National Poetry Month: Shakespeare Challenge and Taylor Byas

Hello! In honor of Shakespeare’s birthday and death anniversary this weekend, I’m issuing a fun challenge to you. (And since I didn’t have a chance to post here yesterday, today’s is a double.)

Remember when I shared a Book Spine Poem with you a while ago and invited you to make BSPs of your own and send them to me to be posted here on the blog? (Thanks to those of you who have done it already, by the way! I’m planning a post at the end of the month for those, so there’s still time to get yours in if you want to.) Well, a BSP is a type of found poem, or a poem which consists exclusively of outside texts: the words of the poem remain as they were found, with few additions or omissions. (Adding in a few words here or there for connective tissue is commonly done.) These found poems can take many forms besides BSPs, including erasure poetry and centos.

I invite you to make a found poem out of the titles or memorable phrases — idioms we have adopted as colloquialisms — from Shakespeare’s texts. You’ve got literally hundreds of titles and memorable snippets to work with. Feel free to email them to me at forest [dot] of [dot] diamonds [at] gmail [dot] com with “Shakespeare found poem” (or something similar) in the subject line (so it’s easy for me to find), and I’ll feature it on my blog. Or just leave it here in the comments if you like. I’m excited to see what you create!

As for today’s poem, I’m honored to feature Taylor Byas once again here on the blog. She has two chapbooks out, Bloodwarm and Shutter. I’ve read the first and LOVED it. I’m saving the second (which just came out a minute ago) as a treat for myself when I finish grading finals in a month. Today’s featured poem is “Elegy for Spring,” which originally appeared in Eunoia Review.

Elegy for Spring

I.

You said it was like being unwound—
a tiny fist cranking you back
into a music box—when the dawn chorus
began each spring morning, an ellipsis
of robins on the sill. You were your truest
self before the covers were thrown
to the foot of the bed, before the sound
of you brushing your teeth scuffed
against the shower water
still drawing heat from the pipes. Still wrapped
in dream-warmth, you said Good morning
with our mouths nearly touching.
When I tried to squirm away, twittering
with the birds, you held me to you,
smoothed me like a shirt
that needed ironing. Your usual joke—
two morning breaths cancel
each other out. 

II.

In my earliest years, there was
no front lawn. Only plates of concrete,
cracked and shouldering for space.
The first day of spring was never x-ed out
on the calendar, but marked when the ground
was warm enough to grill the fillets
of my bare feet. When we moved to a house
with a lawn, spring came earlier for
us, meant wet grass that dried
by noon. Golf-course green,
my father called it when he still held the power
to name things for me.
Our very own golf-course green.

III.

You and I took turns parking in the single-
car garage when we moved in together. Fairness
was what you thought I needed. But really, I envied
the mornings when your car sponged up the sun
in the driveway, I wished for the warm
that waited for you. You never knew this,
but I stomached this small rage with coffee
until it bent me over. Soured me.
In the winters, you asked, What have I done?
I couldn’t explain the importance
of the spring morning, how I remembered
my father’s gentleness most clearly
in its simmering.

IV.

Winter took everything from me
as a child—the brittle bark that scabbed
my hands after I climbed the tree in the front yard,
the grass’s neon coat, my watchful father
on the front porch. With no fireplace,
he found other paths to heat—the refuge
of his bed, my mother’s body,
the spill-spread of a beer hitting
his center. And it’s true, there is something genetic
about craving. How was I to know
that spring would become like a shot
of whiskey, relenting
what hardened in the colder months?

V.

I was never honest with you,
never admitted why I changed
with the seasons. You’re so damn hot
and cold, as you packed the last
of your things. Of course you left
when frost still tongued the driveway,
when snow was White-Out
on the roofs. For months
I remember the last time you gifted me
warmth—the slow lap
of your headlights across my thighs
as I watched you from the doorway.
Oh, how you reminded me
of my father then.

***

Taylor Byas is a Black poet and essayist. Originally from Chicago, she moved to Alabama for six years, where she received both her Bachelor’s degree in English and her Master’s degree in English (Creative Writing concentration) from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Taylor currently lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she is PhD candidate and Albert C. Yates Scholar at the University of Cincinnati studying poetry. She is also an Assistant Features Editor for The Rumpus. She has received five Pushcart and six Best of the Net nominations, and has won a Best Microfiction Award. She is also the 1st Place Winner of the 2020 Poetry Super Highway Contest, the 2020 Frontier Poetry Award for New Poets, the 2021 Adrienne Rich Poetry Award, a finalist for the 2020 Frontier OPEN Prize, and an Honorable Mention for the 2021 Ninth Letter Literary Award in Poetry. Her chapbook, Bloodwarm, is out now from Variant Lit (2021). Her second chapbook, Shutter, is out now from Madhouse Press (2022). Her debut full-length poetry collection, I Done Clicked My Heels Three Times, is forthcoming from Soft Skull Press in the Spring of 2023. See more at her website.

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