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This blog was on hiatus for the past three years. Updates are coming (relatively) soon.

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National Poetry Month 2017: April 2nd, Maria Hummel

Source: Poetry Foundation


By Maria Hummel

This is the sound of the bell. It rings,
full of brass and the end it brings:
once for the children, once for the child
who sits alone. His eyes hurt and mild,
he waits, holding his things.

Time should hold no meaning
for him yet. You don’t learn
how to play; you forget. But he knows a while
well, and longs for the clang of the bell.

A bell is a room of nothing.
No, a dome with a hidden swing —
a will, a sway, a tone, a peal,
the beginning of song. The wild
crowd nears, passes, laughing.
Here is the sound of the bell.

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National Poetry Month 2017: April 1st, Maya Angelou

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2017: A Year of Sustained Reading

I have a magazine page taped to the wall of my room. I’ve had it for about 12 years now, torn from the pages of a Shape magazine. It shows a woman standing on what must be a cold beach, as she has a long brown wool buttoned sweater blowing back to reveal a beige knit sweater beneath. She’s also wearing a knit scarf, jeans, and brown boots. She stands on the sand with her arms spread eagled above and slightly behind her head; if her figure was inverted 90 degrees, she would look like she is diving into a deep pool. Her eyes are closed.

The text next to her reads: “Think about a time in your life that you’ve really succeeded at a personal goal. Chances are, you focused on it with intent, shutting out distractions and doubt. Focus is knowing what matters to you and committing to it. It’s choosing to ignore the white noise in your own head. When you truly target your mind, your actions will follow–and that is the surest way to write your own future. What are you going to focus on today?”

For a long time, I’ve had trouble answering this question. It’s not easy to sit with the knowledge that you don’t know what you should be focusing on.

Sometimes, in my urgency to choose something, anything, I’ve deliberately picked a crazy goal so I would have something concrete to work towards. That was how I started to run distance races (and why I’m paying for PT now, to deal with injuries sustained from abruptly beginning and stopping training regimens). That was how I decided to go to graduate school. It’s how I started writing theater reviews for zero money.

While I have no regrets about doing any of those things, I will confess that they sometimes felt more like grand gestures to myself than carefully considered plans I intended to pursue long term. It’s easier to run like crazy for four months and then stop completely, than to make a commitment to life-long physical fitness.

So, I knew I was once again making a gesture to myself, when I thought that I wanted to read roughly the equivalent of a book a week for 2017. I lovingly made a list of 52 works, ranging from short plays to medium size novels to War and Peace. I want to commit to reading more, so why not set a challenge for myself?

The tricky thing is avoided early-onset burn out. Of course, I instantly abandoned my carefully curated list for some new books that popped up on my radar the first week of January. Of course my library instantly sent me 3 books I had been on hold for, assuring there would be no time to read them all. And of course it is January 21st, and I have not blogged a word about this new endeavor (even though I have read/listened to about 3 books, so I am on schedule).

But it’s OK. My grand gestures always begin promptly and strongly. So maybe it’s OK that for a new, sustained commitment with no expiration date, I’m off to a messy start.


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Recent Reads: 7/14/16

Some books I have read recently really rocked my socks, and I think you should check them out:

9781594633010Boy Erased: Garrard Conley’s memoir of his adolescence as a closeted gay teen, raised in a strict Southern Baptist family and forced to go through “ex-gay conversion therapy” when he is outed to his parents, is a riveting, quietly painful read. I first heard about the book from reading on LitHub about the book tour Conley and Garth Greenwell recently embarked on in North Carolina. Conley’s writing is beautiful, lyrical, and full of dignity, for both himself and his parents. I listened to the audiobook, and the last line made me stop dead on the sidewalk and screw up my face in an effort to not weep.

hoffman-1On Being Raped: I cannot emphasize enough the timeliness and importance of Raymond Douglas’s slim book. Douglas recounts how he was raped as a young man in an unnamed European country by a Catholic priest, and how the event shaped the rest of his life. Everything about this book is honest, concise, and unflinching, exemplified by its title. So many men suffer the trauma of rape, and their voices and stories are routinely stifled, silenced by fear, shame, or, worst of all, public incredulity and indifference. This needs to stop now. If you live in Boston, I saw a used copy available in the Harvard Bookstore. You can also get it from the BPL, as I did.

9780553447439Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City: What would happen if your landlord decided to kick you out of your rented home with less than a week’s notice? What if you didn’t have enough money or resources to move your belongings from the premises, so they were either dumped on the sidewalk, or taken to storage at your expense? What if you had children, and no place to stay? What if you were unemployed, and your benefits were enough to pay for food or rent, but not both?

Matthew Desmond’s book follows several families in poor neighborhoods of Milwaukee. With deep humanity and empathy, Desmond allows tenants, landlords, trailer park employees, and others, tell their stories. What does it mean that most Americans spend almost half their income on housing? In an age of stagnating wages, rising costs of essential goods, and a raging consumer culture, how is anyone expected to keep afloat?

