Ieshia Evans calmly gets arrested after protesting the death of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge (Credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman)
When nothing has been done
when the problem of the color line
has been ignored intellectualized and dismissed
when black bodies have been cut down
and communities shaken
in the silence of the moment
—a woman always arrives
to strike a match
shine a light and fight the dark
to stand against a brutal sea of blue.
Ieshia Evans heard silence as law enforcement officers clad in body armor approached her with guns drawn and zip-tie handcuffs at the ready. But her stand in the face of silence speaks volumes for many of us. I invite you to listen to her interview with CBS News.
This year was truly a double-life year. The first half of the year focused on getting the chapbook out into the world. The second half of the year focused on getting a new job and moving to Massachusetts. One realization: big changes in one side of the double life means the other side has to take a backseat. Once the job opportunity showed up, I got busy with preparing my applications and for two interviews as well as saying a very long goodbye to the city of Durham. Admittedly, I started the year in a bit of a writing funk. Fortunately, the weekly poetry dates with Kelly and the monthly poetry book club buoyed the poetry career while I focused on landing that job. This year’s highlights reveal how I was able to keep my toes in the poetry world.
The 5-day poetry challenge is a popular meme where you post one of your poems (preferably published) to your Facebook timeline then tag another poet to continue the challenge. Last week, I was double-tagged by poets Anna Weaver and Elizabeth Jackson. So in true double-life fashion, I decided to post two poems each day—one of my published poems around 9 am and one of my favorite poems about the working world around 5 pm.
I selected poems from the range of themes I tend to visit and revisit in my work:
Pluto’s Poetesses. Credits: Erin Osborn & Alice Osborn
I don’t think it was accidental that old King Pluto had four ladies scribing in his honor. He’s got that effect on women—ask Proserpina (aka Greek’s Persephone) and his largest moon, Charon, which is gravitationally locked in sync with Pluto’s orbit so that the two celestial bodies always face each other. Some other facts about Pluto and the New Horizons mission gathered from the talk and mentioned in the poems:
discovered by mistake by American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh in 1930 in search for Planet X presumed to exist beyond Neptune
New Horizons took 9 years to get to Pluto; the gravitational boost from Jupiter reduced the time to get to Pluto by 5 years.
scientists discovered two of Pluto’s moons—Styx & Kerberos—after the New Horizons spacecraft launched in 2006
I enjoy writing planetary poems already but especially at these events because I can hear similar threads in each poem while noting each poet’s unique voice. I’ll share an expert from my poem here, “New Horizons Meets Planet X,” but be sure to watch the entire talk on YouTube (poets start about an hour into the video).
Feed me your data in bits and bytes as we shimmy in front of Neptune to soak
up the sun. I don’t see any rings around you, so maybe we can make a new moon or two.
One of the first poems in my chapbook that was published was “Transit of Venus,” which was inspired by the 2012 event that will not happen again until 2117. What I saw with my own eyes (black drop / crossing / the sun / dipping down / curving around / up again) is now visible in some amazing pictures from a joint project between NASA and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency. I consider the Venus poem the first in a series of poems about the planets I intend to write. Last year, Construction Magazine published “To Earth, From Mars,” the second planetary poem, and I wrote “Pluto, My Brother” at my last Cave Canem retreat (back in my day there were 9 planets). My poetry-date partner, Kelly, says the Pluto poem is ready to send out, so I’ll be spending some time this weekend in the Poet’s Gym (aka UNC Davis Library) figuring out where it should land.
Photograph via Flickr by bluedharma
I love writing about the planets and other objects in the universe. They are like our distant relatives: made of the same stuff but existing in a different era. Poetry offers a unique way to consider the beauty and individuality of each body as well as explore the myths and folklore we project onto each globe. I’ve also written poems about the spacecraft we’ve sent to explore other objects in our universe. My biggest challenge is *getting the science right* inside the poem. Often, the scientific terms are not accessible or pleasant-sounding to the average reader. It’s my job to make the connection between science and metaphor so that we can understand each planet on its own merit as well as how it relates to our own lives.
On Friday, June 26th, I had the launch party for my chapbook, My Mother’s Child. Thanks to my tango-friend Mariana, I was able to have the party at Terra Nova Global Properties new office in downtown Durham. And my friend Janet provided the food, decorations, prosecco, and the real champagne glasses.
