From a heartbroken poet

I feel physically ill. I feel like my soul has been punched. I feel the worst cultural disappointment I have ever experienced.

I am not alone in these feelings.

Hillary is me; I identify with her. The hardest working, most earnest, passionate and compassionate girl. Trying to make something good. Driven by an inner light. Seen truly half the time; reviled and abused the other half.

I do the only thing I can do. I grieve.

I reaffirm who matters: women, children, people of color, people working for minimum wage, people with disabilities, LGBTQIA people, migrants, refugees. People who occupy those spaces and more. This is the body of my country.

I do the only thing I can do. I hold them precious.

I do the only thing I can do in this moment. I take care of my house. I wash the dishes kindly; I thank them for being serviceable and beautiful. I husband my space and the things in it.

This is how I make meaning.

I take pictures of small things I find beautiful. Flowers, berries, a crescent moon. I am open-hearted to beauty and I create beauty in many small ways, over and over.

Beauty is not frivolous. Remember: bread, but also roses.

I do not engage with angry and hateful people. Not even if they’re related to me. That’s not my job right now.

I understand the deep heart of this error for what is: a cancerous, self-hating id. He doesn’t love himself. He doesn’t love anything. He seeks power and attention because it’s all he has. And it’s less than nothing.

You have more than him. You are more than him in even your smallest moments. Because you are real to yourself.

I cherish my family and friends. I give kindness and compassion and I see it reflected back to me.

I do the only thing I can do. I take care of myself.

I look for the ones like me. Artists, sensitives, radicals, thinkers.

I remember we are spirits in bodies. The spirit is invisible but it is not fragile. We’re not done. We will get up again.

I do the only thing I can do. I write.

The one thing you can do, do it.

In each humble and particular moment, do it.

New Year’s

Today is the first day of a year without my oldest nephew in it. That’s been coming for six months. He was 23. He should be 24 now. In June he killed himself. One is reluctant to say that. One feels they are doing a violence to the listener to even say it.

Yes, the initial shock diminishes.

You can’t really think about it all at once. You think about it for five minutes, and as you comprehend the reality, your brain kind of shuts down. Then you take your body to the next thing. Wash dishes or read an email or something.

A lot of my friends had a year marked by losses. People keep saying how they hope 2015 will be better. But why should it get “better”? “Better” would be if he had his life still and his life improved some – even a little. “Better” is not time passing. “Better” is not what we graduate to. There is no better. There is only dumb persistence.

If I seem to be silent on this topic, it’s not because I’m better or anything is better. It’s because I lack the words to describe despair.

Maybe it’s like walking through a desert. There’s water, there’s food. There are, often, beautiful things in the desert. You’re not in danger of dying from the desert, but you also know you’ll never come out of it. The light is harsh and too bright and ceaseless.

I am angry at time for passing. It seems to me the world should have halted on June 16. That time should not keep moving forward without my nephew’s existence. It should have just stuttered to a stop. Thanksgiving comes along and I think, What are you doing here? I didn’t ask for you. You’re missing something. Go away. Then Christmas shows up and I think, Didn’t you talk to Thanksgiving as you passed in the hall? Now New Year’s. They never seem to get the message. They have no grace.

I wake up and I don’t move. It’s hard to surface from the feeling of dread. I don’t remember my dreams. I wish I would. But coming to wakefulness is such a long shoal. By the time I get there, those pieces have washed out to sea.

Maybe comprehending suicide is like an asymptote. The line that gets closer and closer to a horizon it never touches.



Better Poems for Ferguson

The Paris Review, in a presumed effort at topicality, recently published Frederick Seidel’s The Ballad of Ferguson, Missouri – a kind of semi-ironic, chilly, not very good poem about the unrest in Seidel’s home state. And they are, rightfully, getting some blowback for it. Here’s hoping they hear the criticism, think about it, and publish something better in the coming months. Or how about several somethings better? How about a whole issue devoted to Black voices? Now that would be a thing, Paris Review.

Some have  said that white people shouldn’t say anything at all about Ferguson. Then there’s Danez Smith’s Open Letter to White Poets, which takes the exact opposite tack. If you are a white poet, there might not be a perfect solution. But here are some things:

1) Listen, listen, and listen again before speaking.

2) Just sit with your discomfort; it will prove instructive.

And 3) For God’s sake, don’t write a poem about how you’ll never have to worry about your children being gunned down in the street. We know already.

Without further ado: recent poems by poets of color (ie, the Paris Review Antidote)

Roll Call for Michael Brown by Jason McCall

alternate names for black boys by Danez Smith

not an elegy for Mike Brown by Danez Smith

Rules for My Future Son Should I Have One by LaToya Jordan

How Do I Love Thee? A love poem from the Ferguson, MO police dept to Black residents: An informal emulation of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnet 43 by Aya de Leon and Like flowers in the sky by Vanessa Huang

I Feel Most Colored When I Am Thrown Against A Sharp White Background: An Elegy by Morgan Parker

Sonnet Consisting of One Law by Lynne Thompson

a work in progress by Mahogany L. Browne

Survival Guide For Animals Born in Captivity by Camille Rankine

How to Not Get Killed by the NYPD by Metta Sama

The Gun Joke by Jamaal May

Two Poems to #StandWithFerguson by Nancy Bevilaqua and D.M. Aderibigbe

#BlackPoetsSpeakOut on Tumblr

And this Twitter feed is basically functioning as one long poem at the moment. (Dec 3 11pm)

Poet Claudia Rankine on the violent deaths of black men at PBS NewsHour (Rankine reads an excerpt from Citizen). And Using poetry to uncover the moments that lead to racism (video).

