I first learned about the work of Camonghne Felix through Brooklyn Poets, where she was “Poet of the Week” in July 2015, and in Poetry Magazine around the same time. I was struck by her ability to weave together pop culture with the political in an illuminating and entertaining way.

Perhaps her most well-known poem, “Tonya Harding’s Fur Coats”—which I wanted to share, but its unusual formatting would be butchered by Gmail and WordPress—is a perfect example of this element of her work: social commentary that reaches beyond its pop-culture references to speak truth to the universal. (“The thing about being poor      is that you spend your days pointing,” is how the poem opens. You can read it here.)

In an interview on the website Empire Coven, Felix explains that for her, “what makes poetry and poets so special is that we create a world with imagination where we introduce new content, new ways of thinking, and new frameworks of thought. I am so curious to know what this world would like if there were a bunch of poets running it.”

Felix works as political strategist—she was most recently communications director for Amara Enyia’s Chicago mayoral campaign—and has an MA in Arts Politics from NYU and an MFA from Bard College. Her first book, Build Yourself a Boat, comes out later this month from Haymarket Books. You can order it here.

She has a favorite quote that stays with her—literally, as she told the interviewer from Empire Coven, as it is tattooed on her thigh—from a poem by the great Gwendolyn Brooks: “Say that the river turns and turn the river.”

As Felix explains, “Brooks spoke a lot about the intrinsic power of black womanhood and black femininity. When she wrote, ‘say that the river turns and turn the river,’ she really wrote it as a love letter to women and girls of color. It was a reminder that the world is not a great place, but we have a natural power and ability to transcend those bad things and make the world a better place.”

For Felix, it’s a reminder “that when I’m frustrated or something seems like its not working out, all I have to do is change something about the way I’m thinking or going through the world. That will change the way that I’m experiencing the world.”

In the poem I want to share today, the speaker of the poem seems to be addressing a lover who has been caught fooling around with another woman and the other woman, who has reached out to her through social media to try to explain herself, as if that would provide some comfort. Or perhaps, she meant to make the speaker uncomfortable.

Anyone who has known betrayal can relate, yet as Felix told me, part of what she’s trying to do “is working through the unique ways that black women experience heartbreak and trying to give black femme heartbreak space to live outside of the overall tragedy of race and gender.”

Here is Camonghne Felix’s poem,

“Aziza Gifts Me a New Pair of Pants and Saves Me from a Kind of Dysmorphia”

you turned me into the enigma of
your sleep and I could no longer

get to you, your dream girl novaed
into soluble wins, a Mustang expensive
and out of reach. I want nothing from

her, no information, no explanation,
yet, in my Facebook inbox, she talks
of chemistry, a perceived lack thereof

how she peppers you with the music
of your fantasies, lets you into
the strobe light, her body a

body of swan songs. I can’t help but
do the comparative math work, really
analyze the friction —

on a scale of one to fuck you I am 
obviously prettier, more compelling
better dressed, better situated for

the fixed follicle of long term care. She knows
the coke life, the nightlife, the way to shake
a man down to his flimsy desires

his petty pull to the things that will
kill him slow, his tongue a rat, a
hangnail at the edge of his mouth.

still, I know that perfection
is a matter of impulse and still
there is no one too perfect to feel

worthless. I cannot be bothered with
the multiple failures of my skin. Aziza says,
but, you are so beautiful

and yet, nothing fits. I am hungry
to return to the monster I know.
In my new room, there are no mirrors —

I am confounded with how ugly I feel
how thirsty I am to be something
ductile and pliable, calling out to the

back hand of the lover I know. We are
a bus ride apart and in the olive glow
of a high midnight, he texts me with

strangled, desperate remorse:

I want off this carousel
I need my girl, my life back
You are my only caboose

The only north star I know
My one way trip to something
Larger than my obnoxious instincts

Something larger than my
complicated, calculated need to be
Bigger than you.

—Camonghne Felix. This poem originally appeared in  PEN Poetry Series from PEN America. Used by permission of the author.

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Alice Pettway reading at Sacramento Poetry Center,
18 March 2019. Photo by SEA

Last month, I read with Alice Pettway at the Sacramento Poetry Center. Alice came all the way from Shanghai, where she lives with her husband, and read from her new book, Moth, which has just been published by the fabulous Salmon Poetry of County Clare, Ireland, and from her first book, The Time of Hunger / O Tempo de Chuva.

