Westwind

Poetry

Post by Timothy Calla

Social media is a vast well of untapped and underappreciated talent in the world of spoken word poetry. Even as a term, “social media” harbors a negative connotation as a space reserved for vapid millennials and overly opinionated old people. Even if there is some truth to stereotypical exchanges, such as the older relative who violently comments about politics on all your pictures and the youth who immediately deletes those inappropriate rants, it doesn’t invalidate social media as a platform of expression. That messy and chaotic convergence of social media and spoken word poetry has born many aspiring spoken word poets. I echo a fellow Westwind-er Dylan Karlsson, whose article about InstaPoetry asserts that, for many young writers, social media is their only exposure to the world of poetry. For the spoken word bard, social media allows their work to be experienced anytime and anywhere. This liberty is so massive that it changes the nature of spoken word as a consumable performance.

Spoken word is a performance art–a performance poetry–where the actions on stage, the intonations of the voice, and the social surroundings play a role in the experience and interpretation of the poetry itself. Once a single performance is captured in a recording, that single act exists in a distinct realm different from the clones of its future or past selves. The act of rehearsing a poem for the stage is less about mastering the words, but about capturing the spirit of the poem in the performance. Thus, the poem and performance are synonymous to the identity of the work. And those small qualifying differences in performing the same poem then creates different versions of that poem. If I get on stage and perform a spoken word poem a hundred times, each time emphasizing different words, gesturing differently, with changing tempos and speeds, the poem, by the nature of the performance, will be different than its other ninety-nine counterparts.

That’s why social media and spoken word poetry tango so perfectly. They match each other’s steps, social media swings around the hip of spoken word poetry and spins it to new heights (Okay, I don’t really know how to tango). Social media creates opportunities for spoken word poets to be experienced beyond the stage or the open mic. Don’t get me wrong, to experience spoken word poetry live is still far more gratifying than through the screen, but it matters immensely that there is an avenue for poets to be experienced even if they can’t, or aren’t ready to, get on stage.The first performance of a budding, spoken word poet may be the recording posted to Instagram, where they perform in their room. That same poem will then be experienced on the stage once they are ready. And each recording of that poem, from bedroom to stage, will be distinct in identity. Social media allows those thirty second snippets of spoken word poetry to exist as its own form of art.

If you’re interested in checking out or supporting spoken word, I recommend a group on Instagram called Buttonpoetry. They post short clips of spoken word events, some of the poets are well versed and well known such as Rudy Francisco, and others are up and coming spoken word poets shedding themselves on the same stage as the pros.

Post by Dylan Karlsson

This spring, Westwind is launching an instapoetry series on our Instagram account @westwinducla, lending our platform as a communal space for sharing instapoems by students, readers, and writers alike. Instapoetry appears on our feeds, on bestseller lists, and in our poetic discourse, often derisively, with undermining sentiment or parody. Despite the abundance of conversation and speculation about the merits of instapoetry, there is a lack of critical, serious engagement with the form. Westwind’s very own Tatianna Giron contended with critiques of Rupi Kaur’s work in her article. The go-to critique of instapoetry made by critics, that it is over-commercial, obsessed with branding and image, could just as easily be waged against the academic standard-holders of “Poetry with a capital P.”

Courtesy of @nayyirah.waheed

As poet Momtaza Mehri writes in her piece Letters From a Young (Female) Poet, “For some, Instagram and Pinterest will serve as a gateway drug into more complex and messy renderings of the human experience. This is especially true for younger, budding poets who are already hyper-aware of the feminized and racialized biases they will have to contend with. Young poets who want to experiment and grow don’t need to be patronized or lectured to about Real Poetry™.”

Poetry is always in flux, changing hands and mutating its structure, and along with it, audience and market. To begin to limit the definition of poetry would be to limit its potential, and to deny the many young poets, many of whom are women of color, just beginning their practice and career as writers. In envisioning the medium’s future, we should be working towards open access to tools of community and criticism, not expending our energy on a discourse that merely builds fortifications for a professional class of poets.

