music-ing with Ntozake Shange

In a workshop a few years ago, I had the honor of getting to hear distinguished poet Carmen Tafolla talk about voice and its role in poetry. She said that we should consider human voice a chemical component of the poem, that through it, heat and energy were summoned to bring language to life.

This week’s poem, “i live in music” by Ntozake Shange, is a good example of the many ways voice can raise metaphor and imagery into human energy. The lines

falls round me like rain on other folks 
saxophones wet my face 
cold as winter in st. louis 

bring together sound and metaphor in a compelling way. The use of “sound” and “round,” for example, create a lyric momentum through internal rhyme. This momentum is furthered by the echo of sounds in the rest of the line: “sound” and “round” make use of distinct “s” and “r” sounds which are brought up again in “rain” and “folks.” The effect is phrasing that is engaging and evocative. A similar move occurs in the following two lines, “saxophones,” “wet,” and “face” echoed in “winter” and “st. louis.” One can hear music and rain in these lines.

musicWhat moves the poem into human resonance for me is the way this sound-play is put in the service of the speaker’s voice and their turns of statement and questioning. The lines “i live in music / is this where you live?” start the poem with a narrative step forward followed by a pause. This use of line break and pacing affects the reader in a visceral way; the lines evoke a human voice talking to and asking after the reader. This presence, along with the soundscape of the whole poem, lead to the poem’s ending “hold yrself / hold yrself in a music” in a way that emphasizes the urgency of these lines while living them out.

i live in music – Ntozake Shange

i live in music
is this where you live?
i live here in music
i live on c# street
my friend lives on b-flat avenue
do you live here in music
falls round me like rain on other folks
saxophones wet my face
cold as winter in st. louis
hot like peppers i rub on my lips
thinkin they waz lilies
i got 15 trumpets where other women got hips
& a upright bass for both sides of my heart
i walk round in a piano like somebody
else be walkin on the earth
i live in music
live in it
wash in it
i cd even smell it
wear sound on my fingers
sound falls so fulla music
ya cd make a river where yr arm is &
hold yrself
hold yrself in a music


to learn more about Ntozake Shange, check out her site

*resonating with josé antonio rodriguez



Last week had me both at the Alice Hoffman Young Writers Retreat at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York, as well as in Austin, Texas for the CantoMundo conference. It’s a little more rocknroll that I’m used to, but I had a blast!

Here’s a pic of one of the nice surprises from last week: a collection of personal notes from the young writers I worked with at Adelphi. I can’t begin to express the gratitude I feel at being given the opportunity to share my work and talk poetry with others. Thank you to all who attended my talk on lyrical prose and who have since reached out since then! Keep the words coming, for yourself and for others!

Each year, CantoMundo hosts a poetry workshop for Latina/o poets that provides a space for the creation, documentation, and critical analysis of Latina/o poetry. This year was the conference’s last time in Austin, and it was nothing short of spectacular! I was able to be in workshops led by Texas State Poet Laureate Carmen Tafolla one day, and one led by the current Poet Laureate of the United States, Juan Felipe Herrera. Both poets presented themselves as forces of nature as well as generous guides. Highlights included the readings on Friday and Saturday at the Spider House Ballroom. I read on Saturday, specifically “Drinking at Home” and “Directions” from Everything We Think We Hear.

Sunflowers,_Merritt,_California,_27_June_2013One of my favorite things to do at CantoMundo is to geek out about my favorite poems by the poets who wrote them and who happen to attend the conference. The poem below by José Antonio Rodriguez originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of Poetry magazine. I remember copying it out by hand at a bookstore and marveling at the raw imagery, from like a thousand ticks turning their backs to the “halos” at the end. What continues to move me even now in reading is how the imagery is packed with so much emotional resonance, pointing to things hidden as well as things almost there.


Sunflowers – José Antonio Rodriguez

No pitying/”Ah” for this one – Alan Shapiro

No, nor a fierce hurrah
for what it does without choice,
for following the light
for the same reason the light follows it.

Just a thing rough to the touch, a face
like a thousand ticks turning their backs,
suckling at something you can’t see,
and a body like a tag off the earth

so that my child hands couldn’t tear it out
from the overgrown lot next door.
………………………….My palms raw with the shock
of quills and spines. Its hold like spite, and ugly

except when seen from a distance—
a whole field of them by the highway,
an 80-mile-per-hour view
………………………… a camera’s flash.
All of them like halos
without saints to weigh them down.


Happy halo-ing!


p.s. One week left to enter the Goodreads giveaway for Reasons (not) to Dance! Details below!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Reasons (not) to Dance by Jose Angel Araguz

Reasons (not) to Dance

by Jose Angel Araguz

Giveaway ends August 07, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

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