Poem-A-Day: Sandi Stromberg

Those of you who know Houston are probably aware of its rich, diverse, thriving poetry scene. We have page poets and slam poets — world champion slam poets, in fact. There’s an academic scene thanks to the Creative Writing Program at University of Houston; there’s an underground-ish (or used to be underground-ish) scene which fosters the likes of Houston Poetry Fest, a major three-day poetry festival held around town every October; there’s a mainstream blending of all of these thanks to Inprint; we have WAT (the annual seven-day Word Around Town Poetry Tour) and Meta-Four and so many others. We have readings all over the place all the time. Poetry oozes from our humid pores and swims in our flood waters. Thanks to Writers in the Schools — whose Houston chapter is decades strong and has been a flagship and model for chapters around the country — young people’s glorious verses hang on banners from our downtown lampposts and grace the marquees of our grocery stores and pop up as art installations in public parks during April.

When it comes to poetry, Houston has got it going on.

When I graduated from University of Houston in 1997, there were half a dozen big publishing houses in the country: the legacy houses, as traditional as publishing gets (which have now been whittled to The Big Five). At that time, there were about 57,000 small presses just in Texas, and many of them focused on poetry. One of the excellent poetry presses based here in Houston, Mutabilis Press, has been around since 2003, and they have published quite a number of truly excellent volumes. I am proud and humbled to be counted among the poets whose work has found a home in their anthologies now and then.

When Sandi Stromberg, a member of the Mutabilis Press board, graciously offered one of her poems this year for this series, I jumped at the chance to feature it.

***

Displaced Person

He wore Russian winters in his eyes,
his mind filled with the smell of borscht
and, pinned to his sleeve, a longing
for the crowded boulevards and language
of his youth. He talked about his days
as a DP, the streets of New York,
his attempts to imitate an American
man’s loose-hipped walk. Professor
in an after-thought Russian department
in a Midwestern town, he lost us
with Slavic sibilants, a maze of words
that dead-ended in our blank stares
and made him shout. Sad progeny
of overstuffed lives, we were disappointments,
unattuned to the subtleties of his mother
tongue or how he survived Siberian
camps and a cancer ward. We couldn’t connect
with his gulag past though we sensed
his misfitness in the way he clutched —
between index finger and yellowed thumb —
unfiltered cigarettes. In a land of waste,
he savored each puff down to the ember,
focused on a distance we could never traverse.

***

Sandi Stromberg co-edited, with Lucy Griffith, Echoes of the Cordillera (ekphrastic poems, Museum of the Big Bend 2018) and Untameable City: Poems on the Nature of Houston (Mutabilis Press, 2015). Her poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, read on PBS during the April 2017 “Voices and Verses,” and published in many journals and anthologies, including Borderlands, Illya’s Honey, Red River Review, Inprint Houston Annual Report, Texas Poetry Calendars, and three Southwest anthologies from Dos Gatos Press. She has been a juried poet nine times in the Houston Poetry Fest. Her translations of Dutch poetry were published in the U.S. and Luxembourg. You may find more examples of her published work here, here, and here.

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Where I’ll Be Reading Next Week

And by that title I mean “reading in public.” I’m actually hoping to be reading something all the time every place next week, but this one particular episode of that should be worth coming to observe.

(And if this announcement is a repeat for you because you graciously follow me on multiple social channels, apologies.)

On Tuesday, March 7th, I will be one of the featured readers at the Poetry Fix Reading Series at FIX Coffee Bar. It’s at 6:30 p.m.; the location is 415 Westheimer, Houston 77006 (in the Montrose area).

The other poet that night is Outspoken Bean, who is excellent. (I’m only slightly intimidated. And by “slightly” I mean utterly quaking in my fabulous high-heeled shoes.)

If you’re in Houston and interested in a poetic night out, please do stop by. It’s always wonderful to see familiar faces in the audience.

For those of you on Facebook, here’s a link to the event page.

