In the course of researching winners of major contests for the next Winning Writers newsletter, I came across some exceptional poems online that I wanted to share with readers of this blog. One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2008 will be to get caught up on my review copies because there are so many exciting new books being published. Here, samples of three very different authors:
Jennifer Rose’s second book, Hometown for an Hour, has won several prizes including the Publishing Triangle’s Audre Lorde Award. Structured as a series of postcards from cities ranging from Gettysburg to Mostar, the book explores experiences of rootlessness and belonging. For instance, in “Provincetown Postcard“, she writes:
The street’s deserted,
as if a villain and the sheriff were
about to shoot it out, though nobody
peers from behind these shutters
except the endless pairs of sunglasses
staring toward June. Eight o’clock.
A church bell and one foghorn sing an aria
so poignant I want to cry. The marina
swizzles its lights into the harbor.
It’s Tuesday. I must be the last tourist
in P-town. How paradoxical “home” is–
you must get sick of it to earn the right
to have to stay in spite of that. I’ve never been
able to take any place for granted
like these year-rounders I see scratching
their lottery tickets at the Governor Bradford.
Where would they go with their winnings?
How do we know where we belong?
Read more poems from this book at her website.
Chicano author and activist Luis J. Rodriguez has written several acclaimed volumes of poetry as well as a memoir about growing up in the gangs of East L.A. He is now an advocate for disadvantaged youth, and the founder of Tia Chucha Press in Chicago. Read excerpts from his work at the Academy of American Poets website. In the title poem from his collection The Concrete River, he depicts barrio youth getting high on inhalants to escape from their bleak urban landscape into a beautiful, dangerous hallucination:
…We aim spray into paper bags.
Suckle them. Take deep breaths.
An echo of steel-sounds grates the sky.
Home for now. Along an urban-spawned
Stream of muck, we gargle in
The technicolor synthesized madness.
This river, this concrete river,
Becomes a steaming, bubbling
Snake of water, pouring over
Nightmares of wakefulness;
Pouring out a rush of birds;
A flow of clear liquid
On a cloudless day.
Not like the black oil stains we lie in,
Not like the factory air engulfing us;
Not this plastic death in a can.
Sun rays dance on the surface.
Gray fish fidget below the sheen.
And us looking like Huckleberry Finns/
Tom Sawyers, with stick fishing poles,
As dew drips off low branches
As if it were earth’s breast milk.
Oh, we should be novas of our born days.
We should be scraping wet dirt
with callused toes.
We should be flowering petals
Soon water/fish/dew wane into
A pulsating whiteness.
I enter a tunnel of circles,
Swimming to a glare of lights.
Family and friends beckon me.
I want to be there,
In perpetual dreaming;
In the din of exquisite screams.
I want to know this mother-comfort
Surging through me.
Read the whole poem here.
Craig Morgan Teicher’s collection Brenda Is in the Room and Other Poems won this year’s Colorado Prize for Poetry. In this poem, “Ten Movies and Books”, first published in La Petite Zine, disjointed capsule summaries of unnamed classic movies and books turn out to be more about the reader’s bewilderment and longing than about the books themselves. Excerpt:
The twist is that, the whole time,
while he’s been trying to help
the boy, who is plagued
by his ability to see and speak with the dead,
Bruce Willis is dead. I’m sorry.
I’ve ruined another movie. But someone else
probably told you already. It’s still good, even if
it’s ruined for you.
Poems are meant
to be read
in private, in bed, when
no one else is in the bed
Never speak about poems.
Never tell anyone that you
of them. Every poem
that someone discusses
else disappears or breaks.
In fact, even reading a poem
hurts what little chance it has.
is pissed about everything.
He goes on and on.
Everyone just wants to make him better,
but he is too beautiful
for the world. Maybe everyone is
until they turn sixteen
or seventeen. After that,
maybe only some are too beautiful.
I will break Teicher’s rule #9 by directing you to read the whole poem here.