BRISHTI CHAKRABORTY'S

Brishti_edited.jpg

For Better or  for Verse 

Tricking and Treating

Halloween, insofar as it exists in public consciousness here, can mostly be boiled down to three things: costumes, candy, and general spookiness (skeletons, vampires, witches). It helps if the costumes and candy share in the third. I like to order these in terms of least scary to most: candy, costumes, and finally spookiness. I used to wonder why things on such extreme opposite ends of the fear spectrum characterize Halloween together, but now I think I get it. Treat or trick?

 

There’s something uncanny about costumes. Something forbidding. You can treat it as a fun opportunity to wear an outlandish outfit - as I often do - or, thrillingly, you can take it a bit more seriously. On Halloween, you can be anything. I like that this ‘anything’ often tends towards the magical, and the magically dangerous. You can be a vampire, fake blood dripping towards a low neckline, not-so-fake glint in your eyes. 

 

Halloween is a juxtaposition of fear and sweetness, but it shows us that the two are not really that different. Why do we like watching horror movies? Why do we dress up as dangerous mythical creatures to go around asking for chocolate? We all have a beast inside, waiting to bite. I hope today’s poems shake you up a bit. Trick or treat? Can you have one without the other?

The Witch Has Told You a Story by Ava Leavell Haymon

Ava Leavell Haymon was the 2013–2015 Poet Laureate of Louisiana. She is the author of four collections of poetry, including Eldest Daughter, Why the House Is Made of Gingerbread, Kitchen Heat and The Strict Economy of Fire, along with five chapbooks. Her third book, Why The House Was Made Of Gingerbread, was chosen as one of the top ten books of 2010 by Women's Voices for Change. (Wikipedia)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/56416/the-witch-has-told-you-a-story

 

Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti

Poet Christina Rossetti was born in 1830. Rossetti's popularity in her lifetime did not approach that of her contemporary Elizabeth Barrett Browning, but her standing remained strong after her death. Her popularity faded in the early 20th century in the wake of Modernism, but scholars began to explore Freudian themes in her work, such as religious and sexual repression, reaching for personal, biographical interpretations of her poetry. Academics studying her work in the 1970s saw beyond the lyrical sweetness to her mastery of prosody and versification. Feminists held her as symbol of constrained female genius and a leader among 19th-century poets. (Wikipedia)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44996/goblin-market

 

All Souls by Michael Collier

Michael Collier was born in Phoenix, Arizona in 1953. His poems often reveal a fascination with objects and their significance; they are populated with, according to poet and critic James Longenbach, a “sinister and yet oddly comic cast of misfits, ogres and giants.” Collier himself has noted, “I suppose… that I believe almost literally in Williams’ notion of ‘no ideas but in things.’ I’m a consumer. I like things.” Beyond the surfaces of the things and characters, Collier’s poems reach for moments of truth and clarity. (Poetry Foundation)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48567/all-souls-56d229e85f66c

Hearing music in poetry

Today’s article is a return to this column’s roots: we’re discussing how to love poetry, which is what For Better or For Verse is built on.

 

I recently attended a creative writing class where we spent a lot of time on spoken word poetry, and turning poetry into music. I write free verse. My poetry doesn’t follow rules, at least not consciously. But music is inherent to poetry.

 

One thing that distinguishes poetry from prose is the way it sounds. Even without a clear rhyme scheme, without a rigid structure, verse is inherently more rhythmic than prose. Poetry understands that the lines between prose and verse and music will always be blurred, and inhabits that in-between place. To ignore the music in poetry is to do the poem a disservice. Just like everything else in the world, poetry requires attention and effort to be understood. And most importantly, I’ve found that noticing the music makes me enjoy the poem more. What you say is important, and so is how you say it. Today’s poems don’t have a theme when it comes to content, but they all have rhythm that gives me a delightful little buzz. Read these out.

 

For more in depth discussion of the music of poetry, read this lovely article from Poetry Foundation: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/articles/92652/the-music-of-poetry

Litany in Which Certain Things Are Crossed Out by Richard Siken

Richard Siken is a poet, painter, filmmaker, and an editor at Spork Press. In her profile of Siken, Nell Casey wrote, “he effectively juxtaposes holy wishes with mundane images—making them both seem beautiful by some strange lyrical alchemy.” His poems unwind on the page effortlessly, barely pausing for breath; the speaker’s voice wracked with sexual obsession. Siken is a recipient of a Pushcart Prize, two Arizona Commission on the Arts grants, and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He is also a full time social worker, and he lives in Tucson, Arizona. (Poetry Foundation)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48158/litany-in-which-certain-things-are-crossed-out


 

There was an Old Man of Thermopylæ by Edward Lear

Vivien Noakes fittingly subtitled her biography of Edward Lear ‘The Life of a Wanderer’. On a literal level the phrase refers to Lear’s constant traveling as a self-proclaimed “dirty landscape painter” from 1837 until he finally settled at his Villa Tennyson on the San Remo coast of Italy in 1880. But wandering, in that it suggests rootlessness, aimlessness, loneliness, and uncertainty, is also a metaphor for Lear’s emotional life and for the sense of melancholy that so often peeps through the playfully absurd surface of his nonsense verse.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44607/there-was-an-old-man-of-thermopylae

 

I Find Myself Defending Pigeons by Keith S. Wilson

Affrilachian poet Keith S. Wilson is the author of Fieldnotes on Ordinary Love (Copper Canyon Press, 2019). His poetry and prose have appeared in Elle, Poetry magazine, the Kenyon Review, and Crab Orchard Review, among others. Wilson's nonfiction has won an Indiana Review Nonfiction Prize and the Redivider Blurred Line Prize, and has been anthologized in the award-winning collection Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy. (Poetry Foundation)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/152735/i-find-myself-defending-pigeons

Opening your mouth

I’ve been trying to go out at least once a week, just to look around. School doesn’t count, classes don’t count, errands don’t count. Do you guys have any idea how many colours leaves come in? How the sun looks coming through the clouds at a thirty degree angle? How many gorgeous flowers there are on the ground, just waiting to be picked up?

 

We’ve spent two years indoors, and we’ve gotten used to stimulation that is filtered through a screen, lacking texture and taste. I’m not saying there was an alternative, but I’m saying get on your balcony, if you have one. Leave your phone inside. Open your mouth. There are beautiful things the world has to give us.

 

I love poetry partly because it takes these things seriously. I love poetry where love and beauty and life and trees are intertwined - and sometimes, deliciously indistinguishable. Today’s poetry is about this one life we have, and the earthly pleasures we can fill it with.

 

And yes, there’s a Mary Oliver poem recommendation. Dig your teeth in.

i am a verb

 

by Brishti Chakraborty

Previously published in Ice Lolly Review, Issue 13

 

i am a bird who walks. i am / a girl with a mouth that stays open. i am a girl with a / mouth that never learned to stop asking. my favourite colour is green but the trees i love / best have purple leaves. i think i am owed wonder. i think i am owed / ridiculousness / and i think i am owed / some slack. i am seventeen on a / good day, but my days are rarely good. birds don't usually have teeth, but i was just a / prototype. so i got to keep mine. i sharpen them / daily. ino longer worry that / they will disappear. clearly use is not what keeps me / whole. what they don't tell you about seventeen is that you get / three hundred and sixty five tries. i think i am owed a / few bad days. i will never cut my wings off and i will never / use them. i will dye them purple.

 

Brishti Chakraborty (she/her), our poetry editor and curator of this column, is a disabled teenage lesbian whose work has been published in or is upcoming in Fahmidan Journal, FEED Lit Mag, Sledgehammer Lit, and more. Her favourite poets are Anne Carson, Ocean Vuong and Leela Raj-Sankar. She writes poetry because it leaves her no place to hide.

The Summer Day by Mary Oliver

Mary Jane Oliver (September 10, 1935 – January 17, 2019) was an American poet who won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Her work is inspired by nature, rather than the human world, stemming from her lifelong passion for solitary walks in the wild. It is characterised by a sincere wonderment at the impact of natural imagery, conveyed in unadorned language. In 2007 she was declared to be the country's best-selling poet. (Wikipedia)

 

http://www.phys.unm.edu/~tw/fas/yits/archive/oliver_thesummerday.html


 

Kyoto: March by Gary Snyder

Gary Snyder began his career in the 1950s as a noted member of the “Beat Generation,” though he has since explored a wide range of social and spiritual matters in both poetry and prose. Snyder’s work blends physical reality and precise observations of nature with inner insight received primarily through the practice of Zen Buddhism. In an essay published in A Controversy of Poets, Snyder offered his own assessment of his art. “As a poet,” he wrote, “I hold the most archaic values on earth.” (Poetry Foundation)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/50613/kyoto-march

 

Iowa City: Early April by Robert Hass

Robert Hass is one of the most celebrated and widely-read contemporary American poets. In addition to his success as a poet, Hass is also recognized as a leading critic and translator, notably of the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz and Japanese haiku masters Basho, Buson, and Issa. Critics celebrate Hass’s own poetry for its clarity of expression, its concision, and its imagery, often drawn from everyday life. Hass is Distinguished Professor in Poetry and Poetics at the University of California, Berkeley, and lives in California with his wife, the poet Brenda Hillman. (Poetry Foundation)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/49913/iowa-city-early-april

Being of Use

The quote ‘What’s your dream job? I don’t dream of labour’ has been floating around the Internet for a few years now. It’s been attributed to, depending on your source, various Tiktok creators and Twitter users (and if one Reddit thread is to be believed, either James Baldwin or Eartha Kitt). While this is, at surface level, just a punchy little quip, it’s been on my mind for a few months now. The issue is that I do dream of labour. Insatiably.

 

My hypothesis is that we all dream of labour. Labour we can wrap our hands (or our minds) around. Very few of us want to go to work every day of our lives and see nothing come of it. I posit that this is not laziness. On the contrary, this is the desire to be useful. We all want to feel that we’ve changed the world for the better, even (and especially) if it is just our own world.

