Tag Archives: free verse

Parneshia Jones Has a Word for This

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It’s not always that I find so many poems that fit a particular urgent need all at once, but this poem that came to my inbox and pierced right through the heart was the perfect answer to the catastrophe of Trumperica and all its ugly works and ways. For Black History Month, I’ve run coincidentally into a few other poems that are right on the money both on the politics and the toxic shock that comes out of having a fanatic run rampant, lying and clueless, over the Republic, democracy, and what’s left of human rights or compassion. Those poems I will publish within a few days. But for now, this packs a real punch. Plus, Gwendolyn Brooks, a hero in every sense of the word, needs to be recalled at times like this. So indeed, a fitting title.

What Would Gwendolyn Brooks Do?

By
Parneshia Jones

Dawn oversees percolating coffee
and the new wreckage of the world.

I stand before my routine reflection,
button up my sanity,
brush weary strands of hair with pomade
and seal cracked lips of distrust
with cocoa butter and matte rouge.

I ready myself once again
for morning and mortify.
Stacking poetry and bills in a knapsack;
I bundle up hope (it’s brutal out there).

For a moment, I stand with ghosts
and the framed ancestors surrounding me.
I call out, hoping she can hear me
over the day-breaking sirens—
hoping she’s not far away,
or right down the street,
praying over another dead black boy.

How will we make it through this, Ms. Brooks?

Hold On.

When she held a body,
she saw much worse than this.
I know she was earshot and fingertip close to oppression.
She saw how hateful hate could be.
She raised babies, taught Stone Rangers,
grew a natural and wrote around critics.

She won a Pulitzer in the dark.

She justified our kitchenette dreams,
and held on.
She held on to all of us.

Hold On, she whispers.

Another day, when I have to tip-toe
around the police and passive-aggressive emails
from people who sit only a few feet away from me.
Another day of fractured humans
who decide how I will live and die,
and I have to act like I like it
so I can keep a job;
be a team player, pay taxes on it;
I have to act like I’m happy to be
slammed, severed, and swindled.
Otherwise, I’m just part of the problem—
a rebel rouser and rude.

They want me to like it, or at least pretend,
so the pretty veils that blanket who we really are—
this complicated history, can stay pretty and veiled
like some desert belly dancer
who must be seen but not heard.

Hold On.

We are a world of lesions.
Human has become hindrance.
We must be stamped and have papers,
and still, it’s not enough.
Ignorance has become powerful.
The dice that rolls our futures is platinum
but hollow inside.

Did you see that, Ms. Brooks?
Do you see what we’ve become?
They are skinning our histories,
deporting our roots,
detonating our very right to tell the truth.
We are one step closer to annihilation.

Hold On, she says, two million light years away.

She’s right.
Hold On everybody.
Hold On because the poets are still alive—and writing.
Hold On to the last of the disappearing bees
and that Great Barrier Reef.
Hold On to the one sitting next to you,
not masked behind some keyboard.
The one right next to you.
The ones who live and love right next to you.
Hold On to them.

And when we bury another grandmother,
or another black boy;
when we stand in front of a pipeline,
pour another glass of dirty drinking water
and put it on the dining room table,
next to the kreplach, bratwurst, tamales, collards, and dumplings
that our foremothers and fathers—immigrants,
brought with them so we all knew that we came from somewhere;
somewhere that mattered.
When we kneel on the rubbled mosques,
sit in massacred prayer circles,
Holding On is what gets us through.

We must remember who we are.
We are worth fighting for.
We’ve seen beauty.
We’ve birthed babies who’ve only known a black President.
We’ve tasted empathy and paid it forward.
We’ve Go-Funded from wrong to right.
We’ve marched and made love.
We haven’t forgotten—even if they have—Karma is keeping watch.

Hold On.
Hold On everybody.
Even if all you have left
is that middle finger around your God-given right
to be free, to be heard, to be loved,
and remembered…Hold On,
and keep
Holding.

Copyright © 2017 by Parneshia Jones. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 13, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

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Filed under African American poets, Civil Rights, Human Rights, Poetry, women poets

Dorianne Laux: A Magic Touch

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Dorianne Laux’s poetry is free verse, but definitely well-crafted with attention to detail. The subject matter and its treatment is what makes her work compelling. Some of her work can be found at the Poetry Foundation, but below is a poem that is not there. Most of her poems have a sense of “turn,” of a turning point where you realize something quite unexpected, and this is no exception. She is sometimes considered a feminist poet, but I think her work is more universal, with a sense of speaking for the “common man,” as well as the “common woman,” if there is in fact such a thing. She reaches into the hearts of those who suffer or are of little means. That is perhaps what I like most. That, and the “turns.”

Break

By
Dorianne Laux

We put the puzzle together piece
by piece, loving how one curved
notch fits so sweetly with another.
A yellow smudge becomes
the brush of a broom, and two blue arms
fill in the last of the sky.
We patch together porch swings and autumn
trees, matching gold to gold. We hold
the eyes of deer in our palms, a pair
of brown shoes. We do this as the child
circles her room, impatient
with her blossoming, tired
of the neat house, the made bed,
the good food. We let her brood
as we shuffle through the pieces,
setting each one into place with a satisfied
tap, our backs turned for a few hours
to a world that is crumbling, a sky
that is falling, the pieces
we are required to return to.

from Awake, 2001
University of Arkansas Press

Copyright 2001 by Dorianne Laux.
All rights reserved.

