My Year in Writing: 2022

November 28, 2022

SEA books published in 2022.

Now is the time of year, between my birthday and the end of the year, when I take stock of my year in writing. It’s been a pretty productive year, considering it also included a move from Brooklyn to the Berkshires:

Published Wine-Dark Sea: New & Selected Poems & Translations (Shanti Arts)

Book launch for Wine-Dark Sea online with Kathryn Miles (Feb)

Appearance on Portuguese American Radio Hour with Diniz Borges (March)

World Poetry Day/Cagarro Colloquium reading (March)

Book launch with Portuguese Beyond Borders Institute (March)

Book signing at Terrain.org booth at #AWP22 in Philadelphia (March)

Wine-Dark Sea gets “Taylored” by @taylorswift_as_books on Instagram! (March)

Lecture at University of the Azores: Mesa-redonda Poesia, Tradução e Memória (April)

Azores launch for Wine-dark Sea and Azorean Suite/Suite Açoriana at Letras Levadas in Ponta Delgada, São Miguel, Azores, with Leonor Sampaio Silva (April)

Açores Hoje television interview with Juliana Lopes on RTP Açores (April)

Terrain.org Reading Series with Joe Wilkins and Betsy Aoki (April)

“Phase Change” and “Under the Linden’s Spell” reprinted in TS Poetry’s Every Day Poems (online/email)

“Midnight Sun” and “Shapeshifting” reprinted in Earth Song: a nature poems experience (anthology), edited by Sara Barkat and published by TS Poetry Press

Named Ryan Observatory’s first Poet Laureate

Mentoring 2 students in Creative Nonfiction for Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program (June/July)

Translated Pedro da Silveira’s A ilha e o mundo, his first book of poems (1952)

Excerpts from Corsair of the Islands, my translation of Vitorino Nemésio’s Corsário das Ilhas, published in Barzakh Magazine (online) (August)

Panelist/presenter at Colóquio: Pedro da Silveira – faces de um poliedo cultural, University of the Açores: On Translating Pedro da Silveira’s A Ilha (September)

Lançamento da obra Habitar: um ecopoema, Margarida Vale de Gato’s translation of Dwelling: an ecopoem, published by Poética Edições, with Nuno Júdice, Luís Filipe Sarmento, and Margarida Vale de Gato, at FLAD in Lisbon (September)

Guest lecturer in Creative Writing at University of the Azores (Leonor Sampaio Silva, professora)

Panelist/presenter at 36th Colóquio da Lusofonia, Centro Natália Correia, Fajã de Biaxo, São Miguel, Azores: reading from Azorean Suite/Suite Açoriana with Eduardo Bettencourt Pinto (October)

#YeahYouWrite Catskill Reading at Fahrenheit 451 House, Catskill, NY w/Stephanie Barber, Laurie Stone, and Sara Lippmann (October)

Guest Writer at UConn Stamford creative writing class (Mary Newell, professor) (October)

Poet & Astronomer in Conversation (with Derrick Pitts, Chief Astronomer of the Franklin Institute) at Ryan Observatory at Muddy Run, PA (November)

“Wine-Dark Sea” (poem) published in American Studies Over_Seas (November)

20th Anniversary of residency at Millay Arts and writing of Dwelling: an ecopoem (November)

Selections from Habitar: um ecopoema published in Gávea-Brown (US) and Grotta (Azores)

Book reviews in Gávea-Brown and Pessoa Plural (December)

What a year! I am exceedingly grateful to everyone who has supported my writing over the past year. As Walter Lowenfels wrote, “One reader is a miracle; two, a mass movement.”

Like I said last year, I feel like I’ve been blessed by a mass miracle this year!

Scott Edward Anderson, Suzanne Roberts, and Derek Sheffield at AWP 2022, Philadelphia.

Tonight, I’m reading from my new book, Wine-Dark Sea: New & Selected Poems & Translations in Terrain.org’s reading series. You can join us by registering here for the event. Hope to see you there!

I’ll be reading with two other poets, Joe Wilkins and Betsy Aoki. Betsy is an associate poetry editor with Terrain, which has published several of my poems over the years. Her colleague, Derek Sheffield, will be our host. Derek is a fine poet in his own right, and he has a new book out called Not For Luck, which poet Mark Doty selected for the Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize, and it was published by Michigan State University Press.