 

Let’s perform an experiment. I want you to, for fifteen seconds, close your eyes and visualise your ideal life. There’s probably a good amount of rest and relaxation in there. But did you paint your house? Did you cook your friends a nice meal? Did you go dancing? Did you read a physics textbook? Did you stay outside all night, plotting the positions of the stars?

 

We ache to do something we can see the results of. As Marge Piercy says in our second recommendation today, ‘The pitcher cries for water to carry / and a person for work that is real.’ Write a song today. Water a plant. Pick up a hammer.

Famous by Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi Shihab Nye was born in St. Louis, Missouri. Her father was a Palestinian refugee and her mother an American of German and Swiss descent, and Nye spent her adolescence in both Jerusalem and San Antonio, Texas. She earned her BA from Trinity University in San Antonio. Nye is the recipient of numerous honors and awards for her work. Nye’s experience of both cultural difference and different cultures has influenced much of her work. Known for poetry that lends a fresh perspective to ordinary events, people, and objects, Nye has said that, for her, “the primary source of poetry has always been local life, random characters met on the streets, our own ancestry sifting down to us through small essential daily tasks.” (Poetry Foundation)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47993/famous

 

To be of use by Marge Piercy

Marge Piercy was born in Detroit, Michigan, into a working-class family that had been hard-hit by the Depression. Piercy was the first member of her family to attend college, winning a scholarship to attend the University of Michigan. She earned an MA from Northwestern University. During the 1960s, Piercy was an organizer in political movements like the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the movement against the war in Vietnam, an engagement which has shaped her work in myriad ways. Perhaps most importantly, though, has been Piercy’s sustained involvement with feminism, Marxism, and environmental thought. Piercy’s poetry—frequently she writes a swift free verse—shows the same commitment to the social and environmental issues that fill her novels. (Poetry Foundation)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/57673/to-be-of-use

 

Laura Palmer Graduates by Amy Woolard

Amy Woolard is a legal aid attorney living in Charlottesville, Virginia. Her debut poetry collection, Neck of the Woods (Alice James Books, 2020), received the 2018 Alice James Prize. (Poetry Foundation)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/150746/laura-palmer-graduates

Putting in the Work

I get an email from the Poetry Foundation every day just past 7:30 pm, like clockwork. Every day, a gorgeous new poem to sink my teeth into, precisely at the time of day when life starts to feel unnecessary. And yet, today I read fifteen poems at a go. For the past fifteen days, I’ve been ignoring the Poetry Foundation notifications, letting poetry sit in my inbox. Yesterday, I found myself jokingly complaining to a friend about poems clogging up my email.

 

I subscribed to the Poetry Foundation. On days that feel empty and meaningless, a new poem invariably makes me feel better. These past couple weeks have been difficult, what with school starting up and my illness and daily meetings. This was the time that I needed my daily poem the most. And yet I decided to scroll on my phone instead, to do excessive and unnecessary homework, to rewatch ‘comfort’ movies that don’t help me anymore. When we treat ourselves like we’re doomed to just barely scrape by, we make it true. You can’t get excited if you’re not looking at things that are new.

 

We lock ourselves into our minds. Half the time, we decide that we’re going to go through a difficult time, and then we make it so. It’s easier to decide that the world is a cruel place, and resign yourself to feeling bad. It’s easier not to make an effort, not to take the blame. But is that how you want to live? Personally, I’m going to read my daily poem. Today’s recommendations are some of my favourites from the fifteen I should have been reading last week.

How to Be Perfect by Ron Padgett

Poet, editor, and translator Ron Padgett was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As a high-school student he founded the avant-garde literary journal The White Dove Review with his friends and fellow students Joe Brainard and Dick Gallup. Soliciting and publishing work from poets such as Allen Ginsberg and Robert Creeley, the magazine ran for five issues. In 2018, Padgett received the Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America, presented for distinguished lifetime achievement in poetry. Voice Literary Supplement contributor Karen Volkman called Padgett’s 1995 New and Selected Poems “a fine sampling of a restless, hilarious, and haunting lyric intelligence, a ‘phony’ whose variable voices form a rare and raucous orchestration: the real thing.” (Poetry Foundation)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/57243/how-to-be-perfect

 

Summer by Chen Chen

Dr. Chen Chen is a poet and essayist interested in Asian American histories and futures, family (bio & found), queer friendship, multilingualism, hybrid texts, humor, and pop culture. Chen Chen’s second poetry collection, Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency, is forthcoming from BOA Editions in 2022. His first book of essays, In Cahoots with the Rabbit God, is forthcoming from Noemi Press in 2023. He teaches at Brandeis University. (chenchenwrites.com)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/155509/summer-601d832f76f2d

 

I want to drown in the past and call it the best decision of my life by Laura Marie Marciano

Laura Marie Marciano is the author of Mall Brat (CCM, 2016). Interested in the intersections of art, theory, and commerce, Marciano promotes intertextual poetry through her media collective gemstone readings and formally co-curated a multi-disciplined, experiential poetry exhibition series at Artbook at MoMA PS1. She teaches poetry courses online through her initiative soft lands poetry, and is currently a visiting assistant professor of writing at Lehigh University. 

(Poetry Foundation) https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/157979/i-want-to-drown-in-the-past-and-call-it-the-best-decision-of-my-life

Pride 

I am a lesbian. I’ve spent years trying to find ways to explain myself that felt true. I went from ‘I’m sexually attracted to women’ (untrue, at the age of eleven, and not at all the point I wanted to make) to ‘I have crushes on girls’ (true, at times, but I am no less a lesbian at times when I don’t have a crush) to ‘I love women’ (not specific enough; I love men as well, and everyone else. Also, by this age, sexual attraction was no longer irrelevant). Recently, I’ve realized that I don’t need to explain myself to anyone, not even myself. No straight person is required to define what it means to be straight. No queer person has ever asked me to explain what it means to be a lesbian. It is not my job to spoon feed my daily life to straight people.

 

Queerness is too often dictated by mostly derogatory stereotypes. Being queer is always too sexual, or not sexual at all, or a lifestyle, or a choice, or a perversion, or a trend, or a punishment. The one thing all these stereotypes have in common is treating queerness like a spectacle. To me, it is not a spectacle, simply because I have lived it my whole life. I am sexually attracted to women. I have crushes on girls. I love women. These are all true, and they are not anywhere near enough to explain what queerness means to me. Queerness means community. It means love, and hope, and finding a way of life I never knew existed. It means pain, and oppression, and the fear that I will never be able to live safely. But most of all it means truth. 

 

The way the world sees queer people will always affect how I experience my own identity, but that doesn’t mean it defines me. Nothing defines me. Most importantly, I don’t have to be defined. We’re all figuring ourselves out, and I am only seventeen years old. I have time to create and experience love, and desire, and sex, and community. I have my whole life ahead of me, and I hope that when I am older, it will be easier for young people to discover and live their lives. 

 

Pride does not mean we are the same as straight people. Pride does not mean we want to be the same as straight people. It doesn’t mean we want to be treated the same, because we are not the same. It means we want to be free to live our messy, complicated, glorious, honest lives. It means love is love, but it also means so much more. Pride means I am not you, and I don’t want to be. I am a lesbian, and I am proud.

 

Today’s recommendations are all by queer poets I look up to immensely, and they are about love, safety, community, belonging, fear, and above all, the world we create for ourselves. Keep your minds and hearts open. Happy pride month, everyone!


 

[Didn’t Sappho say her guts clutched up like this?] by Marilyn Hacker

Marilyn Hacker is an award-winning poet best known for formal poems that mix high culture and colloquial speech. The dazzling variety of verse forms on display in Presentation Piece includes sonnets, sestinas, villanelles, blank verse, and heroic couplets—all forms that Hacker uses in subsequent work. Within a traditional poetics, Hacker couches the urgency of love, desire and alienation in brash, up-to-the minute language, writing from her perspective as a feminist, a lesbian, and someone who has suffered from cancer. (Poetry Foundation)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/49261/didnt-sappho-say-her-guts-clutched-up-like-this

 

Home Wrecker by Ocean Vuong

Born in Saigon, poet and editor Ocean Vuong was raised in Hartford, Connecticut, and earned a BA at Brooklyn College (CUNY). In his poems, he often explores transformation, desire, and violent loss. His work has been translated into Hindi, Korean, Russian, and Vietnamese. His honors include fellowships from the Elizabeth George Foundation, Poets House, Kundiman, and the Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts as well as an Academy of American Poets Prize, an American Poetry Review Stanley Kunitz Prize for Younger Poets, a Pushcart Prize, and a Beloit Poetry Journal Chad Walsh Poetry Prize. (Poetry Foundation)

https://linebreak.org/poems/home-wrecker/

 

A Litany for Survival by Audre Lorde

A self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” Audre Lorde dedicated both her life and her creative talent to confronting and addressing injustices of racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia. Her experiences with teaching and pedagogy—as well as her place as a Black, queer woman in white academia—went on to inform her life and work. Indeed, Lorde’s contributions to feminist theory, critical race studies, and queer theory intertwine her personal experiences with broader political aims. (Poetry Foundation)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/147275/a-litany-for-survival

 

A Poem for Pulse by Jameson Ftizpatrick

Jameson Fitzpatrick is the author of Pricks in the Tapestry (Birds, LLC, 2020), and the chapbooks Mr. & (Indolent Books, 2018) and Morrisroe: Erasures (89plus/LUMA Publications, 2014). Fitzpatrick teaches at New York University. (Poetry Foundation)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/147304/a-poem-for-pulse

 

Winter by Timothy Liu

The son of Chinese immigrants, poet Timothy Liu was born in San Jose, California. He earned a BA at Brigham Young University and an MA at the University of Houston. He spent two years as a missionary in Hong Kong, though he no longer practices Mormonism. Liu counts as early mentors Welsh poet Leslie Norris, poet Richard Howard, and writer Gordon Lish. Paying attention to formal constraints such as syllabics, Liu’s poetry explores identity, violence, sexuality, and the power of witness. (Poetry Foundation)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/54514/winter-56d234f154b1f

 

Summering in Wildwood, NJ by Kayleb Rae Candrilli

Kayleb Rae Candrilli is author of Water I Won't Touch (Copper Canyon, 2021), All the Gay Saints (Saturnalia Books, 2020), and What Runs Over (YesYes Books, 2017). They are the recipient of a Whiting Award and of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. In September 2021, Candrilli was a guest blogger for Harriet. (Poetry Foundation)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/156851/summering-in-wildwood-nj

Looking Around

I've spent most of the past week commuting - I've had more exams than days. Somewhere between the calculus and the traffic, I stopped looking out the window and started counting my breaths. As I said in my last article, sometimes the extent of the living you can do is just keeping yourself afloat. 

