Posted by: DéLana | December 30, 2010

Goodbye; Hello!

Man, it’s really been three months since my last update. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be a way so long. I just….well, life happened in a swirl and whisked me away, and it was kind of like meeting someone for the first time, and forgetting their name and feeling it’s too late to ask them their name again–I kept feeling like, it had been too long, and that no one was still interested in reading this thing, and who am I to think I should have something to say.

I can’t believe the year only has two more days. It’s been an interesting one, no doubt.

January 1, 2010, I sat down and wrote in my journal (Yes, I keep a real paper journal…even that was neglected these past three months, don’t feel bad) and the first sentence I wrote (I start journals in the new year. I have my new one waiting.): “The year of courageous acts.” I went on to say:

I don’t know why, but i have such great hopes for this year. i am so excited about what work God has for me. I mean, I think about my life this time last year, and it is amazing to think about the changes and new doors and new relationships. I have a whole new life! I am in a grad program that I love, and believe that I will gain a lot from being a part of it. I have my own apartment in New York that I love and hope that I can continue to love. I have a book of poetry that is now out and in the world and my words are being held in people’s hands in places I’ve never been.

All of that still holds true. I’ve also gone through a lot of personal journeys. Gained a relationship soon after I wrote this with a friend of three years, who held me down during a lot of rocky moments…for that I am grateful for him. I cut off my dreadlocks this summer. Released five years of energy sitting on top of my head. I was conscious of what I put into my body, and how I treated her. I was conscious of who I kept around me, and made changes accordingly. I embraced my quarter-century self.

The motto: “Year of courageous acts” really guided my thoughts and actions this year. I have started doing sayings/mantras for the new year in light of resolutions. I feel like resolutions are so exact that if you don’t do that exact thing, then you’ve failed, and you lose sight of all the progress. So I give myself a statement to govern myself accordingly and count it all joy and progress.

Another courageous act: I quit all of my jobs in September for a full-time job. I’ve never had a full-time gig, never had one place to go to from 9-5 and say: this is what i’m doing all day, this is my only commitment. I felt like, at the time, I wanted something steady and more secure. I was tired of lugging around 60 papers to grade and write comments on and spending all of my free time looking at student essays. I just wanted to regain control of my apartment; I wanted all mess in my apartment to be mine. I wanted a job that I could leave on Friday and not think about until Monday when I returned at 9am. I found the job, re-arranged my resume/CV the day I saw the listing and submitted it. I didn’t think about it; just did it. Then I had the interview. Then I accepted the job. That’s where I’ve been the last few months; adjusting to this new life I’ve given myself….in addition to really just dealing with a lot of life-altering individual apocalypses…..

One of my jobs was working with high school students. We read this book the perks of being a wallflower. Because i was there for almost three years, I taught it twice. There was this quote that we pulled from it, and asked the students to write critical essays on, and I think it’s a pertinent quote for right now, here at the end of 2010, at the cusp of 2011:

“Well, I’ve been afraid of changing cause I’ve built my life around you.”

I should say it’s a quote from a song, but I don’t know it from that context. I know it from the book. 2010, I grew so confident in the progress you’ve given me, I’ve been reluctant to move on to 2011. It’s true. Save the last two months and its rockiness, I was so ensconced in the comfort that all of the good news 2010 offered, I often thought: I don’t want to go to 2011; I don’t know what there will be for me. I even resisted thinking about what my mantra for 2011 would be. That’s how paralyzed I was. That’s how afraid I was of moving on.

But! I’m embracing possibilities and openness and being vulnerable. Last night, I re-joined my Bikram Yoga studio in Harlem (it’s within walking distance!) and there’s this pose, the camel-pose, that I always hated but loved to push myself through. The teacher would always say this pose is generally where you feel like you want to throw up (nevermind the fact that you’re doing yoga in a sauna for 90 minutes…), because you’re opening up yourself, making yourself feel vulnerable. You stand on your knees, and lean your head back and bend your back backwards, and reach for your heels, and keep leaning until your forehead touches your toes. I can’t get that far back! BUT when I reached for my heels, I felt something stir up in me. I felt myself resist…my self saying: no, don’t open. Don’t open up. I kept wanting to reach for my heels. My body wanted to do it. I’ve done it before. But my mind was telling me no. I had to overcome my mind and reach for my heels and look at the back corner of the room with the rest of my body facing forward, and breathe through it, breathe through my nausea that was rising up, because I knew it was just my mind not wanting to be so vulnerable.

All of that is to say, that is how I feel coming into 2011. I have to reach for the heels. I know my body can do it. I’ve done it before. My mind is saying no. My mind is afraid of change, but my body desires it. My body desires vulnerability, because my body knows what it’s like to be broken, to let go, to build from bottom up. My mind forgets what it’s like to start over.

I think my mantra for 2011 is going to be: Goodbye [old]; Hello [new].  Here’s to embracing change and letting go of old habits. Goodbye fear; Hello courage.

