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Emma Trelles
Emma Trelles is the author of the chapbook Little Spells (GOSS183) and Tropicalia, winner of the Andres Montoya Poetry Prize and forthcoming from the University of Notre Dame Press.
Interests: books, bands, poems, peace, hiking, camping, politics, cats, gardens, movies, and mulling.
Recent Activity
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Death of Rubén Salazar (1986), by Frank Romero. In Miami the ocean behaves like a painting, diversity like an artist’s brushstrokes on a canvas, the immigrant like a dreamer. Swaying like a northerly, “Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art”— a powerful art exhibit curated by E. Carmen Ramos and a permanent collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum — made the second stop on its national tour in the temperate landscape of South Florida. From May 9th until May 11th, nine poets from Miami, Tampa, and El Salvador — Elisa Albo, Adrian Castro, Silvia Curbelo, Mia Leonin, Rita Maria Martinez, Caridad Moro-McCormick, Alexandra Lytton Regalado, and yours truly — convened at Florida International University’s Frost Art Museum to respond to the exhibit’sdiverse collection of works. Under the guidance of Francisco Aragón and Emma Trelles, we engaged in a phenomenal workshop entitled, “PINTURA:PALABRA, a project in ekphrasis”—the brainchild of Letras Latinas, the literary initiative of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame. Luis Jiménez’s Man on Fire I felt at home around these brilliant writers whose work I had previously read but who now sat next to me, taking down notes and preparing to give me feedback on my ekphrastic pieces. With these poets, I knelt on the floor to engage with a sculpture, or I hopped imperceptibly to establish a relationship of movement with a large painting. I also laid flat on the floor to re-appreciate certain lines and photographed myself against any piece that could reflect me. Throughout, I maintained mental discussions with a sculpture (Luis Jiménez’s Man on Fire) and with how I could offer it a poem. "How do you want me to read your nakedness?" I asked. "How can I be your medium?" Each time I received a different answer. Through rich exchanges with my fellow poets, I found out some of them had received a newfound creative jolt from the exhibit and this project. We were provided with context and outside materials to help us consider, for example, each work as a cultural artifact or a visual text. My creative productivity increased since I, too, found myself a part of an inclusive community of Latino writers — a community seldom seen while I was growing up in Allapattah, Florida, but which is currently burgeoning in Miami through a wide range of projects and festivals, such as the O, Miami poetry festival. Spending time with the exhibit itself, the poetry we were assigned to read, the theoretical essays we analyzed, and what we ultimately produced allowed us to discuss ekphrastic poetry as an exchange that occurs in translation, the body, sensuality, gender, borderlands, Spanglish, diaspora, and family. Lotería-Tabla Llena (1972), by Carmen Lomas Garza Trelles found ways to engage us with the artwork and with the work of other poets who have embarked on similar journeys. She gave us an outstanding bibliography to understand what we were there to produce. Suddenly, we developed the perspicacity to unravel multifarious tensions between... Continue reading
Posted Jun 15, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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In the quest for a happier, better informed NaPoMo, The Tropical Roundup has returned. This is essentially where I post random or thematically or geographically linked tidbits from Poetry Land. Or culled from news, music, art, gossip, and other realms. Or simply netted from my aquarium brain. "Take almost any path you please, and ten to one it carries you down in a dale, and leaves you there by a pool in the stream. There is magic in it." **The Mission Poetry Series wraps up its 5th season this Saturday, April 5th, at 1 p.m. with a new partnership with Antioch University Santa Barbara and with "April Voices: Three Poets for the Spring of It," featuring Teddy Macker, Phil Taggart, and Friday Lubina. Offering two readings each year in September and April, the series was founded in 2009 by poet and author Paul Fericano, (who also writes a regular column for The Santa Barbara Independent), and Susan Blomstad, a religious sister in the Order of St. Francis and the former director of the Mission Renewal Center in Santa Barbara. ** In other Santa Barbara poetry news: Inaugural poet (and all-around nice guy) Richard Blanco popped into The Book Den recently to say hello and sign his inspiring new book: For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet's Journey. The Book Den is one of California's oldest bookstores and stocks a bounty of new, used, and out-of-print books. Shop indie, folks. It tastes good. ** Over on Barbara Jane Reyes' Poeta y Diwata blog, the Oakland-based poet serves up yet another thoughtful post in which she considers the evolution of her latest poetry project ("And the word was a woman....") along with the complexities of allusion, form, and language. Here's an excerpt: "...we stretch from our initial frames into others’ frames. We build from our foundations and into the cultures that surround us, and which we now inhabit. As a poet frequently referenced for my code switching/operating in multiple registers, this is a no brainer; there’s a language that’s introduced itself into my repertoire. As poets, we sponge up languages, from everywhere." Read the full post here. **And, from the unconfirmed, but no-less enticing, rumor bog: The winner of the 2014 Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize hails from California! A full announcement with the poet's name and details is slated for April 14 at the University of Notre Dame reading featuring 2012 winner Laurie Anne Guerrero (A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying) and prize judge and poet Francisco X. Alarcón. The Letras Latinas blog will post all the good news later that evening.The Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize supports the publication of a first book by a Latino/a poet in the United States, in collaboration with University of Notre Dame Press. Continue reading
Posted Apr 2, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
Coming Fall of 2015 from Sibling Rivalry Press -- The Collected & New Collaborative Work of Denise Duhamel & Maureen Seaton. Excitement! And here are more 2015 titles from SRP, via cue cards & poet extraordinaire Ocean Vuong. --et Continue reading