Courtesy of @nayyirah.waheed

As so many have articulated, poetry is not a zero-sum game, and so, acceptance of a new poetic community should not be predicated on assimilation into a singular poetic mold. Rather, new poetic forms can cohere new communities, which soon flourish into outgrowths of creation and further potential. In taking poetry to the realm of social media, even with all the entanglements that terrain presents, we are reminded of poetry’s tangible utility: how it can foster community, offer a sense of awareness and belonging, and promote resilience and mental health care. The practice of poets Nayyirah Waheed and Yrsa Daley-Ward is one attuned to healing and self-discovery, their work reading like meditations for a healthy practice of living through trauma and doubt. Still, the nascent instapoetry community is growing and exploring the possibilities for the medium.

In support of instapoets, with or without a “following,” Westwind invites submissions of your work to our Instagram page. We encourage a departure from the typical marketing-termed “engagement,” to a critical engagement with the words and work of active and practicing poets.

Post by Tatianna Giron

Rupi Kaur is a name that most people are familiar with, even if they don’t read poetry. The 25-year old Canadian-Indian woman has amassed a 2.2 million following on Instagram. Her work, milk and honey, has sold over a million copies online and been translated into several languages. Her newest work, the sun and her flowers, ranked #2 on Amazon’s bestselling list. You may not have seen her work personally, but parodies of it which are all over the internet and do an admittedly accurate job at emulating her style (see image below).

But Rupi Kaur has done something that most poets haven’t been able to. She’s made poetry—or at least her brand of it—an art form that few people read, popular. But does popularity translate to authenticity? Can Kaur’s work—and the works of other social media poets—be considered actual poetry?

Social-Media Style Poetry—“Instapoetry”

A Rupi Kaur poem (unaltered)

A meme (mostly unaltered)
Courtesy of UCLA Meme Page

Kaur’s style can be described as bite-sized aphorisms and reflections intended to resonate with the reader on the topics of trauma, abuse, and love. The language is simple and minimalistic, with random line breaks, a lack of punctuation, and liberal use of blank space. Among the numerous criticisms she faces for her work are:

  1. over-simplified language and content, you don’t have to exert a lot of mental energy to understand her poems (e.g. “if you are not enough for yourself/ you will never be enough/ for someone else”)
  2. anti-intellectualism, or, “the open denigration of intellectual engagement and [the] rejection of craft” (The Cult of the Noble Amateur)
  3. confusing personal trauma for collective trauma in trying to generalize the South Asian female experience, therefore possibly commodifying abuse (The Problem with Rupi Kaur’s poetry)

The issue that most critics seem to have, however, is that she’s profiting off these 3-7 line ramblings and receives multiple media coverage, when there are much more talented poets out there that dedicate much more mental energy to their craft, and they’ve been largely ignored by the mainstream.

Kaur isn’t the only poet who’s gained popularity through social media, but she is the one who receives the most backlash for her popularity (which is again, probably because of her Internet exposure). Social-media poets like Nayyirah Waheed, Lang Leav, R.M. Drake, R.M. Broderick, Christopher Poindexter, Nikita Gill, and Amanda Lovelace, are among others whose followers form their readership, and who all have the same aphoristic, cliched, and straightforward writing. But is it a bad thing to write poetry that is accessible to the masses?

What is poetry?

Courtesy of Free Library of Philadelphia

A quick Google search will tell you that poetry is defined as “literary work in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by the use of distinctive style and rhythm.” So poetry can be defined by two things: 1) the expression of feelings/ideas and 2) using style and rhythm to express them.

As someone that both writes and reads poetry, I would argue for two different definitions. Writing a poem is like trying to take a mental dump while you’re constipated. It’s quite painful, to be honest. You have to be precise with your imagery, word choice, and meter. But when you finish, you realize it’s just a draft, and you have to go back and reconsider all those things. And repeat over and over again. The whole editing process is mentally strenuous. But when you finally get it all out on paper, there’s an overwhelming sense of relief.