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Posted by: DéLana | September 28, 2010

You Can’t Sit Here.

As if Starbucks, Corporation isn’t bad enough. I’m hoping it’s still a renovation phase. I’m hoping. I have this poem about the Starbucks on 125 and Lenox. I should say, there are two Starbucks on 125. The other one, on the corner of Adam Clayton Powell, Blvd, definitely has a different vibe, and it came second. That one is across the street from American Apparel. Go figure. This one, I call the Harlem flagship.  I wrote this two years ago. Don’t judge it. I’m using it for the story:

125th and Lenox Flagship

Who would have thought
the blacks would set up shop
inside the glass doors, pay
their two dollars – the price
for a bus or a train – for coffee
and unroll their chess sets
or cards, because its cooler
outside now and the corner
is relentless in winter?
They sit with their open-faced
cup, coffee is black, because
on this same corner, Malcolm preached
about what cream can do to strength,
how integration can weaken
identity. When Starbuck’s came bustling
uptown, the harbinger, bringer of bad news,
the bright light that comes in sleep to say everything
is about to change, the streets are swept clean,
and people are brushed aside. Elders
watch from inside the coffeeshop
where a policeman has finally
set up watch by the window
while some walk in and quickly
walk back out. They do not
get up and move: Dominoes
clink against the tables, against
this space they have paid
to occupy over and over.

So the story: The past couple of weeks, this Starbucks has been “closed for renovation.” The gates have been partially down. Yesterday, while visiting a fried, I walked by this Starbucks, and this couple behind me was remarking about how it’s back open and they wondered what was different and I hear an, “Oh, the tables by the window have been removed.” And I look and see, and confirm. I used to love walking by this Starbucks on the way to church and seeing older men who always reminded me of my grandfather sitting there, playing chess, reading newspapers. The equivalent, I guess, to say, younger folks sitting in Starbucks downtown or Anytown, USA with their laptops. Something about this was so old world and charming, and I might have liked Starbucks in that moment for letting them do it. So yes, the chairs and tables by the window were gone. I looked, and the couple looked with me, and then I heard them voice my own discovery: “They took all the tables and chairs out!” And I shook my head. And I thought: Oh Starbucks, you want our money, but you don’t want us. Is this some type of new-wave you-can-shop-here-but-only-if-you-come-through-the-back-door? I don’t believe I have ever witnessed a Starbucks of its size sans seating.

Again, I pray it is because they are still doing renovations. I pray the tables and chairs and the chess-playing men return.

Posted by: DéLana | September 12, 2010

Community & Workshops

Oh iPhone, you let me take photos of things right in front of me! The above photo is a picture of a small flier made for my fall workshop at the Langston Hughes Community Library and Cultural center in Queens.

I was contacted a few months ago and asked by the Curator there if I would be interested in leading a workshop within the community and I promptly agreed. Earlier this summer I did a two-session workshop for teens about writing in the city. Here’s a photo of some of the participants:

Aren’t they charming? They’re currently writing a poem after Lucille Clifton’s poem “What I think when I ride the train.” I asked them to think about what they see on their daily commutes. The little one on the left, just 8 years old, wrote a strapping poem about his walk to school, and the trees and teachers he sees everyday.

I want to take this opportunity to speak about the importance of community and cultural centers/libraries. They are important, free resources in the middle of our neighborhoods, and oftentimes under-utilized. Have you been to your local library lately? Discovered what opportunities exist there? I’m trying to coordinate some similar workshops within Harlem, but for right now, I am traveling to Queens for the next five Thursdays to talk about how we can use writing to tell our own stories, and how we can use the objects we live with, the objects that define us, as a jumping-off point into poetry.

The first session of the workshop the flier mentioned was a get-to-know you workshop. Though the library is in Corona, NY – along the 7-train line, past LaGuardia Airport, participants came from all over Queens: Forest Hills, Astoria, Corona, and even as far as Long Island and the Rockaways. The beauty of community and cultural centers as places for workshop is the guarantee that there is no homogeneity of participants; everyone came from different walks of life: an older Black gentleman with the largest peppery afro I’ve seen in a while, a young White woman who’s just beginning to take writing seriously, an Actor from Colombia, spoken word artists, community members looking for a platform to put pen to paper and think and talk about writing. We did a short writing exercise in which we listed significant childhood experiences. I remember reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird while at Soul Mountain (Marilyn Nelson’s brain child of a writing retreat), and probably the biggest thing I took from that book was the idea that we should write about our childhoods; that there is so much rich content if only we just looked “backwards.” So we listed events from our childhood, and wrote journal-like entries. I pushed the participants to find/think about objects that related to each event, and choose one and write for a minute as if writing in a journal about that event. Stirring up emotions and memories.

After that exercise, we read Jorge Luis Borges’ “Borges and I” – a poem I encountered in a workshop as a participant, and a poem I love returning to as a get-t0-know you poetry exercise, as a discussion of what it is to be a writer and “live-r” in the world. We read and discussed the poem, and thought about how we could think of ourselves as two separate entities. We shared the beginnings of the poem.