Posted Jan 28, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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Hey Chicago! Just a reminder: This Thursday, the Poetry Foundation will host two gifted Latino poets at its HQ for a reading, book signing, and reception: Dan Vera -- author of Speaking Wiri Wiri, which won the inaugural Letras Latinas/Red Hen Press prize -- and Orlando Ricardo Menes, who judged the contest and whose newest collection, Fetish, won last year's Prairie Schooner Book Prize. Poetry Off the Shelf: Orlando Ricardo Menes & Dan Vera Thursday, Oct 24, 7:00PM Poetry Foundation 61 West Superior Street Free admission And here's a preview. Windfall Antiques Overdrawn, repoed Grand Prix, workshop in hock To the dogs, Papá mends houses of refugees Who niggle over how much grout to squeeze Into a crack, who bathe in their girdles and socks To skimp on Fab. Checks bounce, taxmen hound, the truck's Muffler shot, Papá scouts groomed lawns for settes, Divans, chaises meant for Goodwill, windfall antiques To fix with mallet, strainer, needle, twine, & chalk. "Waste is for gringos," he'd say, tapping brass nails That wiggle on warped pine or straining buckram On a crippled carcass, my hands dull as I shear Chintz for skirts, though Papá, reverent with details, Irons burlap, measures the tweed sleeves & trim In metrics, smoothes out horsehairs to cashmere. --from Fetish (University of Nebraska Press, 2013), by Orlando Ricardo Menes -- Learn more about the Letras Latinas/Red Hen Press Poetry Prize here. -- Visit the Letras Latinas blog here. --et Continue reading
Posted Oct 21, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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Attention Chicagoans! Next week, the Poetry Foundation will host two gifted Latino poets at its HQ in Chicago for a reading, book signing, and reception: Dan Vera -- author of Speaking Wiri Wiri, which won the inaugural Letras Latinas/Red Hen Press prize -- and Orlando Ricardo Menes, who judged the contest and whose newest collection, Fetish, won last year's Prairie Schooner Book Prize. Poetry Off the Shelf: Orlando Ricardo Menes & Dan Vera Thursday, Oct 24, 7:00PM Poetry Foundation 61 West Superior Street Free admission And here's a poem from Vera's winning collection. Next week, before the reading, we'll offer one from Menes' book as well. My Double I tease you about the dog's affections. You have his eye when you're in the room and when you walk away his ears keep pace in case his feet must follow. He wants for you so dearly when you've departed. I tell you, What am I, chopped liver? But you are his beef bourguignon. You are the steak tartare of his every dream. I play green with envy but the truth is, he is my clearest mirror. If I lived in the lovetime of a dog and thought that every time you left you might not make it back wouldn't I climb the chair near the window? wouldn't I pace the floors in deep distress? --from Speaking Wiri Wiri (Red Hen Press, 2013), by Dan Vera -- Learn more about the Letras Latinas/Red Hen Press Poetry Prize here. -- Visit the Letras Latinas blog here. --et Continue reading
Posted Oct 17, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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I first heard Xánath Caraza read her work last year in Milwaukee at "Cantos Latinos! A Mosaic of Latino Poetry," a poetry and panel of quite diverse Latino poets assembled at the city's library. Xánath sort of blew me away with her reading. I recall her dark hair and a red shawl that, on her, resembled a queenly sort of cape, but what I remember most was the forceful passion she put into the poems she read, the wake-up punch of each word, how, the longer she read, the less her Spanish sounded like language and more like raw sound. I kept thinking of Shangó, the Yoruba deity (or orisha) of lightning and thunder and one whose presence is often associated with music, specifically the percussive power of drums. Her voice had that kind of command to it. I could not imagine a better title for her collection Conjuro, which is the Spanish word for a spell or incantation. She recently spoke to me from her home in Kansas City, and I learned as much about her consideration of culture and history in her work as I did about the sway color holds over it. "Poetry is a feeling of orange," she writes in "Linguistic Filigree." I wanted to know more. ET: I saw you hold a crowd rapt when you read in Milwaukee last year, particular with "Yanga," which felt like one of the central poems of this book, both in its homage to how Africa has helped shape Latin American history *and* because oral tradition has a powerful claim in your work. Let's talk about Yanga first. Tell us who he was. XC: I fell in love with Yanga early in my childhood; we studied him in grammar school. It captured me that he was a real person. He was, while a slave, a community organizer and was able to create the first free zone in the Americas in 1630. In a way, these slaves were unconquerable. The original name of the zone was San Lorenzo de los Negros, but now this town is known as Yanga. I was always fascinated with language, and I pay attention to idioms. We have all these words we know come from Africa, and there are towns in Veracruz,, Mexico, that are named after African voices. So Yanga speaks to the history of Veracruz, and I wanted to put together Yanga's language and the Spanish versions of these words into a poem. Louis Reyes Rivera, an African Puerto Rican scholar and performance poet, had a deep impact on me when I saw him in Kansas City. He was such a nice person when I met him, very calm, down to earth, and then when he stood up to read, he turned into a drum, like a conga, pounding right in front of you. I put all of that together to create "Yanga." Yanga (para Louis Reyes Rivera) Yanga, Yanga, Yanga Yanga, Yanga, Yanga, Hoy, tu espiritu invoco Aqui, en este lugar. Este,... Continue reading
Posted Aug 31, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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South Florida is the coolest part of the country right now, which is kind of spooky but not so much that I won't take that news as a bizarro blessing. Outside the rain is delicate and softens the world to gray and insistent green. I'd like to make a bouquet of grass or wrap its thick pelt around my shoulders. I'd like to hide in it for a while. My desk is beside floor to ceiling windows and I perch here like an invisible finch, never tiring of the view of trees and tennis courts, inlet and boats, the parking lot, the delivery trucks, recycling and garbage bins slicked clean. The windows sound great, right? But not so much when there's a hurricane. I've watched them bow, glass like lungs taking in and expelling air. If you have lived in Florida all your life, you usually don't evacuate for any storm rated category 3 or under. You are filled with equal parts savvy and foolishness. I watched Katrina through these windows, days before anyone knew the fear and suffering that would accompany her. We haven't had any hurricanes this season, not yet, so I can delay thinking about the 42 year old panes busting open, or buying water, sardines, and batteries, or losing hours to the local TV meteorologists. They call themselves storm trackers but I think they are sinister geometry buffs because they love nothing more than conjuring cones and grids and oddly pulled shapes that resemble lethal amoebas or a noxious taffy. Instead of all