Category Archives: Women’s poetry

Remembering Chana Bloch 1940-2017

What a loss to the poetry world: Chana Bloch, poet extraordinaire, passed this month, on May 20, 2017. Besides having a long and storied literary career, her humanitarian contributions as a voice for justice and peace will be long remembered. Her lasting contribution as a translator should also be noted, including the significant translation of the Song of Songs. Two of her poems below show us a glimpse of her heart and passion for life and the living:

Memento Mori

God blessed you with curly hair,”
my mother used to say
and dressed me like Shirley Temple.

On my bare scalp, Australia:
a birthmark that hid
in the thicket of my hair.

Unblessed in a downburst, I lost
my leafy summer, my lovely,
my crest, my crown.

I sleep in a flannel nightcap.
My wig sleeps in a closet,
comb and brush in a drawer.

I wake to a still life—
a clock that marks the hour
before it strikes.

No skull on my desk.
Just a face in the mirror,
unrecognizable.

The Joins

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of mending
precious pottery with gold.

 

What’s between us

seems flexible as the webbing

between forefinger and thumb.

 

Seems flexible but isn’t;

what’s between us

is made of clay

 

like any cup on the shelf.

It shatters easily. Repair

becomes the task.

 

We glue the wounded edges

with tentative fingers.

Scar tissue is visible history

 

and the cup is precious to us

because

we saved it.

 

In the art of kintsugi

a potter repairing a broken cup

would sprinkle the resin

 

with powdered gold.

Sometimes the joins

are so exquisite

 

they say the potter

may have broken the cup

just so he could mend it.

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My Review of Meriam’s Lillian Trilogy on Trish Hopkinson’s Blog: Check It Out!

Read it here. What a thrill to have a guest blog post on Trish’s fantastic site! Meriam’s book is definitely a must-read.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Formal Poetry, Formal poets, Poetry, Poetry in forms, women poets, Women's poetry

Allison Joseph: Taking on Both Racism and Sexism

International Women’s Day this year, galvanized by the misogyny of President Trump, showed the world a powerful presentation of the importance of women and their essential contributions, calling for both recognition and justice in so many ways.

At the same time, just last month, the shortest month of the year, was Black History Month, for which I barely found enough time to do a few posts, despite that even a 31-day month would not be sufficient time to do bring up a tenth of the poets we need to hear about. One important poet being Allison Joseph.

Allison Joseph’s poetry addresses both concerns: that of racism and its insidious dehumanization of people of color, and civil rights, and that of women’s rights and the fight to be respected and given their due. Here are two strong poems demonstrating what a strong voice she is indeed on both issues.

SUNDOWN GHAZAL

By Allison Joseph

A sundown town was a town, city or neighborhood that was purposely all-white. The term came from signs that were allegedly posted stating that people of color had to leave the town by sundown. They are also sometimes known as “sunset towns” or “gray towns.” The highest proportion of confirmed sundown towns were in the state of Illinois — Wikipedia

Don’t show your face in a sundown town,
or forget your race in a sundown town.

What ancient shame flushes my cheeks?
Reminded of my place in a sundown town.

“How’d you get so good-looking?” said with a wink.
Old white man loves my grace in a sundown town.

Lost in a neighborhood where dogs snap chains,
my body’s a dark space in a sundown town.

Shotguns, gun racks, Dixie stickers, rusted trucks.
Should I stray, armed with mace, in a sundown town?

Crimes thrive in black, white, every grade between.
Are you just another case in a sundown town?

Kink of your hair, curl of your lip,
be careful who you embrace in a sundown town.

State police, city cops, small-town hired hands.
All give chase in a sundown town.

Burned houses, riddled with junk and meth.
Hatred creeps its petty pace in a sundown town.

Black father, white mother, coffee-colored daughter.
What can love erase in a sundown town?

Rivers, tires, bodies—a confluence that cannot hide.
Hard not to leave a trace in a sundown town.