From a reader’s perspective, a poem should be like a puzzle. Some poems are 10-piece puzzles, and those are the ones that are easier to construct, but they give you less satisfaction because there’s no struggle. There’s little mental exertion. But other poems are 100-, 500-, and 1000-piece puzzles, and it may require a lot of mental energy to comprehend them—heck, some poems aren’t ever meant to be understood, and those are the 1000-piece puzzles. But when you can glean meaning from a poem, the mental satisfaction is worth it. Poetry is basically a masochistic art.

Rupi Kaur’s poems, and the other Instapoems, are like those 10-piece puzzles. It’s great to understand their words at face value, but there’s no intrigue. Because there’s little substance behind them, there’s no appreciating their beauty, or experiencing the satisfaction of finally uncovering their meaning.

Taste is subjective, but attention to craft and intention aren’t

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Kaur doesn’t respond to criticisms of her work, but she has stated that she views poetry as the art of free expression. In her interview with The Cut, she reveals she used to teach creative writing to high-school and college students. As she states:

“For me it was like less about teaching writing and more about providing an environment where people were comfortable enough to express themselves freely, which is what I feel like is needed to write poetry…. the best part was they’d walk away, like, oh, I can do this, I’m a poet. I’m like, yeah, you are” (Fischer interviews Rupi Kaur).

She also states that she intends her language to be simple so that it’s accessible to even those whose first language isn’t English, such as the case with her and her family when they first moved to Canada when she was 4 (NPR Radio Interview). I can definitely appreciate her intentions to write in such a way that promotes free expression and accessibility to all.

Ultimately, I think whether or not you like Kaur and other social media poets is a matter of taste. They definitely have polarizing effects. One of my friends loved milk and honey, and said it was the most relatable thing she had ever read, while another said that Kaur’s poems read like something the 12-year-old her would have written in her private diary. Personally, I think it’s beautiful that Kaur was able to encapsulate feelings that millions of people related to. While I don’t find her poetry to be artistic necessarily, I do think of it as riding on that Instagram/Tumblr “spilled ink” trend. And if her Instapoetry helps make poetry as an art form accessible to more people, I hope it also serves as a gateway to better-crafted poetry. Sort of like how children who hate reading literature read Percy Jackson and the Olympians, then decide to read, say, The Illiad. As long as it promotes greater readership, I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

 

Post by Rhiannon Wilson

It’s February, and that means everything will be a bit rose-tinged for the next few weeks. Regardless of your relationship status, Valentine’s Day can be stressful, with tension perforating your good mood until it resembles white lace—without the fun decorating aspect. Why not cozy up with candles, some form of chocolate, and dog-eared pages this holiday? Legends are not totally clear as to why Saint Valentine was martyred, but the cause of your enjoyment will be much easier to see with these lovely books to keep you company.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke

This 20th-century Austrian poet had a life filled with travels and discourses with very smart women. The result: a plethora of mystical poems, musing on love and nature that resonate even if you can’t read in the original German or French. Rilke uses classical Greek motifs and characters in some works, such as the Sonnets of Orpheus, allowing an easy connection point for anyone familiar with tragic romances. His lines are especially beautiful when spoken aloud….or taken completely out of context for a Valentine card that you could pretend to have written. Construction paper, anyone?

Courtesy of Goodreads

All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks

This is a fantastic, comprehensive book that everyone should read if they want to improve their relationships and emotional health. bell hooks is widely regarded as a feminist authority on recovery and dissecting the patriarchy. In this novel she describes how people have internalized prejudices, only to let them out in intimate relationships. Her range covers more than romance, however, extending to familial and platonic connections, making it a valuable read for everybody.

Courtesy of Goodreads

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

In the humble opinion of this English major, this Pulitzer-winner has everything a person could want in a novel: adventure, kisses, and super-detailed descriptions of punching Nazis. Chabon’s plot charts the origins of the American comic book industry through the tale of two cousins in 1940s New York. Some of it was even researched at the UCLA libraries! There is a heartbreaking romance, but love seeps through every line, from the commitment to art to friendship and loyalty. The best part? It’s nearly 700 pages!  If you’re stressed about Valentine’s Day plans, you’ll be occupied for at least a week.