Pettway and her husband have been on quite a journey, first with the Peace Corps and now with various work situations, that has taken them from Mozambique to Bogotá and now to China.

Perhaps because of this itinerant existence in countries far-flung from her native Texas, Pettway seems to be perpetually longing for home in one way or another. In her work, she seems to be always returning as much as she is leaving, while the “tug of the familiar” and the familial is always calling her.

As she wrote in a 2010 “Letter” from her Peace Corps post in Mozambique, “We are falling in love with our new home, but missing our old one.” (My latest, Dwelling, is also about the longing for home and about how we need to protect this Earth, our island home, so we were a good pairing.)

“When we think of home, we might think of a place, a smell, a tradition,” Pettway wrote to me in an email about her poem, “Burial,” which I share below. “Those memories pull us constantly back toward our past, but they also sometimes force us out into the world to discover different ways of being. When our new and old selves eventually find themselves squeezed into the same space again, an emotional reckoning is unavoidable.”

Her eye for detail and resonant images, along with a deceptively simple, direct language characterizes Pettway’s work. I am delighted to share her work with you here.

Here is “Burial” by Alice Pettway:

Burial

I changed shoes for the burial.
The earth, soft from rain,
was hungry for the black stems
of my funeral heels.
 
It was hungry for you too,
waiting only for lurid turf
to give way to reality,
a hole gouged in a field.
 
The funeral director looked
away; your brothers
pulled black plastic ground,
took up shovels.
 
I grasped a handle too—bent
my woman’s body into pivot
of muscle and dirt until the throb
of earth on wood faded, until soil
landed on soil as softly as snow
on snow, until there was no hole.
The men stood silent. Burial
is no more a man’s task
than birth is.

—Alice Pettway, from Moth (Salmon Press, 2019). Used by permission of the author and publisher. You can read more about Alice Pettway here.

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The iconic 18th Century Portas da Cidade (City Gates) in Ponta Delgada, São Miguel. (Photo by Scott Edward Anderson)

Some of you know that I’ve been on a journey the past few years to uncover and explore my familial roots on the island of São Miguel in the Azores, the nine-island archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean between Portugal and the United States.

Last summer, I had a residency on the island with Disquiet International, named for the enigmatic book of prose written by the great Portuguese poet, Fernando Pessoa. The residency in Ponta Delgada took place only 3.7 km from the freguesia (municipal parish) where two of my maternal great-grandparents emigrated in 1906.

Through Disquiet, I was also introduced to poet Lara Gularte, herself of Azorean American ancestry. Her relatives were from Faial, Pico, and Flores, three more of the nine islands in the Azores. Gularte was born in California and grew up in what was then an area of fruit farms known as the Santa Clara Valley (now more famously known as Silicon Valley).

Last month, Lara graciously invited me to read in the series she runs in the Sierra Foothills east of Sacramento, near where she now lives. Along with her husband, Brian—and some good local wine—we spent a wonderful evening discussing our Azorean heritage, poetry, and the dilemma of being generations removed from the places of our origins.

Gularte, who worked for many years as a public servant, finally traveled back to the Azores in 2008—the first of her family to return in four generations. “Before I explored these islands, they were only an abstraction,” Lara told the Portuguese American Journal in June 2018. “I had seen photos and post cards, but nothing prepared me for the natural beauty and complexity of the landscape.”

Her first collection, Kissing the Bee, was published by The Bitter Oleander Press in 2018. Many of the poems in her book speak to what she found on the Azores and the deepening connection which that brought about with her family roots in California’s fertile central valley.

“I was a resident poet at Footpaths to Creativity Center and Artist/Writer Residency on Flores Island in the Azores where this poem was written,” Lara says. “Flores is the island from where my grandfather was born before he emigrated as a young boy to the U.S. He was a stowaway on a ship and disembarked in New Bedford, Mass. He then worked in the cranberry bogs for a few years before traveling to California where he met my grandmother.”

Here is Lara Gularte’s poem, “Flores Island”:

 

FLORES ISLAND

The place at the beginning       

 

A whale rises up in her mind

turning her thoughts gray.

 

In port, the ferry of return.

She searches for her grandfather

to discover the shape of his emigration

and finds the plank’s gone, rotted.

At the mercy of rough water and high winds,

he rowed, sinews pulling his dory,

pulling his bones to breaking.

 

She scans the distance,

says his name out loud, Antonio Henriques,

waits to hear a voice, see a face.

