Poetry’s ability to connect with us in essential ways cannot be stressed enough.
This is a sentiment I share on a regular basis in my teaching and conversations with writers. As much as I repeat it, I can’t claim it. What I can claim is the evidence that fills my life and the connections my life is blessed with through the work of poetry.
This week, I dedicate this post to the memory of Alfonso M. Gomez, father of friend and great poet, Rodney Gomez. I have admired Gomez’s work for years now (here’s another point of connection and another). I have shared his work in classes at both the undergrad and grad level (his “Our Lady of San Juan” is one in particular that keeps teaching me). He has also been kind to my work as well.
Along with poetry, we share South Texas between us. Much of my childhood was spent with driving from Corpus Christi to Matamoros, often stopping to visit folks in Brownsville, where Rodney himself was born and raised. Through South Texas, we have mesquite trees and hot summers and community forged through a mix of perseverance, hard work, and hope. Now, we are connected in absence.
Life in the pandemic has made it hard for me to reach out to everyone I would like to when I would like to. I saw news of Rodney’s father passing online and sent my condolences to him. When Rodney later shared the art piece below, which he said was inspired by my poem “Scripture: Hour,” it is not enough to say I was moved. I felt seen. This particular poem–one of a sequence of poems that engages with how little I know of my own father’s death, down to not knowing what day he died–was a hard fight to get right.
“Right.” Not sure what I mean by that. I do know that I wanted those flies in there to keep moving beyond me. Then years later, to have them visualized like this by another poet. Well, damn. It’s an honor to connect. to have one’s work read, and to have insight into how others see it. As much as I make a life out of words, I cannot stress how important, how precarious, yet how necessary connection is.
To all of you affected by the pandemic, by life itself, I wish you kindness and strength.
Back to teaching full time this week. Been exciting and inspiring, while at the same time very real. What I mean is that the more I teach, the more I feel myself be more myself. And it’s not a thing I can summon or call forth. The space held in shared open questioning and conversation calls it forth.
Tangentially connected, at one point this week I watched this interview and supplemental writing “exercise” clips between Trevor Noah and Amanda Gorman that are illuminating. In the interview, Gorman speaks of poetry as water, a way to “re-sanctify, re-purify, and reclaim” the world around us. Her inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb,” and its consequent impact on our American conscience at this moment in time are a solid gesture and step in the direction of this work.
In the second clip, Noah and Gorman engage in a predictive text writing exercise. It’s the kind of thing I see on Twitter sometimes and can’t help but join in on. Engaging directly and purposefully with predictive text can at times feel like having an echo of your latest obsessions as well as the way you articulate yourself in daily life cast back at you. Sometimes the screens in our hands look back, yo.
Noah and Gorman’s parameters were to start with the word “Roses” and limit themselves to 15-20 words. I went ahead and tried a few of my own. Feel free to share in the comments should you try this out yourself 🙂
exercises in predictive text
Roses and the other one of my friends that I nominated for an oppositional the same situation that is
Roses are you doing well today so much going to congratulate someone to take care if you have a great weekend
Roses and I have a few things I would do anything to make sure you got the most important part
Another round-up of thoughts as I’m finding myself consistently and effectively overworked but wanting, needing to connect, to word here:
That it’s been hard to hear others speak of hope this week.
That it’s been hard to hear others sign off on emails with some reference to vaccines being “on their way!” As if they had a hand in the accomplishment. As if it brought loved ones back.
That it’s been hard to feel what I cannot call hope but can neither call despair.
That it’s been hard to hear others share that they feel relief for the first time in four years.
That I’ve been feeling what I cannot call hope but can neither call defeat much longer than four years.
That what I cannot call hope has me like the speaker of this poem by Rio Cortez, wary, certain while also uncertain of what’s there ahead.
This be stark, I know. Times be, too.