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Mina Loy: Woman as Visionary

The discovery of this poem on Poetry Daily, and knowing the timeframe of its author, was transformative. Her language is so direct, honest, to the bone, of the experience of being a woman, that it creates a visceral response, the sense of being there in it with her. And to think she wrote like this “over a hundred years ago” (oh find me the date!), according to Tiffany Atkinson’s commentary. Note that although the formatting looks correct on this page prior to publication, it appears what will be published loses the actual formatting, for which you will have to go here and read it on Poetry Daily. Enjoy.

Parturition

by Mina Loy (1882-1966)

I am the centre
Of a circle of pain
Exceeding its boundaries in every direction

The business of the bland sun
Has no affair with me
In my congested cosmos of agony
From which there is no escape
On infinitely prolonged nerve-vibrations
Or in contraction
To the pinpoint nucleus of being

Locate an irritation without
It is within
Within
It is without
The sensitized area
Is identical with the extensity
Of intension

I am the false quantity
In the harmony of physiological potentiality
To which
Gaining self-control
I should be consonant
In time

Pain is no stronger than the resisting force
Pain calls up in me
The struggle is equal

The open window is full of a voice
A fashionable portrait painter
Running upstairs to a woman’s apartment
Sings
“All the girls are tid’ly did’ly
All the girls are nice
Whether they wear their hair in curls
Or —”
At the back of the thoughts to which I permit crystallization
The conception Brute
Why?
The irresponsibility of the male
Leaves woman her superior Inferiority.
He is running up-stairs

I am climbing a distorted mountain of agony
Incidentally with the exhaustion of control
I reach the summit
And gradually subside into anticipation of
Repose
Which never comes.
For another mountain is growing up
Which goaded by the unavoidable
I must traverse
Traversing myself

Something in the delirium of night-hours
Confuses while intensifying sensibility
Blurring spatial contours
So aiding elusion of the circumscribed
That the gurgling of a crucified wild beast
Comes from so far away
And the foam on the stretched muscles of a mouth
Is no part of myself
There is a climax in sensibility
When pain surpassing itself
Becomes Exotic
And the ego succeeds in unifying the positive and negative poles of sensation
Uniting the opposing and resisting forces
In lascivious revelation

Relaxation
Negation of myself as a unit
Vacuum interlude
I should have been emptied of life
Giving life
For consciousness in crises races
Through the subliminal deposits of evolutionary processesHave I not
Somewhere
Scrutinized
A dead white feathered moth
Laying eggs?
A moment
Being realization
Can
Vitalized by cosmic initiation
Furnish an adequate apology
For the objective
Agglomeration of activities
Of a life.
LIFE
A leap with nature
Into the essence
Of unpredicted Maternity
Against my thigh
Tough of infinitesimal motion
Scarcely perceptible
Undulation
Warmth moisture
Stir of incipient life
Precipitating into me
The contents of the universe
Mother I am
Identical
With infinite Maternity
Indivisible
Acutely
I am absorbed
Into
The was—is—ever—shall—be
Of cosmic reproductivity

Rises from the sub-conscious
Impression of a cat
With blind kittens
Among her legs
Same undulating life-stir
I am that cat

Rises from the sub-conscious
Impression of small animal carcass
Covered with blue bottles
—Epicurean—
And through the insects
Waves that same undulation of living
Death
Life
I am knowing
All about
Unfolding

The next morning
Each woman-of-the-people
Tip-tœing the red pile of the carpet
Doing hushed service
Each woman-of-the-people
Wearing a halo
A ludicrous little halo
Of which she is sublimely unaware

I once heard in a church
—Man and woman God made them—
Thank God.

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On the formal/”free” verse debate

Reading this excellent rebuttal to an article discussing the pros and cons of memorizing poetry, I am reminded of some of the absurdities in the “debate” about “free verse” vs. formal or metrical poetry.

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Much of what is written by the throngs of uncounted poets today is based on the idea that “modern” poetry does not rhyme or have a metrical or rhythmic base, but rather is “free” of such “constraints”… Others say “if it don’t rhyme, it ain’t poetry.” Somewhere in between should be a free mind able to discern that what makes a poem “work”, on the highest level, is a command and 6th sense of the language added to the ability to imaginatively create images and sense that expresses what could otherwise not be expressed.

Mastery of the language is a profound thing and cannot arbitrarily exclude the sonics of the language, the power of repetition and other devices to create a meaning greater than the sum of its parts, a “sense” that may defy logic but which nonetheless feels somehow “true.”

When I memorize a poem, it becomes a part of my thought processes in a way that doesn’t happen otherwise. This is more true of great poems than lesser poems. Also, when I have “sonnetized” free verse of mine, I found the result to be far more powerful and condensed than the original. The poetic devices of rhyme and rhythm rather than acting as constraints and this limiting the poem, acted as means of pushing me out of my preset boundaries and thus discovering new ways of looking at things, new words to more succinctly express what I was trying to get at. Quite the opposite of what many poets believe. There will always be doggerel and bad poetry. But a great deal of doggerel is actually written in the form of “free verse.”

I always put that in quotes, because the notion of “freedom” here is rather misleading. The original “modern” poets who pioneered what is known as free verse came on the heels of the dominance of “formal poetry” and so had a command of it from whih they could then break ranks and innovate. But many of today’s innumerable writers of poetry did not arise out of that tradition and are not very much aware of it, as Marly Youmans points out in her blog post linked above. So it is something of a revolution, not a reactionary movement, to write in forms to express the unique and evolving world of this moment in a language that is vital to how people speak at this very hour. Rap and spoken word poetry are all part of this revitalization which is making poetry not only more accessible, but less academically infused with ingrown staleness. Or at least, we try to get there.

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