FOR FILTHY WOMEN WHO WORRY ABOUT DISAPPOINTING GOD, SEEMA YASMIN

“Her body is the most treacherous place I have visited” – Seema Yasmin.

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photo courtesy of Diode Editions

Almost immediately, the speaker in Seema Yasmin’s chapbook declares that she comes from “6 generations of shame” (“Polygot,” line 9). What follows this declaration is a series of soul crushing poems that shatter this shame, allowing the filthy woman to emerge as bold and unabashed as ever. For Filthy Women Who Worry about Disappointing God explores topics of sexuality, religion, womanhood, and race. Out by Diode Editions, reading Yasmin’s words feel like being let in on a secret: “We shivered and wondered / How a dirty woman / Could make a man so clean” (“Ablution,” lines 19-21). The more poems you read from Filthy Women, the nastier you become, but in Yasmin’s world, it’s all the more empowering.

The speaker in Filthy Women is vulnerable yet transgressive, sinful yet remorseful: “He stood in a puddle of prayers and apologies / Fake apologies because I didn’t really mean to say sorry / For anointing his body” (“Ablution,” lines 12-14). It is Yasmin’s careful balance of these complex and seemingly opposite emotions that is most stunning. In the poem “Astagfirullah (forgive me)” our speaker admits her “need to die clean” then orders us to “read this surah three times before sunrise / This ayah seven times at noon” and then “right at the moment he climaxes inside of you” (lines 28, 29, & 34). Desire is at the heart of so many of Filthy Women’s poems. She can’t help her own rebellion against the people who “Declare our bodies sacred / Then ban us from mosques” but this does not stop her from feeling guilty (“Sister,” lines 13-14). It is these moments that make these poems feel most human and personal to me.

Filthy Women is a brave reflection about what it means to be a Muslim woman who seeks forgiveness even as she hungers to break the norms and cultural standards that oppress her. At its most shocking, Filthy Women acts as an interruption, showing us that the lessons we grow up with are not always sinless: “when I married a Black man / my cousin sighed: at least she is not marrying a woman” (“rebel,” lines 1-2). As our speaker punches a hole through the rules she’s been given, we readers cheer for her, then dip our hands in a little more mud.

View my interview with Yasmin here.

Buy For Filthy Women Who Worry about Disappointing God here

*As part of my goal to promote small presses, here is some information about Diode Editions: “At Diode Editions our mission is to beautifully craft our books, and to fanatically support our authors.”

Temporary Break

Hey, friends!

Before I kick off the summer for NPP, I wanted to take a short break. I graduated yesterday with a B.A in English and a minor in creative writing (my graduation cap is pictured below).

What’s next? I’m really excited to jump back into school and get my MFA in poetry through the NEOMFA program. I’ll be starting the program this fall.

I’ll be back in a few weeks, but until then, thanks for your patience!

See you in a few weeks, friends! 🙂

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MANNISH TONGUES, JAYY DODD

“Infinite Black mothers / wailing in daylight for safe return / infinite Black children / breathing broken & wild to be put down” (“Infinite Monkey Theorem” lines 4-7).

tumblr_oite0owu4z1ubxemko1_1280This week, I’ve been spending time with Mannish Tongues, a debut poetry collection by Jayy Dodd. The haunting and beautiful poems inside Mannish Tongues are nothing short of stunning. These poems offer readers a new way to examine the black body and to bear witness to survival. The prologue of Mannish Tongues includes a quote from Essex Hemphill that states “I’m faced daily with choosing violence / or a demeanor that saves every other life / but my own.” These poems rebel against silence, becoming a powerful testament for speech and language, for empowerment, and for the identities we inhabit.

From the beginning of Mannish Tongues to the end, Dodd’s mastery of language is electrifying. There’s a natural rhythm to Dodd’s words, and the play on form keeps readers on their toes. In the poem “There’s Something bout being Raised in Church” Dodd writes: “our knees know something bout aching, / bout singing in jail cells” (lines 28-29). Through this poem, the speaker examines the church and its role in their upbringing, while also reflecting on the importance of language: “Every language I learned was in verse, translated / across all kinds of salvation” (lines 7-8). The careful articulation and weaving together of family, history, and discourse is what makes reading Mannish Tongues so compelling.

The strong voice in Mannish Tongues places the body front and center, forcing readers to bear witness to the consequences of the identities we hold. The poem “Physical Education” challenges our ideas of manhood. It is written as a prose poem and utilizes white space, giving readers a chance to slow down and really take in each word:”He will learn to not cry in the echo of middle school laughter. He will know bruised throat & swollen wrist as rough housing.” This poem is just one example of the astounding fearlessness in Dodd’s voice and in this collection as a whole.