that, I get to sit here and ignore deadlines, maybe take my umbrella to the park across the street. There's a hawk that lives there. We named him Joseph, after a bygone mayor of the little city where we live. This summer, Joseph has been observed grooming his wings, lunching on the small and feathered (his beak makes fine cutlery), and terrorizing the mockingbirds who also live in the park but are not so afraid of him that they won't dive-bomb his head in protest. Sometimes I walk through the park listening to the soundtrack to The Harder They Come, my summer anthem album, a gospel record, really, if you think about it. I sing "You Can Get It If You Really Want" and "Many Rivers to Cross." I hum "Sitting in Limbo." Sometimes I stand beneath the canopy of a royal poinciana, which, when in bloom, hazes the space beneath it to a watery and pale red. This summer, I've been working and looking for work, doing and waiting, thinking maybe I should worry more, or less. There's no silencing the reel. I've been keeping modest lists: Go to bank. Call doctor. Hawk, storm, faith, here. Continue reading
Posted Jul 14, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
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The Other Latin@: Writing Against a Singular Identity is an anthology of 20 essays that, according to its co-editor Blas Falconer, aims to counter a narrow perspective of Latino/a writers and honor their diversity. In his own essay, Falconer writes, "When Spanish enters the poem, it is often done because it is part of the memory, not because it is the language of the reader or of the audience." This idea of how Spanish is mysteriously fused to the neurons of Latino writers resonated with me, and I wanted to hear more from Blas. He and co-editor Lorraine Lopez will present the book this Thursday, April 26, at noon, as part of the Books and Beyond series at the Library of Congress in partnership with Letras Latinas and the University of Arizona Press. At 6:30 p.m., both Falconer and Lopez will read selections from their own work. For details, visit here. ET: What was the source of inspiration for this anthology, for the idea that Latino writers are more than a globbed together demographic or a brightly colored (I'm guessing red) wedge in a pie graph? BF: The book began, in part, as a presentation on an AWP panel I wrote in 2008. The acquisitions editor from University of Arizona Press was in the audience and came up to me afterwards and suggested we do a whole book. I told her I was thinking the exact same thing. We wanted to open it up beyond the Latino identity that's been seen through a small lens. The book also originated from the fact that I didn't really understand my own relationship to the Latino community or to Puerto Rico. I had traveled there a lot when I was younger, but after my grandmother passed away I stopped going. I also knew that there was this rich Puerto Rican community in New York that I didn't feel quite in sync with because I grew up in Northern Virginia, and there just weren't a lot of Puerto Ricans there. As a writer, I kept asking myself, ‘Am I Latino?’ ‘What does it mean to be Latino?’ I have a white father and a Latina mother, but I have an estranged relationship to Puerto Rico. What does this mean? Then I realized that I saw two of my dearest friends as Latinas - Lisa Chavez, a Chicana from Alaska, and Helena Mesa, who is Cuban and grew up in Pittsburgh - even though they too felt disconnected. I thought, ‘Let's explore this.’ I realized that many writers were challenging the term of Latino in various ways, and I thought reading about their experiences might be interesting. Another source of inspiration is that sometimes I just don't want to write. I'm on empty. But I'm still fueled by great poetry or writing, so I want to be involved somehow. Editing kind of satisfies that need. Seeing how different people write, how their work or books come together. It's inspiring. ET: How did you seek out... Continue reading
Posted Apr 24, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
"A book ought to be an ice pick to break up the frozen sea within us."-- Franz Kafka -- etrelles Continue reading
Posted Jan 14, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
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Above: store-bought bow and discount wrapping paper, pieced together with magic tape and love. Yes, I know there's only five days left till Christmas, that by the time this post is completed Hanukkah is already twinkling its arrival, that some holiday shoppers are sitting smugly alongside their craftily wrapped presents, the kind with hand painted angel paper and chiffon bows and berries artfully attached. But the Tropical Roundup is not one of these shoppers. She is on Cuban time, which technically means that while everything will get done, it will all happen in a great flurry, at the last minute, with some presents and cards assembled in the driveway outside the recipient's home. Wine will assist in these endeavors, as will cortaditos and pasteles de guayaba (both of which I'd consume twice a day if I didn't care about looking like a gourd). One does not have to be Cuban to exist in this perpetually behind (but well fortified) state. But it helps, as does living in South Florida, where "Cuban time" is as common an expression as Turn down the a.c. and Coño! Here are a few quick gift ideas for those of us who consider Cronus a nemesis: 1. Behold the beauty to the left, a Great Gatsby tee from Out of Print Clothing, displayed prettily alongside my high school copy of the novel. My birthday, wedding anniversary, and Christmas are all within a couple of weeks of each other, so my husband is doomed to hunt for gifts for me throughout December. I assist (read: prod) him with tips, such as this shirt I'd been eyeballing for about a year now. On its website, Out of Print states that it "celebrates the world’s great stories through fashion. Our products feature iconic and often out of print book covers. Some are classics, some are just curious enough to make great t-shirts, but all are striking works of art." Indeedy. Other choice picks include Thoreau's Walden, Darwin's The Origin of Species, the mysteries of Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys (The Sign of the Twisted Candles and The Mark on the Door, respectively), and Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, in a festive red and white. To browse women's, men's, and kid's shirts, visit here. If you select overnight or second-day air delivery, your prezzies will arrive before Santa does. 2. Last month I was lucky enough to read at the Miami Book Fair International and hear many fine poets, whose fine books I bought as well. I think you should buy them too, particularly from independent bookstores like Books and Books, Powell's, Politics & Prose, or whatever book shop is in your town and is battling Amazon, the real world version of the Dark Lord of the Sith. Here's some of what I scored: Susan Briante's Utopia Minus (Ahsahta Press); Sandra Beasley's I Was the Jukebox and Gerald Stern's Everything is Burning (both from W.W. Norton); Radha Says: Last Poems by Reetika Vazirani (editors Leslie McGrath and Ravi Shankar... Continue reading
