Category Archives: Poetry
Blogs about poetry
When we are young, perhaps reading a favorite book, we come across new words. I vividly recall frantically flipping through the dictionary in search of the word “immured” which appears Kenneth Grahame’s classic The Wind in the Willows. For those who have not followed the adventures of Mr. Badger of Mr. Toad, “immured” means “to be imprisoned.” This process of learning new words as children mirrors the process of learning new words in another language, except that one must explain and dissect new words with words one already knows; what makes learning a new language for authors is when one confronts a word that possesses no direct translation.
One of my favorite phrases that exemplify this conundrum: de mal de pays, the name of a Franz Litszt song that translates usually as “homesickness,” though according to a character in Haruki Murakami’s new novel, this phrase really means, “the ungrounded sadness of feels when looking upon a beautiful landscape and remembering home.” In German, one encounters several of these words including Wanderlust, Backpfeifengesicht, and Schadenfreude. For those not in the knows, Backpfeifengesicht means “a face that begs for a fist,” roughly speaking. In addition to expanding one’s lexicon, one learns new ways of speaking. I have noticed, for example, that both in fiction and personal essays, I have absconded with the use of complicated words in favor of words-that-are-hyphenated-that-together-means-one-word, which plays on the German compound word. Almost any complicated word in German can be found out by combining two, three, or more smaller words. When I must describe something that does not have a clear and well-known set of description words (for example, technical jargon or sometimes the language of music,) I opt instead for the insanely-long-compound-phrase.
The true learned skill of adopting a new language, however, is that one must communicate with others in the new language. Because the writer might be in a class, he may likely not enroll with others who speak English; of course English-speakers possess a global privilege to travel almost anywhere and be able to speak English with locals. The English language has infected Europe with better efficiency than the Black Plague. When one does however seek to explain concepts in German, a language through which I can only express the simplest expressions, one must fashion precise speech. When speaking with international students, one learns to explain complicated ideas in simplified terms. This teaches the writer to exorcise the jargon from his writing, composing sentences with clarity and economy.
Naturally, I have not performed correct archeology of this subject, the relative skills that bridge writing in one’s mother tongue and also a new language; here, we have only grazed the top soil. Of course I too have learned only German, and I enjoy the language, unlike Mark Twain. When one begins to explore new languages, one learns new idiosyncrasies. I have heard (only through reading books in translation), that to read a manuscript in its original language is an act not unlike sleeping in your own bed after weeks abroad. If you have ever undertaken the challenge of learning a new language or anything new (be it rocket science or funeral undertaking), what have you learned? How has the new-found knowledge affected your writing tendencies?
“Martin had a dream. Martin had a dream. Kendrick had a dream.”- Backseat Freestyles/ good kid, m.A.A.d city
- Kendrick Lamar floats above cityscape,
alight with flaming angel wings.
Flying or falling, he cannot tell. He
wakes in a stupor, his eyes bright as forgotten Heavens.
- Kendrick Lamar unzips his pants, and
the Eifel Tower springs from between the zippers.
He proceeds to fuck the world for 72 hours.
- Kendrick Lamar stands naked in front of his class.
He is in high school chemistry class, and his Eifel
Tower is now just a normal phallus. Someone
laughs. Someone shouts, “Bitch, don’t kill my vibe!”
- A giant eagle with the face of
School Boy Q chases Kendrick Lamar
through the desert, his legs thin as chopsticks.
As he pushes harder, the Eagle draws closer,
his claws familiar as Compton.
- Kendrick Lamar misses a flight to Berlin,
for he lies in a box,
a cedar box buried six feet under the ground, his body
contorting with rage and fear. His head banging
against the top of the box
as he wonders whether he might escape.
He will not escape, not until he wakes
in mid-afternoon, his bed wet
with hangover sweat,
his back still dripping as if he just climbed from a pool full of liquor,
as if only just yesterday
he woke for the first time.
For the writer of this wonderful article: “Perfect Day In Charleston, SC”:
This ain’t the first time y’all came here,
your head brimming with expectations of fried opossum
and hillbilly carnival, the specter of the south leaving
such a distinctly sweet taste in your mouth.
But here we ain’t choking on molasses, ain’t passing time
running through fields of corn, listening to country music,
and doing whatever else the fuck you think we do here.
You come to Charleston and smile, congratulate us
on how progressive we’ve become. How our buckteeth
don’t offend you as they snack on sweet taters.
You said something to that effect, didn’t you,
when you praised the southern boutiques built for tourists,
said the south ain’t so bad after all.
You came looking for genteel, so I guessed you miss
the dirt in our teeth, the flames in our eyes, the fight
in our chests, and the holy brains in our skulls.
Cute that you thought a day could do us justice,
that when looking for the beautiful in our city,
you only looked up toward steeples, conjuring
plantation homes in downtown that never existed.
Tell me again how quaint we are, us quiet people,
how we put you to sleep. How you think that condescension
ain’t fighting words.