Derek has been called “a post-romantic nature poet,” in a recent review and, as the reviewer went on to say, his “poems are colored by a sense of separateness from nature and a recognition that language itself impedes any immediate communion with the world.” (Those of you familiar with my book Dwelling: an ecopoem, will understand why I find Derek’s work interesting and simpatico.)  

I should also mention that he wrote a great blurb for my new book, for which I am truly grateful. And he has some of the longest poem titles I’ve ever seen (the one below is not even close to the longest), which is always fun.

Here is Derek Sheffield’s

“At the Log Decomposition Site in the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest, a Visitation”

Below thick moss and fungi and the green leaves

and white flowers of wood sorrel, where folds

of phloem hold termites and ants busily gnawing  

through rings of ancient light and rain, this rot

is more alive, says the science, than the tree that

for four centuries it was. Beneath beetle galleries

vermiculately leading like lines on a map

to who knows where, all kinds of mites, bacteria,

Protozoa, and nematodes whip, wriggle, and crawl

even as my old pal’s bark of a laugh comes back:

“He’s so morose you get depressed just hearing

his name,” he said once about a poet we both liked.

Perhaps it’s the rust-red hue of his cheeks

in the spill of woody bits. Or something in the long shags

of moss draping every down-curved limb. He’d love to be

right now a green-furred Sasquatch tiptoeing

among the boles of these firs alive since the first

Hamlet’s first soliloquy. He’d be in touch,

he said in an email, as soon as the doctors cleared him.

When this tree toppled, the science continues, its death

went through the soil’s mycorrhizae linking the living

and the dead by threads as fine as the hairs appearing

those last years along Peter’s ears, and those rootlets

kept rooting after. That email buried in my Inbox.

Two lines and his name in lit pixels on my screen.

What if I click Reply? That’s what he would do,

even out of place and time, here in the understory’s

lowering light where gnats rescribble their whirl

after each breath I send.

–Derek Sheffield, from Not For Luck, originally appeared in Otherwise Collective’s Plant-Human Quarterly

When Samantha and I were back in São Miguel two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to place a plaque at Emigrant Square in honor of my great-grandparents José and Anna Rodrigues Casquilho, who emigrated from the Azores in 1906. As the wind whipped up on the plaza, swirling around the large mosaic globe, and the ocean waves crashed against the rocky north shore, I had the distinct impression my bisavós were making their presence known.

The ceremony was emotional for me, especially because several members of my Azorean family attended. I delivered a speech in Portuguese—although much of it may have been lost on the wind—and placed the plaque in the square that had been reserved for it. I couldn’t help thinking of my bricklayer great-grandfather when I nestled the plaque into the fresh mortar.

(Coincidentally, outside Letras Lavadas Livraria the night before, where we were launching my books Azorean Suite and Wine-Dark Sea, stone workers were busy replacing the basalt and limestone calçadas and street paving stones right up until we started talking—another sign that my great-grandfather was present.)

This got me thinking about other emigrants from the islands and about Millicent Borges Accardi’s new book of poetry, Through a Grainy Landscape, which, as another Azorean American writer, Katherine Vaz, puts it, explores “what heritage means to those descended from immigrants long established in the place of their dreams.”

Accardi’s books include Only More So (Salmon Poetry, 2016) and she has received a Fulbright, along with fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), CantoMundo, the California Arts Council, Yaddo, Fundação Luso-Americana (FLAD), and the Barbara Deming Foundation. She lives in Topanga, California, and has degrees in writing from CSULB and USC. In 2012, Accardi started the “Kale Soup for the Soul” reading series featuring Portuguese-American writers.

Here is Millicent Borges Accardi’s “The Graphics of Home”

Were broken by the Great

Depression, the textile mills,

and the golf ball factories.

We came from The Azores

and the mainland and Canada,

settling in Hawaii and New Bedford

and San Pedro, the original

Navigators. No one was documented.

Here was what I learned at home

thru the lifecycle of a shirt.

Polyester and cotton, it arrived

in the mail, from Sears,

sent as a hand-me-down

from Fall River, carefully washed

and ironed and pressed,

in a tomato box that had been

repurposed and wrapped in brown

paper and smelling of stale

cigarettes. That shirt was worn

and washed and used many times,

as if it had been new. When they

frayed, the elbows were mended

and torn pockets were reconnected

with thick carpet-makers’ thread.