bitter crop by Kelli Stevens Kane

Transition Magazine at the Hutchins Center I Can’t Breathe series

Winter Tangerine Review’s Hands Up Don’t Shoot edition

Posts of interest

#BlackPoetsSpeakOut, But Is America Listening? by Minal Hajratwala

The Spontaneous Overflow of Powerful Feelings: Poetry as a Political Response by Jonathon Sturgeon at Flavorwire

Teaching Ferguson and Failing (to whom I owe many of the above links) by Caolan Madden at Weird Sister

Open Letter to White Poets by Danez Smith at Squandermania and Other Foibles

An Open Letter to the Paris Review and After the Ballad by Shannon Barber at About that Writing thing

Poems That Are Better Than “The Ballad of Ferguson, Missouri” at Miss Fickle Reader

The Stand With Ferguson series at Apogee

The Bearing Witness to Ferguson series at Entropy

After The Ferguson Decision, A Poem That Gives Name To The Hurt by Syreeta McFadden at NPR

Who’s Writing the Real “Ballad of Ferguson, Missouri”? by Annie Finch at HuffPost

If you’d like to try your hand at writing an actual ballad to Ferguson, see The Real Ballad of Ferguson Missouri Ballad Challenge. (Deadline Dec 15.)

I’ll continue to update as I find more.

Love, The City of Brotherly

poetry mural


The Huffington Post has a list of 31 reasons Philadelphia is underrated. While the HuffPo definitely hits some of the highlights, I wanted to compile my own,  personal – and completely random – list.

  1. You can cross Delancey Street and say to your friends, “Hey, look. I’m ‘Crossing Delancey.’ ” [Caution: Joke only works with persons aged 38 to 68.]
  2. “La la la, just passing through, LOOK AT THAT FUCKIN AWESOME MURAL!!” happens on a regular basis.
  3. Those pretzels are completely incomprehensible to me. Which is good. Every city should be known for at least one surreally unappetizing food.
  4. Whatever facet of modern life you may be discussing, you can say, all casual-like, “Yeah, Ben Franklin invented that,” and be right 80% of the time. The other 20% of the time, most likely no one will question you.
  5. What other city has an Ivy League college whose name sounds like a state school?
  6. And speaking of which, Kelly Writers House.
  7. “The Sixth Sense.” I have no idea whether that guy ever made any other movies, though.
  8. We have a world class art museum… with a statue of a Sylvester Stallone character on the front lawn.
  9. Oh here, have another world class art museum.
  10. And we liked this one so much we decided to steal it from the suburbs. Geez, Philly, now you’re just showing off.
  11. A statue of a giant clothespin  stands in the middle of the financial and governmental center of the city, which I find totally, delightfully subversive.
  12. Finally, and most importantly, Philly is one of the stand-ins for Arrow’s “Starling City.”


Statue of Ganesha in the PMA

When in doubt, add another obligation

Exciting news this week as I embark on Coursera’s online poetry class, taught by Al Filreis of the University of Pennsylvania.

Because, you know, when you find yourself totally overwhelmed by life, the logical response is to totally overwhelm yourself a little more. WHEN IN DOUBT, ADD ANOTHER OBLIGATION. Yep. I’m insane.

This week, we revisit the spiritual mother and father of American poetry:



I chose this photo of Whitman on purpose. I think the most common photos of him, in distinguished three-quarters view, with the dramatic white beard – signifying Literary Fixture, Unerring Sage – have the effect of obscuring what Whitman was like in his writing. He was boundlessly energetic, innovative, and as  I write this, younger than I am now: “I, now thirty-seven years old, in perfect health begin” is how he launches “Song of Myself.”

So there you have them. The one discursive, effusive, earnest; the other concise, elliptical, and wry . Talk about flipping the gender expectations. Dickinson and Whitman both embraced their own nature with intense self-scrutiny; they both bent their circumstances to fit their lives rather than the other way around. That’s an example to all of us, not just poets.

Another way of looking at it

The 80s are back, and this time it's personal.
The 80s are back, and this time it’s personal.

(Actually, there’s only one way to look at neon mesh fingerless gloves. FABULOUS. Am I right?)

A little Onion humor from The Onion Book of Known Knowledge.

Poetry, literary form that would be much more effective if poets simply came out and clearly specified: (1) how they were feeling, (2) the potential sources of their emotional state, and (3) any ameliorative actions that should be taken, if necessary. By following these three guidelines rather than obscuring their point with abstract symbolism and airy metaphors, poets would not only be able to communicate their feelings more quickly and efficiently, they might also manage to feel a little better in the process; indeed the fact that poets avoid confronting their feelings directly might be the source of the problem.

For example, Sylvia Plath’s poem “Daddy” would have been much more productive for her and her readers if she had stripped away all the imagery involving shoes and the Holocaust and simply written: “Hello, my father died when I was 8 and that has caused me a lot of psychological problems throughout my life. Also my husband, Ted Hughes, recently had an affair and we are now separated, so that has been a difficult thing for me, too.”

The Onion Encyclopedia on the father of American poetry:

Whitman, Walt (b. May 31, 1819 d. Mar. 26, 1892), 19th-century American poet whose poems evoked the great, benevolent spirit of America, a country that is and always has been incredibly tolerant and supportive of eccentric gay poets.

One more:

Suburb, levee put in place to prevent the unchecked spread of culture.

And lastly,

Quip, joke made by people who attended an Ivy League college.

– From The Onion Book of Known Knowledge, 183rd Imperial Edition (A Definitive Encyclopaedia of Existing Information in 27 Excruciating Volumes).