Poems By James Baldwin

Happy #NaPoWriMo everyone.

I’ll be posting some of my dailies here. In the meantime, here are three gems from James Baldwin’s NEW poetry collection.

“I Don’t Feel Death Coming / I Feel Death Going”: 3 Poems By James Baldwin.

#NaPoWriMo

In preparation for the inception of NaPoWriMo–an intense thirty-day poetry binge for those of us paralyzed by fears of audience, topic, detail, and ourselves–we discuss why anyone would put themselves through the torturous process of writing a bad poem draft every single day. The answer? Lots of wine.

It’s almost April, which means baby animals, Earth Day, sunshine, and poetry.

(If this list isn’t gritty enough for you, try October, month of blindness awareness, pizza, opals, and pagan celebrations.)

April is a good month for poets. We can sit on the porch, wear sunglasses, and write.

Winter gets me into the bad habits of watching lots of (good!) television in my bed, sleeping late, and not writing as much as I would like. This is partially because it is expensive to heat my apartment, so staying in bed is the best warmth option; but it also because everything is the same grey color for three solid months. Grey trees, grey sky, grey asphalt. Grey is lovely, but my poetry relies heavily on color as fodder, fuel for its verse. Consequently, my winter poems are mostly about death and rainstorms.

The response to many months of not-so-brilliant poetics? The 30-day challenge of National Poetry Writing Month (otherwise known as NaPoWriMo). Similar to NaNoWriMo (wherein writers work on a novel draft to polish and wrestle the remaining 11 months), NaPo challenges poetry nerds to write a poem every day in April. Many poets defer to writing several in a sitting, then skipping a day or three (ahem), but the 30-poem challenge remains (that’s a whole chapbook, folks).

These poems don’t have to be complete, or even near complete, or even real poems. Half the time, I end up writing “ugh I hate working at the grocery store before a rainstorm. Everyone is batshit crazy and forgets their canvas bags,” before abandoning my computer in favor of drinking tea and looking out the window. But from this small moment in the time between other things, I begin to consider my myriad food service jobs, making lists of weird customers and co-workers, and remembering stories. I make lists of images, brainstorm titles on the backs of grocery receipts, think in meter.

Poetry is always in the back of my mind, even while I am busy writing consulting, bagging natural groceries, or running errands. With NaPoWriMo, poetry takes a more central space in my brain, becoming an undercurrent, a benevolent riptide of thoughts, pulling and pulling. The fragments that I puzzle together are not unlike seashells: often fragmented, sharp, and duller when dry, but they are poetic bookmarks. As of now, I have 14 scalloped edges of things that may or may not become poems. This is certainly better than nothing.

A side note for the curious: Some NaPoets post their pieces on the internet. I am saving mine for my inevitable collected works.

5 Words to NEVER Use in Poetry

Another in the JBAC series–this time, gearing up for NaPoWriMo. I’m still considering if I will participate, but I’m leaning yes. I need something to rev my poetry into high gear, and last time I participated (in 2012), I ended up with half of my creative writing thesis.

There are many things worthy of a poem: the weather, an especially delicious cupcake, the erotic whoosh of a freshly laundered cotton dress, dreams. In truth, the realm of the poetic is wide open to discovery and exploration (of the non-colonizing variety, please).

However, there do remain things that should never be touched by the long fingers of poetry. These things may be tantalizing, omnipresent, and even inescapable; yet this does not mean that they belong in a poem. This is a list of five words that should never under any circumstances find their way into a poem.

Continue reading “5 Words to NEVER Use in Poetry”

Genre

I’m republishing a series of pieces that I wrote for the now-defunct Juniper Bends Author Collective. Since I can safely assume that none of my readers are big enough fans to take issue with this–much less to notice–I have few qualms about this course of action.