When the sleeves were too worn

to restore, they were scissored

off to make short sleeves and then

the new ends were folded and hemmed

until no more and then there was the time

when the sleeves were cut off

entirely, to create a summer top

or costume for play time, sleeveless,

perhaps a vest for a pirate.

When outgrown and too worn

for even that, the placket of buttons was removed,

in one straight hard cut along the body

of the shirt front, through and through.

The buttons were pulled off by hand,

for storage in an old cookie tin,

the cloth cut into small usable pieces

for mending, for doll clothes, for

whatever was left over. The rest, torn

into jagged rags for cleaning and, if the fabric was soft,

used for Saturday’s dusting of the good furniture

in the den. Whatever was left, was sold

by the pound, wrapped and rolled into

giant cloth balls, sold to the rag man

who made his rounds in the neighborhood

all oily and urgent and smiling as if

his soul were a miracle of naturalized

birth.

From Through a Grainy Landscape by Millicent Borges Accardi, New Meridian Arts (2021)

I’m behind in posting this year’s National Poetry Month poems, and I was reminded of that fact by several readers who reached out wondering whether they’d fallen off the list. My apologies!!

We finally made it back to the Azores after two years away and I’ve been busy preparing for a lecture I am giving at the University of the Azores this evening (as I write this) and a book launch event at the bookstore of my Azorean publisher, Letras Lavadas, in Ponta Delgada on Thursday.

Still, no excuse.

Then, this morning, I saw Dana Levin’s poem below, posted by several friends on social media from its appearance in the New York Times Magazine this week, and—given recent events in Ukraine and Sacramento—I decided it was the poem to start with this year.

Dana Levin is a national treasure. Her poetry is both erudite and approachable, a rich combination of everyday observations, science, and deep human feeling. 

Dana grew up in California’s Mojave Desert, earned a BA from Pitzer College and an MA from New York University. Her collections of poetry include Banana Palace (2016), Sky Burial (2011), Wedding Day (2005), and In the Surgical Theatre (1999). She teaches at Maryville University in St. Louis, where she is distinguished writer-in-residence.

Here is Dana Levin’s poem, “Instructions for Stopping,” from her new book, Now Do You Know Where You Are, out now from Copper Canyon Press.

By Dana Levin

Say Stop.

Keep your lips pressed together
after you say the p:

(soon they’ll try
to pry

your breath out—)



Whisper it
three times in a row:

Stop Stop Stop

In a hospital bed
like a curled-up fish, someone’s

gulping at air—

How should you apply
your breath?



List all of the people
you would like
to stop.

Who offers love,
who terror—

Write Stop.
Put a period at the end.

Decide if it’s a kiss
or a bullet.

Here’s how it appeared in the New York Times Magazine on Sunday: Insructions for Stopping.

In conversation with Kathryn Miles

On #pubday eve, Kathryn Miles and I got together to chat about my new book, Wine-Dark Sea: New & Selected Poems & Translations. We had a wide-ranging conversation about the book, specific poems, finding love at middle age, the idea of home, and the Azores — and I even read a poem in Portuguese.

Have a look here:

The book came out March 1st and is available through the links on my website: scottedwardanderson.com/wine-dark-sea

My Year in Writing: 2021

November 24, 2021

Poster for my talk at the Humanities Forum of Providence College, September 2021

Now is the time of year, between my birthday and the end of the year, when I take stock of my year in writing.

What a year it’s been, deepening my connections to my ancestral homeland of the Azores, as well as my ties to the diaspora throughout North America. Here we go:

  • Signed contract with Shanti Arts for Wine-Dark Sea: New & Selected Poems & Translations to be published in Spring 2022. (Technically signed this at the very end of 2020, but thought it was worth mentioning again.)
  • Interview and review by Esmeralda Cabral appeared in Gávea-Brown and was later translated into Portuguese by Esmeralda and Marta Cowling and appeared in Diário dos Açores.
  • Published four translations by Margarida Vale de Gato from Dwelling in Colóquio/Letras by the Gulbenkian Foundation. And signed contract with Poética Edições for Habitar: uma ecopoema, translation by Margarida of my book Dwelling: an ecopoem. Received funding for Margarida’s translation from FLAD.
  • Associação dos Emigrantes Açorianos AEA video presentation, “Açores de Mil Ilhas” for World Poetry Day.
  • Dwelling featured in a class at Providence College on Environmental Philosophy, thanks to Professor Ryan Shea; spent a week there, including teaching three classes and giving a reading/talk at the PC Humanities Forum.
  • Participated in session with Margarida Vale de Gota’s translation students at University of the Lisbon via Zoom.
  • Finished a draft of my translation of Vitorino Nemésio’s Corsário das Ilhas and revisions corresponding to new (2021) Portuguese edition.
  • Published “Wine-Dark Sea” (poem) in America Studies Over_Seas.
  • Published two poems, “The Pre-dawn Song of the Pearly-eyed Thrasher” and “Under the Linden’s Spell,” in The Wayfarer.
  • Published “Phase Change” (poem) in ONE ART (online poetry journal).
  • Scrapped portions of my work-in-progress, The Others in Me, after consulting with two writer friends about it, but found a new approach through working with Marion Roach Smith, which I will start in 2022…

What a year! I am exceedingly grateful to everyone who has supported my writing over the past year. As Walter Lowenfels wrote, “One reader is a miracle; two, a mass movement.” I feel like I’ve been blessed by a mass miracle this year!

Detail of José do Canto (1820-1898) statue,
Jardim Botânico José do Canto, Ponta Delgada, Azores. Photo by SEA

I first encountered Logan Duarte through Christopher Larkosh’s “Writing the Moment Lusodiasporic” event last June. A two-day event sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences and the UMass Dartmouth Department of Portuguese, it brought together Luso-North American writers from throughout Canada and the U.S.

The event was originally supposed to be held in April at the Casa da Saudade Library in New Bedford, but due to the pandemic, it was moved to Zoom in June. The event featured a combination of presentations by writers and cultural agents like Irene Marques, Humberto da Silva, and Emanuel Melo, along with a generative writing workshop led by Carlo Matos.

(Larkosh, who tragically died this past December, served as Logan’s professor and adviser at UMass Dartmouth, and I’d like to dedicate this post to his memory.)

I next saw Logan when we both read for Diniz Borges’ Filaments of the Atlantic Heritage symposium in March 2021. I was impressed with Logan’s poetry, enthusiasm, and scholarship.

One of the poems Logan read during that session was “My Statue,” which he described to me as, “an act of homage towards a man who is the lifeblood of my açorianidade, and a testament to those who have gone before; those whose presence grows stronger in physical absence and gives us the confidence to smile in the rain.” 

Logan is an Azorean Portuguese American writer currently based in Taunton, Massachusetts. His family came from São Miguel Island in the 1960s, which makes him first generation American; although he sometimes jokingly refers to himself as “0.5 generation,” having called Lisbon, Portugal, his home for part of his life.

His writing centers around cultural identity in the Luso-American diaspora and has been a runner-up for the Disquiet International Literary Program’s Luso-American Fellowship (2019) and featured in the Legacy section of the Tribuna Portuguesa (2020). He has a forthcoming set of poems in the upcoming issue of Gávea-Brown, a bilingual journal of Portuguese American letters and studies published by Brown University.

Logan is expected to graduate with a master’s in teaching from UMass Dartmouth in 2021, from which he also received his BA in Portuguese. He also studied at Universidade Católica Portuguesa and Universidade de Lisboa and has taught Portuguese at Milford and Taunton high schools and at Escola Oficial Portuguesa. He will be a graduate Teaching Fellow at UMass Dartmouth beginning his second masters in Portuguese Studies in the upcoming academic year.

Here is Logan Duarte’s “My Statue”

My Statue 

Rain pelts the cobblestone calçada. A utopia turns to a warzone. 

Tourists scatter…I walk 

Knowing all too well the dangerous potential of a slick calçada.  

Some of them slip. Now they know. 

Walking, thinking, unperturbed by the hail of crossfire in which I am caught, I lift my head to see a statue. 

I stop, my eyes examining its unique character. 

It stands firm; the quintessence of gallantry; completely untouched by the bombardment letting loose on the city. 

All else assumes a deep gray despondence, battered by the bombs that fall from the clouds. The streets are barren; a wasteland. 

But the statue stands unscathed. 