I am excited about the future sessions. We’ll discuss family relics and photos, music, write about our interiors – the domestic places of our childhood. The participants seemed equally as excited to come and share and come back and write and share some more.

Posted by: DéLana | August 25, 2010

Raina Leon on What’s the Word? Wednesday

One day, I was starting to tell my kid sister a story that had happened to me lately, and she stopped me very soon after I started and interjected: “All of your stories start in a coffee shop!” What can I say? That’s where all my magic happens. That is where I met Raina Leon. I had linked to her blog from a friend and found that she was in my area, and I proposed we meet up and exchange writing, as I was in need of a writing community, and she agreed. We met on a rainy day in Chapel Hill. Caribou Coffee. I had brought this short story. She had a pen. She always has a pen. I said, I’m a fiction writer. She went to town on the short story. We sipped coffee (well, I did, I think she got a hot cider). We chatted. When we left, she invited me to join this writer’s group: The Carolina African American Writer’s Collective. I went with her to check it out. We became weekly writing partners. We became house mates. We became sisters.

Now, Raina is a giver. She has a lot to give: knowledge about teaching poetry, poems, stories, travel experiences, her time, her ear. When she was at Chapel Hill, in addition to getting her PhD, she ran 10 high school creative writing workshops, and conceived this program: The Day of the Poet, where she brought 11 poets from all over the US to Chapel Hill to hang and write with the kids. She’s in Germany now; I’m hoping she’ll return to the states soon. She stopped to answer some questions.

1. You moved to Germany over a year ago. Would you consider yourself an expatriate like in the tradition of James Baldwin and so many other Black writers who moved out of the states? Has it changed your perspective? Your writing?

I would not consider myself an expatriate in the way of James Baldwin, Nina Simone and Josephine Baker.  While my apartment rises above cobblestones that have been there longer than I have been alive and though the place blends the medieval and modern seamlessly, I do not belong to Germany.

Sure, after two years, I can speak a little German.  I understand much more than I speak.  But I move among Americans much of the day.  I work on an Army posting as a teacher.  I suppose my position is unusual in that I speak more Spanish than English or German in my daily life.  Still, I am constantly reminded of my identity as an American.

Politics aside, I have the rare privilege to support the families of those deployed and those who have just returned.  These are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and children who may worry daily about the welfare of a loved one.  At the same time, they have to juggle an adjustment to life abroad.  They did not make the choice to come to Germany.  The military soldiers and officers, their spouses and dependents were given a posting.  I chose my life; I never forget that.

I have only begun to write the poems about my life here, a life which has been changed by this experience.  I have become gentler in my work.  Beauty unfolds in the simple things:  in the bells that chime early on Sunday with full-bellied joyful sounds, the fields of fluorescent yellow rape seed whispering on one-lane German country roads, or in the traveling to places like Istanbul where the call to prayer makes the dust hop.  At the same time, contradictions set themselves at my table.  Now, more than ever, I feel myself a part of the world with all the rights and responsibilities that come with that.  I am not satisfied to stay in one place.  I want to see more, learn more, grow more.  My writing begins to show that.

2. Because you are across the pond, and moved pretty recently after the publication of your first book Canticle of Idols, how does that change your relationship to the book? To your American readership? Have you done any readings or literary events in Germany?

Arranging book tours and readings for Canticle of Idols was especially difficult considering that two months before publication I moved to Europe.  Unfortunately, my publisher does not foster a relationship overseas.  My book, for example, is available on Amazon UK, but it still presents difficulties in shipping.  I find that if I want to do a reading or sell books, I have to carry my work with me.  I am just starting to enter into the literary domain in the UK and Ireland, because there is a limited market for poetry written in English where I am.  In my areas, there is a yearly poetry event in English.  Unfortunately, it is in the summer when I am often traveling.

In addition to my distance from the States, I have become distant from the book itself.  I suppose that’s true of all writers.  I was enthralled with the mission within the book – humanizing the saints – but now I have moved on to other missions.

3. What are you working on now?

My second manuscript, Boogeyman Dawn, was a finalist for the Naomi Long Madgett this year, so right now I am looking for a publisher.  The collection of poems centers on the molding of a person by the elusive boogeyman, a representative of societal ills, and the results of that.  While at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annamaghkerrig, Ireland this summer, I completed a third manuscript, now entitled House of Ribbons, that is filled with poems concerning transformation and wonder.

4. I know you’re a big advocate, and have found it an important subject as of late, you can you speak on your stance with regards to arts education and literacy?

Through the arts, a person can transcend the self and find a communion with the highest aspects of humanity.  I truly believe that arts education is essential to education and engagement.  Young people crave poetry.  They want to be involved in the imagination and physical motion of mural making.  They glory in rhyme and song.  They truly live in the experimentation of body in dance.  Through the arts, so many subjects can be taught and young people can be engaged in a way that opens doors to fields of imagination, where the box does not exist; rather, they may think outside of worlds.

