Poem-A-Day: Outspoken Bean

Last month I had the genuine pleasure of reading my work as a feature in the Poetry FIX reading series here in Houston. The basic set-up is that the night has two features and also open mic opportunities. It was one of the best venues I’ve ever read in: large enough for a good crowd but intimate enough for them to fill the place, and a gorgeous coffee bar environment. I don’t read my work in public often, and it was a real treat for me to do so as part of this series.

I’m what I suppose many people would call a “page poet,” in that my work translates well on the page. Much of my work can read well at a microphone, too, but I’ve never been able to create the kind of energy and presence that performance poets do. This is a mild regret of mine. I think I might have somehow enjoyed being a poetry rock star in my twenties. (Slam poetry is still quite popular in Houston, by the way, along with two or three other established poetry scenes, because our fair city is big enough for all of us.)

The other feature that night was a local slam poet who’s very much admired and respected here and elsewhere. He goes by Outspoken Bean, and you can find several videos of his performances online, but I want to share this one in particular. This video is not of the night we shared a stage, but it is of a poem he performed the night we did. I admire his perspective.

If you ever get a chance to see him perform, take it.

***

Emanuelee “Outspoken Bean” is a performance poet, writer, compassionate mentor, electric entertainer, and an educator. Bean travels the country performing his original works and inspiring creative minds. Bean is a military brat, but calls San Antonio, Texas, home, and since high school Bean has been producing shows and performing continuously. That work ethic has taken him to Trinidad to Miami to South Dakota to Off-Broadway New York City and across the vast Houston Metropolitan where he inspires people from all walks of life to find and claim their voice. He is a 2011 Texas Poet Laureate nominee, ranked 9th in the Individual World Poetry Slam 2013, ranked 2nd in collaborative poetry at Group Piece Finals 2013, and ranked 11th at National Poetry Slam 2014 (both with Houston VIP). He started performing spoken-word in 2005. In his senior year at Prairie View A&M, Bean founded and coached the University’s first poetry slam team. In their first year, they won the title in their region and grabbed the 8th place ranking in the country at College Union Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI ’08). Bean has also worked with the Harris County Department of Education, Houston’s Young Audiences: Arts for Learning and Texas Commission for the Arts, Houston Grand Opera, and coached Miami’s youth poetry slam team, Tiger-tail WordSpeak in the summer 2016.  He serves as the Project Coordinator, Lead Coach, and mentor for Meta-Four Houston, a project under Writers in the Schools’ WITS Performance program, where professional performance/slam poets encourage self-expression and literacy among Houston’s youth through creative writing and performance. Fins him online at http://outspokenbeanpoetry.com.

National Poetry Month — Day 26

And here is another by Melanie Rosin, a poem which has to do with the magical thinking of paper cranes.

 

***

 

Paper Cranes

 

I grew up hearing the legend
of the power of paper cranes,
that if you make a thousand for another,
a wish will be granted.

We set to work
the day after your diagnosis,
spending our breaks between classes
and nights in our room
after we finished our homework
making art out of origami.
We brought them in bags to your hospital room,
and instantly knew what our friend wanted—
to never admit defeat.

In your old room, the paper cranes
make a chandelier, strung together
and hanging from the ceiling.
When your father cracks the window
and the wind blows,
the cranes come to life
and dance about your bed,
and we can see the magic to the legend
that somehow lives on even when people cannot.

Now allow the cranes to grant another wish,
that of your family, which is to heal.
Mend their aching hearts.
Give them the peace they need to live on
even though you cannot.
It takes time to heal, can’t be achieved
in a matter of days,
but it gets slightly easier with the help of a chandelier
made out of a thousand paper cranes.

 

***

Melanie Rosin, a Houston native, is currently a J.D. candidate at the University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor. Her collection of poems, Four Feet from the Surface (Neo Literati Press), was published in 2011 and can be found on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble. She plans on returning to Houston upon graduating law school this upcoming December.

 

Women Writers Wednesday 9/9/15

First, I must apologize for the hiatus. School started, I got a novel out the door, we’re still settling into the new house, and there’s been some travel. The hiatus ended up being rather longer than I anticipated. Hopefully we’re back on track now, and even more hopefully I’ll be producing more original content on the blog again this fall.

This week’s installment of Women Writers Wednesday comes to us from Jackie Parker, who has written a response to Elizabeth Alexander’s memoir The Light of the World.