Something that brought some insight and inner movement was the latest letter, “On Resolutions,” by Aurielle Marie in their “series of 10 dedicated to engaging The Offing’s literary network in social justice and a value shift toward equity within [their] respective organizations.” In this letter, Marie pushes against the usual practices of New Year’s resolutions, which typically emphasize discipline while arousing shame and fear, and shares how:
It would serve us all better to start our year with an acute awareness of how we want to live it, to be loved inside of it, to learn from it, and to lose ourselves within it. What do you want — really want — for this country and our world in the new year? What political goal or dream comes to mind when you allow yourself the capacity to imagine?
This sentiment gives me something I cannot yet call hope, but I want to, as it implies ways that hope can be sparked, invited, gestured, and called forth from within who we are and where we’re at.
Wherever you’re at, may you be kind to yourselves.
This week I’m excited to share two poems from Lisa Summe’s upcoming collection, Say It Hurts (YesYes Books). This collection is due out on January 15th and is currently available for pre-order.
Here’s a brief description of the forthcoming collection:
Say It Hurts grapples with queerness, love, grief, masculinity, coming of age, and coming out in the context of cultural violence rooted in misogyny and familial violence rooted in catholicism. In these poems joy and loss hold hands—at sleepovers and haircuts, at symphonies and haunted mazes, among fathers, on dating apps, during car sex, in matching tattoos, on Pinterest boards, at funerals. Lisa Summe’s debut collection queers the love poem by demanding that the whole story be told—what it means to love, to grieve, and to heal by saying it out loud.
About Say It Hurts
One thing I’m continually impressed by in Lisa Summe’s work is the range of lyric voice she’s able to tap into. From direct intensity to nuanced, meditative insight, there’s always an emotional pulse to her work.
“Always a Man” (below) is an example of direct intensity. The lyric voice charges forth, interrogating the pervasive effects of toxic masculinity in women’s public and private lives. One effect is evoked through the speaker’s stating “I am not the kind of woman,” then using this “not” as a counterpoint to heteronormative examples of “kinds” of women. This reckoning is then forged by the verbal sexual assault women face. Through an example of a hypothetical couple hearing about “sexual assault on the news,” the poem gets to the question: “how many times in a year / do you think you get catcalled.” When this question garners a response “incalculable / like the number of times in a year I stub my toe,” we are as readers hit by a harsh reality. This harsh reality becomes all the more harsh as it occurs within the speaker’s own experience, that the poem has moved from hypothetical example to her referencing “my coworker or sister or best friend.” The poem continues listing various instances of women being catcalled, illuminating the opening line’s counterpoint through indirection. What develops in the first half of the poem is the harsh reality of straight and straight-presenting women in heteronormative society. The poem takes a turn with the line “but there is always a man” which takes us back to the title, its implied binary, and the interrogation via the poem of said binary. The speaker goes from detailing the effects of catcalls to sharing her experience of outright threats of violence. The poem ends on a note that makes clear how insidious misogonynistic subjugation is in women’s lives, queer or straight.
In “Your Pinterest Board Called Wedding” (also below), nuanced, meditative insight is created through the speaker’s reflection as she goes through an inventory of the title’s Pinterest board of an ex. Through this inventory, we get a variety of images and details whose emotional poignancy works through juxtaposition. For example, early on the speaker notes “so / you want an oval engagement ring” and follows that up with “my grief / circling around: coming back as bird.” This braiding of metaphor and image creates a palpable pathos, one that stands in direct contrast with the title. Where the mention of social media and the equally “social” weddings imply connection and celebration, the speaker grieves a loss of connection. There remains, however, a faint tone of celebration, the speaker in awe of the beloved even at a physical and societal distance, but this tone is modulated by grief and realization. The formal use of colons throughout this poem help in this modulation of tone, setting the pace while also letting the reading experience be one of rumination, speaker and reader side by side in awe and regret.