The joke goes that genre only exists so that you know where to find a particular piece in a bookstore. Now the nonfiction section leaps spasmodically from memoir to historical biography to cultural theory. Fiction includes flash, meta, stories, novellas, novels, and epics. And let’s not even get started on poetry (lyric essays, political anthologies, translations, oh my).

Here’s the question: as amateur (read: non-contracted) writers, why are we so obsessed with categorizing our own work? There are many journals that accept multi-genre pieces, or even seek them out. Authors publish multi-genre books (sometimes with friends); lyrical novels are a thing; David Rakoff wrote a novel in (rhyming) verse; Anne Carson’s brilliant Autobiography of Red is a classic piece of hybrid literature. And no one cares what they are since they’re crisp, polished, and satisfying.

Whenever I write, I find myself compulsively worried as I close in on a piece: but is it a poem? Is it flash-nonfiction? How will the bookstore know where to put my collected works?

Then I shake myself and ask the question above: who cares? 

Maybe one day I’ll have to concern myself with genre, but for now, I’ll just shut up and write.

Post

Reid and Leah have left Seattle, as have the hordes of writers from all over. I could act like it was thrilling to see folks from NC–and it was–but I’ve ensured that I am never without access to liberal Southerners, even here in WA state.

AWP was much sillier than I anticipated; the longer I spend away from writers, the easier it is to forget that so many of them are comfortable in their cushions of class/race/cisgender privilege and choose to disregard the political nature of work such as teaching, creating worlds & stories, and, you know, working in contemporary capitalist frameworks.

Folks seemed content to pat themselves on the back for achieving PhDs–no small feat, to be sure–and for challenging their undergraduate students to adhere to the rigid, objective aesthetics of “good” writing that they soaked up in their various MFA programs.

Few people even mentioned that these same aesthetics have fostered an exclusionary, classist, racist, and sexist literary community since ancient times, fetishizing Western aesthetics as superior, and in fact, “civilized,” while relegating non-white authors to the status of “other.” This is still the case: Women’s Fiction, Asian-American poetry, LGBT/Special Interest.

I guess this is partially my own fault for insisting on attending the writing pedagogy panels, answering such banal questions as “how do we teach writing?” I care because I’m a professional writing tutor, but I also care because I acknowledge the political implications of literacy and language fluency. This is not a prerequisite for teachers of composition, either creative or academic.

On the bright side, the panels that I more or less stumbled upon in search of my friends ended up counteracting the cluelessness of the pedagogy panels: unlikeable women characters, queer literary communities, and publishing politics were all represented–if not always well-attended.

There has to be a formula for successful conference attendance, a code written into panel descriptions to clue attendees into the actual usefulness or self-awareness of each event. This may be something that I myself have to devise through trial and error–and the input of my fellow critical readers & writers.

Journal

My belated New Year’s Resolution is to journal. I have historically been terrible about this: I would always rather watch sci-fi TV shows or read about other people’s lives. But I have regretted ignoring my own stories every single time I work on any piece of writing.

If I’m lucky, there was someone else there to call and ask about an event or moment. Usually, though, they don’t remember the details I’m interested in: smells and colors, rhythms and densities. You know, poet stuff. 

So far so good though. I’m trying to mesh all my existential musings with factoids: “Today Chett and I met our future cat Octavia Butler; she is the essence of the companion animal independence that I yearn for in partnering with creatures of any species.” 

That was a sample, not an actual excerpt. My journal is private!

Tower

When I wrote my poetry thesis, it felt like everyone else was writing about Greek mythology, getting drunk at house parties, and repressed childhood memories. 

Now I can’t go anywhere without seeing a themed journal about magic and astrology. Or, perhaps stranger, at the Lucky Funeral reading in Asheville a few weeks back, JD Scott read Tarot poems from his new chapbook. Themes included the moon, herbal teas & tinctures, cats lounging in apartments, and the ocean.

Freaky. Did I will these magical poetics to me in my thesis stress? Or were they there all along, floating beside me like algae?