Mannish Tongues is split into six sections: Confessions, Prayers, Interrogations, Testimonies, Myths, and Eulogies. When I interviewed Dodd, they mentioned one of their influences as Danez Smith. Both Mannish Tongues and [Insert] Boy leave you a little more broken after you’ve read them, but for good reason. This is an important collection to read, and worth every second of readers’ time.

Check out my interview with Dodd here.

Buy Mannish Tongues here.

*As part of my goal to promote small presses, here is some information about Platypus Press: “Platypus Press is a boutique publisher based in England. We seek to unearth innovative contemporary poetry and prose from a broad variety of voices and experiences.”

(photo of Mannish Tongues courtesy of Platypus Press)

FIELD GUIDE TO THE END OF THE WORLD, JEANNINE HALL GAILEY

field-guide-mediumMy favorite thing about opening up a collection like Jeannine Hall Gailey’s Field Guide to the End of the World is being delightfully surprised at finding poems about teen vampires, John Cusack, alien autopsies, and magic mirrors. From the first poem, the speaker warns us that “we cannot sleep too far from disaster zones” (“Introduction to Disaster Preparedness” line 12). Each poem after this is meant to surprise and humor readers as we prepare for imminent destruction. But don’t let it fool you, because among the wit and many warnings that fill these poems, Field Guide to the End of the World is full of the hope and survival we need during the inevitable setbacks of our lives. And thank goodness for Gailey, because I couldn’t ask for a better instruction manual to carry with me.

One of the poems that I enjoyed in Field Guide to the End of the World was “Lessons in Emergency.” The speaker does a great job of creating a sense of urgency and panic by asking questions and urging readers to construct their own emergency evacuation plan. Despite this poem serving to remind readers of their own mortality and fragility, it stays lighthearted and humorous: “In the end you are still yourself, yourself a little dustier a little blood in the hair, maybe a bit rattled but why are you still clutching the egg-beater in your hands so tight, your fingers still touched with flour?” (13). I love the voice in this poem (and collection) because of its whimsical and chatty nature, and I think “Lessons in Emergency” really captures the energy in the speaker’s voice.

In the poem “Introduction to Spy Narrative as Love Story” the speaker’s playfulness emerges  yet again. The dark images in the poem are brilliantly balanced with odd image that shock readers and create tension within the text. One of my favorite lines in the collection as a whole is “I’ve hidden my gun // in a container of ice cream that’s calling me” (lines 3-4). These moments in Field Guide to the End of the World are what make it such a dazzling collection to read.

Field Guide to the End of the World is split into five sections: Disaster Studies, Cultural Anthropology, Hard Science, A Primer for your Personal Genome Project, and End Times Eschatology. The cover is stunning, and as soon as I saw it at AWP, I knew I had to buy it.

Buy Field Guide to the End of the World here.

*As part of my goal to promote small presses, here is some information about Moon City Press: Moon City Press is a joint venture of the Missouri State University Departments of English and Art and Design. With series lists in “Arts and Letters” and “Ozarks History and Culture,” Moon City books feature collaborations between students and faculty over the various aspects of publication: research, writing, editing, layout and design.”

(photo of Field Guide to the End of the World courtesy of Moon City Press)

#AWP17

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Hi friends!

I hope everyone is rested after all of the AWP madness last week. What an exciting time! I had a blast meeting some of my favorite poets, like Sandra Simonds, Kaveh Akbar, Danez Smith, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, and Emilia Phillips. And despite making a fool of myself in front of all of them (I’m really good at this) seeing them made my month. This was my first AWP, so it was a special time and a great way to launch into the giant world of literary mayhem. I was so happy to be at AWP that I bought TWENTY FIVE poetry collections. TWENTY FIVE. So, needless to say, featuring awesome poetry collections on this blog for the next few months will not be a problem. Here’s a couple of the books that I bought that I’m looking forward to reading and writing about:

  • Because When God is Too Busy: Haiti, Me, & the World by Gina Athena Ulysse.
  • Further Problems with Pleasure by Sandra Simonds.
  • Field Guide to the End of the World by Jeannine Hall Gailey
  • I’m So Fine by Khadijah Queen
  • Ugly Time by Sarah Galvin
  • Mad Woman by Shara McCallum
  • For Filthy Women Who Worry About Disappointing God by Seema Yasmin
  • Portrait of the Alcoholic by Kaveh Akbar

