Mark your calendars for this Saturday at 11 a.m. for a virtual reading Via Zoom of the winning sonnets in the Maria Faust Sonnet Contest, which includes my sonnet “The Worth of August”! If all goes well I will read my sonnet; a family health crisis that came up unexpectedly means I’m not sure I can do this, but hope I can. And if I can’t , they have wonderful readers from among the judges and actors from the Shakespearean Festival acting company. The other winners are quite an impressive group, including poets Gail White, Barbara Loots, and Richard Meyer (who’s frequently won prizes in this contest). Not to ignore the others, including the top three prizewinners. It’s a fantastic event, so don’t miss it. Just click the link above. So excited to be a part of this great tradition!
When it comes to form, nobody does it like Terence Hayes: he understands the larger view of form as a Force that can drive a point right into your heart. In this New Yorker article, author Dan Chiasson says that the sonnet, a form Hayes calls “part music box, part meat grinder,” became the poet’s vehicle of choice for his recent book, American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin , because for him,
the sonnet offered an alternative unit of measurement, at once ancient, its basic features unchanged for centuries, and urgent, its fourteen lines passing at a brutal clip.
In the book, the American sonnet both contains and assaults his assassins: “I lock you in an American sonnet that is part prison, / Part panic closet, a little room in a house set aflame.” The form itself being the brainchild of “the L.A. poet Wanda Coleman, who died in 2013 and who coined the term ‘American sonnet.‘” Who considered the term as referring to a more “improvised” sonnet that used jazz techniques and musical patterns.
The language is powerful and immediate, exuding worlds and threats. This is what sets Hayes apart: the combination of power, poetic skill (unique use of craft), unrelenting content, and an intensity of heart that drives all this into a tour de force of words closing in on flesh.
All cancers kill me, car crashes, cavemen, chakras,
Crackers, discord, dissonance, doves, Elvis,
Ghosts, the grim reaper herself, a heart attack
While making love, hangmen, Hillbillies exist,
Lilies, Martha Stewarts, Mayflower maniacs,
Money grubbers, Gwen Brooks’ “The Mother,”
(My mother’s bipolar as bacon), pancakes kill me,
Phonies, dead roaches, big roaches & smaller
Roaches, the sheepish, snakes, all seven seas,
Snow avalanches, swansongs, sciatica, Killer
Wasps, yee-haws, you, now & then, disease.
A list that also serves as ammunition, a kind of automatic fire that thrills with its sheer brilliance and expanse of imagination. And also with its truth, how he disgorges the racist and white supremacist attitudes made flesh in the form of Donald Trump and his followers. To which this collection is addressed, among other things.
“This word can be the difference between knowing / And thinking. It’s the name people of color call / Themselves on weekends & the name colorful / People call their enemies & friends.”
These poems all happen in the mind, which has been portioned into zones called “I” and “you.” Both assume countless different roles, but what remains constant is their reliance upon each other and their tendency to flip positions. This makes the work morally ambiguous in ways some readers will resist: I suspect that not everybody will recognize “blackness” as any part, even a rejected part, of Trump, a man whose loathing of black people seems unabashed.
Yes, “Hayes isn’t describing canonical melancholy, the pined-for vision of mortality that poets sometimes indulge in. He fears a more immediate kind of danger, which can’t be aestheticized or glorified in verse. “You are beautiful because of your sadness,” Hayes admits. And yet: “You would be more beautiful without your fear.”
In the form he invented:
The Golden Shovel
Poems2Go is more a project, one could say, than a publication in the usual sense, although it is that too. From their About page:
Poems2go is a poetry project created by Christine Jones and supported by a grant from the Witter Bynner Foundation, to bring more poetry to more people to more places. Inspired by the book Poem In Your Pocket introduced by Kay Ryan, poems2go offers poetry to take with you, tuck in your pocket, your wallet, or to share.
You can check here for places to find the poems printed on 4 X 6″ loose-leaf paper to take home, literally 2 go. Or you can check out the featured poems on their website. Where you can also find my poem “The Scrimshaw Man,” a pantoum. As well as the other poems, a wonderful collection of them I’m proud to be among. While there, check below my poem for my statement on why poetry matters.
Three of my poems have been published in Think: A Journal of Poetry, Criticism, and Reviews — a truly wonderful print magazine. Including my first published Sestina, “Control.” Now that is indeed a thrill! A few years ago I went through a rather long Sestina-writing phase (possible sign of literary OCD). This was written after I stopped, with this one glorious exception. Thanks to David Rothman, Susan Spear, and all the excellent editors for putting together such a truly fantastic journal. I’m so proud and honored to be among the contributors, with so much amazing work! Subscription and submission info about Think can be found here.
A master of lyric verse, Paul Laurence Dunbar drew on many poetic traditions, writing mainly formal poetry. His famous rondeau, “We Wear the Mask,” below, was my model for learning the rondeau, a powerful form when used well, as Dunbar certainly did. The poet Nikki Giovanni was instrumental in helping bring his work to light as a poetic genius and one of the first African-American great poets to be recognized, even in his own, racially oppressive and segregated time. I also include below his poem, “Sympathy,” which inspired the title of Maya Angelou’s book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
By Paul Laurence Dunbar
I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals—
I know what the caged bird feels!
I know why the caged bird beats his wing
Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For he must fly back to his perch and cling
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting—
I know why he beats his wing!
I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings—
I know why the caged bird sings!
We Wear the Mask
By Paul Laurence Dunbar
We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.
Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.
We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!
Thrilled to have five (!!!!!) ghazals in the new issue of the Ghazal Page, a special issue with the theme of “Flora.” Many wonderful ghazals therein and well worth checking out!
The Ghazal Page, the place to find top-notch poems in the ghazal form, both traditional and experimental, is now live with a brand new issue, one I’m especially honored to have ghazals included in, among a stellar array of poets. Two of my ghazals, both fairly traditional, coincidentally about the Middle East (!) are in it: “Honor,” a new ghazal based on the true story of a relative (uncle by marriage) and the horrific case of “honor killings;” and “In Egypt,” about a part of my life lived there.
You shouldn’t miss the other ghazals, some with must-read titles, and the rest doesn’t disappoint. It’s an inspiring form, one I seem to gravitate toward. The site itself is gorgeous, thanks to editor Holly Jensen, who has worked hard to keep the “Page” alive (though it’s much more than a “page”) after the death of its dedicate founder, Gene Doty. Enjoy!!