Look at a great essay, one that moves you to quaking, and you will be reading the words of someone in tune with something greater than him or herself.  This is the type of participant experience that we all crave.  College professors, AP scorers, those who score an assessment are looking for those experiences, but our education system continues to kill the very activities that might inspire greatness.  Art programs, music programs, writing instruction beyond essay composition … all these are slipping away.  Educational researchers and theorists are calling for imagination within curriculum to address the changing economy.  Those researchers and theorists rightly point out that as time progresses the lapse between technological innovations becomes shorter and shorter.  Citizens of all nations have to be able to adapt; unfortunately, rather than teach to the fluidity that comes from an appreciation and understanding of the arts, many states have moved towards teaching to an assessment and allowing that assessment to be the measure of one’s success in school and in life.  I, personally, am invested in engaging young people, and, in my practice, guiding young people to think out of the box by joining their home literacies (which are often based in a multicultural and/or creative way of knowing) with those of school.

5. Who are you reading currently? Who’s on your to-read list?

During the school year, I generally don’t have much mental space for anything other than school.  I run a writers workshop, supervise the newspaper, guide the Spanish Club, etc.  I also just finished my PhD in education through the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, so before now, my brain was really mush unless it was doing something in regards to my dissertation, classes or clubs.  On the weekends, though, I read.  After a very hot bath with lots of foam and bubbles, I’ll wrap a towel around me, start the iPod player, grab the remote, and settle on the window seat to read.  It could be 10 minutes.  It could be three or four hours that pass by.  It is all about what I need on that day, at that time.  Usually, I get through about three books a week on if I don’t have fundraisers or trips going on.  Otherwise, it’s about a book every week or two.  I devour books and in the summer, my thirst for them is nearly unquenchable.

In poetry right now, I’m reading Brendan Cleary, Mary Dorcey, John Murillo, Karen An-hwei Lee, and Tara Betts.

In education, I’m reading or rereading Paulo Freire, Henry Giroux, and Peter McLaren.

For this summer, some of the books I’ve read are the Sookie Stackhouse series (10 books thus far) by Charlaine Harris (I’m a big True Blood fan), the Vampire Kisses series by Ellen Schreiber (my students love the series), Lighthead by Terrance Hayes, Running the Dusk by Christian Campbell, So Much Things to Say:  100 Poets from the Calabash Literary Festival, edited by Kwame Dawes and Colin Channer, The Book of Night Women by Marlon James, An Exaltation of Starlings by Tom Conaty, and Amorous Shepherd by Dante Micheaux.

Goodness, my to-read list?  I have crazy varied interests.  The Black Automaton by Douglas Kearney (I skimmed through and it’s just electric.  I can’t wait to have a sit down), The Meaning is in the Shadows by Peter McVerry, Nothing was the Same by Kay Redfield Jamison, Touched with Fire:  Manic Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament, Whip Smart: A Memoir, Alpha and Omega series by Patricia Briggs, The Hollows series by Kim Harrison, The Time Traveler’s Wife, Critical Literacy and Urban Youth by Ernest Morrell, Sold by Patricia McCormick, among others.   Since I have strict financial goals this year, I’m retiring my Amazon account until December once school starts, so I’ll be going through my stash of books quickly… so what I’m saying is, buy a poet a book, or if not, buy a school one.  I think that would be just as killer good.

Raina J. León, Cave Canem graduate fellow (2006) and member of the Carolina African American Writers Collective, has been published in The Sixers Review, The Externalist, Minglewood, The Cherry Blossom Review, Natural Bridge, African American Review, OCHO, Spindle Magazine, Black Arts Quarterly, Poem.Memoir.Story, Womb, Boxcar Poetry Review, Salt Hill Journal, Xavier Review, MiPoesias, Torch, Poetic Voices without Borders, Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem’s First Decade, Growing Up Girl: An Anthology of Voices from Marginalized Spaces, AntiMuse, Farmhouse Magazine, Furnace Review, Constellation Magazine and Tiger’s Eye Journal among others.  Her first collection of poetry, Canticle of Idols, was a finalist for both the Cave Canem First Book Poetry Prize (2005) and the Andres Montoya Poetry Prize (2006) and is now available through Wordtech Communications.  She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  She headed the High School Literacy Project at the University of North Carolina and is currently teaching English and Spanish at an American high school in Germany.