She searches for all the prisoners

of thick mists, others who look like her,

whose foreign tongues speak music to her soul.

 

Beyond the wake of a rogue wave,

currents and tides ride

on the back of a gray whale.

 

She sees through the vapor

boats whose nets gather the sky and let go.

Fog falls,

bearing dazed souls back to their home place.

She falls with them.

 

—Lara Gularte, from Kissing the Bee (The Bitter Oleander Press, 2018). Used by permission of the author.

 

anderson_dwelling an ecotour_march-june 2019

Here’s my upcoming reading schedule for March through June 2019. If you have a reading series you’d like me to be part of or want me to speak to your class or book group, in person or by Skype, please let me know.

 

Featured Reader
Thursday, 14 March 2019, 7:30 PM

Moe’s Books
2476 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley, CA

Featured Reader
Sunday, 17 March 2019, 1PM

Love Birds Coffee & Tea
1390 Broadway, Placerville, CA

Featured Reader
Monday, 18 March 2019, 7PM
With Alice Pettway
Sacramento Poetry Center
1729 25th Street, Sacramento, CA  

Featured Reader
Wednesday, 3 April 2019, 6:30 PM

Free Library of Philadelphia 
Philadelphia City Institute,
1905 Locust St., Philadelphia, PA

Featured Reader
Tuesday, 14 May 2019, 7PM

#YeahYouWrite Author Series with Rabeah Ghaffari & Tim Tomlinson
Bo’s Kitchen and Bar Room
6 West 24th St, New York, NY

2019 ASLE Conference
26-30 June 2019

Leading panel “Poetry CAN Save the Earth” and reading from Dwelling: an ecopoem
Paradise on Fire: 2019 ASLE Conference
University of California, Davis

 

SEA+2

Scott Edward Anderson reading at Cornelia Street Cafe, October 2018. Photo by Den Petrizzo.

This is the time of year when I look back on my writing life over the past twelve months. I’m grateful for all my readers, editors, and listeners in 2018.

As the Walter Lowenfels’s quote at the top of my blog says, “One reader is a miracle; two, a mass movement.” I don’t take any of one of you miracles for granted. Thank you!

January — My craft essay, “Poetry as Practice,” published in Cleaver Magazine. Shanti Arts accepts DWELLING: an ecopoem for release later in year!

February/March — Finish the only poem I complete this year, “Phase Change,” with the help of Alfred Corn, currently on submission. (If you don’t know Alfred’s work, you really should check out his books by following the link above.)

April — My essay on Lowell’s “Skunk Hour” accepted by Schuylkill Valley Journal, published in Spring 2018 issue and online later in the year.

May/June — Write my essay/memoir FALLING UP and submit it to Homebound Publications for their Little Bound Books series. They want it! Will be published in Fall 2019.

July/August — Disquiet Azores residency. Continue research and writing for BELONGING, my “enhanced memoir” of identity, roots, and rediscovering my Azorean-Portuguese heritage.

September — Release of DWELLING: an ecopoem from Shanti Arts.

October — Several readings in support of DWELLING. Present my craft talk, “Making Poems Better: The Process of Revision,” at Boston Book Festival. Appear on “In the Balance” podcast with Susan Lambert.

November — Page proof edits for FALLING UP. Schedule appearances/readings for 2019 in New York, California, and at ASLE 2019. Continue work on BELONGING.

December — Excerpt from “Some Questions of Dwelling,” the prose section of DWELLING: an ecopoem, appears in Still Point Arts Quarterly.

It’s been a good year — thanks everyone for being my miracles!

 

This week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Susan Lambert for her In the Balance podcast. We talk about my new book, Dwelling: an ecopoem, and how we can repair our rift with the natural world. Give a listen…

Scott Edward Anderson speaks the language of the earth. His new book Dwelling: an ecopoem encourages us to discover a more balanced relationship – an interrelationship – between human beings and the earth.

He urges us to “give back to the earth what is hers.” He reminds us that the earth doesn’t need us. She will be fine. We are the ones who need to adapt, change and have empathy for the earth. Scott’s beautiful book helps us begin to heal that fractured relationship.

In the Balance 

ANDERSON_DWELLING_COVER_FRONT_SMALLSometimes, perseverance pays off.

Back in the early 2000s, I began working on a few poems in response to Martin Heidegger’s essay, “Building Dwelling Thinking,” which I first read over a decade before while living in Germany.