I’m biased, but I do think I had the best AWP book haul! Aside from spending hours browsing the book fair, I also spent some time at a few really fabulous panels. The American Smooth: A Tribute to Rita Dove panel had me laughing and crying all over the place. Jericho Brown read (or rather cried through) the powerful Letter to the Editor by Rita Dove  which protests the lack of black poets in Garrison Keillor’s anthology Good Poems (2004). I encourage you to click on the link above and read it. Brown explained how much this letter meant and still means to him today. Another great panel I attended was the Writing the Dual Self: Opening Spaces for Hybrid Identities. Panelists discussed what having a hybrid identity means, and Thrity Umrigar said “I wear the hyphen like a rose.” These words struck me, and I keep them in mind when I’m writing now. Other helpful panels I attended include We all Have to Start Somewhere: How Bad Writing Gets Good and Page Meets Stage16708403_736749439815406_7767143907815017065_n.jpg

I have so much gratitude for all of the panelists, organizers, and press editors who helped me find the wonderful collections I bought and all of the swag I came home with. The panels I attended gave me so much to think about, and I found them to be very helpful. I was overwhelmed by all of the beautiful events and people I was surrounded with for those three days. Thanks so much to all, and I can’t wait to see you all again next year in Tampa, Florida.

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AWP17 MADNESS

Friends,

AWP17 has been a blast! I’m still recovering from all the madness / amazingness. Check back next week for a full post about my first AWP and all of the adventures I had in D.C the last few days. I hope everyone reading this is getting some rest and having a safe trip back home.

Thanks,

NPP

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BORN PALESTINIAN, BORN BLACK, SUHEIR HAMMAD

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Drawing from her Palestinian roots, as well as her experiences of growing up in Brookryn, poet Suheir Hammad’s collection, Born Palestinian, Born Black shows readers what it means to struggle as a woman, as a Palestinian, and as an immigrant. Hammad’s strong voice takes us to the broken streets of Brooklyn, the war torn Palestine, and the intimate conflicts that make up this speakers’ friendships and family. She breaks traditional poetry rules, oftentimes embracing the language of the street. Here, Hammad offers us a personal account of poverty, war, and survival.

From the beginning, this collection holds nothing back. The language is unflinching, and oftentimes shocking.  The speaker immediately pulls readers out of their comfort zones. In the poem “blood stitched time” the speaker reflects on the ongoing crisis in Palestinian: “stand under the strain of false peace jammed up hopes / we speak with dried olive branches / caught in chests” (lines 34-36). The speaker, mourning, says she is tired of “watching kids get bombed and blown” (line 25). Then, we are taken back to the streets of Brooklyn, where the speaker says the following about her people’s refugee statuses in the United States: “whose mouth was jammed silent / with food stamps in brooklyn” (lines 42-43). I love Hammad’s writing because of its rawness and uncleanliness. Her words don’t try to be pretty in their protest, but you can count on each poem delivering a lot of truth.

In the poem “99 cent lipstick” the speaker looks back at the harsh streets of Brooklyn that raised her. She laments the friends she lost to jail and drugs, and reflects on the ways “we killed each other with / a fear that wasn’t even ours” (lines 69-70). The language in this poem is accessible to many. Through Born Palestinian, Born Black Hammad creates a space where everyone can grieve, and where she shows us that suffering is something we all feel. The speaker is doesn’t forget her origin, and pays homage to Brooklyn, and to Palestine.

Born Palestinian, Born Black took me a few days to read. I was amazed by Hammad’s voice and urgency. Each poem has a life of its own, a movement that is uniquely hers. The collection was originally published in 1996 by Harlem River Press, but was reprinted in 2010 by UpSet Press (The University of Arkansas Press is the distributor of Upset Press).

Buy Born Palestinian, Born Black here. 

*As part of my goal to promote small presses, here is some information about UpSet Press: “UPSET PRESS is an independent press based in Brooklyn.The original impetus of the press was to upset the status quo through literature. The press has expanded its mission to promote new work by new authors; the first works, or complete works, of established authors, including restoring to print new editions of important texts; and first time translations of works into English. Overall, the Press endeavors to advance authors’ innovative visions and bodies of work that engender new directions in literature.”