Courtesy of Goodreads

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

This novel is pure romance, in the standard genre sense. Waters is known for lesbian literature in different time periods, and this Victorian take makes for a suspenseful read. A pickpocket is hired to swindle an heiress of her fortune, and the multiple character perspectives that the narrative uses creates a stunning picture of how strangely a conspiracy could unravel. If you want something fun to watch, you’re in luck! The BBC adapted the book for a mini-series in 2005, and Park Chan-wook directed another version in 2016; he sets the film in Japan-occupied Korea, and the plot twists are different enough from the original novel that both leave the reader happy.

Hopefully, these books will entertain you and your partner, or at least give you something fun to talk about with your crush.

 

Post by Tatianna Giron

When one thinks of February approaching, the most common association is the looming date of Valentine’s Day. As we approach the month, it is either met with groans (from the cynics who believe V-Day is a consumerist black-hole) or with cheers (from the romantics who believe V-Day is a consumerist black-hole but rejoice in it). But there are a lot more things to look forward to in February—for example, an amazing plethora of poetry readings. The list below only contains seven of them, but here’s to hoping it will also help you associate the month with more than just roses and chocolates.

Courtesy of Flypoet

1. Flypoet All-Star Spoken Word & Music Showcase

Flypoet runs a monthly showcase that features both performance poets, spoken word artists, performance art, and live music from L.A. Artists. It runs the first Friday of every month. This February’s showcase features renowned spoken word artists such as Ebony Stewart, Louis Conphliction, and Christopher Michael.

Location: 218 S La Brea Ave, Inglewood, CA 90301

Date & Time: Feb. 2 at 8 p.m. (doors open at 7 p.m.)

Tickets: $20 at door

For More Info: http://www.flypoet.com/next-show.php

Courtesy of Poetry Foundation

2. Poetry Reading by Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo is a poet of the Muscogee (Creek) nation, whose poetry is influenced by First Nation storytelling and histories, as well as feminist and social justice critiques. As a result, her poetry often includes references to indigenous myths and symbols, and centers around the Southwest and Southeast, but also the need for remembrance and transcendence. The 2018 Jean Burden Reading at Cal State LA is honoring Joy Harjo for a poetry reading, Q&A, and book sales/signing.

Location: Golden Eagle Ballroom, California State University, Los Angeles, 5151 State University Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90032

Date & Time: Feb. 5 at 6 p.m. (arrive at 5:30 p.m. for buffet supper)

Tickets: no tickets/reservations needed

For More Info: https://www.pw.org/literary_events/poetry_reading_by_joy_harjo

Courtesy of Poets House

3. Poetry Reading by Ching-In Chen

Ching-In Chen is a genderqueer and multi-genre author of the novel-in-poems The Heart’s Traffic, and most recently, Recombinant. They have been awarded fellowships from Can Serrat, Millay Colony for the Arts, the Norman Mailer Center, and Imagining America. Chen’s poetry has been featured at poetry readings across the country, including Poets Against Rape, Word from the Streets, and APAture Arts Festival: A Window on the Art of Young Asian Pacific Americans. Chen is a senior editor of The Conversant and poetry editor of Texas Review. They currently teach creative writing and world literature at Sam Houston State University.

Location: The Forum, Goldsmith Campus, 9045 Lincoln Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90045

Date & Time: Feb. 7 at 7:30 p.m.

For More Info: https://www.pw.org/literary_events/chingin_chen

Courtesy of Beyond Baroque

 4. An Evening of Spoken Word

Beyond Baroque often hosts readings by talented and inspirational poets, and this reading is no exception. As the flyer states, “Sentenced to 36 years as a juvenile offender, Gonzalo found his poetic voice inside the prison walls. Gonzalo’s poetry is raw and organic from the ground up, revealing the beauty found in the depth of the Dark Time of the Soul. Join us in honoring one man’s journey inside the beast where he ultimately found redemption.”