***

How does a woman survive when the light of her world suddenly is blotted out? Her husband, soul-mate, beloved father of her two boys, painter, chef extraordinare, her best friend, lover, and the carrier of her African DNA, dead, right before dinner, having bought the salmon, opened the frosty white wine.

Even though this is a memoir of loss and survival, it is a celebration of life. It tells the story of a marriage of depth and passion, friendship, and joy, a marriage of art, one that lasted fifteen years but felt to them like twenty-five. “So much struggle and joy.”

THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD cover

The author is the celebrated poet, one of our finest, Elizabeth Alexander, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, the author of the beautiful “Praise Song for the Day,” delivered at the 2009 inauguration of President Barak Obama.

How can she bear to write this, I kept wondering, as I read, breathless, the beauty and loss unfolding on the very first pages. What gave her the courage to begin? It is so intimate. So present.

The answer is buried in the acknowledgement section at the end of the book, where the author thanks her publishers and editor at Grand Central: Gretchen Young, Jamie Raab, and Deb Futter, who “envisioned this book before I did, dared to ask for it…”

Ah, so it was their idea, I thought. That’s why she wrote it. And what a good thing for us to know, as women, as writers. We hear so much about the terrible aspects of the publishing business, but there are wonderful aspects as well, the women who encouraged Elizabeth Alexander to do this, write this, the support she was given in order to bring forth this brave book.

And, such a beautiful book. Written in sections, it has amazing recipes — for Ficre’s food was legendary — it describes meals, gives us the names of their many friends, as well as imaginary conversations, dreams, takes us to farflung parts of the world Eritrea where Ficre was born and his family still live, to France, Italy. Teaches us history, for the author is also a professor of African American Studies at Yale.

There are titles of loved books, artists. Favorite music. The description of the paintings Ficre did, the one he made to commemorate their first meeting containing an eye on a plate! And images of their children to be, spirits.

And there is the story of their meeting, their powerful love. Their family story, all of it an extended love story. Friends and family always present, gatherings around their large tables. The garden that Ficre loved. And flowers, always flowers. Wait till you read about The Plum Blossom!

The lines bite like poetry. No ideas but in things. To tell you the way the book begins is to spoil its impact. But we must know the end first, I think, because everything that comes after it is even richer. No matter how much beauty a life holds, it will end. If there is love, the end is tragic, Elizabeth Alexander teaches us, right from the start. Only beauty can redeem loss.

At the center of the book is Ficre, from Eritrea. Have you ever heard such words? Eritrea the tiny country in Africa. Ficre walked through its killing fields at sixteen, to escape, to live. How he made his way to the United States is a book in itself.

Ficre is a man who lights every corner of the world he inhabits with his beautiful being. The phrases he speaks, the food he makes, his gentleness and patience. His fathering. His husbanding! His clothing — the bright pink shirt. His painting studio.

The language of Elizabeth Alexander is precise and gorgeous. The meticulous attention to things, the things of this world, that is at the heart of poem-making animates every sentence.

To read The Light of the World is to be invited into lives that make you want to stand up and dance for joy, and weep for the journey that we humans must take.

One week after her husband’s death Elizabeth Alexander returned to teach her final class of the semester. She gives us the words with which she ended her lecture. They include this: “Art tries to capture that which we know leaves us, as we move in and out of each other’s lives…”

By the end of this book we know what is left. The sons, taller than their father had been. The wife, alive and able to feel, once again, the beauty of the world. The move to a new city.

And yet, days, weeks, months after finishing The Light of the World I felt Ficre, his living essence, as if I had known him in life. I mourned that he was no longer on the earth. What a gift Elizabeth Alexander has made for us. What a book!

***

Jackie Parker
Jackie Parker

Jackie Parker is the author of the recently published Our Lady of Infidelity: A Novel of Miracles (Arcade Publishing), available on Amazon, OUR LADY OF INFIDELITY coverthrough Booksamillion, and in bookstores throughout the US. She is an award-winning poet who leads workshops for writers and for people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities in community and health care settings in Los Angeles and throughout the country. She is also a teacher of meditation and occasional blogger for the Huff Post. Connect with her on Jackieparker.co.

***

To see more kinds of reviews like the ones in this series, check out these blogs by Melanie Page and Lynn Kanter. And of course go to the Sappho’s Torque Books page here to see other reviews by me and by other contributors to the Women Writers Wednesday series.

The Women Writers Wednesday series seeks to highlight the contributions of women in literature by featuring excellent literature written by women authors via reviews/responses written by other women authors. If you’d like to be a contributor, wonderful! Leave a comment below or send me an email, tweet, or Facebook message with your idea.