After a fabulous introduction by fellow Living Poetry organizer, Bartholomew Barker, I read a four poems from the chapbook and a few others I had written over the last two years. Many in the crowd had followed my April and November poem-a-day challenges and a few had never heard me read before. I’m so thankful to everyone who came out to support me and buy books.
My chapbook is finally here, My Mother’s Child published by Hyacinth Girl Press. In my last post, I promised to share the details of this amazing journey. Although some of these poems were written almost four years ago and about 10 months elapsed from signing the publication contract to publication date, it’s really felt like a serendipitous labor of love.
The Chapbook. Assembling chapbook is different than putting 3-5 poems together for a journal submission or workshop application packet. The poems have to speak to each other and belong together. After a year of submitting to contests for full-length collections and getting nowhere, I changed my strategy. When I sat down to look at all the poems, they seemed to separate themselves into two groups with a few bridge poems. Depending on the chapbook contest guidelines, I included more or fewer poems. I probably had 3 or 4 different configurations.
The Cover Art. This amazing sketch was done by a local artist, Jolmar Millar (4th photo). I met Jolmar at a tribute event for Maya Angelou I emceed in November 2014. When Margaret gently nudged me about cover art, it took a while before I thought of Jolmar. And then when she came to mind, I didn’t have her email address. I emailed a mutual contact for Jolmar’s email address and the email went to spam. Then about a month later we were connected.
The Publication Process. This process is no joke, and being a newbie, I didn’t know what to expect. There comes a point where you have to let go. Having a wonderful publisher and layout person helps. I still don’t think I caught everything, so don’t be too hard on me if you find something.
What makes sense disappears
under straw hats,
this bizarre America,
where they pay
to return to rural
roots my people fled—
that second Exodus
to auto plants, steel mills,
so I wouldn’t
have to stand in sweat
tasting the dry,
on my tongue.– Stuff White People Like #132: Picking Their Own Fruit, from My Mother’s Child – See more at: http://hyacinthgirlpress.com/yearfive/mymotherschild.html#sthash.q08uIMgj.dpuf
I had to rest up after writing all those April poems for the Poem-a-Day Challenge. It took 3-4 days before I could read the poems, and I have to say, I’m quite happy with the result. During the challenge, I can’t spend time with each poem because I’ve got to crank out another one. So having the time to step away and come back to what I’ve written helps me see each poem in a new light. There are quite a few that I want to work with so they can be sent out for publication this summer and fall.
Also, ahead this month—the release of my new chapbook, My Mother’s Child from Hyacinth Girl Press. It’s been an amazing experience working with this small press and I can’t wait to share the details of this journey.
As much as I love National Poetry Month, I always get to the point where I am DONE with writing poems. Unfortunately, I run of energy before April runs out of days. This year, I was mentally finished writing on April 25th, so I’m just happy to get all these poems done.
Day 27 – Looking Back
Red rocks reek of a time before
this river raged, when ocean waves kept the peace
with their rhythmic sway and the fish sang
lullabies through gaping mouths.
Day 28 – Matter/Anti-Matter
Apply heat to cause a burn,
a balling up into a rock-sized fist
of dust to be broken apart at will.
Day 29 – What Nobody Knows
She hadn’t moved away nor fallen
madly deeply for the Italian guy
from the housewarming party.
As we say in the South, It’s getting down to the short rows! I’m at the point in the poem-a-day challenge where I don’t remember the poem I wrote yesterday because I’m so focused on finishing today’s poem and resting up before tomorrow’s prompt is posted. When my friends comment on poems I’ve written earlier in the month, I sometimes don’t remember writing it. The challenge keeps me in the moment of writing without the attachment that what I write has got to be good, finished, publishable, inspiring, <insert any other adjective here>. Which I guess, is part of the point.
Day 20 – My <Blank>
My eyes open before the early bird’s song
as if starting this job on the first day. After seven years,
I know the rhythm of this place like a child’s favorite lullaby,
can fall back in line like a soldier on his fourth tour.
Day 21 – What You Are (Not)
Born of the Atlantic
but I am nothing
like my mother.
Day 22 – Nature
The days grow long, my patience grows thin
The work you do to emerge from the ground is hidden
Day 23 – Historic
We call you by your first name as if we grew up
side by side on those red cushioned pews
in your daddy’s church
Day 24 – Moment
In the end, she did nothing
even though this was the time
she’d promised to do different.
Day 25 – Across the Sea
A woman waiting
Her sister dying
Bleeding from eyes
Ears and nose.