Posted Dec 20, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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A Fantastic Cave Landscape, with Odysseus and Calypso (1568-1625), by Jan Brueghel the Elder Dear Stacey, I've been slack in my letter writing because of work, which is, at the moment, attending to the sentences of others. I'm sweeping clean the muddiness of poor word choices and useless repetition, employing the foot soldiers of concise writing: grammar and punctuation. It's tedious, but I also kind of dig it. It's a lot easier to fix someone else's mistakes. But when the work seems insurmountable, I think about what else I'd rather be doing, or, to put it another way, what might be my own kind of Ithaka, "...the island of them all" - something that I greatly desire and whose attainment is continually delayed. The promise of it keeps me going. One of my Ithakas is riding my bicycle, a pearly white Raleigh that my husband gave me before we were married. I love it so much that I instantly named it Pegasus, and soon after bought a bike bell, which I mostly ring just to hear its thick trill. It is searing hot in South Florida at the moment, the norm in late July, but when I'm on my bicycle the temperatures seem less oppressive, as does everything else, and I get to fly around town smelling the ocean and checking out the poincianas and palms and the little green parrots that like to nest and screech in both. I feel like the me that was once a 10 year old, skinny-legged girl explorer. And I suppose she too is another kind of Ithaka. What I'm getting at is that even though I haven't been writing you, I have still been reading and thinking. Books IV-VI are my favorites so far. I like how the mundane tasks of servants are described in painterly fashion: Here a maid tipped out water for their hands from a golden pitcher into a silver bowl, and set a polished table near at hand; the larder mnistress with her tray of loaves and savories came, dispensing all her best... And also here: "...but Helen called the maids and sent them to make beds, with purple rugs piled up, and sheets outspread, and fleecy coverlets, in the porch inside the gate. The girls went out with torches in their hands..." Whether cooking, doing laundry, or making beds, no chore seems too mundane for Homer to depict with color and physical touch. Even scent is not overlooked, as when Eidothea, daughter of the god Proteus (and a nereid), dabs ambrosia beneath three lads' noses to drown out the "bestial odor" of the seal skins in which they hide. The ambrosia is likened to perfume, and, to me, the moment hints at how man aligns himself with both the beautiful and the monstrous, how often the two can be experienced within breaths of one another. "Eidothea," by Linda Carlson I also admire the simple, fairytale connotations of these books' titles, such as "Sweet Nymph and Open Sea," although... Continue reading
Posted Jul 30, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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"Cayuga Lake, Ithaca NY," watercolor by Nari Mistry Dear Stacey, I am in receipt of your letter and will say I was pretty tickled when I saw the first mention of Ithaka in Homer's verse because I knew that you were reading it from your own Ithacan abode. I wrote "Stacey!" in the margins beside line 30 and then again alongside line 213: Another thing --- this too I ought to know --0 is Ithaka new to you, or were you ever a guest here in the old days? Far and near friends knew this house; for he whose home it was had much acquaintance in the world. This is my serpentine way of saying, yes, it is very cool that you're reading The Odyssey from the Finger Lakes region. Is it also a coincidence, then, that Homer so often personifies dawn with "fingers"? There are fingers of "pink light" and "finger tips of rose," and I gather that there will be more mention of dawn's pretty grasp in the books to come. I think if you read some of them at daybreak, from Ithaca, you might dream of flying over water, "in a clap of wings," with eyes faded to the grey of Athena's. I had not planned on quoting so much of what I've read thus far, but I had also not expected to encounter such music. The sound of it! Sometimes I read lines out loud just to hear the iambic pentameter or a spondee, or some combination of both ("My word, how mortals take the gods to task!"). I actually scanned some lines in pencil, although I have not attempted to do any such thing since Campbell McGrath assigned The Poem's Heartbeat many years ago in graduate school. Good god, I was an awful scanner and have probably flubbed the above line now as well. But I wanted to share with you how Homer's long song has inspired me to listen, more carefully and with less judgement, not only to whatever words I find on a page but to the sounds around me: the rattle of a maintenance man's cart, footsteps in the hallway. A spare kind of music. It is so quiet here as I write this to you from South Florida; even the mockingbirds have taken a break from their summer chatter. Yours, Emma Continue reading
Posted Jul 5, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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1. In February, I met with P. Scott Cunningham and Pete Borrebach for lunch at a noodle house. I couldn't find the place at first because it was lodged in the lobby of a motel on Biscayne Boulevard that, in years past, was known more for hookers and guns and rock (and I don't mean 'and roll'). But this neighborhood has now reinvented itself --as is also the city of Miami's custom-- into a hamlet of galleries, eateries, and indie mom and pop shops. There are things to do here besides driving by with locked car doors. Scott and Pete were working on their own newborn - O, Miami, the city's first poetry festival. I ate basil and tofu and listened to their schemes: they were going to try to place if only one poem into the hands of my hometown's 2.5 million citizens, regardless of whether they liked poetry or not. Scott and Pete were most interested in the latter, the possible converts, and they knew how to set the trap. They'd woo the city with a relentless courtship. O, Miami would wrap buses with couplets, fly in W.S. Merwin, the sitting U.S. poet laureate, invite Chilean poet Raúl Zurita, hip hop legend Kool Moe Dee, actor-now-writer James Franco, and many more to speak and read, host collaborative art shows and a literary death match, surreptitously sew poetry tags into shirts at thrift stores, drop poems from the sky, rent a Ferrari. They had a lot of wild ideas. Had they locked it all down yet? No. When would the festival launch? In about 6 weeks and running the whole month of April. I smiled and slurped my dripping and delicious noodles. I thought a) These guys are crazy. b) God, I hope they do it. All of it. 2. Abe's Penny Live. The Brooklyn-based publishing house opens its first exhibit at O, Miami, with readings by Denise Duhamel and Gabrielle Calvocoressi and photographs by Lee Materazzi, Francie Bishop Good, Samantha Salzinger, and Robby Campbell, whose image I've swiped (below left). The gallery is filled with literatis climbing over wood pallets that have been nailed together to form a kind of writer's club-and-tree-house installation. Pencils and paper provided, as are postcards from which to make a bit of mail art. Some of them are already hanging on the walls and some are stacked into racks at the ready. And whether it's on an electric typewriter or with a bouquet of long-stemmed beauties (below right), visitors oblige. While Denise Duhamel reads a beautiful poem about all that she sees in Georgia O'Keeffe's Pelvis of Blue, ( "a nest with a hollowed-out bottom") or bluebirds on the branch of her hip bone, Campbell McGrath sits next to me, asks for a sheet of paper from my own notebook, which I am writing in because Denise's words have conjured my own. Don't you sometimes get the best sparks from hearing someone else read her poems? I do. I ask Campbell what he's... Continue reading