Location: 681 Venice Blvd, Venice, CA, 90291

Date & Time: Feb. 9 at 8 p.m.

Tickets: RSVP required. Reserve tickets here: https://interland3.donorperfect.net/weblink/weblink.aspx?name=E253261&id=47

For More Info: https://www.facebook.com/events/221864311690944/

Courtesy of Rattle

5. Rattle Poetry Series feat. Brendan Constantine and Rayon Lennon

Rattle is an American poetry magazine based in LA. Every second Sunday Rattle presents a reading featuring poets from the current issue at the Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse. This month’s issue features Brendan Constantine and Rayon Lennon.

Brendan Constantine was born in Los Angeles. His collections of poetry include Letters To Guns, Birthday Girl With Possum, and Calamity Joe. Brendan tours regularly, bringing his poetry and workshops to theaters, schools, libraries, correctional facilities, and community centers across the nation. His fourth collection, Dementia, My Darling, was published in the spring of 2016.

Rayon Lennon was born in Jamaica and immigrated to Connecticut, at age 13. He works as a clinical therapist with adolescents struggling with substance use and mental health. His work has been published in Main Street Rag, StepAway Magazine, Folio, African American Review, Connecticut Review, Callaloo, and others. His first book of poems, Barrel Children, is a finalist for the 2017 Connecticut Book Award for best book of poetry.

Location: Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse, 1010 Foothill Blvd, La Cañada Flintridge, CA, 91011

Date & Time: Feb. 11, 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Tickets: not required, free admission

For More Info: https://www.flintridgebooks.com/instore-events/2017/12/13/rattle-poetry-series-1

Courtesy of Antioch University

6. Literary Uprising

Antioch University hosts annual poetry readings. This year features faculty member Victoria Chang, author of the recently released Barbie Chang and The Boss, and MFA Alum Reader Kirsten Imani Kasai, author of the novel, The House of Erzulie, and the series, Ice Song and Tattoo. Also reading are students Danton Stone and Lisa Croce.

They promise wine and soft drinks, appetizers, and books for sale. Free parking passes are available.

Location: Antioch University, 400 Corporate Pointe, Culver City, CA, 90230, Room A1000

Date & Time: Feb. 13 at 6 p.m.

Tickets: Free admission

For More Info: https://www.antioch.edu/los-angeles/event/literary-uprising-4/

Courtesy of Stories BooksandCafe

7. Voices from Leimert Park Redux Anthology

Stories BooksandCafe is a bookstore located in Echo Park that caters to the larger literary community of Los Angeles. They host an array of events, from book release parties, comedy shows, live music, and community meetings. Voices from Leimert Park Redux is a poetry anthology that encapsulates the diverse writings of the Leimert Park area. It features African-American writers and other writers of color embracing new radical voices; one of the vehicles for their voices is this spoken word performance. The poets have been confirmed for this reading, but more details are TBA.  

Location: 1716 W Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90026

Date & Time: Feb. 23 at 8 p.m.

Tickets: Free admission

For More Info: https://www.facebook.com/events/322309301617627/

eduardo(post by Dylan Karlsson)

On Thursday, April 28th Eduardo Corral was invited to read as part of the Hammer’s Poetry Reading Series put on by Stephen Yenser. Capping off the yearly celebration of National Poetry Month this April, Eduardo Corral took the stage to share poems from his first collection Slow Lightning, as well as a few newer poems.

slow lightening
Corral opened by dedicating his reading to Chicano/Chicana poets who paved a literary pathway for him to follow, including Lorna Dee Cervantes, José Montoya, Martín Espada, Sandra Cisneros, Pat Mora, etc. He expressed his desire to wear those influences on his sleeve,

His book, Slow Lightning, which won the Yale Younger Poets Prize in 2012 is a florid and darkly imaginative work, ripe with images of an erotic and vulnerable nature. Corral displayed the breadth of his form, reading ekphrastic, persona, and portrait poems. It is no mistake these forms focus on the contents of a frame, be it in art or the self; Corral’s poetry is as obsessed with interiority as it is with the borders enclosing such secluded/exclusive places.