Posted by: DéLana | August 18, 2010

Hossannah Asuncion on What’s the Word? Wednesdays

I was honored to be in a reading with Hossannah Asuncion almost exactly two years ago, in Brooklyn, in August at the Perch Cafe. I was freshly back from two residencies, and zipped down to join her and Taha Ebrahimi on the mic – all women, all cultural, all fierce. What I remembered most about Hossannah’s work then, was her ability to write about place in such a way that you considered it a character; Brooklyn was her estranged lover she kept coming back to, kept trying to get to know, who was ever-elusive, ever-present. What I also love about Hossannah’s work, in addition to her attention to place, is her poem-as-art attention. Once, at a reading we were attending, she handed me a little envelope about 2″x3″. I looked, and realized it was the subway map, specifically, Brooklyn. I didn’t want to open it. But you could feel some folded paper inside. Inside were poems from her project Small Fragments of Loss. And I thought: poetry should go back to this – the personal, the hand-to-hand exchange, the poem as gift. Here’s Hossannah’s words for Wednesday.

1. Tell us about your chapbook, Small Fragments of Loss, which just won a kick-butt prize. What is the prize? When will it be out, how can we get our hands on a copy? Etc!

Kimiko Hahn selected my manuscript, Small Fragments of Loss, for one of the Poetry Society of America’s National Chapbook Fellowships.  A friend of mine, Jill Jarvis, described the series that appears in the manuscript as this “poetic cartography of loss.” I love that, because there’s more precision in that explanation than how I would put it. The chapbook, along with three other selections, will be published in March 2011. They will be available at the award reading and on the PSA website.

2. Can you speak more about location and how it factors into your own work?

When I’ve considered location in my work in the past, I thought of location in terms of logic and gravity, what kind of poetic and imaginary laws am I creating in a poem that makes it work? Where is this poem? What is grounding and guiding me as a writer to do work in an amorphous reality?  For Small Fragments of Loss I was located in feelings of loss and how traveling through life, and specifically through the streets of Brooklyn, there are big and little encounters of grief. The series was inspired by reading Rachel Cohen’s essay, “Lost Cities” while I was just getting to understand living in New York, getting into the cacophonic rhythm of living in Brooklyn. The “Cities” section of her essay was such a guide; its address of those trickles of narrative that we peripherally see in transit that sometimes become part of our own stories. The essay helped locate me and helped me locate, in language, what is so compelling about leaving one’s home, which is to engage and see other people alive and living.

What I want to do now with my writing, which I’m scared to say out loud, and commit to, is to move away from that really safe feeling of knowing where I am. It’s kind of like letting go of the hand rail while standing on a moving subway, but there’s a nervous thrill to it.

3. I know about your interests in D-I-Y publishing. Let America know. What does this do for your writing? For your living?

I love handmade books. I love the gifting of books. I love writing when it also becomes object. Making chapbooks to give to friends has been consistently part of my writing process. I think it’s just another way to gather poetic aether into material; it’s one way to have a physical relationship with my poems. I get to touch them; I get to give them to others for them to handle.

4. What are your current projects with regards to writing? Who are you reading to help sustain you through these ventures?

A couple of months ago I started this series after seeing an exhibit at the Proteus Gowanus that featured images of anatomical Venuses. I started to research anatomical Venuses and it lead me to researching Venus—the planet, Boticelli’s, Hottentot—and trying to coax what they all mean separately, and together. I’m not sure how I feel about this project, I’ve liked one or two poems, but it’s not coming together in a way that is satisfying me. As far as reading, I am not consciously reading anything that will inform my writing for this project, but I generally think there are reasons why I get drawn to certain materials. I was researching on the Internet and on various databases (hello Lexis Nexis!), information, in particular to the Hottentot Venus. That being said I am reading Roberto Bolano’s 2666 and I’m rereading Michael Ondaatje’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid.

5. Tell us about Kundiman. How does being a part of Kundiman push you as a writer?

I don’t know if I would be in the same place as I am now without Kundiman. I think, for the most part, considering myself as a poet is a very private space. Writing poetry makes me feel vulnerable, and to say, “I’m a poet” is scary, it feels like I’m self-splaying. That being said writing words is only one part of the process to fully animate language. Full synthesis won’t be achieved if I am the only source of energy; someone else has to help make the words alive. However, that means sharing and giving away my words, and Kundiman plays so many roles in that process—as light source, as evolution, as discovery.

Hossannah Asuncion’s work appears in the March 2010 issue of The Collagist. She received her MFA from Sarah Lawrance in 2007 and was also named a Kundiman Fellow that year. Her work has appeared in ShampooGhoti FishStoryscapeFoursquareTuesday: An Art Project, and Lungful!

Posted by: DéLana | August 11, 2010

Lauren Alleyne on What’s the Word? Wednesday

photo credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Call me a sucker for hugs. Lauren gives great ones. Her heart is huge, and it shows in her poems, in her person, in her always-laughing talk. I first met Lauren in 2007; we were in workshop together, and we’d go off into a corner and want to workshop more, talk poems, talk poetry. Since, we’ve developed a healthy dose of sending poems back and forth via e-mail, or whole manuscripts. Her eye and ear for editing are unmatched! Her poems, evidence of her tireless work perfecting. She’s just moved Mid-West, and I wanted her to know we’re still thinking of her back East….she stopped in her settling down into Dubuque, Iowa to answer some questions.

