Tag Archives: poetry

Excerpt: The New York Times On The Female Poets Of Kabul

Meena lives in Gereshk, a town of 50,000 people in Helmand, the largest of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. Helmand has struggled with the double burden of being one of the world’s largest opium producers and an insurgent stronghold. Meena’s father pulled her out of school four years ago after gunmen kidnapped one of her classmates. Now she stays home, cooks, cleans and teaches herself to write poetry in secret. Poems are the only form of education to which she has access. She doesn’t meet outsiders face to face.

“I can’t say any poems in front of my brothers,” she said. Love poems would be seen by them as proof of an illicit relationship, for which Meena could be beaten or even killed. “I wish I had the opportunities that girls do in Kabul,” she went on. “I want to write about what’s wrong in my country.” Meena gulped. She was trying not to cry. On the other end of the line, Amail, who is prone to both compassion and drama, began to weep with her. Tears mixed with kohl dripped onto the page of the spiral notebook in which Amail was writing down Meena’s verses. Meena recited a Pashtun folk poem called a landai:

“My pains grow as my life dwindles,
I will die with a heart full of hope.”

“I am the new Rahila,” she said. “Record my voice, so that when I get killed at least you’ll have something of me.”

Amail grimaced, uncertain how to respond. “Don’t call yourself that,” she snapped. “Do you want to die, too?”
- From “Why Afghan Women Risk Death to Write Poetry,” by Eliza Griswold

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An Interview With Former USA National Poetry Series Winner Adrian Matejka [Culturelicious]

By Guest Contributor Jorge Antonio Vallejos, cross-posted from Black Coffee Poet

Adrian Matejka is the author of The Devil’s Garden (Alice James Books, 2003), Mixology (Penguin USA, 2009), and The Big Smoke (Penguin USA, forthcoming in 2013).

His work has appeared or is forthcoming in American Poetry ReviewPloughshares, and Poetry among other journals and anthologies. You can find him at www.adrianmatejka.com or on Twitter.

BCP: Why poetry?

AM: I first tried to write poetry in a lame attempt to impress a girl, but my appreciation for language came before that. I wanted to be an emcee when I was younger. Fortunately, for everyone, I figured out pretty quickly that I couldn’t spit rhymes and moved on to the next thing.

A few years after I gave up the mic, I discovered some poets who value sound and percussiveness the same way emcees do. First, Langston Hughes and Etheridge Knight. Then later, Gil Scott-Heron and Yusef Komunyakaa. Through these incredible poets, it became clear that poetry is an art that allows both music and communication. Once I figured that out, I never wanted to do anything else.

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Quoted: Jaswinder Bolina on Poetry, and Writing Through Identity

Carrier Wave, Jaswinder Bolina

[Back then, I was] only a year or so into an MFA. I stop by the office of a friend, an older white poet in my department. Publication to me feels impossible then, and the friend means to be encouraging when he says, “With a name like Jaswinder Bolina, you could publish plenty of poems right now if you wrote about the first-generation, minority stuff. What I admire is that you don’t write that kind of poetry.” He’s right. I don’t write “that kind” of poetry. To him, this is upstanding, correct, what a poet ought to do. It’s indicative of a vigor exceeding that of other minority poets come calling. It turns out I’m a hard worker too. I should be offended—if not for myself, then on behalf of writers who do take on the difficult subject of minority experience in their poetry—but I understand that my friend means no ill by it. To his mind, embracing my difference would open editorial inboxes, but knowing that I tend to eschew/exclude/deny “that kind” of subject in my poetry, he adds, “This’ll make it harder for you.” When, only a few months later, my father—who’s never read my poems, whose fine but mostly functional knowledge of English makes the diction and syntax of my work difficult to follow, who doesn’t know anything of the themes or subjects of my poetry—tells me to use another name, he’s encouraging also. He means: Let them think you’re a white guy. This will make it easier for you. [...]