Exclusion and intrusion became central themes for the night, as he read several new poems taking on the perspective of a border patrol agent, finding unclaimed bodies on the Devil’s Highway. His work addressed both the danger and stigma of crossing the border, to risk one’s life in crossing the desert. Similarly a case of countering stigma, Corral read two poems with the same title, “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome,” entering into natural, yet surreal scenes accented with fauna and string instruments. In the poem, the body exists within these bordering images, at once mystical and exposed.

Coming from the Arizona city Casa Grande (pronounced “grand”), Corral exhibits his code-switching between English and Spanish as a method of displacement. As he said of his varied use of language and dialect, it is just a “different form of music” employed in the poem. Central to his generous reading style was an awareness of the social boundaries which exist for the disenfranchised, the undocumented and the stigmatized. Corral’s work opens an entry-way for those voices existing between borders, as he welcomes – with care and caution – all language, to play and intermingle.

(Post by Dylan Karlsson)

Visual poetry communicates itself through the materiality of the word, often exploring words as signs and symbols rather than a collection of sounds. One glance at a visual poem and you may be puzzled, bereft of words, for sometimes there is no telling what a visual poem says. But their message lies in their construction, which is often process driven, falling more in line with the practicum of design, mathematics or computer science than it does poetry.

For instance, take the art/visual poetry of Cornelis Vleeskens. The Australian poet borrows influence from Dadaism in his hectic and collage-like designs. He plays with language and characters, font and typography, manipulating the artifice of language and disregarding the customary medium of poetry: speech. Yet the poet is still in full control of language. Vleeskens’ animated and interpretive visual poems communicate without saying a word. Here are two selections from his book “A H !”:

Cornelius

Another visual poet is bpNichol, whose work in translations of a poem by Apollinaire led to new experimentations in the realm of visual poetics. His translations on a typewriter led to interpretations of the poem as a machine that generates lines, and arranged letters in varying formations. bpNichols used the process of xerography to explore the frailty of language and perhaps to meta-articulate the degenerative process of translation. He copied the Apollinaire poem on a Xerox machine until the words devolved into unintelligible markings.

bpNichol

The beauty of visual poetry lies in its potential, being able to convey meaning and employ creativity through text, images, graphics, or diagrams. Today, contemporary visual poets like Derek Beaulieu and Geof Huth are continuing to experiment with text, finding new ways to explore the visual medium of poetry.

warsanshire
(Post by Nahal Amouzadeh)

“give your daughters difficult names. give your daughters names that command the full use of tongue. my name makes you want to tell me the truth. my name doesn’t allow me to trust anyone that cannot pronounce it right.” – Warsan Shire

When someone mispronounces my name and does not care to fix their fumbling mouth, I say I don’t care, not to put the person to ease, but simply because I don’t. I don’t care that this speaker is used to Ashley and Kelly and Jessica, Johnson and Richmond and Michaels. I don’t care that this is all they know. I don’t care that this is all they wish to know. I don’t care because I’ve heard it before, I’ve dealt with it all, and I have learned that these people live in small, little rooms where the light is dim and the books on the shelf are dusty and there is comfort in abundance, but only for its constant inhabitant; no visitors allowed. I don’t care that I am not invited; I relish in the freedom outdoors.

It’s a feeling that not many people have shared with me. I hear my loneliness echoed when people say: “What an interesting name. What are you?” I see it when they lean forward after I’ve introduced myself and ask, “What?” I clench my jaw when an embarrassed smile appears on their face and they butcher my name and I try to laugh it, my name, my identity, myself, right off. They’re not embarrassed of their ignorance, they are embarrassed for me and I am too empathetic to ignore the nervousness in their soft chuckle. I feel the blush creep to my cheeks before I can stop it and it only fades when I’m angrily alone again, reminding myself that I am not a visitor in that small, little room of theirs. They are the ones who have stepped outside and they should be ashamed of the way they refuse to let their eyes to adjust to the light.

