Janice N. Harrington's Even the Hollow My Body Made Is Gone (2007) won the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize from BOA Editions and the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. Formerly a librarian, she now teaches creative writing at the University of Illinois.
WHAT THERE WAS
Pine, catalpa, pin oak, persimmon,
but not tree.
Hummingbird, hoot owl, martin, crow,
but not bird.
Cannas, honeysuckle, cockscomb, rose,
but not flower.
Wood smoke, corn, dust, outhouse,
but not stench.
A spider spinning in a rain barrel,
the silver dipper by the back porch,
tadpoles shimmying against a concrete bank,
but not silence.
A cotton row, a bucket lowered into a well,
a red dirt road, a winging crow,
but not distance.
A rooster crowing, cows lowing in the evening,
wasps humming beneath the eaves, hounds
baying, hot grease, but not music.
My mother running away at fifteen,
my grandmother lifting a truck to save a life,
an uncle at Pearl Harbor, Webster sitting
at the back of the bus when he looked as white
as they did, but not stories.
The entrails of a slaughtered sow, the child born
with a goat's face, the cousin laid on a railroad
track, the fire that burned it all, but not death.
This poem, a snuff tin sated with the hair
of all our dead, my mother's long talks
with her dead father, my great-grandmother's
clothes passed down, passed down, but not memory.
Even the Hollow My Body Made Is Gone, BOA Editions, Ltd. (Poetry)
Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry. Ed. Camille Dungy. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2009.
Amnesiac: Poems, Sheep Meadow Press (Poetry)
Drag, Elixir Press (Poetry)
francine j. harris is a Cave Canem graduate and has work appearing in McSweeney's "Poets Picking Poets", Ninth Letter, Ploughshares, Boxcar and in an anthology by the AIDS Project of Los Angeles: to be left with the body. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Poetry at the University of Michigan.
I live in Detroit
She said I live in Detroit. And there are no flowers in Detroit.
So why would anyone in Detroit write about flowers in Detroit.
I don’t tell her we live under the trees. Root up curbs and dam fire hydrants
to water black pansies licked to the sides of popped black balloons in Detroit.
I’m smashed with the fish under Eastern Market. When the flower vendors
douse the cement, I’m the pollen blown off backs of butterflies in Detroit.
Like a lot of flowers, I have split my stem. Cleaved into root balls. Stuck to sweaty
bus windows. Like so much dandelion, I get rinsed down shelter shower drains in Detroit.
There are plenty of violets in flophouses. Pistols broken open
on forty-ounce mouth lids making honeybees bastards in Detroit.
I don’t tell her look around you. I don’t point out the bottoms of coffee cups
where the city spits iris and scratches the back of your throat in Detroit.
I tell her: some of our mothers rescued begonias with cheap plastic planters.
Some of them braided pine into sheets, so we could never sleep again in Detroit.
I wonder if it counts if I wish for frangipani. When I dream in ten spikes of passionflower
to cuff inside my elbow. If I can’t leave. Is that enough flower grounded in Detroit.
- from Boxcar Poetry Review, November 2008
Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem's First Decade (University of Michigan Press, January 2006)
The McSweeney's Book of Poets Picking Poets (McSweeney's Books, San Francisco 2007)
To Be Left With the Body (AIDS Project Los Angeles, June 2008)
Voices Rising: Celebrating 20 Years of Black LGBT Writing (January, 2007)
Poetry in The Branches Coordinator for Poets House, Reginald Harris was a Finalist for a Lambda Literary Award and the ForeWord Book of the Year for 10 Tongues: Poems (2001). A Pushcart Prize nominee and recipient of Individual Artist Awards for both poetry and fiction from the Maryland State Arts Council, his work has appeared in numerous journals, anthologies, and other publications. Contributor to Carry The Word: A Bibliography of Black LGBTQ Books (2007) and LGBTQ America Today: An Encyclopedia (2008), he is currently pretending to work on two manuscripts.
LOVE SONG FOR WOODY
John Ford tried to do right by you
in Sergeant Rutledge, made you
the title character, a ‘star’ – but
couldn’t. Still the same old
narrative: the stoic black man
intent on saving whites.
You always played “The Namibian,”
“Ethiopia in chains,” the sweat-drenched
galley slave, was called
“My ‘boy’ Pompey” by John Wayne
in Liberty Valence
but never were
those things. That hard dark chiseled face a mask
quietly seething, your eyes encyclopedic
daggers (or were they quiet too, blank dark lakes?)
your body tall and lean and straight
saber-sharp slicing through
every menial role, spoke silently to
one yearning boy, glued to his
TV screen: Look – Here is a Man.