To the poet, though, the first question isn’t one of class or color. The first question is a question of language. Poetry—as Stéphane Mallarmé famously tells the painter and hapless would-be poet Edgar Degas—is made of words, not ideas. However, to the poet of color or the female poet, to the gay or transgendered writer in America, and even to the white male writer born outside of socioeconomic privilege, a difficult question arises: “Whose language is it?” Where the history of academic and cultural institutions is so dominated by white men of means, “high” language necessarily comes to mean the language of whiteness and a largely wealthy, heteronormative maleness at that. The minority poet seeking entry into the academy and its canon finds that her language is deracialized/sexualized/gendered/classed at the outset. In trafficking in “high” English, writers other than educated, straight, white, male ones of privilege choose to become versed in a language that doesn’t intrinsically or historically coincide with perceptions of their identities. It’s true that minority poets are permitted to bring alternative vernaculars into our work. Poets from William Wordsworth in the preface to Lyrical Ballads to Frank O’Hara in his “Personism: a manifesto” demand as much by insisting that poetry incorporate language nearer to conversational speech than anything overly elevated. Such calls for expansions of literary language in conjunction with continuing experiments by recent generations of American poets are transforming the canon for sure, but this leaves me and perhaps others like me in a slightly awkward position. I don’t possess a vernacular English that’s significantly different from that of plain old Midwestern English. As such, it seems I’m able to write from a perspective that doesn’t address certain realities about myself, and this makes me queasy as anything. The voice in my head is annoyed with the voice in my writing. The voice in my head says I’m disregarding difference, and this feels like a denial of self, of reality, of a basic truth.

It isn’t exactly intentional. It’s a product of being privileged. In the 46 years since my father left Punjab, the 40 or so years since my mother left also, my parents clambered the socioeconomic ladder with a fair amount of middle-class success. We’re not exactly wealthy, but I do wind up in prep school instead of the public high school, which only isolates me further from those with a shared racial identity. Later I attend university, where I’m permitted by my parents’ successes to study the subjects I want to study rather than those that might guarantee future wealth. I don’t need to become a doctor or a lawyer to support the clan. I get to major in philosophy and later attend graduate school in creative writing. Through all of this, though I experience occasional instances of bigotry while walking down streets or in bars, and though I study in programs where I’m often one of only two or three students of color, my racial identity is generally overlooked or disregarded by those around me. I’ve become so adept in the language and culture of the academy that on more than one occasion when I bring up the fact of my race, colleagues reply with some variation of “I don’t think of you as a minority.” Or, as a cousin who’s known me since infancy jokes, “You’re not a minority. You’re just a white guy with a tan.” What she means is that my assimilation is complete. But she can’t be correct. Race is simply too essential to the American experience to ever be entirely overlooked. As such, I can’t actually write like a white guy any more than I can revise my skin color. This, however, doesn’t change the fact that if a reader were to encounter much of my work not knowing my name or having seen a photograph of me, she might not be faulted for incorrectly assigning the poems a white racial identity. This is a product of my language, which is a product of my education, which is a product of the socioeconomic privilege afforded by my parents’ successes. The product of all those factors together is that the writing—this essay included—can’t seem to help sounding white.

— Excerpted from “Writing Like a White Guy,” by Jaswinder Bolina, originally published at The Poetry Foundation

Poetry Review: Janet Marie Rogers’ Unearthed [Culturelicious]

By Guest Contributor Jorge Antonio Vallejos, cross-posted from Black Coffee Poet

Amazing!

If I could get away with a one-word review the above would be it.

But let’s go a little deeper.

My first introduction to Roger’s work was last year and via her spoken word CD Firewater.  That too was amazing.

Unearthed is poetry on the page.  It’s different but just as powerful.  And Rogers has not strayed off her anti-colonial path.  Her words are just as fierce and poignant as ever.  And if they could be physically felt there would be a lot of people laying flat on their backs with a copy of Unearthed at their side.
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The Brown Face

By Guest Contributor Jorge Antonio Vallejos, cross-posted from Black Coffee Poet

I’ve got Scandalous by Psycho Realm playing as I write.

It’s a Brown thing.

Brown Pride more like it.

That’s what this is about.  It’s also a fitting song since I’ve been referred to as scandalous, angry, mean, and I love this one — reverse racist.