Posted Apr 30, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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Note: The following review first appeared in Organica magazine's Winter/Spring 2011 issue. It’s not easy to pinpoint exactly what J. Michael Martinez means when he writes " Margin is the whiteness in our silence. I said, Difference is already spread between the body and the gaze. You said, We lament the name we give; we give word to find respite from the shallows between." We encounter these words as a drifting dialogue, a kind of coded prose that appears untitled and on the blank page before the opening of Heredities, winner of the 2009 Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets. This sense of almost knowing, of entering a frame of words without origin or apparent direction, is one of the beautiful bones that make up the body of Martinez’s first collection, a book that feels at once like wading into history and lamp-lit archives, folklore and myth, personal diary and fleeting sketch pad. The young Chicano poet exhibits fearlessness in his choice of fantastical subjects and forms. In "Articulations of Quetzacoatl’s Spine" and "The Sternum of Our Lady Guadalupe," anatomical drawings crown the long missive-like lines which consider faith and its accompanying sacrifices, whether in the guise of a jaguar or an eagle, or in how two ligaments attach themselves to the flawless "souls of infants," now "transformed into hummingbirds." In his poems, Martinez often considers the act of becoming, of renewal as revolution, a way of claiming power by assembling not only such earthly elements as amaranth, water, oaks, and wings, for example, but also by the parsing and reconstruction of language. "Heredities: Letters of Relation" illustrates the poet’s skill with linguistic collage; the poem’s lyrical sections are written completely from Hernan Cortes’ letters from Mexico during the conquest. The slaughter is documented once more, yet his own words are now re-arranged to display the gleaming details discovered in the lives of the Tenochca (or the Aztecs as they are later known), particulars that offer the same historical prominence to a people as to the wars that enslaved them. "We sail the laws and beliefs/ of their idols, chambers garlanded/ in feathers of little birds/ covered with pearl shells./ Their past is a valley circular,/ fertile in fruit and cotton....Owls and sparrow hawks/ echo in the oratories..." It is particularly exciting, for me at least, to read a first book by a Latino poet who does not offer the familiar trope of nostalgia as a way of exploring identity, but, instead, mines deeply into artifact and gender, the influence of personal lore and the self-colored perceptions of language. Martinez invents his own forms to consider the idea of source and the alchemy of what makes a life. This means that Heredities requires patience and a willingness to abandon traditional narratives, to practice a negative capability, where mystery becomes the norm and, thus, a place where one can slip into an unhurried dreamscape. While reading these poems, I thought about paintings by Cuban artist Wifredo Lam and... Continue reading
Posted Feb 27, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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Introducing The Tropical Roundup, in which I, at random times, post points of interest that may be thematically or geographically linked. Or, they could be event driven or contain some kind of vital-to-obscure news peg, Said points will most likely be stolen from other sources, such as blogs and dailies, but will also be gathered by scrawling notes on the back of gas receipts, in a fruitless effort to bring order to our blue and green sphere, which is currently screaming off its invisible tracks. Also, I like lists. 1. First and foremost in the inaugural round up is FLORICANTO IN WASHINGTON D.C.: A Multicultural Reading in Response to SB 1070. The reading takes place during the AWP Conference this Friday, Feb. 4, from 6-9 p.m., at the True Reformer Building in D.C., and is sponsored by Split This Rock, The Acentos Poetry Foundation, and Poets Responding to SB 1070. Floricanto presents more than 20 poets responding in verse to what organizers call the growing "xenophobia under which the bill was created," which "targets immigrants and legalizes racial profiling." SB 1070 was signed into state law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer in April 2010 and authorizes police to arrest and charge any immigrant not carrying identifying documents. When asked to comment on how police officers might discern suspects without profiling, Governor Brewer told the New York Times "we simply have to trust in our law enforcement." Because blind trust in men with guns always works out well, doesn't it? According to Rich Villar, executive director of the Acentos Foundation, the word "floricanto" has linguistic origins in both the Meso-American and Spanish languages, re-appearing during the rise of the Chicano arts and poetry movements of th 60s.. "Poets came together for celebration, for political ends, for self-affirmation," says Villar. "In the Floricanto, the poetic and political are not only compatible, but complimentary, inevitable." "This reading is a show of solidarity," Villar adds. "It is also very a specific act. It is the unambiguous use of language, in the form of poetry, to counter the obfuscated legal language of war, death, and exile. The poets in this reading do precisely that, day in and day out." Floricanto will be hosted by Oscar Bermeo and featured readers include Francisco X. Alarcon, Tara Betts, Sarah Browning, Regie Cabico, Carmen Calatayud, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Susan Deer Cloud, Martín Espada, Odilia Galvan Rodriguez, Carmen Gimenez Smith, Aracelis Girmay, Randall Horton, Juan Felipe Herrera, Dorianne Laux, Marilyn Nelson, Mark Nowak, Barbara Jane Reyes, Abel Salas, Sonia Sanchez, Craig Santos Perez, Hedy Trevino, Pam Uschuk, Dan Vera, Rich Villar, and Andre Yang. 2. AWP Conference, Author book signings Here's a sampling of who will sign what at this year's bookfair. Is there an author/book that's been missed? Add it to the comments box. Neil de la Flor, Almost Dorothy (Marsh Hawk Press). Buy this book and score a free voodoo doll bookmark. Neil will also be taking pre-orders with Maureen Seaton for their collaborative book Sinead O'Connor and... Continue reading