You never shuffled or even
walked through my childhood
]Open Interval[, Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon
Underlife, January Gill O'Neal
Spin, Moira Egan
The River in Winter, Matt Dean
The Book of Night Women, Marlon James
Union Pacific, Adam Haslett
The Imperfectionists, Tom Rachman
Nikolski, Nicholas Dickner
Why do I love to write? Why do I feel I must write? What am I supposed to write? Did I choose writing, or did writing choose me? And what gift can I possibly add to the trove of the world's great literary treasures?
I've been pondering those questions, and many others, since childhood, and still am not entirely sure. But with every poem (and short story and book review and essay) I write, the answers get closer and clearer.
Since that first summer I went to Cave Canem, my vision of what my writing can and should be has become starkly more translucent. And the best definition I can offer about my dreams and demands as a writer are epitomized in my profile picture.
If you look closely at that photo, you'll notice the backdrop of the Caribbean Sea. That water is or possesses everything I wish to become and want my writing to be: Elegant, fluid, timeless, deep, shimmering and kissed with Heaven's light.
“Etta could sing the Sears catalog and make you want to buy every item.” ~ Marvin Gaye on Etta James
Had she taken a shine to it,
no doubt she could have sung
the praises and practical benefits
of screwdrivers, table napkins, pantyhose
But Etta’s business was the heart
with all its magic and mess,
her mission like love itself:
with her jazzy honky-tonk
and bluesy gutbucket growl
Etta accomplished the task,
singing her soul until the sound
poured like sugar and fire
from her blonde bouffant head,
a sweet, hot cleansing
that made equals of all lovers:
the jilted, the wishful,
the blessed and the badass
Etta’s grooves and ballads
a melodic mirror
where if only for a spell
folks could find reflection and rest
before tumbling headlong again
into love’s brutal, luscious thunder
Carambola, David Robert Books (Poetry)
Cave Canem 1998 Anthology
Cave Canem 2000 Anthology
In Our Own Words: A Generation Defining Itself -- Volume 2, edited by Marlow Peerse Weaver
Mona Poetica: A Poetry Anthology, edited by Mary Jo Firth Gillett and Diane Shipley DeCillis
Role Call: A Generational Anthology of Social and Political Black Literature and Art, edited by Tony Medina, Samiya Bashir, and Quraysh Ali Lansana
Stand Our Ground: Poems for Trayvon Martin & Marissa Alexander, edited by Ewuare X. Osayande
Selected Poems, Pablo Neruda
The Selected Poems of Nikki Giovanni, Nikki Giovanni
The Water Between Us, Shara McCallum
The Book of Light, Lucille Clifton
The City in Which I Love You, Li-Young Lee
Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys
Middle Passage, Charles Johnson
The Farming of Bones, Edwidge Danticat
The Piano Lesson, August Wilson
Long Day's Journey Into Night, Eugene O'Neill
A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry
Six Characters in Search of an Author, Luigi Pirandello
Macbeth, William Shakespeare
The Art and Craft of Poetry, Michael J. Bugeja
Naming the World: And Other Exercises for the Creative Writer, Bret Anthony Johnston
The Black Poets, Dudley Randall
The Garden Thrives: Twentieth Century African American Poetry, Clarence Major
The Metaphysical Poets, Helen Gardner
An Atlanta native, M. Ayodele Heath, is author of Otherness (Brick Road Poetry Press). Ayodele has been featured at such venues as the National Black Arts Festival, the Nuyorican Poets Café, the Turner Trumpet Awards, and TurnerSouth’s MySouth Speaks television campaign. Ayodele’s awards include: Atlanta Bureau for Cultural Affairs Emerging Artist grant, Pushcart Prize nominee,McEver Visiting Chair in Writing at Georgia Tech, Fellowship to the Caversham Centre for Artists (South Africa), Cave Canem fellow. His poetry has appeared in RHINO, Callaloo, the New York Quarterly, Crab Orchard Review, Mississippi Review, International Gallerie (India), and the anthology Poetry Slam: the Competitive Art of Performance Poetry. Visit him online at www.ayospeaks.com.
Dusk of the Afrikaner
Aku’langa latshona lingenanduba.