In this essay, Heidegger argues that dwelling is our way of being on the Earth, but that modern society creates a rift between building and dwelling.

We can heal that rift by preserving the Earth, by not exploiting its resources and, Heidegger suggests, by thinking about building as dwelling and our relationship to community.

My reactions to the work were complicated by several factors, not the least of which was the philosopher’s complicity with the Nazis during WWII, but also that some of what Heidegger says about dwelling didn’t ring true with what I understood were the origins and meanings of the word “dwelling.”

For example, Heidegger believed dwelling is best accomplished solely by staying in place, when in fact the roots of the word imply abandonment, leave-taking, and, frankly, wandering.

Heidegger concludes his essay with an example of his own dwelling in southwest Germany’s Black Forest–also home to the Brothers Grimm. His Black Forest home, known as “die Hütte,” located in Todtnauberg, embodied his concept of being rooted in a place. Of that he was certain.

Yet, dwelling’s roots, if you will, speak to its origins in doubt, leading astray, and ultimately, to being in error. This was clearly rich territory, given Heidegger’s egregious affiliations–and Jewish poet Paul Celan’s visit with the philosopher in 1967.

Exploring a multilayered aspect of dwelling as a manifestation of our being on the Earth, I turned to the writing of philosophers Kate Soper and David Abrams, as well as that of the phenomenologist Gaston Bachelard, all of which contributed to my thinking on the subject.

In November 2002, I enjoyed a residency at the Millay Colony for the Arts in Austerlitz, New York, sponsored by the Concordia Foundation, and a sabbatical from my work with The Nature Conservancy, which afforded me concentrated time to engage with my project.

I’ll never forget driving up to the Colony–it was right around my birthday. I’d shared a few of the early poems of my project with my friend and poetry mentor, Alison Hawthorne Deming, who responded positively, calling my project “a phenomenology of how we live on the Earth.”

Man, was that both encouraging and daunting! I had to stop the car more than once with a bit of a panic attack fearing I was not up to the task.

Yet, I persevered, and the work expanded from a sequence of poems to a companion series of essay “questions”–in the tradition of the Egyptian-French poet Edmond Jabès–on themes within the poems, and finally to some short “definition” poems, exploring the various meaning of the word dwelling.

At the 2011 American Society for Literature and the Environment (ASLE) conference in Bloomington, Indiana, I shared several of the poems on a panel organized by poet and anthologist Laura-Gray Street.

Over the years, a number of the poems made it into print or on-line publications, including Terrain, CrossConnect, Many Mountains Moving, and The Wayfarer. The late John Ashbery selected one of the poems, “Becoming,” to represent work produced by the Millay Colony for its 30th Anniversary exhibit at the Albany (New York) International Airport in 2004.

But I couldn’t find a home for the book as I conceived it–poetry and essays combined. When my collection of poems, Fallow Field, came out in 2013, I included several of the “Dwelling” poems as a section in the book, not sure I would ever publish the entire work.

Then, in 2017, I submitted the manuscript to a contest for The Hopper Poetry Prize, a prize devoted to environmentally focused collections. To my surprise, I received an honorable mention, which encouraged me to seek out other publishers towards the end of that year.

I wrote to half a dozen publishers I thought would have an interest and Christine Cote of Shanti Arts in Brunswick, Maine, was one of the first to respond. I sent her the manuscript.

A few weeks later, Christine wrote with such enthusiasm and a clear sense of the vision I had for the book. And the press, which was founded in 2011 “to celebrate and promote connections between art, nature, and spirit,” seemed like a gift to the book.

Christine’s design sense, too, was a gift and, when I suggested using some of my friend the artist Hans Van Meeuwen‘s drawings in the book, she loved the idea. Hans was an artist in residence at Millay when I was there in 2002; in fact, it’s where we met.

And when I told Christine I wanted to run the “definition poems” as a footer across the bottom of the page throughout the book, she was willing to try it–as skeptical as she may have been at first. I also ran the idea by my poetry friend Erin Belieu, showing her a sample. She said it “felt like a whisper across the bottom of the page.” It worked!

Sixteen years after that drive up to the Millay Colony, I’m holding a copy of this book in my hand. It seems like a minor miracle. Although, the real miracle will be you, dear readers, and your reaction to my little book of dwelling on the Earth.

Let me know what you think.

You can order copies directly from the publisher: Shanti Arts

Or on Amazon in paperback or Kindle versions: Amazon