Ekphrasis #1

kids, ca. 1981
photo taken by MaryBeth Jamail, probably in 1981

I wrote this sonnet when I was in college, meditating on the theme of love presumed to be inherent in the sonnet form. I thought, love takes many forms, and so, this…

***

Lullaby for a Crying Child

When my cousin died (olive skin and thick
black hair and twelve years old laid under dirt
and roses) I realized that death is
not a one-way gate, but is a long silk skirt

in the rain:  shadows of skin inside the silk
(bare legs running to get inside, get warm)
stick to my skirt until I peel the silk
from my skin, and hang it in the bathroom.

My cousin (body of a child with eyes
and mind that have just turned twenty-three)
visits me in my sleep, touches my fingers, and I
look at him, then through him, and he leaves me

but not alone.  And I wake to rain and
my skirt dripping from the shower curtain rod.

***

This poem originally appeared in my first published volume of poems, Gypsies.

Embracing my Inner Goth (part 5)

Look!  It’s another installment of my six-part gothiness series.  You can read the previous four parts by clicking on these links:

Embracing My Inner Goth (part 1)

Embracing My Inner Goth (part 2)

Embracing My Inner Goth (part 3)

Embracing My Inner Goth (part 4)

***

Part V:  More Fangs!

A few months after Tiny Beowulf, our second child, was born, my husband and I went away for the weekend.  Not far, just a few hours’ drive, but this getaway vacation was a big deal.  We headed to San Antonio, where I have family and friends, and which is also a great city to get away to when you don’t want to be gone for long or be too distant.  We saw a friend’s acting re-debut that Friday night and gallivanted around downtown and the Riverwalk that Saturday night with my cousin Andy.  It was a fantastic time that also taught us the valuable lesson that it was, in fact, perfectly okay to be away from our toddler and infant for a couple of days while they hung out with their doting grandparents.

But I also had a mission on this trip.  Ken Dracula (remember him from Part 2?) had moved away from Houston some years before, and my brother had told me he’d resurfaced in San Antonio — and Robert had his number.  Of course he did.  It had been over a decade since my last fangs.  Their color no longer matched my pearly whites so well, and as I’d grown into an adult, my jaw had grown too, so the bridge didn’t even fit well anymore.  I’d decided it was time for a new set.  I rationalized that I could be a vampire at school for Hallowe’en instead of the same predictable witch like so many of the other teachers.

I made an appointment with Ken to get some new fangs made.

I could not, however, entice my husband to come on this appointment with me.  “I want to take a nap,” he said that Saturday afternoon.

I certainly didn’t want to go alone.  But Andy was coming to meet us; maybe he could show up a little early?

“I like that idea,” my husband said through his yawn.  “Go spend time with your cousin.”

Andy was happy to go with me.  He seemed to look on this errand as a weirdly grand adventure; I looked on it with excitement, an exuberant throwback to my younger days to prove I hadn’t lost my sense of self in becoming a mom, as so often I’d seen happen to women at my stage of life.

We got to Ken’s apartment, and immediately I felt something was off.  For one thing, it was hard to find him.  Not the building itself, which was actually rather easy; it was difficult to figure out where the entrance to his apartment was.  The building was a retail storefront of indeterminate identity, closed on the weekends.  Ken’s apartment ended up being in the back of the building.  A few phone calls and some wandering in the driveway later, Ken came out of a screen door onto his porch to meet us, all flip-flops and bermuda shorts and faded t-shirt, all tousled hair and bags under his eyes and anemic, gaunt frame.  It had been a very long time since I’d seen Ken Dracula, but in his younger days, he’d been reasonably good-looking and spunky and generally entertained by every aspect of his life.  This Ken was a changed man; he did not appear to have weathered the intervening decade well.  He’d gone all nosferatu; instinctively I worried about him, but then I brushed the feeling away.  I barely knew the man.  He was my brother’s contact, and even Robert barely knew the man anymore.

Suddenly I thought, What the hell am I doing here?  I’m a mother, for pete’s sake.  I’m a grown woman.  The image of myself as a twenty-year-old traipsing up the stairs in my parents’ house as quickly as I could to hide my fangs from my own mother — that woman who is a grandmother now — shimmered briefly and then faded like a ghost in the clear reason of self-awareness.

I was on a fool’s errand.

But Ken had seen us; we couldn’t leave now without being jerks, and jerks we were not.  Clumsy, manic, he bounded down the few porch steps and held out his hand to me to shake it.  I had the impression of someone who never got many visitors anymore.