And here, first published on the PBS website:

Kitchen

By Allison Joseph

I remember this as her kitchen,
the one room in our house where no one
questioned my mother’s authority—
her cast iron pots bubbling over
on the stove, cracked tea cups
in the sink. How I hated
the difficult oven always hanging
off its hinges, so loose a clothes hanger
rigged it shut, gas range whose flames
leapt beneath fingers when I turned
its knobs too quickly, floor tile
that never came clean no matter
how much dirt I swept from its
cracks. This was her domain—
kitchen for frying fish
and stewing chicken, for rice
and peas, plantains and yams,
for grease and hot sauce and seasoned salt.
Only she could make that faulty
oven door stay, only she could master
the fickle flames of the rangetop,
only she could make those worn dishes
and chipped plates fill a table
with food so rich and hot
my father could not complain.
And though I am her daughter, this house
no longer hers, her body deep in holy ground,
I know she’d want me to save all this—
decades of platters and saucers, plates,
glasses—every chipped cup, tarnished fork.

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Remembering Monica Hand

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Monica Hand’s powerful and unique voice will be an enduring one through her poetry. In her own words: “My best poems express ideas concerned with civil rights and the human condition and do that in a way that the energy of the poem is felt in the gut, the heart, the throat and the head.” Sadly, she passed on December 15, 2016, unexpectedly and much too soon. She had published her first poetry collection in 2012, nina and Me. She was already an award-winning poet, despite having begun her writing career relatively late, and had almost immediately been recognized as an important voice, having discovered, through study and travel, much information about the African Diaspora, those displaced from their homes by the slave trade. Her poems deal with and recognize that, honoring those who had been treated with such dishonor, and raising the painfully real awareness of that history and its need for honest dissemination.

Wounding Corpus

By Monica Hand

This body – its muscles and its bones
its sagging milk glands no use as fare,
slightly curved back and arthritic knees
no good for carrying. Lost vessel.
Here resides asylum & dangerous
thoughts, capillaries of grief & greed
equally measured. A load like skin,
just like the mammoth’s, I cannot keep
myself cool. This body walks inside
bodies of wounding diction, a fit
inarticulate in its meaning.
To disappear, these unstable bones
rustle across continents, crippled,
a senile beast stuffed into a box.

And here is an ekphrastic poem, one that finds in this iconic painting a greater truth that goes to the heart of justice, a place where art, beauty, and transcendence itself can be applied to the human condition. To, as the poet herself put it, “heal traumas of the heart and the spirit” and to “resist injustices.” Now we are becoming painfully aware of how much we need her voice, still living in her words.

Water Lilies

By Monica Hand

—after Monet

I watch the light change its many colors.
Here, from my little boat on a little pond,

sky, clouds, algae, weeping willow without
edges, no horizon just changing light.

The mutable landscape floats round leaves.
To hold light in a frame is for the bourgeoisie.

Who would try to possess the water’s surface?
Who would flatten prisms of changing light?

Today I’m green. Tomorrow I may be white.
It’s all the same. Light is more than one color.

Black is an invention of man. Colors change,
close up and from the bottom of the pond.

Day-by-day, night-by-night, I see
my visions shift in the light, ever-changing

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Powerful Poem by Patricia Smith on Emmett Till Lynching

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The lynching — by which we mean racially-motivated torture and murder — of 14-year-old Emmett Till, a heinous crime which, by being brought out into the open and made public for all to see and know, is considered the spark (or one of the sparks) that lit up the civil rights movement in America.
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It is the subject of renowned poet Patricia Smith’s powerful piece, “Black, Poured Directly into the Wound.” The title alone speaks volumes, and this is an important event to remember during Black Histoy Month, all the more important considering that we now have a white supremacist sharing power, apparently, in the White House. We need voices like Smith’s, to point out, with an unforgettably sharp point, the ugly history and legacy of such a mindset.