Posted Jan 31, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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Last night I went to see some friends' bands play at Radioactive Records (the one in Fort Lauderdale, not the U.K.). A highlight was Boise Bob, who plays twisted country ditties accompanied by a washboard and a big ole bass made of an oar, a strong length of string, and a metal tub perfect for bobbing for apples. Good stuff. But the big sparkle find of the night was a double album set I picked up by Sylvester, the fab and forever reigning cabaret-tranny-king-and-queen of disco. The album folds open to a panoramic shot of on-stage Sylvester, decked in a blue and silver sequined jumpsuit and flanked by Two Tons O' Fun/Weather Girls Izora Rhodes and Martha Washington. Playing hard behind the power trio, most of the 1979 San Francisco Symphony in white tie and tails. Glam, glitter, and musicianship. A reckless plunge into whatever felt good and sounded fast and smooth and kinda dirty. This is some of what I dig about 70s disco. So for V-Day, Didi and I thought we'd bid adieu to our guest blog spot here at BAP by offering a list of a few of our favorite disco love songs. Think of them as poems in polyester! I Love the Nightlife, Alicia Bridges Your Love, Lime* If I Can't Have You, Yvonne Elliman Star Love, Cheryl Lynn I Feel Love, Donna Summer Pull Up to the Bumper, Grace Jones* Get Off, Foxy Reasons, Earth Wind and Fire I'm Ready, Kano Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood, Santa Esmeralda Mighty Real, by Sylvester *technically not 70s but close enough Continue reading
Posted Jan 17, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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6:21 pm - Ryan Seacrest is killing minutes on the red carpet by pretending to be interested in Jennifer Love Hewitt. 6:23 pm - Seconds after her pre, pre-show commentary ends, Giuliana Rancic, the E! channel's chief reporter (for lack of a better word), has already switched into a strapless black gown. I wonder how many more dresses she'll cram into the evening. I have no idea who's the hot blond Aussie she's interviewing (above). Neither does she. 6:25 pm - I wish Mark would come home and make martinis. 6:37 pm - Seacrest talking makeup with Mark Salling from Glee, who appears to have grown a strip of soul patch over his noggin. A slew of Gleester girls preening on the carpet. Real celebs must be dawdling in their black Priuses until the kids clear out. Wait, there's Alec Baldwin! 6:41 pm - Baldwin sounds sort of torchy. Is he finally out? I hope so! 6:45 pm - Scott Caan is a wee man who just peered down Giuliana's decolletage. Non-celeb g.f. doesn't notice. Wake up, woman. 6:46 pm - Elisabeth Moss's skin (at left) resembles a pearl mousse made exclusively for the Kraken (at right). She must sit around rubbing La Mer into her pores all day. How many more months until Mad Men returns? 6: 50 pm - Ricky Gervais in big black sunglasses talking about how he's going to knock a few brews back before he hosts the Globes. "Beer's not an alcoholic drink in England." 6:51 pm - Just realized I'm on DVR time! My painstaking chronology is all off. Arghghgh 6:55 pm - Staggering down the carpet in Davy Crockett hair extensions and netted couch pillows - Helena Bonham Carter. Oh dude, she's wearing two different color shoes. 6:58 pm - Why is E! teasing the trash triplet Kardashians in a big pop up box while the immaculate Natalie Portman is floating up the stairs? She looks like a petal in that pink draped gown, and I'll forgive the Conehead updo because a) she's pregnant and still is b) wearing red stilettos. 7:03 pm - Jason Segal looking ooold. When did that happen? Maybe I've been living in the past with too much Freaks and Geeks (Bless you IFC). Jimmy Fallon next to him, also looking more doughy than his years allow. Both of them are strangely aspiring to Mad Men Brylcreem hair, but on them it looks more storefront mannequin than dashing Draper. Maybe I'm just evil because Mark just told me that there's no Vermouth. 7:04 pm - Time to look for wine. 7:09 pm - Three quarters of The Fashion Police (missing the awesome Joan Rivers) are making nice-nice about Helena Bonham Carter (so quirky! such an original!), but you know they're going to shred her like wolverines on their next show. 7:10 pm - Nicole Kidman literally looming two feet above Seacrest and her urban cowboy husband, Keith something or the other. Kidman's forehead oddness continues. 7:11 pm - Seacrest... Continue reading
Posted Jan 17, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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A Poem For the Innocents A killing moon peeks through leaves of trumpet trees in full bloom for Lent, their barks crisscrossed by wild strokes of a machete when my son tried to help me weed our garden, overrun with dandelions, branches, leaves, a bounty of seed and thorns, side by side, under clusters of suns bursting through the branches. Shadows flicker across the wall upstairs, over Buzz Lightyear's grin, Mr. Potato Head's sigh, and under a map dotted with cities that fill his dreams. What promises will I make when I climb the stairs before he falls asleep to the noise of the television with cluster bombs blooming in the sky over Baghdad? What comfort can I give him as I draw the sheets over his shoulders, kiss his forehead, when he worries that if he closes his eyes, his Aunt Batsheva, half a world away, will not rise from her bed in Gan Yavne, thirty-seven miles west of Ramah where Rachel wept for her children and refused to be comforted. The map over his bed now frightens him, and I cannot convince him, despite the miles and miles of oceans and deserts, that the machete under his bed will not make him safer, any more than the sacrifice of innocents will save us, for he knows, he knows, somewhere between the Tigris and Euphrates, a wave of steel races toward Babylon. -March 22, 2003 Geoffrey Philp was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and is the author of nine books of poetry and fiction. His work has appeared in The Misssippi Review, Gulf Stream, The Apalachee Quarterly, An Anthology of Reggae Poetry, and The Oxford Book of Caribbean Short Stories, among many other places.He teaches English and creative writing at Miami Dade College, where he is the chairperson of the College Prep. Department. Visit his blog here and learn more about his books at Peepal Tree Press. -emma trelles Continue reading