 

At dinner the night before my calculus exam, a two hour drive away from the physics and computer science exams I'd taken that day, the restaurant started playing Michael Jackson's Billie Jean, and it felt like a breath of fresh air. I smiled at my mother for the first time in days. And then something magical happened - every time a new song came on, I would pause for a second, and yes, that was Michael Jackson again. The owner saw me dancing to Billie Jean, and decided to do what he could to give me a good day.

 

It didn't fix everything; I got nauseated in the car afterwards, I snapped at my parents, I couldn't stomach texting my friends, and my legs hurt all night. But it didn't have to fix everything. Someone had been kind to me, when they didn't have to be. And for those twenty minutes at the restaurant, Michael Jackson had been playing. Sometimes that's enough.

 

Today’s poems are about the ways in which we help each other. In difficult times, we keep ourselves afloat. This is not a solitary activity. Reach out. Look around. Pay attention.

Having a Coke with You by Frank O’Hara

Frank O'Hara was a dynamic leader of the "New York School" of poets, a group that included John Ashbery, Barbara Guest, Kenneth Koch, and James Schuyler. The Abstract Expressionist painters in New York City during the 1950s and 1960s used the title, but the poets borrowed it. From the beginning O'Hara's poetry was engaged with the worlds of music, dance, and painting. In that complex of associations he devised an idea of poetic form that allowed the inclusion of many kinds of events, including everyday conversations and notes about New York advertising signs. (Poetry Foundation)

https://poets.org/poem/having-coke-you

 

Red Brocade by Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi Shihab Nye was born in St. Louis, Missouri. Her father was a Palestinian refugee and her mother an American of German and Swiss descent, and Nye spent her adolescence in both Jerusalem and San Antonio, Texas. She earned her BA from Trinity University in San Antonio. Nye is the recipient of numerous honors and awards for her work. Nye’s experience of both cultural difference and different cultures has influenced much of her work. Known for poetry that lends a fresh perspective to ordinary events, people, and objects, Nye has said that, for her, “the primary source of poetry has always been local life, random characters met on the streets, our own ancestry sifting down to us through small essential daily tasks.” (Poetry Foundation)

https://poets.org/poem/red-brocade

 

To Be of Use by Maggie Piercy

Marge Piercy was born in Detroit, Michigan, into a working-class family that had been hard-hit by the Depression. Piercy was the first member of her family to attend college, winning a scholarship to attend the University of Michigan. She earned an MA from Northwestern University. During the 1960s, Piercy was an organizer in political movements like the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the movement against the war in Vietnam, an engagement which has shaped her work in myriad ways. Perhaps most importantly, though, has been Piercy’s sustained involvement with feminism, Marxism, and environmental thought.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/57673/to-be-of-use

Staying afloat

I’m having the most frenzied summer I’ve ever had. When this article is published, I will have started writing my board exams. I try not to get too overtly personal in these, but sometimes there’s no ignoring the circumstances I’m in, and I know many of you are going through similar things yourselves. At times like these, it’s imperative to keep yourself afloat - for me, that means good food, good friends, and good poetry. There isn’t a theme, this time. These are some poems that keep me, and hopefully, you, going.

To be punished

By Akshaj Balaji

 

toes 

       leaking
                  out
                       the 

                            blanket on a cold night

refuse to listen as I ruffle around the bed, freezing.

the chill on the bottom of my exposed feet is a knife cut

the
    blanket is stubborn 

 

at the dead of my night,

my
    nails
           tear
                 through 

                           my scalp over and over

white flakes of dried skin pour down like rain drops

I scrunch my face, forcing myself to stop scratching, but

the
      itch won’t go away.

 

the blanket and the itch
hard to handle.
should they be punished?

 

inconveniences happen, sure,

but you cannot punish an object, a feeling, yourself for something with no fault
roll                                                 cut
      into                                               your
            a                                                   nails
               ball and wear socks.                             and oil your hair.
   

 

the next time, at the dead of night, I will not complain, 

i will not tantrum, not get aggressive

i will not, cannot, punish things with no comprehension
because I am not going to blame my life’s problems on a blanket and an itch.

Akshaj (Chaand) is a high school student who loves writing and is considered by many as a generic music student. Akshaj dabbles in poetry whenever possible and really enjoys playing with his cats.

A Little Closer to the Edge by Ocean Vuong

Born in Saigon, poet and editor Ocean Vuong was raised in Hartford, Connecticut, and earned a BA at Brooklyn College (CUNY). In his poems, he often explores transformation, desire, and violent loss. (Poetry Foundation)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/88734/a-little-closer-to-the-edge

 

Ways of Rebelling by Nathalie Handal

French-American poet, playwright, translator, and editor Nathalie Handal is originally of a Palestinian family from Bethlehem. Handal’s poetry draws on her experiences of dislocation, home, travel, and exile. Critic Catherine Fletcher writes, “While alternating stylistically between the narrative—tinged by the Romantic tradition—and the slightly surreal, much of Handal’s work is also marked by various forms of fragmentation.” (Poetry Foundation)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/58509/ways-of-rebelling

 

In this short Life that only lasts an hour (1292) by Emily Dickinson

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was an American poet. Little-known during her life, she has since been regarded as one of the most important figures in American poetry. Many of her poems deal with themes of death and immortality, two recurring topics in letters to her friends, and also explore aesthetics, society, nature and spirituality. (Wikipedia)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/56456/in-this-short-life-that-only-lasts-an-hour-1292

 

I’ll Open the Window by Anna Swir

Anna Swir (Świrszczyńska) was born in Warsaw, Poland, to an artistic though impoverished family. She worked from an early age, supporting herself while she attended university to study medieval Polish literature. Swir’s awards include the Krzyz Kawalerski Oderu Odrodzenia Polski (1957), Krzyz Oficersk Orderu Odrodzenia Polski (1975), Nagroda miasta Krakowa (1976), and Medal Komisji Edukacji Narodowej. (Poetry Foundation)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48640/ill-open-the-window

 

For the Boy Standing Under the Drainpipe by Cheryl Savageau

Of Abenaki and French Canadian heritage, Cheryl Savageau was born in central Massachusetts. She graduated from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, and studied writing at the People’s Poets and Writers Workshop in Worcester. Savageau’s poetry retells Abenaki stories, often focusing on the unrecognized lives of women and the working class; her work is enriched by the landscape and ecology of New England.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/157466/for-the-boy-standing-under-the-drainpipe

Mixing Things Up

I just turned seventeen years old. I try my best to act and think like an adult, as best I can, but sometimes I feel my inexperience and naïveté show through. Recently, though, I’ve been thinking that this might be a flawed way of looking at it; I’m seventeen, and I am possessed by a sense of urgency and wonder I expect most people lose with age. I’m going to milk it.

 

Recently, I’ve been feeling excessively like everything is getting mixed up. I’m old enough now that I understand larger, global problems, but I also attach an incredible level of importance to my interpersonal issues. As I learn with age that things can be nuanced, I’ve noticed that everything has grown extremely important to me - and that it’s all escaping the neat little boxes I put it in. As much as we try to pretend otherwise, everything is connected. There’s no separating the state of the world from the state of your friend group, because you are an active participant in both.

 

In today’s article, we have a poem from me, and some recommendations that acknowledge and play with the fact that everything is gloriously intertwined.

FUTILITY

 

By Brishti Chakraborty

Previously published in Volume II of the borderline

 

come on, pick up, do you really think being sixteen is worth it? i only repost the instagram 

infographics that are the right shade of pink and i never listen to the wrong bands / it’s 

true that hands are all you need to make music but then again / a beating heart is all you 

need to make a difference, and i never fucking do / build bridges over oil spills, smile / for 

the camera, strike outside school, strike a pose, grab my hand,

 

RUN!

 

there’s everything to do so let’s lie on my bed / i’m empty on a thursday night, i throw 

out whatever i can, scream like a bat so no one hears me / when you’re a teenager you live 

a hundred lives, but mostly you live none / i sit at the bottom of  my fig tree, at least the 

wasps are getting a good deal out of  it / and the tree will burn soon anyway, so i’ll find 

another analogy / i want to push myself out of my body, brown-red splat! / but my parents 

rented this apartment with its too-white walls / anyway, i’ve never been to a real teenage 

party, and i hope i do soon / text me when you get this

 

Brishti Chakraborty (she/her), our poetry editor and curator of this column, is a disabled teenage lesbian whose work has been published in or is upcoming in Fahmidan Journal, FEED Lit Mag, Sledgehammer Lit, and more. Her favourite poets are Anne Carson, Ocean Vuong and Leela Raj-Sankar. She writes poetry because it leaves her no place to hide.