My name never meant anything,
couldn’t stride or glide on leathery wings,
only waddled—the awkward bird at the dance.
Never knew anything gilded before this, not like him,
because I know this man under the mask.
How he pretends that a cowl and cape make him
one of us, then spits in my face like my family name
is waning into history, the last heir a bachelor.
My family never cared that I could inherit anything.
But I didn’t grow up pretty boy.
Never knew the gold of the sky before taking the treasure myself.
Penguins live their entire wings and never learn to fly.
Forgive me for watching other dark and flying things
and becoming envious.
Forgive me for reaching in this cruel city
for something more, for something I wasn’t born to claim.
Maybe I wasn’t fit for umbrellas and top hat. Maybe I wasn’t meant for the throne.
But do not all Gotham boys dream of growing up
to become Emperor?
Today, I drank coffee with Medusa’s little sister,
whose hair does not slither, but rather rises buoyed,
a cotton-candy flower blooming into sugar-rush and sick.
She drinks espresso in a single gulp.
She tells me that just because her face does not stop men in their tracks,
the way her sister’s beautiful face causes men to become immobile,
struck still as stone statues in their bumbling awe,
this does not mean she remains permissive to their stares.
The absence of serpent heads does not make her victim. She too
courts lightning inside of her.
She too some days feels like a monster,
shattering mirrors with shrieks of desperation.
She too knows rage’s name, kisses him like a grandfather.
She too has been scorned, but her hair
does not scare away the boys who whistle, only melts in the heat,
a sticky pink mess of fake sweet.
I encountered a mob of frenzied students
in the throes of a musical number.
Each face stretched into song, arms angled toward sky
like a tuning fork attempting to channel thunder’s vibrations.
They danced a choreographed can-can,
legs pumping and kicking scissor-snaps.
They grab my hand, implore me to join in,
and I shrug, tired this early in the morning.
I cannot sing the song they each know every word to,
and if I tried to mimic their dances, I would end up
always half a beat behind, trying to blend in,
my face stretching into smile.
Who’s musical fantasy was this anyways,
that requires so many unwilling participants?
Two leather-jacketed lovers sway in the center of our spectacle,
spinning by themselves.
Oblivious to the circus elephants marching behind us, a plane flying in loops above us,
and the rain of confetti floating fast like a penny dropped from atop the Empire.
The lovers do not look to see if we’ve got the moves right.
They’re not even dancing at all.
So, you want to win a poetry slam? Listen closely, and I’ll tell you exactly what you need to do.
For those uninitiated into the ancient art form of spoken word, ‘Slam’ is a competition invented by Marc Smith (So What?) in 1985 at this joint called the Get Me High Lounge. Poetry at the time was pretty crazy—people were bellowing elongated vowels atop bar stools and generally doing whatever they pleased. The conceit of the poetry slam was to get more people into seats to experience poetry, which is the main problem that poetry confronts—its serious public image problem.
Conjure the poet, the black-turtle-necked, finger-snappin’ intellectual speaking as if in a trance words describing their daily bowel movements and the fresco-palette of the setting sun. Slam poetry has in recent decades sucker-punched poetry back into the public spotlight, made it spectacle to see, not just a hobby for snooty would-be-rebels. Poetry slam is energetic. Scoop up the love of words and the search for truth, slap that together with theatrical Umph! and you get Slam Poetry. Almost like reciting monologues, almost like delivering a Pentecostal sermon, almost like political protest, but not exactly like any of that, the art of Spoken Word has grown into an international phenomenon.
Almost every major city holds a regular poetry slam. I happen to co-host the Holy City Slam right in the heart of Charleston, South Carolina. Beyond that, there are also regional slams—these often offer more money to get the best in the surrounding states to come out to compete. From there one sees larger and larger slams, including the National Poetry Slam and International Poetry Slam. Got no idea what I’m talking about? Here are some videos from recent slams that have taken place in the United States including the Rustbelt Poetry Slam, the Southern Fried Poetry Slam (which the Holy City Slammers took part in), and CUPSI.
But you didn’t come here to hear me sing the praises of poetry slams, did you? You don’t care about the history or the atmosphere. You just want to win. So the ULTIMATE secret to winning a poetry slam is…
Go to a poetry slam. There really ain’t much of a secret. Because judges are randomly chosen from the audience and because those judges’ tastes vary so much, there is no one style of poetry that will appeal to everyone. I know, it’s disappointing for me to lead you on like this, to hype up this great secret and then drop your expectations off a sheer cliff. But I will share an even better secret with you.
The Poetry Slam is a trick. It’s a game. We just people to come out and read and experience poetry. I mean, poetry is awesome, but it has a serious image problem. People think poetry is boring. Until individuals take the plunge and experience the magic and healing of spoken word for themselves, they can’t know what they’re missing until they take that first plunge. So we dress poetry up like a sport, give it a competitive edge so that poets will bring their best and most polished work to the stage. This forces the poet to memorize and practice and hone their skills until they can stand on stage and deliver the best damn poem the world’s ever been. And the audience is inspired, and they will give the poets incredible scores, HURRAH!