Black, Poured Directly into the Wound

By Patricia Smith

Prairie winds blaze through her tumbled belly, and Emmett’s
red yesterdays refuse to rename her any kind of mother.
A pudge-cheeked otherwise, sugar whistler, her boy is
(through the fierce clenching mouth of her memory) a
grays-and-shadows child. Listen. Once she was pretty.
Windy hues goldened her skin. She was pert, brown-faced,
in every wide way the opposite of the raw, screeching thing
chaos has crafted. Now, threaded awkwardly, she tires of the
sorries, the Lawd have mercies. Grief’s damnable tint
is everywhere, darkening days she is no longer aware of.
She is gospel revolving, repeatedly emptied of light, pulled
and caressed, cooed upon by strangers, offered pork and taffy.
Boys in the street stare at her, then avert their eyes, as if she
killed them all, shipped every one into the grips of Delta. She sits,
her chair carefully balanced on hell’s edge, and pays for sanity in
kisses upon the conjured forehead of her son. Beginning with A,
she recites (angry, away, awful) the alphabet of a world gone red.
Coffee scorches her throat as church ladies drift about her room,
black garb sweating their hips, filling cups with tap water, drinking,
drinking in glimpses of her steep undoing. The absence of a black
roomful of boy is measured, again, again. In the clutches of coffee,
red-eyed, Mamie knows their well-meaning murmur. One says She
a mama, still. Once you have a chile, you always a mama. Kisses
in multitudes rain from their dusty Baptist mouths, drowning her.
Sit still, she thinks, til they remember how your boy was killed.
She remembers. Gush and implosion, crushed, slippery, not a boy.
Taffeta and hymnals all these women know, not a son lost and
pulled from the wretched and rumbling Tallahatchie. Mamie, she
of the hollowed womb, is nobody’s mama anymore. She is
tinted echo, barren. Everything about her makes the sound sorry.
The white man’s hands on her child, dangled eye, twanging chaos,
things that she leans on, the only doors that open to let her in.
Faced with days and days of no him, she lets Chicago — windy,
pretty in the ways of the North — console her with its boorish grays.
A hug, more mourners and platters of fat meat. Will she make it through?
Is this how the face slap of sorrow changes the shape of a
mother? All the boys she sees now are laughing, drenched in red.
Emmett, in dreams, sings I am gold. He tells how dry it is, the prairie.

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My Review of On Loving a Saudi Girl on The Rumpus

imageCheck out my review of Carina Yun’s award-winning chapbook On Loving a Saudi Girl on The Rumpus.net site (a fantastic site for book and poetry lovers) today!!

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Lucia Perillo: Things Are Not as They Appear

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In her poem “Foley,” Lucia Perillo shows us a world, the same one we live in, where things are never as they seem. Now more than ever her words ring true.

