Since George Zimmerman was found not guilty of killing Trayvon Martin, I've been repeating these words by the poet Audre Lorde like a prayer. She writes:

For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother's milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.

I've said before that a good collection of poetry — unlike, say, a good novel, or a good short story — is tricky to talk about. If I love a novel, I'll describe the plot, maybe compare it to the writing of others, talk about the successes and failures of its craft. Poetry collections, though — I just want to read portions out to people, make them feel what I felt, show them concretely the details over which I marveled.

A Collection Of Poems That Offers An Unlikely Kind Of Hope

Oct 18, 2014

If further proof is needed — though of course it is not — that the tensions exploding in Ferguson have been brewing for centuries, this book is, among other things, proof enough. In the clean, clear lyrics of his second book, Jericho Brown, who was born in Louisiana and formerly worked as speechwriter for a New Orleans mayor, laments, with no small sense of sad resignation, a muffled kind of anger, and a pinch of sarcasm, that, as an African-American man he finds himself admitting, "Nobody in this nation feels safe, and I'm still a reason why."

This time of year always reminds me of a wonderfully autumnal poem called "How to Like It," by Stephen Dobyns. Set in "the first days of fall," the poem describes a man whose summer seems long over: Old memories weigh on him, and new adventures feel just out of reach.

The Ecstatic Blankness Of Poet Louise Glück

Sep 11, 2014

Louise Glück is in love with silence — her poems strain towards nothingness. "The unsaid, for me, exerts great power: often I wish an entire poem could be made in this vocabulary," she once wrote in an essay. In her new collection, Faithful and Virtuous Night, one poem features a painter, aging and facing his own decline, who paints canvases that are "immense and entirely white."

The difficulty in reviewing excellent poetry is to keep from responding in kind. When I've thoroughly enjoyed a collection, it isn't enough to praise the rhythm, the intensity, the clarity of the work I've just read; I find myself writing about how the book is "seamed in smoke" or observing "the supple twisting of its narrative spine." But I don't want to do that here — Saeed Jones' Prelude to Bruise is so visceral and affecting, I can't risk burying it in my own figurative language.

British army troops once kicked a soccer ball around as they went into battle. True story! In fact, it's one of the first and best anecdotes in Paul Fussell's classic study of World War I, The Great War and Modern Memory. That astonishing image illustrates just how naive the recruits were about modern war's potential for unprecedented destruction — and it sets the stage for their devastating shock and disillusionment.

Instead of you throwing a curve here instead is a fastball, high and hard.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the granddaddy of American poetry; the gray ghost; the big thumper; the barbarian's text with its barbaric yawp; the nation's first truly great mega biblion; the Kosmos; the Civil War witness; the seaside songbook; the irreverent hymnal; the book of the lover; the book of the loafer; the peacemaker; Leaves of Grass.

Oftentimes, madness breeds the finest art. It's factual. Some of the most historic and well-regarded pieces of literature have come out of a sort of psychosis. From the works of Edgar Allan Poe to Tennessee Williams and a host of others, the evidence is there. And I find it celebratory — the way the mind overcomes itself to render something beautifully charged.

"God? A surface of ice anchored to laughter."

More than once this week I've caught myself reading yet another news story about Donald Sterling or Cliven Bundy, wondering what it means for me, a black gay man, to exist in America at the same time as men like them. Have they been thinking about people like me just as intensely as I, for the past few days at least, have been thinking about them? Are Sterling and Bundy privately wringing their hands? Or are they cursing America for eavesdropping on their bigotry?