1. If you had to introduce your own concerns in poetry to potential readers, what would you say your work is most interested in?

One pretty clear concern is that of gender. I engage the world through a feminist lens, and my poems tend to as well. Other than that, it’s a little hard to say; I’m all over the place—politics, feminist issues, personal narrative, love, revisionism, religion all show up in my poems. That said, I think I can point to a common connective tissue—desire. Whether it is sexual longing, religious longing, longing for home, longing for voice, desire for “—“ is present in everything I write. Of course, half the time the longings are in conflict with each other, and beyond desire itself, it’s that tension between conflicting desires that the poems tend to circle—the body’s desire pitted against religious calling, the simultaneous allure of limitlessness and order, the transformative possibilities of immigrant life undergirded by the persistent heartbeat of home…

2. I just got finished teaching a class in which I introduced my students to writers from different cultures. A strong connecting point that we made between the majority of the non-American writers was how much their homeland played into their own poetry, even when they weren’t living in the country they wrote about/in. This might be an assumption, but how does your (dis)location from Trinidad play into your writing?

I left Trinidad for the first time just after my 18th birthday, and have lived mostly in the States, with some stints in the UK and the Middle East and visits to a total of 23 countries. My early poetry really tended to think about Trinidad in particular—I tried to capture the dialect; I did persona poems of the legendary folk characters, I was invested in trying to summon/understand/remember what I had left back “at home”. It’s been over a decade since I left Trinidad, and so the very specific nature of that work has changed. The crisis of belonging that I think now, inspired those poems has lessened, rather than intensified, with time. I guess I just chilled out about the whole thing—I’m from Trinidad and realizing that was a part of me that I couldn’t lose or change freed me immensely.  The connection, I think is far more subtle, more organic, and somehow more fundamental . For example, Trinis love a good story.

3. Who do you return to again and again as a reader? Why? Who do you return to again and again to teach?

I enjoy poems that move me on multiple levels: I want heart and smarts. I want depth and clarity. I want questions, answers, curiosity, wisdom, sass, surprise – the whole shebang. But I love poems that are brave. The poems I return to risk openness, and challenge me to do the same in my own work. I return to Frances Driscoll’s The Rape Poems, everything by Lucille Clifton, but particularly Mercy and The Book of Light, Kim Addonizio’s Tell Me, Jack Gilbert’s The Great Fires, Sharon Old’s The Father, Tony Hoagland’s Donkey Gospel, Eliot’s Prufrock, Ash Wednesday, Four Quartets…

In terms of teaching, I try to be as wide ranging as possible. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to teach collections, which has been an advantage because I get to pull from my favorite poets and be embarrassingly dorky in front of my class by getting all excited: Do you see what Tyehimba Jess can do with a line?! See how much Joy Harjo gets out of repetition?! Here, watch how Patricia Smith, Cornelius Eady and Laurie Shek inhabit these personas. Isn’t Tony Hoagland hilarious? Sure T.S. Eliot is hard, but see how he builds Prufrock from his name to his rolled up pants… I can go on, and you can bet I often do!!

4. Can you spend some time talking about your current projects/ poetic interests?

Right now it’s a little calm in my poetry world. I just completed and am sending out my second manuscript, Without the World. The title for that collection comes from a line in Mark Jarman’s Unholy Sonnet XVII, which reads “without the world, we met the death of God and Language. Both of them had died.” For the last couple years, that line’s been circling in my head, and the book tries to think about the idea of this “world” without which Jarman claims faith and speaking would not be possible. The poems went in so many directions I didn’t anticipate, and so many things became “worlds” in their own right—Death the world, Body the world, War the World, Love the world

Now that that’s done, or at least is in a working draft form, I’m apparently not done with the world. I’ve since become interested in objects—their histories and functions, how we do or don’t interface with them, how we assign them meaning etc. I’m thinking the next collection will be called Made, and will look at the world from a much more concrete perspective—stone, liquid, gas, flame, plastic, circuit, cord, wood—and think about how matter matters.

5. I understand you just moved to Iowa. What are your dreams/plans for creating a writing community there? How do you imagine this new landscape will factor into your work?

I’m very excited about my move to Dubuque. I’m here as an Assistant Professor of English and as the Poet-in-Residence at the University of Dubuque, and my first goal is to get a vibrant reading series going. I want to bring major and emerging poets to campus, but also to Dubuque in general. I’m really committed to making poetry one of the links between the campus and the community, so I’m planning to knock on the usual doors (and some unusual ones too!) and make my pitches for poetry as both useful and necessary. I’ve visions of workshops in the community center, in senior homes, in the Boys and Girls club; of poets being a part of the Dubuque Arts Festival; of our very own slam team; reading groups; writing groups… And that’s just for starters.  I’ve just been here for a week, but I’m looking forward to jumping in to the already active arts scene here as an ambassador for poetry.