Foley

By Lucia Perillo

It is Harrison Ford who just saved the world,
but when he walks down a dirt road toward the ultralarge sun
what sounds like his boots are really bricks being drudged
through a boxful of coffee beans. And the mare you’ve seen
clopping along those 19th-century pebbles –
she’s a coconut struck by a ball-peen hammer.
And the three girls riding in the hansom,
where the jouncing rustles their silk-and-bone:
that’s a toothbrush moving across birchbark.
Even the moment when one kickboxer’s perfect body
makes contact with the other kickboxer’s perfect body
has nothing to do with kickboxing, or bodies,
but the concrete colliding with the abstract of perfection,
which molts into a leather belt spanking a side of beef.
This is the problem with movies:
go to enough of them and pretty soon the world
starts sounding wrongly synced against itself: e.g.
last night when I heard a noise below my bedroom window
that sounded like the yowl a cat would make
if its tongue were being yanked backwards out its ass.
Pain, I thought. Help, I thought,
so at 2 am I went outside with a flashlight
and found a she-cat corkscrewed to a tom,
both of them humped and quivering where the beam flattened
against the grass whose damp was already wicking
through my slippers. Aaah…love, I thought,
or some distantly-cousined feline analogue of love,
or the feline analogue of the way love came out of the radio
in certain sixties pop songs that had the singer keening
antonyms: how can something so right feel so wrong,
so good hurt so bad…you know what I’m talking about.
And don’t you think it’s peculiar:
in the first half of the sixties they made the black girl-groups
sing with white accents and in the second half of the sixties
they made the white girl-groups sing with black accents,
which proves that what you hear is always
some strange alchemy of what somebody thinks you’ll pay for
and what you expect. Love in particular
it seems to me we’ve never properly nailed down
so we’ll know it when we hear it coming, the way
screaming “Fire!” means something to the world.
I remember this guy who made noises against my neck
that sounded like when after much tugging on a jar lid
you stick a can opener under its lip – that little suck.
At first I thought this must be
one of love’s least common dialects, though later
when I found the blue spots all over I realised
it was malicious mischief, it was vandalism, it was damage.
Everybody has a story about the chorus of these
love’s faulty hermeneutics: the muffler in retreat
mistaken for the motor coming, the declaration
of loathing construed as the minor reproach;
how “Babe can I borrow 55 bucks?”
gets dubbed over “Goodbye, chump” – of course,
of course, and you slap your head but it sounds funny,
not enough sizzle, not enough snap. If only
Berlitz had cracked the translations or we had conventions
like the international code of semaphores,
if only some equivalent of the Captain Nemo decoder ring
had been muscled across the border. As it has
for my friend who does phone sex
because it’s a job that lets her keep at her typewriter all day,
tapping out poems. Somehow she can work
both sides of her brain simultaneously, the poem
being what’s really going on and the sex being what sounds
like what’s going on; the only time she stops typing
is when she pinches her cheek away from her gums,
which is supposed to sound like oral sex
though she says it’s less that it really sounds like oral sex
than that these men have established a pact, a convention
that permits them to believe it sounds like oral sex.
When they know
it’s a woman pinching her cheek and not a blow job,
it’s a telephone call and not a blow job,
it’s a light beam whistling down a fibre, for god’s sake,
and not a blow job. Most days I’m amazed
we’re not all schizophrenics, hearing voices
that have been edited out of what calls to us
from across the fourth wall. I’ve heard
that in To Have and Have Not Lauren Bacall’s singing
comes from the throat of a man; also that Bart Simpson is really
a middle-aged woman; and last week not once but twice
I heard different women wailing
in public parking lots, the full-throttle
of unrestrained grief, and both times I looked straight at them
and pretended nothing unusual was going on,
as though what I was hearing were only the sound of air
shrieking through the spoiler on someone’s Camaro.
That’s also part of the pact my friend’s talking about,
not to offer condolence, not to take note.
You don’t tell the men they’re sorry creatures,
you don’t ask the women what went wrong.
If you’re being mugged or raped or even killed,
you have to scream “Fire!” instead of “Help!”
to get someone to help you. Though soon, if not already,
all the helpers will have caught on
and then you’ll have to start screaming something else,
like that you’ve spotted Bacall or Harrison Ford on the street,
Bart Simpson even – no wait a minute, he’s not real,
though I remember a time when even the President talked about him
as if he were human. It’s not the sleaziness
of phone sex I bristle at, but rather the way it assists
the world in becoming imprecise
about what is real and what is not, what is a blow job
and what is only my friend jimmying her finger
in her mouth or making a sucky noise
against the back of her hand. Which is oddly exactly
how the professor of the ornithology class I took my junior year
taught us to lure birds in, because birds
would think these were the sounds of other birds.
And in that other life of mine,
when bird-watching was part of what I did for a living,
I remember packing high into the mountains
before the snow melted, when the trail couldn’t be followed
so mine would be the only soul for miles.
One reason I went up there was because at sundown
when the wind climbed the backs of the mountains
along with the spreading violet light,
you could hear the distinct murmuring that the Indians said
were the collective voices of the dead. And I’d lie there,
just my sleeping bag and pad set down on snow,
and I’d look hard at the sky, as though
the wind were something I could see if I looked hard enough,
listening equally hard to convince myself
about the voices of the dead, though always
I was tugged back from true belief
by that one side of my brain that insisted: Wind.
And also I remember
how once at the trailhead a man popped out of his motor home
and pointed a camcorder at me, asking
where I was going, what I was doing – though of course,
alone, I wasn’t going to say.
But even as I turned away, I heard
the whirr of the movie being made
and the man making up his own narration: see this little girl,
she says she’s going to climb a mountain,

and briefly I thought about pulling a Trotsky on him
with my ice axe. But as the new-agers say I
“let it go”, and I left,
and he didn’t follow me, and nothing bad ever happened,
though from time to time I think about strangers watching that movie
in the man’s living room, his voice overdubbing
(see this little girl, she says she’s going to climb a mountain)
the sound of me, of my boots walking.

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My Review of Lady of the Moon in GLR!!

My review of Mary Meriam’s Lady of the Moon has been published in the latest issue of The Gay and Lesbian Review, a sophisticated and well-respected place to be indeed. I’m thrilled to be in it; the issue is also full of fascinating articles. In fact, once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. Here is the link, bearing in mind the full article can only be viewed by subscribers. Please check it out!