Andy gave me a sideways glance as if to say, Is this the guy who’s going to make you fangs?  Honey, I love you, but you’re kind of a freak.  What he muttered quietly was, “You ready?  Because it looks like Ken Dracula is.”

We were ushered up onto the porch and then through the screen door into a cramped kitchen that was more clutter than function.  Pots and pans and tupperware pieces piled onto tiny squares of countertop.  A few half-empty supermarket-brand spice bottles littering the top of the ancient stove unit.  A sink whose white enamel was chipped, rust stains dripping from the drain vents.  On a fridge too new to be vintage and too old to be trustworthy, crumbling newspaper clippings and fliers from the San Antonio club scene.  The walls were covered in empty cardboard daiquiri carriers with here and there an early 90s-era CD box.

This place was such a far cry from Ken’s former, tastefully decorated apartment in Houston I was actually afraid, for a moment, of what I had gotten myself into.

He gestured for me to sit upon the red chair in the middle of the kitchen.  It was one of those dinette models that in another setting would have been cutesy-kitsch sitting next to a sparkling formica table against a turquoise wall.  But here, resting with its back up against a cluttered one-foot-by-one-foot butcher block island — because that’s all that this kitchen could fit — it took on the aspect of a dentist’s chair.  Orin Scrivello, D.D.S. came to mind.  And then so did Sweeney Todd.

Andy had been discreetly peeking through the doorways — there were two.  When Ken stepped out to retrieve his tools, my cousin hissed me over to take a look.  One opened into a hallway, which Ken had disappeared down into, that led to other rooms in various states of disarray.  A pile of laundry in a corner, a short stack of yellowing Anne Rice paperbacks next to an end table.  The other doorway revealed a large room that might have been great for entertaining with its hardwood floor and lack of furniture.  And maybe it was used for parties: we saw festive crepe-paper decorations and man-sized cardboard character cutouts of Frankenstein and Darth Vader.  A frayed straw sombrero topped an ancient stereo cabinet, and large speakers stood a sad sentry in the corners.

Andy said, “Where did you find this guy?”  I couldn’t tell if he was terrified, bemused, or in awe.

“Um…” I began, but then Ken came back.  He glanced at us as if to wonder why I wasn’t sitting in the chair but said nothing, and I quickly sat down on the puffy red vinyl seat.

Ken had brought his denture acrylic and latex gloves.  Instead of using metal tools, he used a bamboo skewer and some Q-tips.  In spite of his apartment and his general appearance, it was clear to me that he was operating safely.  His materials were reliable.  I felt ashamed of my inner voice for questioning the situation.

It was just fangs, that’s all.  Easy-peasy.  Just like he’d done hundreds of times before.

While Ken worked — and, I had to admit, with competence — he chatted easily with Andy about the night life in San Antonio and about Anne Rice.  The club scene was all right, Ken guessed, but then he took on a slightly sad tone when he began talking about the woman who had been his idol.  While my bridge was curing, the acrylic heating up in my awkwardly open mouth as I tried not to compulsively touch my tongue to the bar behind my teeth, Ken patiently answered Andy’s questions about the author, who had in recent years (a.k.a. Andy’s adolescent and early adult life) fallen out of the mainstream.

“She sort of stopped writing her vampire and witch books a while back,” Ken said with…was that a hint of wistfulness?  “After her husband died a few years ago, she just sort of…stopped.”  Ken was quiet a moment, checking on my fangs, putting the final shaping touches to them.  I looked up into his eyes, which focused intently on his handiwork and not at all on me, though my face lay in his gaze.  I wondered if Ken still worked in a dental office.  Then he said, “Of course, losing your partner…well, no one ever really recovers from that, do they.”  It wasn’t a question.  And no, it wasn’t wistfulness, either, but commiseration.

Ken himself had lost his partner a few years before, he informed Andy, as if I were supposed to have known about it already and just hadn’t brought my cousin up to speed because I couldn’t speak while in the dentist’s chair.  And then suddenly Ken’s appearance, his apartment, his bizarre decor came into clear, puncturing focus.

“But Annie used to throw these amazing Hallowe’en parties every year in New Orleans,” he continued.  “I used to go out there and make fangs for people.”  He began shuffling around in a clutter of papers and photographs from one of the nearby stacks.  “I’d set up in the corner and just crank them out for the guests, fifteen dollars a pop.”  He half-smiled.  “That was back in the day.  Fangs were cheap then.”

