blessing the boats
lucille clifton

(at St. Mary’s)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back      may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

“you should write what you want to forget, not what you want to remember.” -sandra cisneros

putting together a new manuscript, i’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to write with the intent to compile, to piece together personal and community histories, and the risks we run in that pursuit. i’ve found that in the process of challenging myself to write what i really need to, i’m pushing myself into unchartered (or avoided?) emotional territories. i’ve chastised myself for writing easy poems. or relegating myself to what i know i do well: the lonely queer nyc poem. i don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong or inauthentic in getting these out, but i think i know i need to carve into the other elements that interact with #queer, #city, #identity. that means, #family, #trauma, #memory. aaaaand, that’s scary. the kinds of questions i have are, how do we take care of ourselves when taking the first steps in that direction? what structures of personal care do we need to have in place in order to go there? i guess what i’m saying is, that i am beginning to legitimize my hesitation in taking on those subjects. i am beginning to sludge through the mess of it, though, and it’s been a whirlwind of emotions. i haven’t decided if it’s worth it yet, to “open up a can of worms.”

i do know that as difficult as it’s been to read poems that take on the burden of speaking trauma and how it lives in the body and landscape, of taping together the fragments of memory and experience, i have felt more on edge, but also less alone. i know that because i can relate to these voices where quietness blares, where interstices are long, where some facts don’t come out, that there’s a place for my own voice there. because they make so much sense and resonate so powerfully. so, that makes me know the process is important and valuable, however harrowing. and if i can feel the least bit healed by the attempts of other folks in speaking their stories, then something positive must come from my own?

VERBAL GRAFFITI 2
by Emanuel Xavier

It’s JOYCE JONES ON PERCUSSION. It’s passing the blunt and deep conversations on the stoop. It’s having other poets walk around quoting, ‘YO, MIRIAM, THROW DOWN THE BABY.’ It’s understanding religion. IT’S SOMEONE WHISPERING ‘FAGGOT.’ IT’S POETS DEGRADING PERFORMANCE POETS AS ‘NOT REALLY’ POETS. It’s not reading anything but REAL POETRY all summer. It’s poetic ‘prose.’ It’s reading between the lines. It’s making a decision for yourself. It’s rhythms and syllables and words. IT’S WORDS UNSAID. Traditions, culture, spirituality, time. IT’S DRAMA! IT’S THE PAST MANIFESTING ITSELF IN MY PRESENT AS I WORK TOWARDS THE FUTURE. It’s MIGUEL PIÑERO at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. It’s feeling inspired and inspiring others. REVOLUTION-EVOLUTION- PEACE-FREEDOM. It’s PRINCESS WALKING RUNWAY. IT’S WILLI NINJA VOGUING. IT’S BETTE DAVIS AND JOAN CRAWFORD FILMS IN BLACK AND WHITE. It’s the BRONX ZOO. It’s reading FITZFERALD’S THE GREAT GATSBY IN A SOUTH AMERICAN BEACH AND IN BROOKLYN LIVING OFF ARROZ CON HABICHUELAS Y GHETTO JUICE. IT’S PEDRO ALMODOVAR FILMS.

It’s cruising pieces at the piers. IT’S CONVERSATIONS OVER THE INTERNET WITH JUSTIN CHIN, WHO’S ‘NOT BITTER JUST DESCRIPTIVE.’ IT’S BEING ON THE CAFE CON LECHE FLOAT FOR GAY PRIDE. IT’S ‘THE PHILLY, THE PHILLY, THE PHILLY, THE BLUNT.’ It’s wearing all black once a year to protest police brutality. IT’S PAMELA SNEED asking me to read at NEW NEUTRAL ZONE. It’s touching the lives of gay and lesbian youth. IT’S PERFORMING ‘CHELSEA QUEEN’ AT DUMBA WITH BILLY AND CARLOS DOLLS AT GAY SHAME. It’s everything that goes around comes around. IT’S PICKING UP THE POETRY CALENDAR TO FIND OUT WHEN THE HELL I’M READING. IT’S THE INSANITY OF MY LIFE. IT’S POETRY IN MOTION. IT’S A BOOK CALLED PIER QUEEN. It’s acknowledging my strengths and weaknesses yet having the audacity to self-publish the book anyways. It’s a vicious review in THE NEW YORK BLADE. It’s watching other poets get too big for their own britches and keeping a distance. It’s running into the drug dealers you used to work for and giving them an autographed copy of your book. IT’S HARLEM IN THE SUMMER. It’s BASKETBALL DIARIES. IT’S THE BOYS AT KINKO’S. IT’S JULEE CRUISE’S ‘INTO THE NIGHT.’ IT’S PASSIONATE SEX WITH SOMEONE YOU LOVE. IT’S FALLING IN LOVE. IT’S EXPRESSING ANGER AND PAIN AND LETTING IT GO. IT’S MOVING ON. IT’S SPIRITUAL GROWTH. IT’S BEAUTY IN DARKNESS. IT’S WORDS THAT DON’T RHYME. IT’S ART. IT’S POETRY. IT’S KEEPING IT REAL. IT’S SPRAY-PAINTED IMAGES TAGGED FOREVER IN MY SOUL.

“We artists get on a tightrope when we tackle subjects that are beyond the merely personal.  But far from ever trying to dissuade anyone from writing about these subjects, I urge them to head straight into those subjects.  The risks that come with any writing project are in fact the opportunities of that project: they are what make the project worth doing in the first place.  In poetry, there is no such thing as hands-off material.  A poem never fails because of its subject matter—it fails because the poet has inadequately given depth and shape to that subject matter.  Dramatic historical periods, natural disasters, grand personal wounds—writing about these subjects raises the stakes tremendously high when you have to write about them inventively, feelingly, thoughtfully.  You have to be ingenious to avoid failure—or, at the least, ingenuity will allow you to fail well.

To my mind, when a poet deals with a subject that is apt to be simplified by polemic or sentiment, it’s contingent on form to prevent those reductions.  By form I don’t necessarily mean traditional forms like sonnets and sestinas, though those forms are as viably powerful today as they ever were.  I mean a shapeliness—whether it is the rapturous listing of Garrett Hongo’s “Nostalgic Catalogue” or the symphonic multiple sections of Adrienne Rich’s “The Burning of Paper Instead of Children”—that asks the reader’s understanding to work at multiple levels.” -Rick Barot