Only light shines on this singular obra-prima perfectly guarded in a safe corner of the universe. 

A man stands chiseled out of the finest marble. 

His eyes look directly at me…no one else. 

Below him, a plaque: 

“Ocean-crosser, storm-braver, fearless warrior”. 

Who could it be? 

A hero to the people? A national figure? The sacred one-eyed man? 

No. This is no ordinary statue. This one is only mine. 

I continue walking, still thinking. I still see a statue… 

My statue…my avô. 

The corners of my mouth raise nearly to my ears at the sight of my statue, and the rain clears. Tourists emerge from their hideaways; some still rubbing their bruises. 

Their selfies one shade darker now, 

But my statue remains unscathed. 

It guides me through the warzone—a beacon amidst brume. 

So that when others run, and sometimes slip, 

I walk and think of my statue who in life sacrificed so much 

So that I may not fear the rain. 

And that I may turn my warzone into utopia.

—Logan Duarte

(This poem, used with permission of the author, originally appeared in Tribuna Portuguesa, in a slightly different version.)

Natalie Eilbert.
Photo by Mark Koranda

Recently, a public figure—I won’t name any names—asked why we couldn’t just treat the Covid-19 coronavirus with antibiotics, complaining: “the germ (sic) has gotten so brilliant that the antibiotic can’t keep up with it.”

Now, it’s possible this person— despite his self-proclaimed high-IQ—skipped Biology in high school, for it is in that class that most people learn that antibiotics target bacteria, not viruses.

It’s in this class that students also learn the difference between bacteria and viruses. Bacteria are single-celled organisms, essentially living things that can thrive in a variety of environments. Viruses, on the other hand, require a living host, such as a people, plants, or animals to survive.

With that Biology lesson out of the way, this week’s poem is “Bacterium” by Natalie Eilbert. Eilbert, the author of the remarkable Indictus (Noemi Press, 2018), as well as Swan Feast (Bloof Books, 2015), teaches at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

She is working on her third poetry collection, “Mediastinum,” and is also studying to become a science journalist. (I note her reference to Ideonella sakaiensis, the bacterium which secretes an enzyme that breaks down plastic, specifically PET (polyethylene terephthalate), in lines 11-12.)

“Bacterium” is a captivating poem, which I first came across in Poetry Magazine. What initially struck me about this poem is its form that I couldn’t quite put my finger on—it has elements of both the pantoum and the villanelle, with its repetition of lines, rhymes, and slant rhymes.

So, I asked the poet and she wrote that the poem is written in “a very loose palindromic form inspired by Natasha Trethewey’s poem, ‘Myth,’ which is, in my mind, a perfect poem that has haunted me since 2007.” In Eilbert’s version, she established “a stable of sentences and then reverse(d) their order.”

And then there is her almost playful exploration of etymology, which helps get at the true meaning of words, such as “graft,” “grifter,” and “to graft,” and, perhaps more importantly, “mother” and “mentor.”

I also love the way Eilbert uses verbs in this poem, often morphing them into their gerund form. “I am very, very conscious of how verbs operate in my poems,” Eilbert wrote to me. “I am fascinated by critiques of writing that point to prioritizing active over passive voice. Sometimes we need the passive voice. It is how I encountered so much of the nurturing in my life.”

For example, Eilbert thinks about the difference between “My mother braids my hair” and “My hair was braided,” saying, “The second one breaks my heart; the first is not an accurate narrative for the neglected child. Mothers and mentors have always been complicated in my life. I wanted to create something of the simulacrum of nurturing but one that is absent of love.”

Here is Natalie Eilbert’s “Bacterium,”
   

In the last segment, I tried sufficiency. They moved

my femur and a single woman braiding her hair fell

from me. I tried to warn you, this desert editorializes.

A scorpion lifts its tail, braids more active than braiding,

it hisses. I, of all people, get it. In the mornings we wake

to the kind of life we want until we turn our heads east.

The night fills without us but I warned you, I was full

already. A banana inside me blasted open a door,

my thoughts at the threshold of such a door blank. Love

transacts, a figure in the distance crowded with window.

An enzyme eats plastic, but which kind? Synthetic polymer

or the ways you tried to keep me? This is the last segment.

My mother

draws a circle around time and this is an intercourse. My mentor

draws a circle around time and this is an intercourse. I shake

out of bed. Humans continue the first line of their suicide letter.