Please do feel free to spread the word to other interested parties if you wish.

Thank you!

(P.S. — I’m obliged to let you know also that my books and poetry art cards will be available for sale at the event.)

A Long Time Coming

I’ve been wanting to write this blog post for over a week, but sometimes it has felt too overwhelming to sit down and do it. I’ve made a list of things I wanted to say in it, an outline; I’ve composed fragments of it in my head while walking down the street or brushing my teeth. But I haven’t actually written it yet because there’s just too much to say.

So I’m going to try and do this a piece at a time, because I’m coming to understand that right now, a piece at a time is the best way for me to respond to life. Continue reading “A Long Time Coming”

An article I’ve just had published…

Hello there! Today an article I wrote about DFWCon, a writers’ conference I’ve attended the last few years, was published on the WriteSpace blog. Check it out by clicking here.

DFWCon happens next year in late April, but WriteSpace is hosting their own writers’ conference here in Houston in February, and it will be unique because instead of focusing on agents, it will focus on journal and literary magazines. I’m looking forward to it!

Happy Thanksgiving.

12 Days of Christmas Music That Doesn’t Suck, 2014 Edition (Day 1)

Yes, it’s that time of year again. “Houston’s Official Christmas Music Station” — which has been broadcasting Christmas and winter-themed songs since the Friday night before Thanksgiving — has once more conformed to the belief that they must play the same dozen tired crap songs over and over again, with only an occasional good one thrown into the mix.

Thank goodness for my iPod.

Since this series on my blog was such a hit last year (click here to see the first post and then follow the “next post” links to see the rest), I’m doing it again! And while I’ll be sharing a lot of different stuff with you this time around, I’m going to kick things off with what is still one of my all-time favorites, “Christmas Wrapping” by The Waitresses. Perhaps there will come a time when my life isn’t insanely busy, and then I won’t be able to relate to this song as well or enjoy it as much, but honestly, I’m not sure that’s ever going to happen.

Happy Holidays!

Houston Poetry Fest 2014

Every year in October, poetry is celebrated in style at the weekend-long Houston Poetry Fest. Next weekend is this year’s festival.

I’m pleased to announce that my poem “At the El Felix” is being published in their anthology this year. I’ll also be reading some of my poetry at the opening night soirée. Here are the details in case you’re in town and want to join us:

Friday, October 10, 2014
7:30 pm.
Willow Street Pump Station (downtown)
811 North San Jacinto Street

For more information about the festival and to see lists of the other readers over the weekend, please click the HPFest link here.

I hope to see you there!

Featured Poet: Mike Alexander

Tonight’s featured poet is Mike Alexander. I first came across Mike in the mid-1990s when he was going by M. Alexander and reading regularly on the poetry scene here in Houston. We ended up reading on the same stage more than once, and I became a fan of his work.

Those of you in H-town can catch him reading tomorrow afternoon as well, at the New Book New Poems Reading at 2:00 at the Houston Public Library (500 McKinney 77002). Here’s a link to the Facebook event page. Also sharing their work at this shindig will be Robin Davidson and Peter Hyland. The event will be up on the 4th floor of the main building. Check it out!

You may also find Mike’s book RETROgrade at P & J Poetics.

***

Le Coup de Vent: Mistral Noir

 

This is a drunkard’s dance.

.                                        Courbet’s terrain
distorts a sober regiment of oaks,
into a bacchanal of greens, the strain
apparent in the pressure of brush strokes
& knifework. Boughs, unnaturally skewed,
leaves shaking. Wind-swept canvas, it evokes
the pagan frenzy of a nymph pursued
by satyrs,
.                    Orphic lute,
.                                        ecstatic cries.

The landscape sprawls, unfettered, like a nude
discarding her quotidian disguise,
more sacred now she’s shown herself profane.

Inebriated by a beauty eyes
cannot explain, she drops what veils remain,
& spins,
.                    the painter’s brush
.                                        her weather-vane.