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:
I’d like to dedicate this week’s post to the memory of Miguel Algarín, Puerto Rican poet, writer, and co-founder of the Nuyorican Poets Café who died earlier this week. Algarín was the embodiment of being a poetic presence on and off the page. His poetry set precedents by holding space for political struggles and literary insights that represented the various communities he worked and taught in. His work through the Nuyorican Poets Café as well as in his teaching showed him as a model for holding space for poets from all backgrounds.
The more I teach, the more I feel that the classroom is a space of confluence, a space where the experiences of my students and those of my own all meet, eddy, and converge, a presence. A stage can be a classroom as can the page. Across these three spaces, Algarín touched a great number of lives, influencing directly through community-minded efforts as well as through a singular understanding of languages.
I think it’s good to celebrate the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. It’s good to celebrate and mourn Miguel Algarín. It’s also good and important to celebrate Miguel’s IDEA of the cafe, the “poetics” of community, which is genius particularly because anyone can replicate it.
So many spaces and places defined what became known as the Nuyorican movement. None of it required official sanction or 501c3 status. It required two things: need, and audience. Even the old squat on 3rd Street wasn’t necessary at first. Any old space would do.
Villar goes on to share the example of Elisabet Velasquez who, among other things, is conducting a series of stories on Instagram highlighting poets who answer questions asked by her followers. I agree with Villar when he compares Velasquez’s use of social media to hold space in the spirit of Algarín. That when one looks outside the capitalist-driven and prejudice-strained world of literary publishing and awards, one sees that giving and honoring each other is easy. That answering a question on social media or mentoring someone through email correspondence is easy, is community. One of the great joys of running this blog is being able to connect with y’all and create community.
It is an understatement to say that Algarín’s example is not just a literary one but a human one, a political one, a socially aware one. It is one I continue to learn from. To return to teaching: it is a platitude for a teacher to say I learn from my students. But what does that really mean? It means I commune with my students. I listen to my students. I build with them. Again, all one needs to commune, to listen, to build and learn is to hold the space for it.
I encourage y’all to hold space with some of Algarín’s work as well as to share it. Share your own work. Share your voice. If you’re reading this, know that I’m glad you’re here.
Ran across this square in one of R.O. Kwon’s tweets (her novel The Incendiaries is dope, btw!!!) and due to the moment time of time I came across it, “exhausted seltzer” is what you can call me. In true poet luck, I’m charmed by the combination of words. I mean, seltzer when exhausted is flat, technically–which applies to how I’ve been feeling lately. Mind, I’m not feeling this when doing readings or when teaching–those are spaces where the energy I put out is given back, conversations and events that give back some of the fizz (oof, rough metaphor, I know). Rather, it’s the weight of ALL THE THINGS going on, all at once, and constantly happening.
If you can at all relate, please be kind to yourselves. Maybe have a seltzer, ha.
Been missing posting, but also been exhausted, so will be here in shorter posts as a compromise. On that note, here’s the last poem I recommend, Garrett Hongo’s “The Legend.” It’s a powerful elegy that in its scope pays tribute to the memory of Jay Kashiwamura, managing the humanity of the life lost against references to Descartes and Rembrandt.
It’s the latter, the line “There’s a Rembrandt glow on his face,” that guided my recommendation–specifically to my poetry workshop students. The ability to borrow this aspect of Rembrandt’s work and connect it across time and space in this poem is powerful. May we all be able to find some of this glow in our lives.