An enzyme invents us, we invent enzymes. The plastic we make,

we must eat it. Draw a circle around time. We designed us

in simple utterances. The political term graft means political

corruption. The grifter never had an I. In the burn unit, they

place tilapia skins over human scar tissue, the killed form on top

of afflicted form, also a graft. Also a graft of afflicted form,

the killed form on top, they place tilapia skins over human scar

tissue. In the burn unit, I never had a grifter, corruption

means political, graft the political term. In simple utterances

we designed us. Time draws a circle, we must eat it. We make

the plastic, enzymes invent we, us invents an enzyme to continue

the first line of a suicide letter. Out of bed I shake with intercourse.

Time draws a circle around my mentor. Time draws a circle around

my mother.

This is the last segment. The ways you tried to keep me? Synthetic

polymer, but which kind? An enzyme eats plastic, crowded window,

a figure in the distance transacts love. At the threshold of such

a blank door, my thoughts open a door. A banana blasted inside me.

Already I was full but I warned you, the night fills without us.

We turn our heads until we want the kind of life in the mornings

we wake to. I get, of all people, it. It hisses. A scorpion, more active

than braiding, braids its tail, lifts the editorialized desert. You tried

to warn me from me. Her hair fell braiding a single woman. My femur

was moved. They tried sufficiency in the last segment.

Source: Poetry (May 2019)

You can read more about Natalie Eilbert on her website: natalie-eilbert.com and you can order her books there or through the links above.

A few years ago, a remarkable thing happened to poet Maggie Smith.

Portrait of Maggie Smith by Devon Albeit Photography
Maggie Smith (Devon Albeit Photography)

As she tells it in a note for the website Women’s Voices for Change, “I tend to labor over poems for weeks, months, even years, revising many, many times, working in different documents and comparing versions.”

This new poem, however, she wrote “in about half an hour in a Starbucks, scrawling it in green ink on a legal pad. I deleted only one word between the first draft and the second (final) draft.”

You’ve likely read this poem—the poem, “Good Bones,” went viral shortly after it was published in Waxwing in June 2016. It appeared the same week of the mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and the murder of MP Jo Cox in the UK, when people were struggling to make sense of what was happening in the world.

When a reader posted a screenshot of the poem on Twitter, it was soon picked up by others, retweeted and reposted, and then celebrities got hold of it and started circulating it to their large groups of followers. In short, the poem went viral.

I’m sharing “Good Bones” here in part because it has something we could all use these days: a desire to “believe in the ultimate goodness of the world for the sake of one’s children,” as a reviewer wrote in the Washington Post.

Now, I know this poem is kind of a signature poem of Ms. Smith’s, like Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art.” (“It’s my ‘Freebird,’” she said in an interview, referring to the ubiquitous Lynyrd Skynyrd song request.)

And she’s probably tired of it being the one Maggie Smith poem so many people know (and she has many others that are fine poems in their own right, so you should check them out: Maggie Smith).

Like “One Art,” however, there’s a reason this poem is so popular: it’s a solid poem that speaks directly to people.

“I wrote the poem in 2015,” Smith says, “and clearly I’d been thinking about what it means to raise children in fraught times: What do we tell them? What do tell ourselves? I continue to grapple with these questions, as a mother and as a poet.”

Maggie Smith is the author of a book of short inspirational prose pieces, Keep Moving (Simon & Schuster, 2020), which originated from her Twitter account @maggiesmithpoet, the eponymous Good Bones (Tupelo Press, 2017), as well as The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison (Tupelo Press, 2015) and Lamp of the Body (Red Hen Press, 2005).

Here is Maggie Smith’s poem “Good Bones”:

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.

Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine

in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,

a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways

I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least

fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative

estimate, though I keep this from my children.

For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.

For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,

sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world

is at least half terrible, and for every kind

stranger, there is one who would break you,

though I keep this from my children. I am trying

to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,

walking you through a real shithole, chirps on

about good bones: This place could be beautiful,

right? You could make this place beautiful.


“Good Bones” is from Good Bones, published by Tupelo Press, copyright © 2017 by Maggie Smith. Used with permission of the author. First published in Waxwing Magazine.

For more on National Poetry Month, go to: poets.org/national-poetry-month

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.