But we don’t hold the poetry slam so we can hoist the winner on our shoulders and praise them for their literary efforts. Of course, the winner is usually an awesome poet who kicks verbal ass, but that’s not the point of the poetry slam, nope. The secret is, poetry slams are about YOU. We want YOU to have a great experience, to leave the venue feeling inspired. Maybe you might even pick up your pen, find that old notebook you’ve so long neglected, and start writing. Then comes the healing, the gush, the plunge, the heart-explosions, the gut-spillage, the brain splatter, and the love of poetry.
We want poetry to grow in our communities, to touch lives. We want to give poets the opportunity to grow in their careers and be paid handsomely for their work (one problem poets confront is that the public generally believes that art should be a public service and the artist a financial martyr). But it remains difficult to convince venues and parties to pay poets unless the audience and public believes poetry is a viable form of entertainment.
Hence, poetry slams.
Oh, what could it be? A baseball game? A boxing match? A NASCAR race? Not exactly.
But it can just as entertaining, imbued also with a consciousness you won’t find in any other type of competitive sport. Our strongest muscles are our lightning-fast tongues and at the end of the day, we want to make you cry or smile or laugh or feel SOMETHING. So that’s the real Ultimate secret of the Poetry Slam, that, as Allan Wolf said…
“The points are not the point. The point is the poetry.”
This week has been so far incredible, and now I’m gearing up for a slightly quieter week of writing and editing and putting my head down so that the copy-edit of the final draft of The Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County can be finished.
I got a poem published in RiverSedge, a lit journal based out of the Texas-Pan American Press. I will update on which poem got published once the journal is released.
Recently, I also received publication in The Southern Tablet. You can read my poem here: When You’re Sixteen In a Small Southern Town. It’s a fun poem about childhood and growing up, which is probably one of my favorite non-slam poems I’ve written recently.
On Saturday, I got the honor of being in my hometown newspaper The Aiken Standard. Entertainment writer Stephanie Turner penned an awesome feature about my first novel, my burgeoning poetry career, and my creative process. I was very happy at work that morning as several people approached me, having recognized my picture from the article. It’s been an interesting summer in Aiken, SC, because I always felt like in Charleston, people know me as a writer and in Aiken, people don’t know me as anything. But that is starting to change, and I hope only I can remain humbled and grateful about the opportunities afforded to me.
Read the Article here: Aiken Poet Completes First Novel.
Poetry, too, has blessed me this week with an incredible energy. On Wednesday night, Nova (a fellow poet and my significant other) and myself drove up to Greenville, SC to compete in a small slam hosted by Moody Black. I was happy to catch up with my poet family, especially one brother who is about to join the Navy. The event stoked my love for the spoken word art form and taught me just a little bit more about the competitive side of poetry. Check out the slam winner Annie Lee, picture below.
The very next evening, I attended an open mic at MAD Studios in Augusta. I have featured here before and love the venue. This week, Bilaal Muhammed blessed us with some poetry. Augusta Poet Laureate SleepyEyez Carter was instrumental in bringing out many of the city’s poets and performers for an evening of high-energy love. During that evening, I learned that both Sleepy and Brotha Trav (the previous poet laureate) were heading to Atlanta on Saturday.
I called to ask if I could tag along. I performed as the spotlight poet at Urban Grind’s “Do You Lyric Lounge?” I also got invited back next year on August 2015 to perform as the feature. I am slowly building up a calendar for 2015, based around the same time my book will be released!
On top of all this great news, Germany won the WORLD CUP. I celebrated by buying some new books. In the coming week, I’m going to start blogging more frequently so I can give more full thoughts on the events and happenings I’m experiencing. On July 22nd there will be the Holy City Slam in Charleston (hosted by myself and Matthew Foley) which I will blog about before it happens. Also, we are having a small poet’s party tomorrow evening at a local pool– The Poetry Potluck! The other big news is the Word Perfect show in Charleston on August 14th, which will take place at the Charleston Music Hall.
But sometimes, our expectations for women contradict, creating a tension between conflicting desires. Women are expected often to be demure, to be quiet, though at the same time then exuding passion through sex. There also exist contradictory ideas about beauty, whether it be skinniness or big breasts or big hips, whatever. People will also expect you to be something, bigger, smaller, smarter, taller, with better teeth. In the end, it’s pointless to actually cater to these expectations.
Therefore, I encourage all women to “fuck what I want.” Just stop caring about what I think women should look like or act like or be like, because I’m not the one living your life, you are. Or what anyone thinks, honestly, because it will just make you miserable, considering the fact that it will be impossible to live up to men’s expectations.
This is the simple message in this poem, which I performed