Our Beautiful Life When It’s Filled with Shrieks by Christopher Citro

Christopher Citro is the author of If We Had a Lemon We’d Throw It and Call That the Sun (Elixir Press, 2021), winner of the 2019 Antivenom Poetry Award, and The Maintenance of the Shimmy-Shammy (Steel Toe Books, 2015). His honors include a 2018 Pushcart Prize for poetry, a 2019 fellowship from the Ragdale Foundation, Columbia Journal‘s poetry award, and a creative nonfiction award from The Florida Review. (christophercitro.com)

https://www.rattle.com/our-beautiful-life-when-its-filled-with-shrieks-by-christopher-citro/

 

As Good as Anything by Alice Notley

Alice Notley has become one of America’s greatest living poets. She has long written in narrative and epic and genre-bending modes to discover new ways to explore the nature of the self and the social and cultural importance of disobedience. The artist Rudy Burckhardt once wrote that Notley may be “our present-day Homer.” In an interview with the Kenyon Review, Notley noted: “I think I try with my poems to create a beginning space. I always seem to be erasing and starting over, rather than picking up where I left off, even if I wind up taking up the same themes. This is probably one reason that I change form and style so much, out of a desire to find a new beginning, which is always the true beginning.” (Poetry Foundation)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/58192/as-good-as-anything

 

The Night After You Lose Your Job by Debora Kuan

Debora Kuan is the author of two poetry collections, Lunch Portraits (Brooklyn Arts Press, 2016) and XING (Saturnalia Books, 2011). She has received residencies at Yaddo, MacDowell, and the Santa Fe Art Institute, and is the Poet Laureate of Wallingford, Connecticut. (Poetry Foundation)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/156057/the-night-after-you-lose-your-job

Letting Yourself Breathe

It’s hard to look life in the face, good and bad both, and decide to stay hopeful. Sometimes things suck. Sometimes things are fantastic. Most of the time, it’s neither. It’s tempting to create a black and white world in your head, one in which there is no confusion, no bothersome nuance. 

 

In an earlier article, I pushed for readers to realise we are alive right now, in the in-betweens. I said it is our choice to make a life worth enjoying. But even if you have the best of intentions, there will be times when there is no salvaging a bad day. Times when your black and white world is all black.

 

My favourite parts of my bothersome nuanced world are the colours. As Marty McConnell says in our first poem recommendation today, “Maybe it’s time to celebrate the hideous. Not / to confess with some hope for absolution, / but to gather all the terrible selves and minutes / and show them the trees, and the way the rain // has just abated so the air has ocean in it / though we’re dry and waiting.”

When they say you can’t go home again, what they mean is you were never there by Marty McConnell

Part of the vanguard of poets fusing and refusing and queering the delineations between literary and oral poetry, Marty McConnell’s work blurs the lines between autobiography and personae to comment on and illuminate what it means to live and love outside the lines in 21st century America. (martyoutloud.com)

https://theadroitjournal.org/issue-seventeen-marty-mcconnell-the-adroit-journal

 

Instructions on Not Giving Up by Ada Limón

Born March 28, 1976, Ada Limón is originally from Sonoma, California. As a child, she was greatly influenced by the visual arts and artists, including her mother, Stacia Brady. In 2001 she received an MFA from the Creative Writing Program at New York University. Of Limón's work, the poet Richard Blanco writes, "Both soft and tender, enormous and resounding, her poetic gestures entrance and transfix." (Poetry Foundation)

https://poets.org/poem/instructions-not-giving

 

Lines for Winter by Mark Strand

Mark Strand was recognized as one of the premier American poets of his generation as well as an accomplished editor, translator, and prose writer. The hallmarks of his style are precise language, surreal imagery, and the recurring theme of absence and negation; later collections investigate ideas of the self with pointed, often urbane wit. (Poetry Foundation)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/50977/lines-for-winter

Changing the World

We touch the world with our bare hands. 

 

I have long been interested in the concept of changing the world; not necessarily for the better. The way I see it, humans have one unique advantage over the sky and the ocean and the mountains: agency. We can decide to do things. 

 

We will never be perfect, and we will not even be here for long. Why spend your tiny amount of time alive trying to be perfect when you can change things and be loud and use the one thing you have that nature doesn’t? 

 

Today’s article has a poem I wrote about this, and some gorgeous recommendations that remind me that we are all human, and that there’s nothing I’d rather be.

the difference between i swear and i promise

By Brishti Chakraborty

Previously published in Volume II of the borderline

 

say your words loud and

sharp, stumbling over your

teeth. we spend our lives

pretending to have been born

small, born meek, born grateful.

we spend our lives pretending

that we want to inherit this earth.

my greatest crime is not that i

want. it is that i take. open your

eyes, take it all in. the birds have

been here forever. the sky has

been here forever. the ground has

been here forever. jump as high

as you can, and land harder. i will

not be here forever. when i leave,

i will stir up the dust.

Brishti Chakraborty (she/her), our poetry editor and curator of this column, is a disabled teenage lesbian whose work has been published in or is upcoming in Fahmidan Journal, FEED Lit Mag, Sledgehammer Lit, and more. Her favourite poets are Anne Carson, Ocean Vuong and Leela Raj-Sankar. She writes poetry because it leaves her no place to hide.

Poplar Street by Chen Chen

Dr. Chen Chen is a poet and essayist interested in Asian American histories and futures, family (bio & found), queer friendship, multilingualism, hybrid texts, humor, and pop culture. Chen Chen’s second poetry collection, Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency, is forthcoming from BOA Editions in 2022. His first book of essays, In Cahoots with the Rabbit God, is forthcoming from Noemi Press in 2023. He teaches at Brandeis University.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/58154/poplar-street

 

Is It A Burden by Dorothea Lasky

Dorothea Lasky was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. Lasky’s poems have appeared in a number of prominent publications, including the New Yorker, Paris Review, and American Poetry Review. Known for her colloquial, even slangy style and dramatic readings, Lasky acknowledges that “there is a kind of arrogance, a kind of supreme power, that when infused with a little real humility and expertise, makes a poem. Because the poem is always about the speaker.” (Poetry Foundation)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/156834/is-it-a-burden

 

In this short Life that only lasts an hour (1292) by Emily Dickinson

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was an American poet. Little-known during her life, she has since been regarded as one of the most important figures in American poetry. Many of her poems deal with themes of death and immortality, two recurring topics in letters to her friends, and also explore aesthetics, society, nature and spirituality. (Wikipedia)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/56456/in-this-short-life-that-only-lasts-an-hour-1292

What  Love Means to Me

I think love is the most important thing in the world. Platonic love, romantic love, the various other kinds my friends have explored at length in their columns - they are the meat of life. In this article, I’m not going to try to draw lines between different kinds of love; I’m going to focus, instead, on trying to explain what love means to me, using poetry.

 

Firstly, my poem, On building a home. This poem is almost two years old now, and I still think it is the closest I’ve ever gotten to explaining what love is to me. Love is knowledge. It is the desire to know someone as intimately as they will let you. It is knowing the figs will rot and writing a poem about it. Living for endless months of new figs that will go bad.

 

Now for our poetry recommendations. All of these poems represent, to me, the way love grows from the smallest things, and from paying attention to them. Read them keeping in mind the ways we see the world through the people we love - and vice versa.

 

Happy Valentine’s day. Drop a heart emoji in my messages.

ON BUILDING A HOME

Brishti Chakraborty

Previously published in FEED Lit Mag

 

The figs are almost ripe

They are green, but a hint of mauve escapes them. 

I like them unripe, but you say ‘let’s give them one more day’

Tomorrow they will be brown and purple

You will smell them and say ‘I guess we’ll have figs another day’

A month later you will throw open the door,

Say, ‘Honey, I brought figs!’

And I will kiss you

 

Brishti Chakraborty (she/her), our poetry editor and curator of this column, is a disabled teenage lesbian whose work has been published in or is upcoming in Fahmidan Journal, FEED Lit Mag, Sledgehammer Lit, and more. Her favourite poets are Anne Carson, Ocean Vuong and Leela Raj-Sankar. She writes poetry because it leaves her no place to hide.

Bird-Understander by Craig Arnold

Craig Arnold earned his BA in English from Yale University and his PhD in creative writing from the University of Utah. Arnold’s second collection of poetry, Made Flesh (2008), is “motored by vividly earthy language and disguised philosophical sophistication,” observed Publishers Weekly in a starred review. In 2009, Arnold traveled to Japan to research volcanoes for a planned book of poetry. In April of that year, he disappeared while hiking on the island of Kuchinoerabujima.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/52207/bird-understander

 

Lines Depicting Simple Happiness by Peter Gizzi

Influenced by Ezra Pound, the Beat Poets, and John Ashbery, Peter Gizzi uses both narrative and lyrical gestures to engage and question distance and light in his search for the unmapped. Reflecting on the question of whether his work is narrative or lyric, Gizzi stated in an interview with Poetry Daily, “I think I am a narrative poet—I’m just narrating my bewilderment as a citizen.”

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/51788/lines-depicting-simple-happiness

 

Windchime by Tony Hoagland

Tony Hoagland was born in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He earned a BA from the University of Iowa and an MFA from the University of Arizona. Hoagland’s poetry is known for its acerbic, witty take on contemporary life and “straight talk,” in the words of New York Times reviewer Dwight Garner: “At his frequent best … Hoagland is demonically in touch with the American demotic.”

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48145/windchime

Keeping Your Ears Open  

We only have poem recommendations today. I considered putting one of my own poems in this issue, but I want to start this year listening instead. And these poems I’ve recommended are worth listening to.

 

 A new year objectively doesn’t change anything, but isn’t it nice to imagine it does? It’s a new chance. A reminder to evaluate what you’re doing, what you want, and who you are. As Lucille Clifton states in poem recommendation 3, “i am running into a new year / and i beg what i love and / i leave to forgive me.”

 

Happy new year. Let it treat you well.