Warsan Shire is a Somali poet based in London and I find that reading her poetry makes me feel that much less alone, a goal that many writers attempt but few attain completely, in my honest opinion.

I am the child of two immigrants and I am a woman. I live in a weird divide, where sometimes, the only thing each world has in common is the outright misogyny. At school, I stare at the boy in the center of the classroom, cutting off every voice that can’t match his aggressive volume. At home, I hear my brother snicker and shamelessly say that I should be the one washing the dishes – the reason why is heavily implied.

Warsan Shire was born in 1988, in Kenya, but emigrated to the UK when she was just a year old. Standing on the border of two worlds is something she expresses in her poetry, but the plight of being a millennial woman, in the wake of a third wave of feminism, while standing along this edge is sometimes louder. Having these three ‘bases’ in my identity covered in literature is often impossible, but Shire is one of few that touches on them all.

I’ve found that a lot of her poems are placed in fragments on the internet and they usually lose this message of duality in the identity. Sometimes even entire poems can be read as simple feminist prose without the emphasis on two cultures meshing or clashing into one person. Her poem, “for women who are ‘difficult’ to love.” is open for interpretation, as is all poetry, but given her background and many other pieces that directly describe her experience as an immigrant, I find that the words are laced in this division. I note that when Shire speaks of love as it sits on the horizon, it is also foreign on the tongue for those dealing with duality.

Shire writes her poem with a motherly, authoritative speaker discussing a strong personality attempting to fall in love with a man who can’t ‘handle’ her. This voice tells the personality she is not to be “tamed,” that the man before her doesn’t understand her, and she should not bend to him. As a first generation, this strong personality she wrote of resonated with me. Even if I didn’t consider myself anything close to a “racing horse,” as she describes, my name and family and culture already seem like flames and any Jessica, Lindsey, Michael or Kyle react accordingly, tending to their wounds upon introduction to my family’s way of living. If I wasn’t considered bold by white feminist standards, I certainly come across that way to those same judges because I am not of the same culture. I am different. I am ‘Other.’ And to be open to love as a Something-American in America, I am watching it as it sits on the horizon, but fearful to let it come closer. I wonder if it, too, will find my flames too high.

But I don’t bend. Shire’s poem is a reminder that not only is love (specifically with a white person) not the be-all, end-all for assimilation, it is also not meant to diminish. It is not water. It is heat and it should let the flames flourish.

My name is on a sign along the horizon from where I stand, standing proudly in front of a blood-orange sun. It serves as a warning. I am a racing horse not to be tamed, and if you would like to ride along, please progress. But if not, please stay in your little, dark room.

Shire reminds me through her poetry that there is bravery in being a first generation woman and I thank her for that. And I encourage anyone to dig into her writing. She’s wonderful without comparison, but truth be told, poetry is a white man’s world (especially the canon that we are pumped in our English classes), and it is refreshing to read something refreshingly new. I think many will agree.

Her small book of poetry, “teaching my mother how to give birth,” is up on Amazon for purchase.
teaching my mother

unnamed
(Post by Dylan Karlsson)

This past summer I spent a week in Montréal with my brother. As for any trip we make to a new city, we spent some time researching what hidden, literary history we could uncover to better make sense of the city’s draw for writers and artists. We found plenty of used bookstores (some English, some French), a collective of young, upcoming writers brought together by Metatron Press, and the publishing power-house of beautifully made graphic novels, Drawn & Quarterly. But nothing was so mysterious as a lost webpage dedicated to the history of a local group of poets, known as the Vehicule Poets. Throughout the 70s, they led weekly readings, held exhibitions in gallery spaces and cultivated their own style of video-poetry. Browsing through what sparse relics of their existence we could find online, the poems of Artie Gold (though we found few), which approached us with effortless sincerity. These were the kinds of poems that turned with a single breath from casual flippancy to the casual heart of all being. Though centered in Montréal, his influences stemmed from the San Francisco Beat and New York scenes: carving out a style all his own while taking his spontaneous inspiration from the likes of Frank O’Hara, and Jack Spicer.