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Remembering Kate Light: Gone too Soon

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Kate Light, poet, violinist, and librettist, died unexpectedly of breast cancer. Too young, too talented to die, she had so many plans in the works, so much she was looking forward to. One of the many fine poets with whom I was still unfamiliar despite her having been featured on the Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor. Despite being a poet who wrote in forms, and highly regarded. A brief selection from her many wonderful poems.

There Comes the Strangest Moment

There comes the strangest moment in your life,
when everything you thought before breaks free–
what you relied upon, as ground-rule and as rite
looks upside down from how it used to be.

Skin’s gone pale, your brain is shedding cells;
you question every tenet you set down;
obedient thoughts have turned to infidels
and every verb desires to be a noun.

I want–my want. I love–my love. I’ll stay
with you. I thought transitions were the best,
but I want what’s here to never go away.
I’ll make my peace, my bed, and kiss this breast…

Your heart’s in retrograde. You simply have no choice.
Things people told you turn out to be true.
You have to hold that body, hear that voice.
You’d have sworn no one knew you more than you.

How many people thought you’d never change?
But here you have. It’s beautiful. It’s strange.

The Self-Taught Man

A man schooled to bits bears a son, and the son
says, No way will I walk where you’ve walked,
and be taught in the methods you’ve been taught.
I want to find out everything on my own!
You see the beauty of it: this son’s untamed,
unbitten, unashamed; head-strong and heart-led,
people come to view him: the self-fed
man! He’s in a niche that stays unnamed
because it’s all his own. And you are drawn
to this one like a horse to water — drink drink drink
beside the self-taught man; listen to him think
as only he can. After he is gone
from the spot you linger, licking your wounds and scars,
because the son listens only, only to the stars.

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Nikki Giovanni: Always New

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Ahhh… Black History Month finished on March 29th, and I still have so many poets I’ve missed. March came and went, keeping me too busy to post a single thing. Here we are in National Poetry Month, and I still have a post on Nikki Giovanni, so I will post it, then catch up with some recent publications of my own.

Nikki Giovanni was for me a breath of fresh air, unabashedly speaking truth to power. I loved to see her slight figure, so much like mine, coming up with the most explosive poems in an era crying out for truth to explode the prejudices and oppression asserted insidiously everywhere. Yet after so many decades we still need that voice. A voice that also speaks of the truth of love. So here she is, in a small sampling of her voluminous work.

Nikki-Rosa

By Nikki Giovanni

childhood remembrances are always a drag
if you’re Black
you always remember things like living in Woodlawn
with no inside toilet
and if you become famous or something
they never talk about how happy you were to have
your mother
all to yourself and
how good the water felt when you got your bath
from one of those
big tubs that folk in chicago barbecue in
and somehow when you talk about home
it never gets across how much you
understood their feelings
as the whole family attended meetings about Hollydale
and even though you remember
your biographers never understand
your father’s pain as he sells his stock
and another dream goes
And though you’re poor it isn’t poverty that
concerns you
and though they fought a lot
it isn’t your father’s drinking that makes any difference
but only that everybody is together and you
and your sister have happy birthdays and very good
Christmases
and I really hope no white person ever has cause
to write about me
because they never understand
Black love is Black wealth and they’ll
probably talk about my hard childhood
and never understand that
all the while I was quite happy.

Mothers

By Nikki Giovanni

the last time i was home
to see my mother we kissed
exchanged pleasantries
and unpleasantries pulled a warm
comforting silence around
us and read separate books

i remember the first time
i consciously saw her
we were living in a three room
apartment on burns avenue

mommy always sat in the dark
i don’t know how i knew that but she did

that night i stumbled into the kitchen
maybe because i’ve always been
a night person or perhaps because i had wet
the bed
she was sitting on a chair
the room was bathed in moonlight diffused through
those thousands of panes landlords who rented
to people with children were prone to put in windows
she may have been smoking but maybe not
her hair was three-quarters her height
which made me a strong believer in the samson myth
and very black

i’m sure i just hung there by the door
i remember thinking: what a beautiful lady

she was very deliberately waiting
perhaps for my father to come home
from his night job or maybe for a dream
that had promised to come by
“come here” she said “i’ll teach you
a poem: i see the moon
the moon sees me
god bless the moon
and god bless me”
i taught it to my son
who recited it for her
just to say we must learn
to bear the pleasures
as we have borne the pains

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