New Year’s Day by Kim Addonizio

Kim Addonizio was born in Washington DC, the daughter of a former tennis champion and a sports writer. She currently lives in San Francisco. Daniela Gioseffi, writing in the American Book Review, affirmed that Addonizio “is wise and crafty in her observations and her portrayal of sensual love, filial feeling, death or loss.” Gioseffi contended that Addonizio “is most profound when she’s philosophizing about the transient quality of life and its central realization of mortality.” (Poetry Foundation)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/42518

 

Burning the Old Year by Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi Shihab Nye was born in St. Louis, Missouri. Her father was a Palestinian refugee and her mother an American of German and Swiss descent, and Nye spent her adolescence in both Jerusalem and San Antonio, Texas. Nye’s experience of both cultural difference and different cultures has influenced much of her work. Known for poetry that lends a fresh perspective to ordinary events, people, and objects, Nye has said that, for her, “the primary source of poetry has always been local life, random characters met on the streets, our own ancestry sifting down to us through small essential daily tasks.” (Poetry Foundation)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48597

 

i am running into a new year by Lucille Clifton

Lucille Clifton was born in 1936 in DePew, New York, and grew up in Buffalo. She studied at Howard University, before transferring to SUNY Fredonia, near her hometown. She was discovered as a poet by Langston Hughes. A prolific and widely respected poet, Lucille Clifton’s work emphasizes endurance and strength through adversity, focusing particularly on African-American experience and family life. Awarding the prestigious Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize to Clifton in 2007, the judges remarked that “One always feels the looming humaneness around Lucille Clifton’s poems—it is a moral quality that some poets have and some don’t.”

https://wordsfortheyear.com/2015/01/04/i-am-running-into-a-new-year-by-lucille-clifton/

Love

My friend Akshaj (or Chaand, to friends) has a poem in this article. It’s a gorgeous piece, one that deserves an entire article built around it. It exists in a peculiar space between violence and recognition, one I write in very often myself. I tried to make this article one about violence, or pain, or war, but I couldn’t. Maybe because I love Chaand so much - or maybe because the poem is so compassionate. Whatever the reason, I found myself gravitating towards poems about love and connection instead while drafting this article. I think they work a lot better.

 

Oh, and sink your teeth into the recommendations today. They deserve it.

Punching the wall

By Akshaj Balaji

 

I don’t skip a beat,

Don't take a single second.

Absorbing all the heat,

Projecting it right back and

Not thinking twice.

A cool shiver down my spine,

I will pray the price

For lashing out, crossing the line.

 

I paid the price.

And I pray that I 

Will learn from my cries

And that part of me will die.

I reflect on the past year,

And I make a call.

For me and those dear,

Think before I punch the wall. 

 

Hear I did; from mistakes, learned

I worked on myself everyday,

And I seem to have steered

To promising better ways.

I may seem shaky now and then,

But I take note of the shivers,

And don't fumble again.

I promise to try and deliver.

 

The next time I feel the weight 

The next time I draw in anger - 

Talking, not leaving things up to fate,

I promise to sheathe the dagger.

I promise to cool down and

Learn to get up when I fall.

I promise to realise it is only my hand

That will hurt when I punch the wall.


 

Akshaj (Chaand) is a high school student who loves writing and is considered by many as a generic music student. Akshaj dabbles in poetry whenever possible and really enjoys writing.

For M by Mikko Harvey

Mikko Harvey is the author of Unstable Neighbourhood Rabbit (House of Anansi, 2018). He currently lives in Saugerties, New York. (poets.org)

https://www.foundryjournal.com/harvey.html

 

Perhaps the World Ends Here by Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. Harjo draws on First Nation storytelling and histories, as well as feminist and social justice poetic traditions, and frequently incorporates indigenous myths, symbols, and values into her writing. Her poetry inhabits landscapes—the Southwest, Southeast, but also Alaska and Hawaii—and centers around the need for remembrance and transcendence. (Poetry Foundation)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/49622/perhaps-the-world-ends-here

 

The Quiet World by Jeffrey McDaniel

Jeffrey McDaniel is the author of five books of poetry, most recently Chapel of Inadvertent Joy (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013). Other books include The Endarkenment (Pittsburgh, 2008), The Splinter Factory (Manic D, 2002), The Forgiveness Parade (Manic D Press, 1998), and Alibi School (Manic D, 1995). His poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Best American Poetry (1994 and 2010). A recipient of an NEA Fellowship, he teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and lives in the Hudson Valley. (Poetry Foundation)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/49238/the-quiet-world

Choosing to Live

It’s exam season. I’ve been in a strange state of mind for the past week, and it’s probably going to last for quite a while. What throws me off my game during exam season (aside from the exams themselves) is the way I feel like my life has been put on hold — I stop creating, I stop learning, I stop dancing. 

 

This is not a sensation unique to exam season. I’m halfway through eleventh grade right now. I, like many of my friends, have felt on multiple occasions that I’m just living week to week — that one day I’m going to have a life I enjoy, but that’s going to happen magically some time in my mid twenties, and I don’t have to do anything to get there.

 

This may be a feeling you’re familiar with. I’m going to let you in on a secret: we’re all alive right now. Every mundane thing happening to us is part of our lives. We decide whether or not we let ourselves enjoy it. Whether or not we make it a life worth enjoying.

 

Today, we have a poem I wrote that expresses this sentiment better than my prose ever could, and a few poetry recommendations I want you to read while thinking about how to live with intention.

Cinnamon

By Brishti Chakraborty

 

This is your life. Open your hands.

 

I know you're in your nightgown. I know it's

A little too warm outside and you wish

You didn't have to hear sirens right now.

 

In your dreams the future is polite and

Understanding. It comes on time, stays

For dinner. In your dreams you do everything

Right. In your dreams you're so perfect.

 

And you wake up anyway.

 

When the future comes early, shiny new scary scared,

With its tie too loose and dirt on its sneakers,

And you stumble over the rug getting to the door —

This is your life.

 

Open your hands.

Brishti Chakraborty (she/her), our poetry editor and curator of this column, is a disabled teenage lesbian whose work has been published in or is upcoming in Fahmidan Journal, FEED Lit Mag, Sledgehammer Lit, and more. Her favourite poets are Anne Carson, Ocean Vuong and Leela Raj-Sankar. She writes poetry because it leaves her no place to hide.

Da Capo by Jane Hirshfield

Jane Hirschfield is a poet well known for the use of themes such as awareness, consciousness, and an engagement with the vicissitudes of both the world’s outer events and more interior realms. “I felt that I’d never make much of a poet if I didn’t know more than I knew at that time about what it means to be a human being,” Hirshfield once said. “I don’t think poetry is based just on poetry; it is based on a thoroughly lived life.” (Poetry Foundation)

https://gladdestthing.com/poems/da-capo

 

Antilamentation by Dorianne Laux

Laux’s free-verse poems are sensual and grounded, and they reveal the poet as a compassionate witness to the everyday. She observed in an interview for the website Readwritepoem, “Poems keep us conscious of the importance of our individual lives ... personal witness of a singular life, seen cleanly and with the concomitant well-chosen particulars, is one of the most powerful ways to do this.” (Poetry Foundation)

https://wordsfortheyear.com/2018/04/17/antilamentation-by-dorianne-laux-repost-2/

 

What the Living Do by Marie Howe

Marie Howe was born in 1950 in Rochester, New York. She worked as a newspaper reporter and teacher before receiving her MFA from Columbia University in 1983.What the Living Do is in many ways an elegy for her brother, John, who died of AIDS in 1989. In 1995, she coedited the anthology In the Company of My Solitude: American Writing from the AIDS Pandemic. (Poets.org)

https://poets.org/poem/what-living-do

Taking Poetry Seriously 

Today, I wanted to talk about one of the hardest things you need to do if you want to take poetry seriously - take yourself seriously. When I started writing poetry, I was wary of being too vulnerable, giving too much away. I thought I sounded pretentious and annoying, pretending my life and my thoughts were worth pretty metaphors. I had been reading poetry for a while, and I couldn’t write any without comparing myself to, for example, Richard Siken. I couldn’t take my poetry seriously because I didn’t take myself seriously.

 

Now, when I write poetry, I try to set aside the fear that I won’t be able to write what I think, or that I’ll sound stupid. I think poetry is one of the most honest forms of art because you can’t hide behind form and structure and extra words - at least, not if you’re any good. Your work necessarily follows the rhythm of the thoughts in your head. But if your thoughts are tentative, if you don’t trust yourself to express them in a way that does them justice, then your words are tentative too. Don’t laugh your thoughts off. Give poetry (and yourself) the respect it’s (and you’re) owed. 

 

And if my poetry is ever as sincere as the poems in this issue, especially Rootedness by brilliant founder and friend Snigdha Dhameja, I will be satisfied. 

Rootedness

By Snigdha Dhameja

 

Places shuffled in a deck of cards and we pick one every two years.

 

Belongings in a suitcase,

Belonging left behind

Comfort in cardboard boxes,

Something lost; I'll never find.

 

No matter where we went,

I always seemed to hate the new place

Mind racing like the planes we flew in

Smiling wide, saving grace.

 

Cities one two and three

Schools three four and five

Friendships broken, mended, lost

Changes many, but still I've

 

Kept going, kept it all

Inside so it won't leak

"I hate it here”

“They think that I'm a freak

 

Of nature.” Silent, obedient,

Lashing out inside.

Places shuffling, bags packed again

Mother replies: We tried.

 

Snigdha Dhameja (she/her) is constantly confused. When she’s not trying to understand why, she writes. ‘Rootedness’ is the first poem she’s written since she was 10 years old.

The Thing Is by Ellen Bass

Poet and teacher Ellen Bass grew up in New Jersey. She earned an MA in creative writing from Boston University, where she studied with Anne Sexton. Bass’s style is direct; she has noted, “I work to speak in a voice that is meaningful communication. Poetry is the most intimate of all writing. I want to speak from me to myself and then from me to you.” (Poetry Foundation)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/151844/the-thing-is

 

Everything Needs Fixing by Karla Cordero

Karla Cordero is the author of How To Pull Apart The Earth (Not a Cult, 2018), which won the San Diego Book Award and was a finalist for the International Book Award and the International Latino Book Award. She is a professor of creative writing and composition at MiraCosta College and San Diego City College and lives in San Diego, California. (poets.org)

https://poets.org/poem/everything-needs-fixing

 

Signs by Larry Levis

Larry Levis was born the son of a grape grower; he grew up driving a tractor, picking grapes, and pruning vines in Selma, California, a small fruit-growing town in the San Joaquin Valley. Levis often employed an imagist or surrealist approach in his work. As Diane Wakoski wrote in Contemporary Poets, Levis’s “work is best when the poems are short and are shaped by his imagist instincts or his gestures towards surrealism. He is a master of the brief moment of recognition where the personal is embedded in the generic … and the least effective when he allows nostalgia to reign over or shape his poems.” (Wikipedia and Poetry Foundation)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47941/signs

Poetry and Our Place in the World

Today, we’re connecting poetry. We’re thinking critically. In previous issues, I’ve recommended poems randomly, with no overarching theme or idea. This is because I didn’t think I was qualified enough to analyse poetry with an audience, I worked under the assumption that the audience itself was relatively new to poetry, and I was really just too lazy to analyse new poems for every issue. Six issues in, I’m no longer daunted by the first two obstacles (the third is likely to keep getting in the way). 