As we dug through book stacks and criss-crossed from Downtown, to the Latin Quartier, to the Mile End, no evidence of his archived and published works could be found. The Word, an underdog of a bookshop, an auxiliary of McGill University, our only hope to find a remnant of the Vehicule, turned out to be our best bet. Upon asking about Artie Gold, the owner and founder of the store, Adrian King-Edwards led us to a special sign reading: Rue Artie Gold. Apparently The Word was a home to Gold between the store’s conception and his passing. He would often spend his days lingering around the store as if he was the proprietor. It was clear to us his absence was felt at this local store; it took form in King-Edwards’ solemnity when discussing his friend’s work. We gladly (and humbly) took home his collected and selected works, our meager introduction to the poet. I’d recommend taking the time out to search for his work, a clear introduction for me is his “5 Jockey Poems,” which transcend the archaic confines of concrete poetry and speak to that magic and anxiety of the craft, to which all poets can relate.

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(Post by Zach Conner)

Last Thursday, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Sharon Olds visited Los Angeles. She shared some of her recent poetry with a packed audience as part of the Hammer Museum’s autumn reading series.

After an eloquent and venerating introduction from distinguished Prof. Stephen Yenser, curator of Hammer poetry readings, Olds took the stage with immediate grace.

She read excerpts from her latest published collection Stag’s Leap (awarded the 2012 T.S. Eliot Prize), from manuscripts recently accepted by her publisher, and from a series of odes inspired by Pablo Neruda’s Odes to Common Things.

Unfamiliar with Old’s work before the reading, I was at once convinced of Prof. Yenser’s praise: she writes with anatomical acuity, with authority on passions and carnalities, and with unfettered attention to the soul. Her first selection punctuated the night’s repertoire as a prime embodiment of this style, an “Ode to the Clitoris” sanctifying female sexuality as individually holy.

From following poems I learned that Olds reflects on body parts and thoughts equally with intimate carefulness– she is unabashedly erotic and candid. As the nude humiliates the prude, Olds strips the façade from propriety by freely speaking on taboos. One poem celebrated the death of her mother, because with her mother died a lifetime of maternal selfishness and filial disappointment. She scattered the ashes with triumph. Looking up from the page as the poem ended, Olds apologized for its apparent callousness– and then redacted the apology, because the poem is truth. Her poems on death became tender as the reading progressed. In one she depicted death as a return to our elemental bits in abstract, dignified entropy, warmer than any scientific account. The poems from Stag’s Leap, a collection entirely concerned with divorce, confronted the harrowing subjects of love’s impermanence and the vain human desire to mold partners to our own needs.
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While doing some casual research on Sharon Olds, I noticed in a few articles that several critics had found fault in her “self-indulgence.” I thought that this rather reflected the critics’ discomfort in reading immensely personal accounts, which in their clear elucidation of feelings open pathways to empathy, and thereby unravel from the ego. Olds’ poetry may indulge the self, but it does so only to plumb its depths for balance and awareness. Her words do not pompously demand gravity and impact, as alleged– they earn it.

To wind things up with a twist, Olds closed with “Ode to the Penis.” In this poem she now spoke of the other gender, addressing with collected words the pertinent issue of patriarchal oppression. As with her earlier reading of “Ode to my Whiteness,” a poem digesting the difficult facts of white privilege, “Ode to the Penis” felt to me artful and nuanced. As she professed, the poem is “feminist to the core,” but avoids the fervent antagonism rampant in today’s social justice movements. It is a discourse from a single speaker that at once condemns, pities, and loves its subject (the penis, synecdoche for men). My favorite part: it celebrates the extraordinary pairing of phalli in homosexual relationships as the bulldozer razing patriarchal masculinity, and in this celebration gives them as much symbolic weight in the 21st century as the Twin Towers.

You can catch the next Hammer poetry reading with guest Joseph Harrison on November 5th at 7:30 PM.

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