This year for the National Poetry Month series I was determined to find fresh voices in addition to revisiting old favorites. Especially younger poets. And that has been tough because, as I have observed I am out of the academic/little magazine/publishing loop. And out in the boonies of McHenry County I am far removed from what I am assured is a thriving and vital alternative urban spoken word scene centered on poetry slams and the remnants of hip hop culture. As for younger versions of myself—free range poets with little or no academic training or attachments and largely self-publishing on line or in the vanity press, it’s even harder to stumble on those or to weed them out of a forest of earnest but horrible wannabes.
What was I to do? Well, there is always Google. So I typed in something like “young contemporary poets.” The first offering I found was for a four year old entry on a site called Flavorwire by Kathleen Massara. In 10 Contemporary Poets You Should Know she introduced that number of accomplished young poets. I stopped I perused. I was impressed.
A more diligent man might have continued the quest, but I was particularly taken by some of the nominees, so today I am passing three of them on to you with a tip-o’-the-hat to Massara for doing my leg work.
One note of caution—all of these poets are working in the academic/little magazine/indie publishing establishment. The graduated from prestigious schools and writing programs, are teaching, and editing. Still missing are those street poets and outliers. Oh, and the three I am passing on are all women. Massara listed only one man. More evidence of the feminization of poetry, I guess…
Cate Marvin is the privileged daughter of a Washington based CIA analyst. A graduate of Marlboro College, she received M.F.A.s in poetry from the University of Houston and in fiction from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She has a Ph.D. from the University of Cincinnati. Marvin published World’s Tallest Disaster, Sarabande Books in 2001 and Fragment of the Head of a Queen with the same publisher in 2007. She has one an armful of awards and fellowships and taught at the College of Staten Island in New York. A review in Publisher’s Weekly called her a “post-modern Plath” and much of her work is darkly satiric.
Scenes From the Battle of Us
You are like a war novel,
entirely lacking female characters,
except for an occasional letter that makes one of the men cry.
I am like a table
that eats its own legs off
because it’s fallen
in love with the floor.
My frantic hand can’t find where my leg went.
You can play the tourniquet.
A tree with white limbs will grow here someday.
Or maybe a pup tent
that’s collapsed in on itself,
it so loves the sleep
of men sleeping beneath it.
The reason why women dislike war movies
may have something to do with why men hate
romantic comedies: they are both about war.
Perhaps I should live
in a pig’s trough.
here, I’d be wanted.
There, I’d be tasted.
When the mail bag drops from the sky
and lands heavy on the jungle floor,
its letters are prepared to swim away with your tears.
One letter reads:
I can barely feel furtive.
I am diminishing.
Gabrielle Calvocoressi comes from a Connecticut family that once owned small town movie theaters and Drive-ins. She describes herself as being brought up in the movies she saw there as a child, immersed in story. And story, rather than self-absorption, has fueled her work as a poet. She attended prestigious Sarah Lawrence and got her Masters at Columbia. She earned attention and awards for her 2005 Persea Books collection The Last Time I saw Amelia. Earhart which included her long form poem Circus Fire, 1944 about the disastrous Ringling Bros. Circus fire at Hartford. That fire, which occurred near her childhood home, was the stuff of local legend and burned itself into her memory. And, in fact, I have written about it on the blog. The following is a section of that poem.
A Word From the Fat Lady
It isn’t how we look up close
so much as in dreams.
Our giant is not so tall,
our lizard boy merely flaunts
crusty skin- not his fault
they keep him in a crate
and bathe him maybe once a week.
When folks scream or clutch their hair
and poke at us and glare and speak
of how we slithered up from Hell,
it is themselves they see:
the preacher with the farmer's girls
(his bulging eyes, their chicken legs)
or the mother lurching towards the sink,
a baby quivering in her gnarled
hands. Horror is the company
you keep when shades are drawn.
Evil does not reside in cages.
Tina Chang was born in Oklahoma to immigrant parents in 1999 and grew up in New York City to become the first official Poet Laureate of Brooklyn. Not bad. In between she attended Binghamton University and got her Masters in poetry from Columbia—am I sensing a trend here? She authored Half Lit Houses in 2004 and Of Gods and Strangers in 2008. She also co-edited Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry From the Middle East, Asia and Beyond with Nathalie Handal and Ravi Shankar for Norton in 2008. She teaches poetry at Sarah Lawrence College and is an international faculty member at the City University at Hong Kong. Like the other young poets here, she collects honors and awards with depressing regularity.
Perhaps I hold people to impossible ideals,
I tell them, something is wrong with your
personality, (you’re a drinker, you’re
too dependent, or I think you have
a mother/son fixation). This is usually
followed by passionate lovemaking,
one good long and very well meaning
embrace, and then I’m out the door.
In daylight, I’ll tip my sunglasses forward,
buy a cup of tea and think of the good
I’ve done for the world, how satisfying
it feels to give a man something to contemplate.
The heart is a whittled twig. No, that is not
the right image, so I drop the heart in a pile
of wood and light that massive text on fire.
I walk the streets of Brooklyn looking
at this storefront and that, buy a pair of shoes
I can’t afford, pumps from London, pointed
at the tip and heartbreakingly high, hear
my new heels clicking, crushing the legs
of my shadow. The woman who wears
these shoes will be a warrior, will not think
about how wrong she is, how her calculations
look like the face of a clock with hands
ticking with each terrorizing minute.
She will for an instant feel so much
for the man, she left him lying in his bed
softly weeping. He whispers something
to himself like bitch, witch, cold hearted
______, but he'll think back to the day
at the promenade when there was no one there
but the two of them, the entire city falling away
into a thin film of yellow and then black,
and how she squeezed his hand, kissed him
on his wrist which bore a beautifully healed
scar, he will love her between instances
of cursing her name. She will have long
fallen asleep in her own bed, a thin nude
with shoes like stilts, shoes squeezing
the blood out of her feet, and in her sleep
she rises above a disappearing city, her head
touching a remote heaven, though below her,
closer to the ground, she feels an ache at the bottom.