——————-

Lauren K. Alleyne is a native of Trinidad and Tobago. Her work has been awarded prizes such as the 2003 Atlantic Monthly Student Poetry Prize, the Robert Chasen Graduate Poetry Prize at Cornell, an International Publication Prize from The Atlanta Review, and honorable mention in the 2009 Reginald Shepherd Memorial Poetry Prize and the 2003 Gival Press Tri-Language Poetry Contest. She has been published in journals such as Black Arts Quarterly, The Caribbean Writer, The Belleview Literary Review, and Crab Orchard Review among others, as well as in the anthologies Growing Up Girland Gathering Ground. She is co-editor of From the Heart of Brooklyn, and her chapbook, Dawn In The Kaatskills, was published in April 2008 by Longshore Press.

Read more of Lauren Alleyne here: http://munsterlit.ie/Southword/Issues/17A/Poetry/alleyne_laurenk.html

Description of my teen workshop for this Friday and the next. The details:

Langston Hughes Community Library and Cultural Center of Queens
100-01 Northern Blvd
Corona, NY

Fridays August 6 & 13, 3:30p-5:00p

Poetry & The City: It Ain’t Where You from, it’s where You’re At

In this two-session workshop with poet DeLana R.A. Dameron, writers will read and discuss poets who write about urban dwellings. We will discuss the importance of being in a present environment, and consider the poetry of our every day: bus rides, subways and its commuters, parks, our apartments and houses, our neighborhoods and neighbors. We will incorporate the sounds and smells and people of our cityscapes into a poetry of our own that sings and a poetry that shows others – in the words of hip hop artist (and Brooklyn native) Mos Def – where we’re at.

Poets we’ll read: Lucille Clifton, Elizabeth Alexander, Major Jackson, John Murillo, Gwendolyn Brooks

If you have a teen or know a teen that could use some poetry and creative expression in their lives, send them over.

Posted by: DéLana | August 4, 2010

Randall Horton on What’s the Word? Wednesdays

Randall Horton is a quiet force behind the scenes. He is a tireless worker and harbinger for all things Black and all things Poetry (capital B and P). If you ever get near him, he’ll give you everything he can, give you a dap or a huge hug (look at those arms), ask you what’s up?, and get down to the business of poetry. He agreed to sit down and answer five questions for my humble blog; I’m thankful to have caught him in between residencies at the VCCA and running operations at the Idlewilde Conference in Michigan. Okay, enough gushing — here’s Randall giving us the Word.

Me:  You have two books of poetry published: The Definition of Place and The Lingua Franca of Ninth Street (both Main Street Rag). What’s next on your list? What are you working on?

I have currently completed a manuscript titled The District. In this manuscript, I take a look at urban landscapes without ever specifically naming a place. In other words, The District could be any major urban center. I am interested in shifting landscapes where place is important, but to be human is more important. I am also interested in the erasure that is hidden in urban landscapes, so I try and address things that are constantly being erased. For my next full project, I want to explore Blacks in the Civil War through a book length poem, most specifically the Massachusetts 54th Regiment. And too, I am working on a memoir that is almost complete.

Who are three poets or writers that stay constant on your personal reading list? On your syllabi?

In my own personal readings, I found myself turning back Stephen Jonas’ Collected Poetry because of his brilliance in using the line break and how he can wring multiple meanings from a poem. In other words, I never get tired of reading his poems. Every time I sit with Jonas I learn something new about language and the function of the poem. In many regards, I would say Ed Roberson does this for me as well. I would also have to say that I am also in love with Blue Front by Martha Collins, and find myself fascinated by how she uses repetition, misdirection and imagery to tell a narrative that doesn’t seem like a narrative but is. In terms of the classes I teach, I keep Tyehimba Jess, Remica Bingham and Suji Kwock Kim on my syllabi. They are mainstays in any of my creative writing classes.

So many people credit you for so many things: teaching, gigs, publications, editing work – how do you do it all? What’s in it for you?

Well, first of all, that is humbling. I will say that whatever I do in life now, I do simply for the love and satisfaction it brings in helping people to contribute to the landscape of American Literature. The playing field is so unleveled and I was never taught to play on an unlevel playing field. You have to even it up. Also, I once lived a very different life from the one I now have. I was so unhappy in many ways. Now I wake up and there is a purpose for me in the world, and I try to take advantage of the day ahead of me. I look at everything I do as part of the air I breathe to stay alive. I must breathe to live, so I live my life accordingly.

Speaking of teaching, how important would you say mentoring was to your own career?

My first mentor was Sterling Plumpp. I love that poet for how he took me under his wings and showed me the ropes in a way no other poet would. He was honest and he pushed me to reach for things I had no idea I could achieve. Sterling remains a close friend to this day. I got him on speed dial. I see too many poets with the “Me” syndrome, always concerned about self. He showed me the way a poet must encounter and engage the larger world of poetry.

Can you spend some time telling us about The Symphony and what is means to be a part of an intimate collective?