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National Poetry Month 2016: April 28th, Warsan Shire

For women who are ‘difficult’ to love

By Warsan Shire

you are a horse running alone
and he tries to tame you
compares you to an impossible highway
to a burning house
says you are blinding him
that he could never leave you
forget you
want anything but you
you dizzy him, you are unbearable
every woman before or after you
is doused in your name
you fill his mouth
his teeth ache with memory of taste
his body just a long shadow seeking yours
but you are always too intense
frightening in the way you want him
unashamed and sacrificial
he tells you that no man can live up to the one who
lives in your head
and you tried to change didn’t you?
closed your mouth more
tried to be softer
less volatile, less awake
but even when sleeping you could feel
him travelling away from you in his dreams
so what did you want to do, love
split his head open?
you can’t make homes out of human beings
someone should have already told you that
and if he wants to leave
then let him leave
you are terrifying
and strange and beautiful
something not everyone knows how to love.

Source material from genius.com.

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National Poetry Month 2016: April 27th, Aracelis Girmay

Consider the Hands that Write this Letter

By Aracelis Girmay

after Marina Wilson

Consider the hands
that write this letter.

Left palm pressed flat against paper,
as we have done before, over my heart,

in peace or reverence to the sea,
some beautiful thing

I saw once, felt once: snow falling
like rice flung from the giants’ wedding,

or strangest of strange birds. & consider, then,
the right hand, & how it is a fist,

within which a sharpened utensil,
similar to the way I’ve held a spade,

the horse’s reins, loping, the very fists
I’ve seen from roads through Limay & Estelí.

For years, I have come to sit this way:
one hand open, one hand closed,

like a farmer who puts down seeds & gathers up;
food will come from that farming.

Or, yes, it is like the way I’ve danced
with my left hand opened around a shoulder,

my right hand closed inside
of another hand. & how I pray,

I pray for this to be my way: sweet
work alluded to in the body’s position to its paper:

left hand, right hand
like an open eye, an eye closed:

one hand flat against the trapdoor,
the other hand knocking, knocking.

Source material from the Poetry Foundation.


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National Poetry Month 2016: April 26th, Jenny Johnson

In the Dream

By Jenny Johnson

I was alone in a dyke bar we’d traversed before
or maybe it was in a way all our dives

merging together suddenly as one intergalactic composite,
one glitter-spritzed black hole,

one cue stick burnished down to a soft blue nub.
Picture an open cluster of stars

managing to forever stabilize in space
without a landlord scheming to shut the place down.

Anyways, I was searching for someone there
whom we hadn’t seen in years—in what

could have been Sisters, Babes, the Lex, the Pint,
the Palms, or the E Room? but the room

had no end and no ceiling.
Though I could see all of our friends or exes

with elbows up or fingers interlocked
on table tops zinging with boomerangs.

Maybe the tables were spinning, too. I can’t be sure.
But just as a trap that trips before

hammering a mouse is not humane
the dream changed—or the alarm

that I carry in my breast pocket in my waking life
was sounding. Because in the dream,

three people on bar stools, who were straight
or closeted? but more importantly angry

turned and the room dwindled
like a sweater full of moths eating holes

through wool. Or they were humans, sure,
but not here to love

with jawlines set to throw epithets like darts
that might stick or knick or flutter past

as erratically as they were fired.
You could say their hostility was a swirl

nebulous as gas and dust,
diffuse as the stress

a body meticulously stores.
Like how when I was shoved in grade school

on the blacktop in my boy jeans
the teacher asked me if I had a strawberry

because the wound was fresh as jam, glistening
like pulp does after the skin of a fruit is

peeled back clean with a knife.
I was in the dream as open to the elements,

yet I fired back. And I didn’t care who eyed me
like warped metal to be pounded square.

I said: Do you realize where you are?

And with one finger I called our family forth
and out of the strobe lights, they came.

Source from the Academy of American Poets.

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National Poetry Month 2016: April 25th, Li-Young Lee

Little Father

By Li-Young Lee

I buried my father
in the sky.
Since then, the birds
clean and comb him every morning
and pull the blanket up to his chin
every night.

I buried my father underground.
Since then, my ladders
only climb down,
and all the earth has become a house
whose rooms are the hours, whose doors
stand open at evening, receiving
guest after guest.
Sometimes I see past them
to the tables spread for a wedding feast.

I buried my father in my heart.
Now he grows in me, my strange son,
my little root who won’t drink milk,
little pale foot sunk in unheard-of night,
little clock spring newly wet
in the fire, little grape, parent to the future
wine, a son the fruit of his own son,
little father I ransom with my life.

Source material from the Academy of American Poets.


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National Poetry Month 2016: April 24th, Ogden Nash

Old Men

By Ogden Nash

People expect old men to die,
They do not really mourn old men.
Old men are different. People look
At them with eyes that wonder when…
People watch with unshocked eyes;
But the old men know when an old man dies.

Source material from All Poetry.

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