 

What better concept to start thinking critically about than our relationship with the world (go big or go home)? Today, I’m recommending three poems that come at this idea from three directions. I still believe poetry is best experienced and interpreted on one’s own terms, so for today at least I will just be giving you ideas to keep in mind while you read the poems I’ve recommended. First we have Ozymandias (a classic) by Percy Shelley. I’d like you to think about the impact we leave on the world while you read it. Then we have Good Bones by Maggie Smith - think about the impact the world has on us. Finally, we have October by (of course) Mary Oliver. This time I’d like you to think about our place in the world, and maybe keep in mind that living is a verb.

 

Before all that, though, here is one of my previously unpublished poems. Enjoy!

wound

By Brishti Chakraborty

well, maybe it’s not too late / and maybe i should have called you back / and maybe you’re not crying empty tears out to a bathroom floor that’ll never love you back / but we don’t work in maybes here / and anyway, the tiles needed the polishing / you see, i always wanted a link to the world / but you’re a person too / and i never learned to stop pulling. so tell me what you said that day on the field / the syrup air of the afternoon running through your hair / tell me why i should have stopped, and maybe this time i’ll listen. i promise i tried / but sometimes you pick at a person so much you don’t see them until they’re an open wound / and sometimes you leave them alone long enough that they close around it, around the air / and i promise i wish i was there, i wish i was there locked in your wound / pick pick pick at the pink-brown seams / maybe it’s not too late / but i can’t call you back

Brishti Chakraborty (she/her), our poetry editor and curator of this column, is a disabled teenage lesbian whose work has been published in or is upcoming in Fahmidan Journal, FEED Lit Mag, Sledgehammer Lit, and more. Her favourite poets are Anne Carson, Ocean Vuong and Leela Raj-Sankar. She writes poetry because it leaves her no place to hide.

Ozymandias by Percy Shelley

The life and works of Percy Bysshe Shelley exemplify English Romanticism in both its extremes of joyous ecstasy and brooding despair. Romanticism’s major themes—restlessness and brooding, rebellion against authority, interchange with nature, the power of the visionary imagination and of poetry, the pursuit of ideal love, and the untamed spirit ever in search of freedom—all of these Shelley exemplified in the way he lived his life and live on in the substantial body of work that he left the world after his legendary death by drowning at age 29. (Poetry Foundation)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46565/ozymandias

 

Good Bones by Maggie Smith

Maggie Smith is the author of Keep Moving (Simon & Schuster, 2020), Good Bones (Tupelo Press, 2017), The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison (Tupelo Press, 2015), Lamp of the Body (Red Hen Press, 2005), and three prizewinning chapbooks. The recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ohio Arts Council, and the Sustainable Arts Foundation, Smith is a freelance writer and editor. (Poetry Foundation)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/89897/good-bones

 

October by Mary Oliver

Mary Jane Oliver (September 10, 1935 – January 17, 2019) was an American poet who won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Her work is inspired by nature, rather than the human world, stemming from her lifelong passion for solitary walks in the wild. It is characterised by a sincere wonderment at the impact of natural imagery, conveyed in unadorned language. In 2007 she was declared to be the country's best-selling poet. (Wikipedia)

http://poetry.drewpendergrass.com/favorites/October-by-Mary-Oliver

Learning to Write Poetry

We’ve discussed how to read poetry in detail in past issues. I hope you’ve started reading poetry on your own, and that it’s proving easier to understand and enjoy. Today we’re focusing on how to write your own poetry. I’ve been writing poetry for a couple of years, and reading my friends’ poetry for a few months now. From what I’ve seen, I can say that people who read poetry don’t always write good poetry, but people who don’t read poetry almost never write good poetry. There’s a certain understanding of and respect for the genre that makes all the difference. However, I’m hoping you are all poetry readers by now, so it’s time for you to send in some work! 

 

From this issue onwards, we’re going to change up the format of this column a little. I’m running out of my own poems to republish - surprisingly, republishing a poem once every two weeks isn’t very sustainable! However, we’ve had some wonderful poetry submissions pouring in, so today we’re publishing a poem I absolutely loved, by Sanjana S. I’m not publishing any work by my fellow core team members today, but there will be poetry by myself and other core team members in upcoming issues!

to be human

 

by Sanjana S

 

to be human is to be afraid. 

how can you not? in an existence so fleeting, 

 

so seemingly inconsequential, 

a flash of light, a dead star. 

 

to be human is to romanticise. 

romanticise the simplest of things, 

like poppy fields and sunrises and the wind. 

to make our nightmares into fairytales 

in the hope that everyone could get a happy ending. 

 

to be human is to be consumed 

consumed by passion or vengeance 

hatred or fear 

or worse, love. 

 

to be human is to love 

to love with the force of the entire universe

to love and to hurt, all at once. 

 

to be human is to imagine, 

imagine the universes colliding, the stars aligning, 

everything that went wrong or right,

to get to this moment. 

 

to be human is to rebel, 

to fight for what you know, 

in your heart, is right, 

no matter what the world might think. 

 

to be human is to live. 

because the suddenness of death 

has some kind of strange peace to it, 

but life? 

life is euphoria.

 

Sanjana is a tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor and crazy cat lady. Besides constantly romanticising her own life to the soundtrack of Lorde and Taylor swift, she enjoys reading, writing, and political discourse.

Now it’s time for today’s recommendations. My poetry book recommendation for the day is Devotions by Mary Oliver - a beautiful piece of work that isn’t too difficult to read. It’s a personal favourite, and I recently gifted a copy to our editor, Snigdha, for her birthday.

 

Poem recommendations:

 

Heliocentric by Keith S. Wilson

Affrilachian poet Keith S. Wilson is the author of Fieldnotes on Ordinary Love (Copper Canyon Press, 2019). His poetry and prose have appeared in Elle, Poetry magazine, the Kenyon Review, and Crab Orchard Review, among others. Wilson's nonfiction has won an Indiana Review Nonfiction Prize and the Redivider Blurred Line Prize, and has been anthologized in the award-winning collection Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy. (Poetry Foundation)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/147617/heliocentric

 

Trying to Name What Doesn’t Change by Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi Shihab Nye is a professor of creative writing at Texas State University. Nye told Contemporary Authors: “I have always loved the gaps, the spaces between things, as much as the things. I love staring, pondering, mulling, puttering. I love the times when someone or something is late—there’s that rich possibility of noticing more, in the meantime … Poetry calls us to pause. There is so much we overlook, while the abundance around us continues to shimmer, on its own.” (Poetry Foundation)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48599/trying-to-name-what-doesnt-change

 

Prayer/Oracion by Francisco L. Alarćon, translated by Francisco Aragón

A prolific writer for adults and children, Francisco X. Alarcón was born in California and grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico. Latino and gay identity, mythology, the Nahuatl language, Mesoamerican history, and American culture are all portrayed in Alarcón’s writing.

Poet, translator, essayist, editor, and San Francisco native Francisco Aragón studied Spanish at the University of California at Berkeley and New York University. Exploring how language and genre both connect and diverge, Aragón’s poems locate personal experience within a wider cultural and historical conversation. (Poetry Foundation)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/53880/prayer-56d2339a65102

Putting Poetry in Context

My personal philosophy is that if you care about something, it’s worth putting effort into. Poetry is no different. Reading individual poems is fantastic, and a great starting point, but by now I think we’re ready to branch out into reading whole poetry books. I’m going to recommend a couple of poetry books along with individual poems in the next few issues. Books immerse you in the world of one poet - they let you truly engage with the work you’re reading. And of course, here’s a reminder to consider signing up for Poetry Foundation, Paris Review, and/or Poem-A-Day for poetry in your inbox!

 

In today’s issue, we have a poem I wrote while my chronic illness was at its worst. I’ve gotten a little better now, but that was not something I thought was ever going to happen. We also have a poem I really like from my friend and fellow core team member, Shravan. Stick around for the end, where I’ll be recommending some fantastic poetry, and a couple of poetry books!

On calling a spade a spade

 

By Brishti Chakraborty

Previously published in Issue 6 of Fahmidan Journal

 

Some nights I can’t sleep. Most days I can’t do anything but. Words drop from my mouth

like glue, clinical and reluctant. My head rings too loud for me to hear them anyway. You say

chronically ill and I say I don’t set alarms anymore. The sleep does what it wants. Say five

more minutes. Say absolution. Make them sound the same. These are things we don’t talk

about: the white bottles on my table, stacked according to size. The heating pad I kicked to

the floor last night. The unread texts on my phone. The ones from you. Place your order and

go sit down; service is slow right now, we’re understaffed overworked overstretched. Three

years of telling me friendships aren’t transactional, and I guess you were right, because tell

me where the debt I built up has gotten me – hey, are you doing ok? To wassup to [read,

01:54 am]. You told me we’d never test how much friendship can withstand, but I can see it

now: three weeks of blistering headaches and a diagnosis of always. Because you got tired of

living in a world of when you get betters while I lived in a world of it will be like this

forevers. And how could I blame you? Tiredness is the best friend I will ever have.

 

Brishti Chakraborty (she/her), our poetry editor and curator of this column, is a disabled teenage lesbian whose work has been published in or is upcoming in Fahmidan Journal, FEED Lit Mag, Sledgehammer Lit, and more. Her favourite poets are Anne Carson, Ocean Vuong and Leela Raj-Sankar. She writes poetry because it leaves her no place to hide.

before

 

by Shravan H

 

time must have started at some point, right?