I’ll say, I thought.  These are setting me back fifty.  I mentally shrugged it off.

He dug out an ancient photo of himself in full Dracula regalia and make-up, fangs prominently protruding from his grin, the affectionate arm of Anne Rice herself, cloaked in black panné velvet, slung around his shoulders.  As he showed off his photo to us, a little of the spark of exuberance the old Ken Dracula had radiated back in the day tried to shine.  I would have smiled politely had the bridge finished curing.  Andy did so for both of us.

“That’s really cool,” he said.  He sounded sincere.

I sort of waved my hand a little in the direction of my mouth.

“Oh, of course,” Ken said and removed my new bridge.  I relaxed my jaw and took a deep breath.  He inspected my new set and then smiled.  “All done,” he assured me and handed them over.  As he explained the rules for caring for my new fangs — rules I’d heard before and remembered well — I noticed that the color was slightly too dark, that the bridge itself was a little jagged in places.  I put them back in and tested the fit.

Just a bit too snug to be comfortable, like wearing retainers I had grown out of long ago.  I knew I wouldn’t be wearing these again.  But I didn’t say a word other than a very sweet “thank you.”  Ken smiled.

“So does Anne Rice still have that big Hallowe’en party every year?” Andy asked.

Ken blinked his eyes thoughtfully a couple of times before answering.  “Well, I haven’t been back for some time,” he said.  “But last I heard, the party was still going strong.  Annie, though, she hasn’t been seen there in years.”

***

Click on this link to be taken to the final installment in this series.  Thanks for reading!

Embracing My Inner Goth (part 6)

 

A Poem, A Lament

In the months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US, I remember people making the comment that in times of national tragedy it was natural to turn to the arts.  That in moments of unspeakable sadness and incomprehensible horror, sometimes rhetoric and punditry fall even shorter than usual in helping us to heal.

Yesterday morning, I cried after I dropped my son off at kindergarten, even though I teach at his school, even though our campus is far more secure than most.  I held it together until he kissed me goodbye and bounced, laughing, off with his friends.  And then I couldn’t hold it together any more.  My husband, who dropped our daughter off at the same school later in the morning, had the same experience.

Today was a little better.

I’ve been told that on The Voice, they made an incredible tribute to the Sandy Hook victims.  Everyone stood onstage together, each holding a sign bearing a single name, and sang Leonard Cohen’s heartbreakingly beautiful “Hallelujah.”  I love that song, and one day I might feel strong enough to look up the clip on YouTube, but today is not that day.

I’d like to offer you this little gift, reposted here with permission from the author.  This poem originally appeared in Cortland Review.

***

“The Man Who Looks Lost as He Stands in the Sympathy Card Section at Hallmark”

by Matthew Olzmann

 

The man who looks lost as he stands
in the sympathy card section at Hallmark
looks so sad with his bent umbrella
that you want to place a hand on his shoulder,
say, “It’ll be Okay.” But you don’t.
Because you also look like a crumbling statue
narrowed by rain, because you too have been abandoned
by language and what’s there to speak of or write
among so many words. There are not enough words
to say, Someone is gone and in their place
is a blue sound that only fits inside
an urn which you’ll drag to the mountains
or empty in an ocean with the hope
that the tide will deliver a message
that you never could.
 Because even those words
would end like a shipwreck at the bottom
of clear water. Someone would eventually look down,
notice the shattered hull, the mast
snapped in half, and believe those words
meant ruin, when they really meant,
starfish, iceberg, or scar tissue.
And even those words would fail. In this room
that smells like lemon candle wax and wild berry
potpourri, you pick up a card, set
it down again. Pick up a card, toss
it aside. In leaving, you take only an empty envelope.
Or you are an empty envelope. Or you’re the boat
searching for the glacier to gouge its side again.
You’re the door that opens to the sleet outside.
You’re the bell that bangs above the door as the door slams shut.

 

Three of the Best Books I’ve Ever Read Which Made Me Miserable While I Was Reading Them

It seems like everyone comes out with a list of must-read books each summer.  And since I’m clearly too late to jump on that bandwagon, I thought I’d do it up a little differently and give you some suggestions of books which are very, very good but which made me rather unhappy while I was reading them.  These are books which were well written or technically astute enough to break through my misery, distaste, or other negative reaction to convince me they were still awfully good books.

And a warning: this post isn’t just a series of book reviews.  I’ve often said that one Continue reading “Three of the Best Books I’ve Ever Read Which Made Me Miserable While I Was Reading Them”