The Symphony is the brainchild of poet John Murillo. This collective consists of John, Dwayne Betts, Marcus Jackson and myself. The Symphony centers on our mutual love, respect and admiration for Etheridge Knight and each others’ work. We come from diverse backgrounds, but we intersect through Knight’s poetry. Our readings offer a brief panel discussion on the work of Etheridge Knight and then a reading of our own work. We are also committed to doing community and prison workshops. It is our belief that the poet must have purpose, and through The Symphony we exercise that purpose into passion. I will also say that it means a great deal to be part of something that isn’t self-centered. The Symphony serves as our refuge, because we all are negotiating the landscape of poetry in some type of way which includes academia and elitist organizations. When we get together it is about reading and doing the work, No egos at all. Plus this collective serves as a medium through which we can continue to help people while remaining true to our sensibilities in this thing we call poetry.

—Randall Horton

Randall Horton, originally from Birmingham, Alabama, resides in New Haven, CT and is a former recipient of the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Prize. He is the author of the poetry collections The Lingua Franca of Ninth Street, and The Definition of Place, both from Main Street Rag. Randall is the current editor of Reverie: Midwest African American Literature and co-editor of Fingernails Across the Chalkboard Poetry and Prose on HIV/AIDs from the Black Diaspora (Third World Press, 2007). He is also the editor of four children anthologies. He received his undergraduate education at both Howard University and The University of the District of Columbia (B.A. English). He has a MFA in Creative Writing with an emphasis in Poetry from Chicago State University and a PhD in Creative Writing from SUNY Albany. Randall is also a Cave Canem fellow. Most recently his poems, fiction and nonfiction appear in the following anthologies and journals: Motif: Writing by Ear, Mosaic, Black Renaissance, Crab Orchard Review and The Red Clay Review. Randall currently teaches at the University of New Haven and is the poetry editor of Willow Books and the managing editor at Tidal Basin Review.

You can find Randall Horton at: http://www.randallhorton.com/ where you can check out and buy his books.

Posted by: DéLana | August 3, 2010

Upcoming: What’s the Word? Wednesdays

So I want to make this blog more of a community – a shared space, per se. I thought: I want to highlight people who are in this community, this writing community, with me. I have a few ears/eyes listening, so why not?

I came up with “What’s the Word? Wednesdays.” My idea is that, on the first Wednesday of each month, I will try and post about a poet and try and dig into their brains a little. Of course, this limits me to poets I know, but I will try and reach far and wide, wide and far to bring you (all) some dope poets.

Since August is an especially sexy month, I wanted to start in August. Why is it sexy? Well, because, it’s exceptionally hot, no matter where you are in the Northern hemisphere, and in New York at least, people wear as little fabric as they can. I call it my sexy dress month. At any rate, I thought: who can I kick this off with? Immediately, I thought of my friend and fellow poet, Randall Horton.

Tune in tomorrow, kids for What’s the Word? Wednesdays!

Posted by: DéLana | July 31, 2010

Association in Poetry

Maybe I’ll quote Carl Phillips some more from this essay, but I think it is a fitting title for the process of reading, and how reading can open up new avenues for you. I was reading Carl Phillips’ Coin of the Realm and felt like every time he would mention a poet extensively, or just quote a poet and I liked the quote, I would wrote the name down in my reading journal (where I keep all the good quotes and thoughts on things….). Since the class I’m teaching @ NYU takes place in NYU’s main library, I rotate books through there pretty often. One of the writers that Phillips mentions is Linda Gregg. I picked up her book Too Bright To See, and while I am not sure how this book fits in terms of letting me know about her poetics, I have been enjoying it a bit. From what I can gather, she seems to be interested in the short lyric – something I would like to delve more into – and hardly any of her poems go over a page.

Aside: I used to be able to say that: that none of my poems are longer than a page, and then I realized my “page” meant a standard 8.5 x 11″ piece of paper, and that is not the standard size of an actual book.  That was the weirdest thing: seeing poems typed up in my book going over onto the second page, when I never imaged it being more than one page.

Anyways, in the back of the book, Linda Gregg’s bio is:

Linda Gregg’s other books of poetry include Things and Flesh, Chosen by the Lion and The Sacraments of Desire. Her honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Whiting Award. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, the Paris Review, the Kenyon Review, and the Atlantic Monthly, among other literary journals and anthologies. Gregg grew up in Marin County, California, and has traveled extensively, and has taught writing at numerous conferences, colleges, and universities.

Here’s to discovering this great poetry/poet/poem by utilizing a type of association in poetry reading. One thing leads to another leads to another.

Lessening

Without even looking in the album
I realized suddenly, two months later,
you had stolen the picture of me.
The one in color in the Greek waves.
After you had hurt me so much,
how could you also take the picture
from me of a time before I knew you?
When I was with Jack.
Steal the small proof that once
I lived well, was loved
and beautiful.

Doesn’t this poem make you go mmmph? (hits you in the gut a bit?)

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