 

the imaginary clock’s first tick, its reverberations announcing a new beginning

the microscopic speck of sand in solitude on the bottom face of the upturned hourglass

the sudden shadow formed by the sundial’s gnomon at one hundred and eighty degrees

the new functionality of the pocket watch, its imperceptible casing shielding its hands

 

everyone knows what happened after

but no one thinks of what was before.

before the tick, the sand, the shadow, the watch

 

maybe there was a star

just a star, unencumbered by time

it didn’t twinkle every few minutes, it just twinkled

the light from that star didn’t travel at a few thousand kilometres per second, it just moved

 

maybe there was a breadstick

its yeastage independent of the hour

it didn’t expire after a week, it just stopped tasting the same

the sesame from that stick didn’t rot as time went on, it just wilted

 

maybe there was nothing

nothing, nowhere, for no reason

nothing didn’t not continue, it just got replaced

and nothing never stopped happening, it just didn’t encompass as much space as it did

 

that was confusing

I should probably just do my math homework

maybe there was math homework


 

Shravan Haribalaraman (15, he/him) is a teenager studying at The International School Bangalore. He’s passionate about writing, playing the piano, and writing third person descriptions of himself. He also loves reading, writing, and performing extensive Wikipedia analyses of poems that he doesn’t understand.

Today’s recommendations:

 

Keeping things whole by Mark Strand

Mark Strand was recognized as one of the premier American poets of his generation as well as an accomplished editor, translator, and prose writer. The hallmarks of his style are precise language, surreal imagery, and the recurring theme of absence and negation; later collections investigate ideas of the self with pointed, often urbane wit. (Poetry Foundation)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47541/keeping-things-whole

 

Meditations in an Emergency by Cameron Awkward-Rich

Poet and writer Cameron Awkward-Rich is author of the full-length poetry collections Dispatch (Persea Books, 2019) and Sympathetic Little Monster (Ricochet Editions, 2016), as well as the chapbook Transit (Button Poetry, 2015). Awkward-Rich’s poetry and essays explore artists’ ability to reimagine the politics of social worlds. (Poetry Foundation)

https://www.splitthisrock.org/poetry-database/poem/meditations-in-an-emergency

 

want by Joan Larkin

Joan Larkin is a poet, essayist, playwright, and editor. Formally assured, frank, and often fearless, Larkin’s poems explore alcoholism, sexuality, and loss. In the Los Angeles Times, David Ulin observed that Larkin’s poems “stake out a territory of relentless self-examination, taking on love and death, family and sexuality in a voice that is unsentimental, ruthless and clear-eyed … This is poetry without pity, in which despair leads not to degradation but to a kind of grace.” (Poetry Foundation)

https://poetrying.wordpress.com/2016/02/10/want-joan-larkin/

How does  poetry make you feel?

How does poetry help us? I can’t speak for everyone, but for me both reading and writing poetry make me feel less alone. Today’s article has a poem of mine that’s deeply personal (or not. You know nothing about me), and more than a little sad. I felt a little scared, putting it out into the world, but I’ve had a surprising number of people reach out to me to say the poem made them feel seen. And isn’t that what we’re all hoping for?

 

We’ve worked on making poetry accessible and learning to read it, in earlier issues. Today I’m going to ask you to take the next step, and consciously try to see yourself in the poetry you read. How does a poem make you feel? How would the poem be different if you had written it? Poetry is personal. Make the effort, and let it have the effect it’s meant to have.

 

Today’s poems are a bit of a mixed bag. We have my aching poem, followed by a warm, loving poem from fellow core team member Akshaj. Today’s recommendations are also a real treat, so stick around! Yes, there’s a Mary Oliver recommendation today, too. I play favourites.

School play costume

 

by Brishti Chakraborty

Previously published in Sledgehammer Lit

 

i wonder if i would have liked this self when i was eight, bruised 

 

knees and open mouth / the last time i took a breath i didn't regret i was nine, five 


 

feet tall (almost) and blissfully infatuated with a boy in the sixth grade / it felt wrong 

 

kissing a boy at fourteen but it doesn't feel right having no friends at sixteen because 


 

i said the kiss had made me want to crawl out of my skin / in my dreams 

 

i punch the wall, never a person / violence hurts me more than it 


 

hurts the walls but it's always there / because i need it and the sadness 

 

always there because i bleed it / asked my therapist if i could ever put the weight 


 

down and she said would you if you could? / go ahead and try and i 

 

couldn't do it / can't stop being the pioneer / i'll do anything for a rush 


 

but you can't call me a coward / there's only so many times you can wash a face 

 

before it tears apart / and i've never been quiet or kind / lights out and the 


 

audience is gone but i stay on stage in costume until it makes me 

 

sick / young and restless and tired and awake / i'm going to pick up the world 


 

and swallow it whole / i only close my eyes when they close me / when i'm 

 

alone that's my cage to deal with, but all the walls in my head have blood on them / i'm 


 

sorry i can't tell you what i mean, but sorry only sounds right when i don't 

 

say it out loud / every time i go to sleep i think it'll be better when the light 


 

turns on / but now i can see the corpse / familiar brown face green hair wide smile sharp 

 

teeth / bruises on all ten knuckles / i should turn the lights back off but 


 

i'll do anything for a rush and you can't call me a coward


 

Brishti Chakraborty (she/her), our poetry editor and curator of this column, is a disabled teenage lesbian whose work has been published in or is upcoming in Fahmidan Journal, FEED Lit Mag, Sledgehammer Lit, and more. Her favourite poets are Anne Carson, Ocean Vuong and Leela Raj-Sankar. She writes poetry because it leaves her no place to hide.

 

Tiptoe 

 

By Akshaj Balaji

 

Lights out everywhere around her,

Not a single voice, not a single sound,

dark downstairs, bright only in one room,

An incense of jasmine with bellies empty.

The girl in pyjamas in one corner

It was 1am, the bunch were bored

They wanted to have a blast together,

A good time, but without causing a boom

Thoughts are buzzing in the air

Four voices whisper and hush: they were hungry;

The snacks were in the kitchen downstairs.

An eerie silence hit the room.

 

It's dark downstairs: scary, pitch black.

A torchlight will wake the parents.

they couldn't afford a single creak or whisper,

the noise would disturb every drowsing beast

Scheming, looking for bright ideas in the dark

With her friends building her confidence,

and providing moral support

Relying on memory, she decided 

to navigate down the stairs,

in darkness slowly taking her own time.

Candies and biscuits and bottles of juice,

Much like her own mind, it was hard to find anything in the mess of the kitchen.


 

Drip drop the sound of the leaking sink

Echoes around the house as she tiptoes to the cabinet with the food

Slowly gathering everything, she carefully holds onto it

Quietly climbs back up not making a noise

Returning to the room, giving off a sigh of relief

A smile across her face

Anxiousness slowly turning into excitement for the upcoming fun

To sneak around during a sleepover

To laugh and reminisce with her buddies about their adventures

To eat food and talk about absolutely nothing till 4am

The night, with all the snacks, ended quietly, but still

Somehow they felt a blast and a boom.

 

Not because anything exploded and disturbed the silence

but because the fireworks inside them went off in happiness 

The boom felt loud and diffused through the air

But in reality the boom never happened, wasn't there 

This boom wouldn't wake anyone up, it could only be felt inside

This boom tiptoed across the room like a vibe 

Frolicking around each and everyone, it jumps out

Of the window - it goes without a shout,

Across the air, travelling through the streets,

To another group of people who are having a meet

Having a sleepover, tiptoeing around in the darkness

The boom sharing all the happiness it can harness.


 

Akshaj is a high school student who enjoys researching on interesting topics that vary from economics to video games. He has taken up writing in the past year and has written several articles since. He now tries his hand at writing his first poem.

Invitation by Mary Oliver

Mary Jane Oliver (September 10, 1935 – January 17, 2019) was an American poet who won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Her work is inspired by nature, rather than the human world, stemming from her lifelong passion for solitary walks in the wild. It is characterised by a sincere wonderment at the impact of natural imagery, conveyed in unadorned language. In 2007 she was declared to be the country's best-selling poet. (Wikipedia)

https://wordsfortheyear.com/2017/08/28/invitation-by-mary-oliver/

 

The Two-Headed Calf by Laura Gilpin

Laura Crafton Gilpin (1950–2007) was an American poet, nurse, and advocate for hospital reform. In 1976, Gilpin was awarded the Walt Whitman Award by the Academy of American Poets for her book of poems titled The Hocus-Pocus of the Universe. Gilpin worked to develop and implement hospital care centered around patients. (Wikipedia)

https://apoemaday.tumblr.com/post/183632758433/two-headed-calf

 

The Orange by Wendy Cope

Wendy Cope, OBE (born 21 July 1945) is a contemporary English poet. She read history at St Hilda's College, Oxford. She now lives in Ely, Cambridgeshire, with her husband, the poet Lachlan Mackinnon. She has a keen eye for the everyday, mundane aspects of English life, especially the desires, frustrations, hopes, confusions and emotions in intimate relationships. (Wikipedia)

https://gladdestthing.com/poems/the-orange

Learning to Read Poetry

Why do we write poetry? Why do we read it? I’m not answering these questions for you today, but it might help you to keep them in mind while you read today’s article. It can’t hurt, and you might learn something about yourself. 

 

In our last issue, I wrote about the inaccessibility of poetry and gave you my best attempt at an introduction to the art form. Today I’m going to help you find poetry you like on your own. A lot of my knowledge comes from reading poetry regularly; I highly recommend subscribing to Poetry Foundation, Poem-A-Day and/or Paris Review Poetry for free poems in your inbox every day. 

 

I’m very excited for you to read today’s poems by me and fellow core team member Grace! They’re pieces I’m very proud of. I’ve also decided to include links to poetry from websites other than the Poetry Foundation, especially because none of my favourite poems by Mary Oliver are available there. We have a mouthwatering selection of poem recommendations waiting for you, so dig right in!