Enjoy the poems below. Also, White Whale Bookstore will be hosting a virtual reading & launch for Say It Hurts on January 23 featuring Summe as well as Sara Watson, Jari Bradley, Micaela Corn, and Diannely Antigua. Check out this link for info on registration and more about the event.
Always a Man*
I am not the kind of woman whose boyfriend asks in the midst of all of the sexual assault on the news how many times in a year do you think you get catcalled I do not have a boyfriend first of all but even if I did my answer would not be that of my coworker or sister or best friend incalculable like the number of times in a year I stub my toe I am not the kind of woman who looks like a woman not the kind of woman a man whistles at near the gas station or calls honey at the bank or tells to smile because I’ve got a pretty smile at the farmer’s market the Jiffy Lube the coffee shop the bar down the street my own porch because the upstairs neighbor the mailman I am not the kind of woman my exes are women who got hit on right in front me while I held their hands at the gym or at the movies or at the fucking Olive Garden I am not the kind of woman who has to use her energy to politely decline these advances or gets called bitch or gets a bloody lip or gets it anyway but there is always a man while I walk home from work in a button down & bow tie in broad daylight there is always a man on the corner by the CVS a man wearing a hardhat on the corner of Bayard St. there is always a man who wants to put me in my place I see what you really are under there he says you’re a girl
*previously published in Bone Bouquet
Your Pinterest Board Called Wedding
I swear that’s your actual finger: so you want an oval engagement ring: my grief circling around: coming back as a bird: as a wing: fragile as the inner ear: my alabaster heart: you: lace everything: sleeves of your dress: lingerie: twitch of my thigh: now you will marry a man: I don’t know his name: twitch in my eye: when we were together: we made words: let’s get married: our idea of save the dates: Scrabble tiles: getting married: back of your dress wide open: your finch tattoo bursting through: my grief flying out the window of you: what you like about the finch: it always returns home
Lisa Summe is the author of Say It Hurts (YesYes Books, 2021). She earned a BA and MA in literature at the University of Cincinnati, and an MFA in poetry from Virginia Tech. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Bat City Review, Cincinnati Review, Muzzle, Salt Hill, Waxwing, and elsewhere. You can find her running, playing baseball, or eating vegan pastries in Pittsburgh, PA, on Twitter and IG @lisasumme, and at lisasumme.com.
I’m writing this not feeling great on the last day of the year to be posted on the first day of the year. Feels like I should have something grand to say but I don’t. 2020 had me heart-sick for most of it. Here’s to 2021, may you deserve us. Enjoy some life sketches by Shiki Masaoka. May you sketch out newness from the old you bring with you.
life sketches by Shiki Masaoka
in the evening glow as they range in a vast sky, these huge pillared clouds, each radiant on one radiant side, all crumbling, all dissolving together
on this long long day in which the shoots of young pines have lengthened my fever has come out toward evening
on these pine needles thousands of raindrops all trembling, all swaying, and still not one, not a single one, falls
beyond this pane of the closed window in my sick room, that pole for drying clothes and on it a crow crying out
my wish: to be carried in a glass palanquin through fields piled silver with snow
This week I’m sharing a set of 5 poems by Japanese Zen Buddhist monk and poet, Ikkyū. I am unable to attribute a translator to these as they have come to this post in a haphazard way. Let me explain.
I wrote these poems down while at work one day back in 2011. More specifically, I caught them on a livejournal without attribution and scrawled them down on scraps of paper which I later transferred over to my journal. Years later, here they are.
These poems hit urgently then and now, and I hope they bring something to your life. I think the carrying forth of words that brought these here parallels a life of poetry. Sometimes we carry the words, sometimes they carry us. After a year of so much unnecessary death, oppression, injustice, fear, stress, and upheaval, the words that matter now have to surprise us, connect in ways that make themselves known within. Which is to say that the words have to be poetry.
If you are reading this, be kind to yourselves. We have survived. It doesn’t have to mean happiness. It just means that we’re here. Your presence today is another word toward the rest of your life.