Posted Jan 15, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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They say the sea is cold, but the sea contains the hottest blood of all, and the wildest, the most urgent. All the whales in the wider deeps, hot are they, as they urge on and on, and dive beneath the icebergs. The right whales, the sperm-whales, the hammer-heads, the killers there they blow, there they blow, hot wild white breath out of the sea! - " Whales Weep Not ! " by D.H. Lawrence I imagine that D.H. Lawrence mulled quite a bit over the sounds made by what he considered reflective and amorous mammals, the "inward roaring of the inner red ocean," the "dreaming with strange whale eyes wide open in the waters of the beginning and the end." There is also some sexy aquatic discourse about the "long tip," "the soft and wild clutch," and the "strong phallus," but, hey, it wouldn't be Lawrence if the pleasures of the flesh were not addressed. However, it's phonic delights that I'm interested in, at this moment at least, particularly in the ones created by Nic Sebastian, whose own whale sounds are not the clicking, churring or warbling made by our cetacean brothers of the blue deep. Ms. Sebastian's songs, rather, are recorded and then published on her website Whale Sound, a collaboration between her pellucid voice and writers who submit poems that are accessible online, such as this one (click here for audio), by Oliver de la Paz: WOLF BOY The moon dangles from its severe, black cord and packets of dew thicken the grass tips. Everything is blue--the meadow ripe with leaves blown from the periphery. Instinct threads the skin of the boy as he strips, the tufts of fur splintering through his cotton T-shirt and the deer are startled into their sinewy gait. Hollow sounds. A cry from the chest where the hunger lives. The boy will enter the new world through his eye tonight, afraid of his flushed skin. The blood rising like the cherry-red tip of a cigarette pulled towards the mouth with each deep breath. But he is even more afraid of the dark space of memory-- a flash of speed, wind on his face from some dream, and the cooled, coppery taste pressed against his tongue and the roof of his mouth. The wild is fierce with memory. And his ears tilt to the soft pad of his paws against the village cobbles and the darkened cottages whose roofs blossom with potential accident. To be one with accident as to be one with god. To be god is to love the sudden solitude of night when the sleeves of the once-body yields to the muzzle's soft kiss and the wet nap of a licked burr, nestled into a muddy coat. Oh, meadow, meadow. How the moon's beautiful swell nails everything into place: the tooth's glory plunged deep into the evening's bruise. The throat, heavy with a hound's velvet "no." I read this poem to myself before listening to the track. It was last... Continue reading
Posted Jan 13, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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"He does it better with grace..." : Bill Shakespeare weighs in on LeBron James At first, there was a little hometown poetry contest, sponsored by the Miami Herald and WLRN. Just a bit of wordplay to salute LeBron's arrival to the Miami Heat. Six lines, any style, no fees and no limits to how often aspiring or practiced scribes could enter. Quicker than a Hardaway crossover, NBC, USA Today, The Plain Dealer (Ohio's largest newspaper), The Basketball Jones, and even The New Yorker - in next week's Talk of the Town - are reporting on the challenge. Here are the rules: -The poem must commemorate the arrival of LeBron James to Miami. -The poem can utilize any form but cannot exceed six lines (LeBron’s jersey is No. 6). -No limit to the number of poems you can submit. -The entry must be received by Friday, October 22 at 6 p.m. Born in the brain of Dan Grech, a radio news director and producer at WLRN, the contest has received more than 500 entries since lunchtime today, and they keep coming in from all over the country. Six finalists will be selected by P. Scott Cunningham, a poet and director of the O' Miami poetry festival, which will debut next April and hopes to make poetry as ubiquitous in South Florida as coconut palms and gridlock. "I'm very much into the idea of occasional and doggerel poetry," Cunningham told me via email. "I actually have a poem about Heat Center Zydrunas Ilgauskas published in a journal, in addition to an interview about why writing poems about basketball is legit. Here's a pseudo-cento Cunningham penned in under a minute: They shall be telling this with a sigh somewhere ages and ages hence two roads diverged on ESPN and Lebron took the one more traveled by — rush hour on the 826. Think you can do better? Enter here. Remember, the deadline is Oct. 22, 6 p.m. The winner will receive two Heat tickets and the chance to read the winning poem at the finale of O'Miami: A Contemporary Poetry Festival, held at the New World Symphony Campus on Miami Beach. (photo: Robert Frost, objecting and aghast) Continue reading
Posted Oct 21, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
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There is always a destination, by Miami-based painter John Sanchez. In Handling Destiny, his third book of poems, Adrian Castro examines the Yoruba idea that the course of a life is pre-determined, and only through faith is one able to fulfill it. "One's destiny is completely personal,'' Castro says from his yellow-painted bungalow in Shenandoah, where he grows the backyard sage and star apple he uses in his practice as an Ifa priest and, also, in his poems. "In the dream I would wash this stone with herbs. . . ., " he writes in a a title poem that travels between the geographies of mountain and shore as it considers the divine act of writing. "Now I'd have to memorize these marks / make words then articulate them. . . . '' For two decades the Cuban-Dominican Castro has forged a distinct lexicon in poems that meld Caribbean and West African cultures. Shango, the Yoruban deity of thunder and fire, is as likely to flash across his stanzas as is a bright calabash or a bundle of sugar cane. Read the rest of this story online at the Miami Herald  Read mini reviews of poetry books by Adrian Castro, Francisco Aragon, Brenda Cardenas, Suzanne Frischkorn, and John Murillo here. Continue reading
Posted Oct 17, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
Video by WGBH and David Grubin Productions, filmmaker Leita Luchetti, and student filmmakers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's docUWM media center. Courtesy of the Poetry Foundation. Continue reading
Posted Aug 13, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