RUNNING IN PLACE

 

by Brishti Chakraborty

Previously published in Issue 1.47 of FEED Lit Mag

 

Every day I get closer to tomorrow

 

Except when it’s today

 

There are many hearts in this house

 

But none of them are mine

 

I go around collecting faces, collecting words

 

I put names to the sounds of the wind

 

No, I am not good

 

But all I do is try to be

 

The closer the walls get, the farther I go

 

Wearing off the smell of this floor from my shoes

 

If I am to die in this house,

 

I am dead every second I stay here

 

But the farther I go, the closer the walls get

 

So I put a picture on the closest one

 

We all die in one house

 

Or another


Brishti Chakraborty (she/her), our poetry editor and curator of this column, is a disabled teenage lesbian whose work has been published in or is upcoming in Fahmidan Journal, FEED Lit Mag, Sledgehammer Lit, and more. Her favourite poets are Anne Carson, Ocean Vuong and Leela Raj-Sankar. She writes poetry because it leaves her no place to hide.

Things I Forfeit Every Day

 

By Grace Treesa


 

Things I miss most today:

 

I miss the evening sunlight in the mornings

 

A warm glow would wake me up better than a harsh cold

 

A sky after the rain,

 

the sun gently assuring the earth it's still okay

 

---

 

I miss people

 

not talking to them, not conversations

 

I miss the warmth overlapping voices can give you,

 

it tells you there are a thousand stories in a hundred hearts

 

I don't miss awkward conversations very much.

 

I miss the smiles people give as they walk along corridors, 

 

the familiarity of an old friend now far away

 

I miss the tired love in adult eyes

 

their soft appreciative smiles to warm hugs

 

I miss people giving our home surprise visits,

 

the once quiet rooms full of life and activity

 

I loved people from a distance

 

and now the distance is too much to hold

 

---

 

I miss seeing love in open spaces

 

kittens huddled together

 

under metal sheets, rain thundering down.

 

Mothers rushing by with umbrellas nowhere near their bodies,

 

their hands holding on to their children and running frantically.

 

Now they only run from themselves.

 

---

 

I miss all these things and yet

 

I miss myself in the midst of it all

 

The quiet is calming when there's noise all around you

 

It's terrifying if it pushes out and splatters itself everywhere


 

grace treesa (she/her) is a lowercase only enthusiast and bread eater who has been writing for as long as she can remember. she specialises in articles although she's written both short stories and (half written) novels.

Here is this issue’s set of poem recommendations! Today, I’m recommending a few of my personal favourites. Our featured poem of the day is Poem in Noisy Mouthfuls by Chen Chen, a gorgeous poem that helped me recognize and appreciate how identity shapes our experiences. Our other poems are [there must be one thing you can’t have in order to be alive] by Jon-Michael Frank and Straight talk from fox by Mary Oliver. Enjoy!

 

Poem in Noisy Mouthfuls by Chen Chen

Dr. Chen Chen is a poet and essayist interested in Asian American histories and futures, family (bio & found), queer friendship, multilingualism, hybrid texts, humor, and pop culture. Chen Chen’s second poetry collection, Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency, is forthcoming from BOA Editions in 2022. His first book of essays, In Cahoots with the Rabbit God, is forthcoming from Noemi Press in 2023. He teaches at Brandeis University. 

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/143242/poem-in-noisy-mouthfuls

 

[there must be one thing you can’t have in order to be alive] by Jon-Michael Frank

Jon-Michael Frank is author of the poetry chapbook Nostalgia Flower (Witch Craft Mag, 2016) and the graphic novels, Dark Garbage (Floating World, 2019), and Is This The Right Color.... (Floating World, 2019). (poets.org)

 

About this poem: “I wrote this during a punishingly hot Philadelphia summer. The sound of dirt bikes and busted open fire hydrants was everywhere. I remember writing it while sweating. I remember being in love.”

—Jon-Michael Frank

https://poets.org/poem/there-must-be-one-thing-you-cant-have-order-be-alive?mc_cid=96e61ecfcb&mc_eid=e2d9e4c72c

 

Straight talk from fox by Mary Oliver

Mary Jane Oliver (September 10, 1935 – January 17, 2019) was an American poet who won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Her work is inspired by nature, rather than the human world, stemming from her lifelong passion for solitary walks in the wild. It is characterised by a sincere wonderment at the impact of natural imagery, conveyed in unadorned language. In 2007 she was declared to be the country's best-selling poet. (Wikipedia)

http://www.ayearofbeinghere.com/2015/02/mary-oliver-straight-talk-from-fox.html

Making Poetry Accessible 

What comes to mind when you hear ‘poetry’? Answers I’ve gotten from my friends include ‘pretentious’, ‘complicated’, ‘boring’, and ‘just not for me’. And I get it, I do! The poetry we’re shown in school is usually in a language we don’t understand, older than our grandparents, and about things only white men from the 1800s care about. I love old poetry, and there’s a reason it’s still taught today, but that’s not all there is to poetry! It is a living form of writing, and there are fantastic poets churning out work right now. 

 

I’m Brishti, our poetry editor and curator of this column, and I love reading poetry. Hopefully, as you read these poems with me, you’ll start loving it too, and I’ll be able to introduce you to some of my favourite poets writing today.

 

Every article is going to feature one poem by me, one poem by someone else from our core team (and later, from you guys, once we open up submissions), and links to three poems I’ve handpicked from Poetry Foundation. Poetry is beautiful, and I am so ready to undo any damage your English Literature class may have done!

halfway

 

by Brishti Chakraborty

Previously published in Issue 2 of Fairy Piece Mag

 

koels aren’t indigenous to india, did you know? they migrate every year

 

we wear slippers in the house now / it’s a white people thing, whatever, my feet were getting

dirty / ‘white people thing’ doesn’t even make any sense here, we’re all brown / it’s funny,

being the immigrant that came back / you were only six when you moved back / i don’t know

a single chhota bheem character / i read bengali books with my parents every night / i

pronounce home wrong, the a too round 

 

i look up on the balcony – koels never look up, they only fly. back and forth. back and forth.

 

you don’t like fish, didi? / na, na, she came from america / i inherited my dislike from my

father, little bhai that gets special chicken at every function / you see, he grew up here /

brushes his nickname off with his suitcase / i have one name, one face, two countries

 

my friend’s father said i sing like a koel once, my tongue curling around sounds i didn’t

know. the songs koels sing don’t have words.

 

kurtas hang weird from my frame, i look like a girl but not / i feel like a girl but not / i kiss a

girl but not / take it back to america, this is the wrong country for people like you / but i never

felt more at home than with the girl that could have loved me, indian and afraid / it’s the

culture, and if you can learn rabindra sangeets you can learn fear

 

i call koels cuckoos when i describe them to my indian friends that stayed away. koels don’t

know they have a white name and a brown name; they are brown and white and green and

red, and they never stop flying

 

eight years of hindi in school and five years of sanskrit / the language i always did best in was

german / three years of easy a grades and three years of knowing i didn’t take the regional

language / i never put oil in my hair because i was too cool / sat through the headaches like i

sat through ap self study courses / i’m going back in five years / going back in four years /

back in three years / in two / one / it helps that you were born there, citizens get better

financial aid

 

koels fly to india every year. koels fly back to india every year.


 

Brishti Chakraborty (she/her), our poetry editor and curator of this column, is a disabled teenage lesbian whose work has been published in or is upcoming in Fahmidan Journal, FEED Lit Mag, Sledgehammer Lit, and more. Her favourite poets are Anne Carson, Ocean Vuong and Leela Raj-Sankar. She writes poetry because it leaves her no place to hide.

Opposite 

 

by Ananya Aaliya

 

I took my phone out of the back pocket. 

I wanted to take a picture of myself. The ones you see in the frames at the shop.

'It's your terrible teens', mum says.

As the camera shone towards me,

I realised that the person I saw

Wasn't me.

I knew her deepest secrets

I knew the days she washed her hair

I knew that she liked to suck on her thumb

I knew that she secretly liked the Percy Jackson movies.

But that wasn't me.

Everything about her was somehow opposite.

It was as if the fragments of my very skin

Broke away, 

Into teensy, tiny, minuscule puzzles

And rearranged into someone else

That didn't look like me.

Do you remember that scene in Mulan?

That looked like a girl in a polaroid, the girl that was the polar opposite. 

Opposite. 

Funny, I own a polaroid camera.

Did this opposite me watch the Percy Jackson movies?

Did the puzzle pieces change for her? 

Arrange and collide, like they had for me?

Slowly

I picked up the pieces of my puzzle and shoved them back

Hoping they would fit

In the same way they did in the mirror

But opposite


 

Ananya Aaliya (she/her) is an amateur writer and literature enthusiast from Bangalore. When she's not fanatically searching for oddly shaped cookie cutters on the internet, she reads, writes, sings, and yells at her parents (lovingly!). If it were up to her, she would get lost in a book with embroidered covers and never come back.

Today's Recommendations

 

Now, for this issue’s set of introductory poems! Today, I’m going with some poems that make me feel hopeful. Our featured poem of the day (which just means it’s the one I’m most excited for you to read) is Still I Rise by Maya Angelou, a rousing poem about resilience. Our other poems are Dinosaurs in the Hood by Danez Smith and “Hope” is the thing with feathers - (314) by Emily Dickinson. Happy reading!


 

Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou was an American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist. She was respected as a spokesperson for Black people and women, and her works have been considered a defense of Black culture. (Wikipedia)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46446/still-i-rise


 

Dinosaurs in the Hood by Danez Smith

Danez Smith is an African-American, poet, writer and performer from St. Paul, Minnesota. They are queer, non-binary and HIV-positive. They are the author of the poetry collections [insert] Boy and Don't Call Us Dead: Poems, both of which have received multiple awards. (Wikipedia)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/57585/dinosaurs-in-the-hood


 

“Hope” is the thing with feathers - (314) by Emily Dickinson

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was an American poet. Little-known during her life, she has since been regarded as one of the most important figures in American poetry. Many of her poems deal with themes of death and immortality, two recurring topics in letters to her friends, and also explore aesthetics, society, nature and spirituality. (Wikipedia)

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/42889/hope-is-the-thing-with-feathers-314