Being Brown in a place that doesn’t have many Brown faces with colonial Spanish names in the media has you starving sometimes.  Similarly, I remember my Anishinaabe friend Deb Daynard saying she never saw a Brown face (Native American) on T.V while growing in Winnipeg, Canada.  For me it was never having a Brown writer with a name like mine to follow as a kid.

I grew up reading Gordon Korman and Judy Blume.  Both were funny and had me entertained for years but I couldn’t relate to their characters.

What the f-ck did I have in common with white boys attending private school?

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Announcement: Northwestern’s Drinking Gourd Chapbook Prize Series for Poets of Color

By Arturo R. García

Thanks to Northwestern University’s Poetry and Poetics Colloquium for the heads-up regarding a new annual competition geared toward unpublished poets of color.

The PPC is teaming up with Northwestern University Press for the inaugural Drinking Gourd chapbook poetry prize. A panel of POC poets will select the winning entry, and the first prize chapbook will be introduced by poet

Northwestern University’s Poetry and Poetics Colloquium (PPC) proudly announces a partnership with Northwestern University Press for the inaugural Drinking Gourd chapbook poetry prize, a first-book award for poets of color. Poet Ed Roberson will introduce the winner, and will also publish an accompanying chapbook of new work to launch the series.

The submission deadline is January 15th, 2012, and the winner will be notified by March 15th. The two chapbooks will be published in Fall 2012 by Northwestern University Press. Submission guidelines are under the cut.
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Interview With Laotian Poet Souvankham Thammavongsa [Culturelicious]

By Guest Contributor May Lui, cross-posted from Black Coffee Poet

Souvankham Thammavongsa is a Laotian Canadian poet, author of the ReLit-winning Small Arguments and Found. Found was also adapted into a short film by Paramita Nath, which screened at film festivals worldwide including Dok Leipzig and Toronto International Film Festival.

Souvnkham has been published in many literary magazines and journals and has been invited to read at Harbourfront’s International Festival of the Authors 2011. Born in Thailand in 1978, she was raised in Toronto.

May Lui for Black Coffee Poet: Why poetry?

Souvankham Thammavongsa: It’s sort of like swimming in the deep end of a pool. You better know what you are doing there because it’s going to become very clear if you don’t. Looking good in a swimsuit isn’t going to help you out.

ML: Tell us about your writing process.

ST:
I don’t write everyday. Sometimes I try to do anything but write. I work for a financial newspaper full-time and have been there for ten years. I work with numbers all day and this allows me to think in a language that doesn’t have anything to do with words, to remember that sometimes words aren’t everything. No one at work knows I write poetry and I prefer it that way. I like that there’s a place for me there no matter what happens to my writing, whether it fails or if it’s successful. It doesn’t matter. I also owned a used bookstore with my husband and wrote short stories all day when it snowed and we had no customers, except for the ones who told us we weren’t going to make it or asked us what we were doing there or if the knapsack in our window display was for sale. I learned that there are people in the world who want nothing to do with books, that there are those who at the sight of a bookshelf start to slowly back up towards the exit, that there are those who would buy themselves a three-dollar book and tell their curious and bright son they don’t want to buy him a book of his choosing because they’ve already spent more than they’ve wanted. That was a learning experience for writing I don’t think I would have gotten by writing.

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Celebrating Aboriginal History Month 2011: An Interview With Poet Joanna Shawana [Culturelicious]

By Guest Contributor Jorge Antonio Vallejos, cross-posted from Black Coffee Poet

Joanna Shawana is Anishnawbe from Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve.  Author of Voice of an Eagle, Shawana makes and sells Aboriginal crafts and works at a women’s shelter. Her poetry shows us all that there is beauty beyond abuse. Voice of an Eagle is a collection of poems and aboriginal teachings that walk us through her struggle of abuse and show us that no matter how dark the situation looks that we can break free and be with the “eagle’ to find our voice and say NO MORE! Joanna plans on writing another book explaining the signs of abuse and how both men and women can break free from the chains holding them.

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