These poems trip through Afghanistan, Tokyo, and Mozambique. These poems journey with turtledoves, trout, the pages of a book and a soldier on leave. Poems that shop, bush walk, slumber in utero, visit with Jesus, King William, Andrew Jackson, and hawks. These poems ride on the spine of a pit bull, on torpedoes and a black river, on trains and the subway. Here's a sweet bite: The Girl Fighting Back Tears on The Subway During Morning Rush Hour by Stacey Harwood She is lovely in her despair. If I were a poet, she would become my poem. If I were Billy Collins, she would inspire me to describe the way she looks, sitting there in her new outfit from H & M using every ounce of will to keep the tears from spilling out of her eyes and ruining her makeup. She is thinking about the fight she had with her boyfriend, and praying that he is not, at this very moment, packing his belongins and moving out of their studio apartment, which she cannot afford without him. Yes, she's had her doubts, but she doesn't want to be alone in this city, working at the crummy job she took just to be near him when she could have gone to grad school or roomed for a year with her best friend, in Madrid. Billy Collins would observe her pink-rimmed eyes and inflamed nostrils, how she presses her fingertips with their ragged fingernails to her forehead as if to banish thoughts that will bring on more tears. He knows more than she does about why she is crying: Her tears are not just over her boyfriend, who she is certain will leave her, but about everything she has lost in her twenty-two years, and her uncertain future. Billy Collins would write this poem in a way that is sympathetic and funny, too, so that when she reads it many years hence, she recognizes something of herself and remembers how foolish she once was though she can no longer recall his name, the boy who made her so miserable on the long ago morning. If I were another poet, I might be inspired to write about the metaphorical distance between us, she at the beginning of life, full of hope and possibility, and I only with the past, and all of its inevitable disappointments... *To read the rest of the poem, click on the cover image above and flip to page 23. OCHO: The Travel Issue features work by Steve Almond, Ed Ayres, Grace Cavalieri, Denise Duhamel, Susan Elbe, Michael Hettich, Stacey Harwood, Jen Karetnick, Alexandra Lytton Regalado, Jesse Millner, Nikki Moustaki, Geoffrey Philp, and Jacob Saenz. Cover art by Didi Menendez. A GOSS183 publication. Continue reading
Posted Jun 16, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
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Mark's garden, Pompano Beach, circa 2007 Before my love and I decided to live together in a waterside condo, he grew these plush and inky fuchsia roses in the backyard of his duplex apartment. The neighborhood was of the cracked-concrete-and-power station-on-the-corner sort, with sidewalks fringed with weeds and the occasional scraggly silver button tree. But his L-shaped patch of green sort of gushed with whatever he planted - basil, mint, heather, petunias, and portly roses that would seem to appear overnight and blossom frilly and wide over the course of a week. They would last at least another 7 days after that, or at least that's how I remember it, and we took great pleasure smelling them before we went to work or on weekends when we'd sit on the terrace eating the spinach omelets Mark made for breakfast. Those roses are one of the reasons he is the bee's knees; he can coax beauty from the unlikeliest of places. Another reason is that his roses reminded me of the ones my mother once grew in our front yard, in canteros, which I only learned recently means "planters" in English. Even though my Spanish is not the greatest, there are certain words I only know in Spanish, like gallegos - what we called the tarnished gold beetles that buzzed along the window screens of my childhood home. This is where my mother used to grow little and spindly rose bushes in all hues - creamy meringue, lavender, yellow, maroon, and pink. The flowers were no larger than a small apple, and they opened in the dim hours before I left to elementary school. She'd cut a few stems and wrap them in paper and foil, then give them to me to give to my teachers. I don't quite remember handing them off, but I do recall what it felt like when she placed the fragrant homespun package in my hand, petals cool and still wet with early morning, her efforts at lacing our days with a bit of loveliness. Happy Mother's Day, Mom. You too are a forever beauty. In the garden: me and my mom, always a hottie. Continue reading
Posted May 9, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
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At the AWP 2010 Conference: view of downtown Denver and the Rockies Wrap-up, reflections, notes, epilogue, snark, comments, cuttings, insights, diary, dispatch, report, briefs, digest, ditties, snips, quips, chicks with inky whips, bullets, index, missives, postcards, texts, tweets, deep thoughts and bleeps - there appears to be a fathomless amount of AWP rehash in the vaporsphere, and since DL asked me for highlights, I'm chucking my pennies in with the rest. *Right off the plane, check in, and hoof it to the convention center, where I'm introduced to Maria Melendez, poet and editor/publisher of Pilgrimage magazine. I immediately sign up for a subscription because the current issue looks great and Maria is too buoyant to deny. So great to kick off my first experience at my first AWP with someone who's not talking about budget cuts but about how much she digs the mag's photo cover because it's "a return to creatures." Yeah. *Meet poet Suzanne Frischkorn in person after a couple of years of playing online friendsies. She is the one who clues me in that the vertigo, nausea, and overall stoned-ness I've been feeling is not exhaustion, jet lag or bad airport food - it's altitude sickness. On her advice, I'm chugging criminally priced Gatorade and Smart Water. It works. Thanks, Suzannita. * Michael Chabon is the keynote speaker for Thursday night. He reads an essay where he plays both the parts of curious reader/student and semi-sagacious author. He asks himself something along the lines of Where do you get your ideas? He responds with Ideas are perhaps the least interesting part of the job...like the pound of insects we each consume unknowingly per year. MC: Can one really teach writing? MC: No, one can't...Life is not a story, or not a very good story. It has a beginning and end and those are the same for everyone. You need to edit your life, you need to shape it. But most of all, you need to lie. MC: How do we write? MC: One clattering letter at a time. A pachanga gathers at the One Poem Festival. * One Poem Festival: About 30 Latino poets reading one poem each at the Dikeou Collection. Oscar Bermeo leads off with "When the City Ends," which might not be the poem's title but is certainly an imagining that squeezes in cityscapes, double dutch girls, and the Soul Sonic Force. Xanath Caraza sings the beginning of her poem in a bronzed alto; Tim Z. Hernandez hypnotizes us with his meditation of dusk in the campos and how "Venus shows her bashful face in the blue of night." Kristin Naca tells of her father's failed quest to catch cardinals and Dan Vera recalls his elementary school's "cafetorium," where he and other 7 year old boys watched films about hygiene and the unexpected fate of Old Yeller. Listen, you know how sometimes you go to readings and you're nodding and hmm-hmmming but really you're thinking about dinner or how you should stop for gas... Continue reading
Posted Apr 16, 2010 at The Best American Poetry