - April 2 - Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Today's poet is Aimee Nezhukumatathil (born in Chicago in 1974). Her  bio says:
Born in 1974 in Chicago to a Filipina mother and Malayali Indian father, Aimee Nezhukumatathil is known for writing poems that sit at the intersection of three cultures: Filipino, Indian, and American. She received her BA in English and MFA in poetry and creative nonfiction from Ohio State University in Columbus.

...She teaches creative writing and environmental literature at State University of New York–Fredonia, where she was named the SUNY–Fredonia William T. Hagan Young Scholar.

And now to one of her poems. I first read this poem in 2007 or 2008 and was very amused because my friend and I, as 9-11 year olds, used to delight in spelling out and saying the word - pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis - no fear of long words for us! But I was also mildly amused by the fact that the poem is about a fear of long almost unpronounceable words, kinda like the poet's last name! ;-)

The fear of long words
by Aimee Nezhukumatathil
On the first day of classes, I secretly beg
my students Don’t be afraid of me. I know
my last name on your semester schedule
is chopped off or probably misspelled—
or both. I can’t help it. I know the panic
of too many consonants rubbed up
against each other, no room for vowels

to fan some air into the room of a box
marked Instructor. You want something
to startle you? Try tapping the ball
of roots of a potted tomato plant

into your cupped hand one spring, only
to find a small black toad who kicks
and blinks his cold eye at you,

the sun, a gnat. Be afraid of the x-rays
for your teeth or lung. Pray for no
dark spots. You may have

coal lung. Be afraid of money spiders tiptoeing
across your face while you sleep on a sweet, fat couch.
But don’t be afraid of me, my last name, what language

I speak or what accent dulls itself on my molars.
I will tell jokes, help you see the gleam
of the beak of a mohawked cockatiel. I will
lecture on luminescent sweeps of ocean, full of tiny

dinoflagellates oozing green light when disturbed.
I promise dark gatherings of toadfish and comical shrimp
just when you think you are alone, hoping to stay somehow afloat.

You can read some more of her poems at her website here and an interview with her here.

April 1, 2015

NPM 2015 - April 1 - Sandra Beasley

 For National Poetry Month this year, I've decided to post a poem each day this month by a poet born after 1965 ...so, in the last 50 years. The chances of having someone from 1995 onwards (i.e. a published poet less than 20 years old!) are low but regardless, 50 years sounds like a good round number. The reason to do this is that I've mostly read poetry by poets who were born before the end of World War II and a few from the 1950s and so I thought I'll focus on younger poets from the last 50 years and familiarize myself with some more contemporary poets.

So, for today then, is a poem by Sandra Beasley, an American poet and non-fiction writer, who, per wikipedia, was born in 1980. And yes - many contemporary poets have websites, blogs, and twitter accounts! ;-)

For a poem for today, here's a sestina*  by her, via the Verse Daily website.

Sestina Inviting My Sister to Become a Pirate 
by Sandra Beasley
We wake to breakfast in a burning house,
Mom cussing. Our eggs have embers in them.
Fly the black flag on this family again.
I'll wear the eye patch, you will thread a ring
through your ear. Now, let us head out to sea.
Let all the Atlantic try to douse us.
You have to remember that they love us.
Burying a hatchet's harder than razing a house,
and raising a child is hardest. The sea
can lift bottle, barrel, ship. But for them
to keep this marriage afloat will take ring
and pulley that could raise Atlantis again,
with God shouldering the rope. Once again,
pegleg life is better balanced for us.
Parents? We'll take parrots. Choose a skull ring
set with rubies, grog-soaked night-jigging, house
boys to swab the deck. Fellow mates. To them,
it's clear we were always meant for the sea.
Monsoons, I know. We could go down at sea.
Captains blue- and black-bearded, drunk again,
might mutter that we're just wenches to them,
prod us with swords. But I'd rather see us
walk a plank than back into this damn house.
So what if Dad has lost his wedding ring?
So what that his story has a familiar ring?
Oh, my darling buccaneer, don't you see?
Burying a hatchet's easier than burying a house,
burying a treasure easier again—
all the same day's worth of digging to us.
If their smiles glitter like doubloons, let them.
But then lock the chest tight. We can love them
in the leaving, as galleons love moorings
of harbors they may yet come home to. But for us,
for now, no X can compete with the sea,
cross-stitching white caps again and again.
I believe a dank cabin beats a house
ablaze. I believe we can beat them, that the sea
offers vows sacred as rings. I won't ask again.
Join us. I'll wait in a rowboat, by the lighthouse.

Copyright © 2005 Sandra Beasley All rights reserved
from Cimarron Review
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

You can also read two great blog posts by her about sestinas here and here.

*  A sestina is "a fixed verse form consisting of six stanzas of six lines each, normally followed by a three-line envoi. The words that end each line of the first stanza are used as line endings in each of the following stanzas, rotated in a set pattern. 
The invention of the form is usually attributed to 12th-century troubadour Arnaut Daniel; after spreading to continental Europe, it first appeared in English in 1579, though sestinas were rarely written in Britain until the end of the 19th century. It remains a popular poetic form, and many continue to be written by contemporary poets."

Not one more refugee death, by Emmy Pérez

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