5 by Ikkyu
this ink painting of wind blowing through pines who hears it?
it’s logical; if you’re not going anywhere any road is the right one
ten years of brothel joy I’m alone in the mountains the pines are like a jail the wind scratches my skin
your name Mori means forest like the infinite fresh green distances of your blindness
my monk friend has a weird and endearing habit he weaves sandals and leaves them secretly by the roadside
Last week I spoke of being panicked. This week’s P-word: pummeled. It’s how I’m feeling at least, typing this out this Friday morning. The word describes the world as well, no? With government officials seriously delaying aid for people while corporations get tax breaks, billionaires billion on, and so many people suffer from the pandemic, whether from the virus itself or from the peril and strain the pandemic has placed us under in our respective lives. Here are some bright spots despite it all:
Early this week I participated in a Drink + Draw virtual session hosted by Flux Factory. Ani and I logged in and did some figure drawing. Models took 30 minutes each working through poses in their respective spaces. Flux Factory is a great art community space based in Queens. Here’s info on the next session which will take place in January.
The generous Gillian Parish has just published a new edition of her spacecraftproject. Check out poetry by Vince Guerra & David Maduli here — & do click around the site for some healthy, illuminating spacing out 🙂
Lastly, this week I participated in a final publication-focused virtual session with my ENG 375 Poetry Workshop students. Part of the final assignment for this course was revising two poems to be included in a digital class anthology. The anthology, entitled tending to the roots, also includes their art contributions. It was an honor to design this anthology as well as build with them and hold space for each other’s poetic selves this semester.
Check out tending to the roots: an ENG 375 class anthology below:
Posting a little later than I’d like this Friday due to staying up late panicked and overworked–which has been technically the norm, ha. While I feel awfully self-conscious just saying it aloud (even here) I thought I’d just say it because we can’t just share the good stuff in life, as doing so wouldn’t be representative of all of who I am.
Moving forward, here are a few highlights from this week:
For my comrade bookworms: Ani was just introduced to The StoryGraph an indie, Black-owned alternative to Goodreads. It’s quite pleasing and simple to navigate! She was able to import all her Goodreads info and it gave her what she terms “the sexiest page of stats” she’s ever seen.
Here’s an article entitled “9 Ways to Make Long-Haul Quarantine More Sustainable” in which disabled writer and activist, Alyssa MacKenzie, shares tips that have helped her this year. She does a great job sharing tips via the lens of disability and chronic illness (shout out to my spoonie and chronically ill folks out there!) in a way that speaks to everyone. I appreciate MacKenzie’s sharing of personal experience and insight that centers disability and chronic illness first. I feel like the pandemic has been a HUGE privilege check for people, with the narrative of “inconvenience” being dominant and dangerous. MacKenzie shares some of the “unique skill set” held by those who are “no stranger to being ‘stuck’ at home.”
Finally, this week was the last week of classes here at Suffolk U. I had a blast with my First Year Writing students and am proud of all the work they did thinking through the complex ideas in their reading and writing on important issues at the intersection of literature and politics.
Also, it was an honor to work and build with my Poetry Workshop students, a rare group of dynamic and insightful individuals. So proud of the breakthroughs they made in their own work and in their relationship with language. We’re even putting together a class anthology!!! One of our last sessions involved writing centos in class. I share the one I wrote below along with a meme by Kenning JP García that checks any airs one may have around the form, ha.
José Angel Araguz
there are ruins we witness beneath a scarf of cirrus
when night throws itself against layered lost worlds where some terrible mistake has been made —
here, I am graceless
alone in the myth of one life, I will have turned into long, quiet rivers my daily transformation
which is like unbuckling
Lines above sourced from: Oliver de la Paz, Major Jackson, Saeed Jones, Naomi Shihab Nye, Mary Jo Bang, Kaveh Akbar, Tarfia Faizullah, Catie Rosemurgy, Jeannine Hall Gailey, Ross Gay