Reading Natalie Diaz's When My Brother Is An Aztec is a brutal an astonishing read. When I first asked people to suggest books for me to read, this collection was on the list. I thought I'd hear Natalie's name but hadn't encountered her poetry. Her book was one of the first few to arrive this summer and I devoured it on my way to work. It's the book that inspired me to start this project and try and love poetry as much as I loved this book.
What To Turn Into
A tongue will wrestle its mouth to death and lose--
language is a cemetery
~ Natalie Diaz, When My Brother Was An Aztec
Learning about the fate of her brother
brought me back to the weapon that plants a seed within a person.
Does the weapon declare itself a weapon or a plant?
Does the weapon weep
or does the weapon-- the white employer-- pay her to destroy the land
with golden laughter only?
I can't lay down my teeth enough for the grief in these narratives.
I am wrestling with losses I don't know how to name.
An American prayer nicknamed Payroll,
as if employment were ever liberation.
Survival of an abscess needing survival of the body,
tortured by the burnt nerves of its necrotic tissue.
the psychology of the oppressed
where mental health is the ability
knowledge of the world’s cruelty
~ Audre Lorde, "Eulogy for Alvin Frost"
In North Dakota, "security officers" beat, tear-gassed, and released loose dogs
upon indigenous protesters
yesterday in America
while the adult children of the two main presidential candidates gave interviews
that news broadcasters said, "Humanized them,"
from thinking about nonrenewable energy,
the destruction of clean drinking water,
the increasing temperature of the ocean preceding mass die off of ocean species...
the genocide suits that we're born into
don't look down you'll see
I don't know what to say.
People say/I find myself saying
The system is corrupt
The people who I agree with feel like they are going to die young
or live old lives repeating the same reminders
like a game of telephone where no one knows what sentence we started with.
Do you really think we would defeat planet Earth?
Earth will always win!
There is a fantasy of the oppressed being secretly more powerful.
Like kissing death.
April Penn's response to Dear Darkness, like my own, involves food and hunger. Maybe don't read this book while fasting.
Reader Response Poem to Kevin Young’s Dear Darkness
is what the past
~ Kevin Young, “Ode to Cushaw”
You search everywhere in the cemetery,
but you can’t find your great grandfather’s grave.
Instead, you delight in odes of the food he may have eaten.
Hunger never leaves, craving always the next poem
for okra, grits, crawfish, catfish, black eyed peas,
Gumbo, sweet potato pie, watermelon…
You say, “like rice/ you rise,” (Ode to Boudin) --
the transcendence of food, not magic
but history trying to taste your tongue.
Eating your most edible story, figs of smoke.
So sweet and vanishing an author, a lost uncle
memory of a man burning too bright.
April Penn is the first...multiple interactor to meet....all their deadlines...mainly because...April is awesome...here she uses haiku to tackle...Nikki Giovanni's ellipses addiction.
Reader Response Haiku
(Responding to Those Who Ride the Night Winds by Nikki Giovanni)
Why the ellipses?
Are they the uncharted path
of riding night winds?
room for air and for lost words
needing new worlds.
Why the ellipses?
To move close to the body,
to refrain losses?
To select the scraps,
the poet muses with time,
quilting lived garments.
You do not love wrong
or by mistake, always love,
find heroes in self.
Colored people couldn’t vote… couldn’t use the bathroom in public places… couldn’t go to the same library they paid taxes for… had to sit on the back of the buses… couldn’t live places… work places… go to movies… amusement parks… Nothing if you were colored … Just signs … always signs … saying No … No … No… (From “Harvest (for Rosa Parks)”)
The sign that says no
Everywhere no no no no--
Love should change your life.
Move you beyond the boundary
of your stubborn self.
Love Thoughts like a song, a drum,
a music in you.
A good writing prompt:
Begin with, “You were gone like…”
then fail to compare.
Champion of the joy
that cries out lonely, someone
to sing for, to love.
April Penn 's response to Anne Carson's "Autobiography Of Red" is here. We'll be back to write interactions with Red Doc in 2031.
An Eruption Of Red
Applause For Anne Carson
Autobiography of Red grows legs and arms
and jumps off my bookshelf.
I don’t know if I am inside or outside of the volcano,
confesses the book after it gathers itself off the floor.
I try to reason with the book.
No, that’s not what happened.
I smeared some period blood on page three
where Anne Carson has quoted Gertrude Stein.
Geeze you’re even better than if we hired Richard Brautigan
to write his version of Where the Wild Things Are.
And I want to know. I am the kind of reader
who insists on every flash of light and where it falls.
So let the lava rise up to speak of interior things!
Hear me! The lava has risen!
I see everyone reflecting in the eye of the fried guinea pig.
Even in fragments, there is unity.
Everyone is red.
Any idiot can put on a pterodactyl suit and jump into the volcano,
but no one can make you more jealous
of their metaphorical depth than Anne Carson.
For her interaction, April Penn has done a review of Daphne Gottlieb's book Fifteen Ways To Stay Live, and she even included a video link to one of Daphne's performances.
A Review Of 15 Ways To Stay Alive
To what extent can slam poetry and performance poetry include not only identity but dissolution of the speaking self? Daphne Gottlieb’s cut-ups of Bukowski, news stories, white supremacist bullshit, Craigslist ads, St. Augustine, and even a Wikipedia entry about spontaneous combustion, push boundaries of what it means to be a writer. There is the usual model of thinking that people have an inner sense of self and that they try to represent that experience. Some people are successfully sarcastic and often say things they don’t mean to mean things they do mean. This work is so much more than sarcasm, however. This is utter frustration with being stuck in a world that deems you symbolically weak. In “No poetry after Auschwitz” Gottlieb notices:
“The protesters in white have forgotten
the difference between protest
the difference between comrades
It isn’t so much the protester’s fault as their being cut off from meaning what they once intended to mean. This is characteristic of anyone who tries to be anticapitalist, a commitment that Gottlieb remains true to throughout her poems, often referencing the “Capitalist machine.” In the poem “dog,” she writes,
“This is not my drama I did not create the drama”
The poet here is speaking of inheritance, at least an inheritance of violence, devastation and destruction. The poet is trying not to surrender to passivity or to use the tools of oppression to gain symbolic strength—a struggle that seems immensely contradictory.
Gottlieb is one of the best poets I have ever read. I could give up writing and stand back to watch her tick, but then she doesn’t consider this work hers. There is a dissolution in her act of creation that is pounding like a headache from a hangover that some Astrodon got millions of years ago from eating too many fermented berries. I mean few poets can match her incredible balance of primal and philosophical. This interview with her is definitely worth watching to see how she shatters ordinary consciousness to rebuild over stereotypes of marginalized categories.
An ongoing conversation between writers and the text that they're reading.