Yesterday I read alongside the writers of Kearny Street Workshop’s Navigating Poetics workshop. It was advertised as six weeks of generative writing led by Truong Tran but turned out to be much more.
I originally took the workshop because I have taken workshops with Truong before and knew him as a skilled facilitator who views poetry from multiple angles. He shares the perspectives of visual artists while also being able to slow the writing process down. Truong can pick out one phrase or feeling in a poem and have the writer do a deeper dive into those small spaces in poems. He has been a constant voice in my poems for years. Whenever I revise I always ask, “Is this whole poem as strong as the best two lines?” When I ask that of my poems and go back to be sure that the whole poem is strong, that is Truong’s influence on my work,
With Shelter-in-Place remote learning is the norm and I was curious how Truong would be able to create a community of writing while also fostering the trust that is needed for writers to give each other constructive feedback. Fostering connection during a Zoom session can be a dissociative task at times and that connection is the main ingredient for successful writing groups.
At the end of the six weeks, I have five new poems which would already be a measure of success. I also have a new writing community and renewed sense of purpose and confidence in my writing. And I walk away developing a new skill: e-book design.
I have designed and crafted all my chapbooks. If you happen to have one of my older chapbooks then please know that each one was put together by hand and is unique. I have always prided myself on making a book with beautiful art and clean type. Huge props to Timothy Vogel and Matt Weber who gave me permission to use their work as my title images. This process was always fun for me as I was able to play around with the order of my poems and typefaces while also trying to keep some kind of style together. It was also fun because the words I was playing with were my own.
Sometime in the middle of the Navigating Poetics class I became excited about the prospect of having these new poems published. I was also impressed with the high level of writing from the other Navigating Poetics writers so I proposed to Kearny Street Workshop that the writing from the workshop be published together as an online volume. Huge thanks to Mihee Kim and Jason Bayani for saying Yes.
Kearny Street Workshop: Navigating Poetics is the e-book I designed. Before I was messing around with my own poems but this time I was making book art that would represent KSW and also honor the writing of my workshop cohort. I am proud of the finished product. It has intention and voice. There was also a ton of behind-the-scenes collaboration and last minute edits but it came together well, on time, and clean. I hope you enjoy all the poems and if you feel moved, go to Goodreads and give it a review.
I knew enough about adults to know that if I did tell them what had happened, I would not be believed. Adults rarely seemed to believe me when I told the truth anyway. Why would the believe me about something so unlikely?
— Neil Gaiman
I’m about to go in on some work summer reading. It’s going to be a mix of professional development leadership texts as well as a good amount of culturally responsive teaching books with an emphasis on anti-racist work. I am excited to get back into my constant learner mode as that takes my mind to an open space of listening, absorbing, and contextualization.
I gotta tell you, it’s going to be a challenge. I find it hard to focus on prose or dense text. My natural inclination to poetry and graphic novels mirrors my tendencies to go in deeper with a condensed text or image over going broad.
My current plan will be to mix it up with a poetry collection in between to see if bridging these two forms of lit can keep me on track.
For now, I share one of many highlights from Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I have been a fan of Gaiman’s work since his days of writing for DC’s Vertigo line. In fact, Sandman: Season of Mists was the first graphic novel collection I ever purchased. Gaiman has a way of writing myths and memories in direct language while still maintaining a sense of the fantastic.
This all brings me back when my mom passed away when I was thirteen. It was a few months after her passing that I heard whistling in the hallways for weeks after. I recall that no one else heard it in the house but me. I would be studying and all of a sudden this specific whistling would happen and no one else responded. So I would just pretend that I was going to throw some trash out and then hang out in the project hallways waiting for the whistling. I would randomly start whistling back and hear an echo that came from a new place. It was coming from the stairs and that is where I went because I knew for a fact it was my mom. I am not sure what she was trying to say to me. I remember waiting for a while to try to figure that out. Sitting in the stairs listening. Maybe that is when the whistling stopped. When I tried to make sense of it. I think now that all my mom wanted was just to have me to herself.
Favorite passage: “And we earn money. In some cases, lots of it…As Americans, we are led to believe that this in and of itself should be the path toward complete satisfaction. If we make enough money, have enough success, then we should be free from all struggles—or more accurately, our struggles are no longer valid. But what most of us find after a while, and much to our surprise, is that even with all the cash and prizes, the question of purpose remains. Pain and suffering still remain. Anger and frustration still remain.”
Andre was always on of my favorite Warriors and it was a pleasure to read through his memoir. This is a solid book that shares some of the mindsets necessary to go from growing up Black and male in a single mom household in the Midwest to navigating college, settling in the NBA and then becoming a champion and Finals MVP. The read is quick with a spotlight on only a few key moments from Iguodala’s career and even those moments are painted with a very broad brush. You won’t get heavy game-by-game analysis, cheesy trash talking, or inside gossip but you will find the story of a Black man defining his value in and out of US sports culture.
Thirty poetry collections in 30 days. Shout outs to all the used bookstores and library sales where we found so many of these classics. There are more than a few of these volumes that go for ridiculous amounts of dollars (that do not reach the poet or presses) on internet web sites. Don’t fall for it. When bookstores open again it is worth it to take the time to look for some of these treasures. Love to Barb who found so many of these.
Vivas To Those Who Have Failed: Poems, Martín Espada – W. W. Norton & Company – 2017
Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems, 1988-2000, Lucille Clifton – Boa Editions – 2008
Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah: Poems, Patricia Smith – Coffee House Press – 2012
Poems, Roque Dalton – Curbstone Press – 1984 Translation by Richard Schaaf
The Woman Who Fell from the Sky: Poems, Joy Harjo – Norton – 1996
Revolutionary Letters, Diane di Prima – City Lights Books – 1974
Today’s read: Song Of Protest by Pablo Neruda – Quill – 1985 Foreword and translation by Miguel Algarín
Favorite Algarín line: I focused my entire attention on New York until I learned to survive. Soon, however, I felt dissatisfied. It was not enough to have the new. I needed a history as well. I needed my memories, and for that I needed Spanish back. — from “The Politics of Poetry”
Favorite Nerdua line: I have a pact of love with beauty: I have a pact of blood with my people. — from “Do Not Ask Me”
My memories of poetry and Pablo Neruda are deeply intertwined. Neruda was not the first poet I read and I am not sure if he was even the first Spanish language poet that I read. I do know that Neruda was the first poet where the Spanish and English side of the pages actually spoke to each other and I was the voice. I remember picking up a copy of Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair for a friend’s birthday. Before gift wrapping the book, I began to thumb through the pages with every intention of just reading the English translations. I then decided to fumble through some Spanish. (I learned to read Spanish as an eight-year-old; a gift from my mother that is its own story) Soon, I was not fumbling through the Spanish. The Spanish, some broken for sure, was coming through me and making sense as sound and feeling. I gave up on reading the English and stayed focused on the Spanish. I was, as Algarín mused, connecting with a history in myself. It was one of my first decolonizing memories made even more impactful by the fact that I did not even know there was such an act as decolonizing.
Neruda continues to impact me as a poet let me about a Neruda biography that details Neruda raping a Sri Lankan woman. This is powerful information and begins a new chapter of my relationship with Neruda. I have met enough poets in my own life to know that great writing does not make for a great person. I am going to be processing a lot on what Neruda means to me with this new information. I am good with reading old poems again and asking new questions.