View Suheir Hammad on TED Talk below:

RAPTURE, SJOHNNA MCCRAY

rapture-cover-2-705x1024After finishing the collection Rapture by Sjohnna McCray, I was surprised to learn that this is his first collection. So many social, political, and historical issues are beautifully tackled in Rapture. Centered around the Vietnam War, this collection of poems introduces us to the speakers’ parents, who form an unlikely relationship during the war. Written in a chronological structure, Rapture follows the parent’s eventual migration to Cincinnati, Ohio, and the speaker’s childhood and adulthood. Through this, topics of race, sexuality, immigration, and family are addressed.

The stunning portrayal of the parent’s relationship in Rapture is best shown through the poem “Bedtime Story #1.” In this poem, the father is telling the speaker a story about how he met the speakers’ mother. McCray writes, “they could stroll the lane like an ordinary couple: / the unassuming black and the Korean whore / in the middle of the Vietnam War” (lines 21-23). This collection does a great job of giving us a different side of the war. I like this poem because it illustrates this relationship thought unlikely details, such as the “chocolate, / caramel and peanuts” that the father gives to the mother (lines 18-19). It also stunningly addresses the language barrier between the father and the mother, and the writing feels intimate and personal.

Something that really kept me hooked to Rapture was its tendency to cover a wide range of topics. Despite the expansiveness, one thing that really threads Rapture together is McCray’s honest depiction of sexuality. While I thought that Rapture would focus on the Vietnam War, I really loved his characterization of adolescence and boyhood. In the poem “Adolescence” we find our young speaker with his cousins, peeking at an unknown woman. The boys refer to her body with crude terms, such as “pussy” and “cunt” (line 22) but by the end of the poem, the speaker acknowledges that “Her body refuses the terms, / the slang-by-number words, // we try to assign her body” (lines 28-30). Throughout Rapture, the speaker is candid with his representation of sexuality, and the body is depicted in many poems, no matter what the subject.

While Rapture is not organized in sections, it does take place over a series of life events. We meet the parents during the Vietnam War, then later after they’ve moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, and then we follow the speaker into adulthood. One of the poems, titled “Postcard: Turning Station” is written in the mother’s voice, while the poem “The Savages in the Suburbs” documents the 1978 Cincinnati blizzard, and the Korean mothers’ attempt at learning new English words through her son. The poems in Rapture take on many different forms, and McCray does a great job of varying the poems both in style and subject.

Buy Rapture here.

*As part of my goal to promote small presses, here is some information about Graywolf Press: “Graywolf Press is a leading independent publisher committed to the discovery and energetic publication of contemporary American and international literature. We champion outstanding writers at all stages of their careers to ensure that diverse voices can be heard in a crowded marketplace.”*

(photo of Rapture courtesy of Graywolf Press)

Election Thoughts

Poetry friends, with news of Donald Trump winning the presidential election, I hope you’ve been able to find some time this week to care for yourself and find peace. It is even more important right now for us to stand by each other and continue making art. Poetry can be used to spread social awareness and protest injustice, so we must continue making our voices heard through poetry. Below is a small list of collections that I have featured on NPP that have impacted me in powerful ways. It is in no particular order. Also, be sure to check out this Atlantic article on Why Poetry is Viral in the Aftermath of Trump’s Election.

  1. Cannibal, Safiya Sinclair
  2. Bringing the Shovel Down, Ross Gay
  3. Why God is a Woman, Nin Andrews
  4. Citizen, Claudia Rankine
  5. Seam, Tarfia Faizullah
  6. Dothead, Amit Majmudar
  7. Play Dead, Francine J. Harris
  8. The Sonnets, Sandra Simonds
  9. [Insert] Boy, Danez Smith
  10. Thief in the Interior, Phillip B. Williams

9781631491412_198Although this week’s post is a bit different, I do still want to briefly feature the poetry collection Rome, by Dorothea Lasky. I’ve really appreciated her weird and sarcastic voice because these poems have gotten me through a tough week. While reading Rome, I never knew what to expect, and I was pleasantly surprised at the wild language. One of my favorite poems in Rome is “Complainers” because of the following lines: “Some people don’t want to die / Because you can’t complain when you’re dead” (lines 1-2). I would recommend this collection to anyone who needs a break from the angry rhetoric surrounding us this week. If you need a laugh, click on this link to order Rome.

As always, let’s continue to advocate for peace, and love one another.

 

Event Coverage: Nin Andrews & Karen Schubert

20161019_195955On Wednesday, October 19, The East Cleveland Public Library and Happy Dog at the Euclid Tavern brought poets Nin Andrews and Karen Schubert. It was a great evening, and the Q&A session that followed was informative and inspiring. Andrews talked about her love of prose poems, as well as her inspiration for her book Why God is A Woman.

Huge thanks to the organizers of this event!

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