- Zulu proverb
1 ONCE UPON A TIME, WHEN TIME was measured in the length of shadows, I met a woman–on a dirt road much like this one—who did not know the smell of rain.
2 How sad, she said to no one. I want to know it.
3 Her long Zulu eyes were not nearly as long as her gaze, on this day, impossibly February: heat billowing in waves; the once-White sun finally lowering among the aloes, by great pallbearers of Light, into the ground.
4 On the day I met this umfazi, I stumbled over her shadow & felt a sudden chill. Sure & black as thunderclouds.
5 Far beyond the townships, beyond rivers of dust with no memory of the sea, her gathering shadow was easily the longest I’d ever seen. It must have been the longest in the world.
6 As a desert without clouds, she said. As a sleep without dreams.
7 Such a shadow must have meant she was very old. Perhaps, the oldest woman in the world.
8 But I am not, she said, as if burning the pages in my eyes.
1 THEN, LIKE A MIGHTY black river of Night, the umfazi’s shadow fell across the Earth, crushing the aloes & the hills & the trees. & all throughout Zululand, the blackest nightmare of one became the other’s dream.
2 & the sky wept.
3 Like one who has not wept for centuries might weep, she said. With the kind of weeping which feels like thunder, which makes the earth shudder, which portends the end of days.
4 & some ran for shelter. & some ran for the sea. But millions more had waited lifetimes for this storm. Through moon, through sun, they clutched the aching earth.
5 Till rain & mud, she said, became tears & blood.
6 & there they stood. As ones who have not stood for centuries might stand. As if standing for something, she said. As if suddenly aware of the straightness of their own posture.
7 Then they raised their faces like black moonflowers till the whole of Zululand was ablaze with Midnight
8 & stars rained from her tongue—this witness, this poet—so moved she was by their forgotten beauty.
Otherness, Brick Road Poetry Press (poetry)
JavaMonkey Speaks Anthology, Vol. II (2004)
My South: a People, a Place, a World All Its Own (2005)
Poetry Slam: the Competitive Art of Performance Poetry (2000)
though human, zakia is from outer space.
Niki Herd earned degrees in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona and Antioch in Los Angeles. She is the recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Her work has been supported by the Astraea Foundation and the Arizona Commission on the Arts, and has appeared in several journals and anthologies. The Language of Shedding Skin, her first collection of poems, was a 2009 finalist for the Benjamin Saltman Prize. In the following year, it was a finalist for the Main Street Rag Poetry Award and was published by the press.
an excerpt from Jena, Louisiana
What if—when they told those kids
to sit under that tree, they knew
they knew that black folks couldn’t walk
under the same sky without there being
some trouble. The very fact that black
had to ask white to sit under a tree
was a bad sign, bad as someone
brushing your ankles with a broom.
Don’t ever believe what white folks tell you.
Imagine a painting like Gauguin, the
silhouette of a dark body hangs
from a tree; against the muted brush
strokes thick with a setting sun, a black
boy rises to the pulpit and testifies.
The Language of Shedding Skin, Main Street Rag, 2010 (poetry)
Transbluesency, Amiri Baraka
A Daughter's Geography, Ntozake Shange
You Don't Miss Your Water, Cornelius Eady
Brutal Imagination, Cornelius Eady
Don't Let Me Be Lonely, Claudia Rankine
Native Son, Richard Wright
Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
Weep Not, Child, Ngugi Wa Thiong'o
If Beale Street Could Talk, James Baldwin
Danzy Senna, Caucasia
The Trojan Women, Euripides: Translated by Edith Hamilton
Fences, August Wilson
The Language of Life, Bill Moyers
The Writer and on Her Work, Vol I and II, Janet Sternburg
Sean Hill is the author of Blood Ties & Brown Liquor (UGA Press, 2008). His various fellowships and grants include fellowships from Cave Canem, The MacDowell Colony, and, most recently, a Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Callaloo, Ploughshares, Tin House, and numerous other journals, and in several anthologies, including the forthcoming Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry. He currently lives in Bemidji, Minnesota. More information, as well as poems, can be found at his website: www.seanhillpoetry.com.
Postcard to My Third Crush Today
I’ve been on the move; the bottoms
of my shoes have rested on 48 states,
four Canadian Provinces, seven countries,
three continents and the crush is constant.
You look like someone’s daughter;
I find that so attractive. I once
thought this, but now it’s someone’s
mother or aunt more often than not
or cousin or uncle or brother or son
on occasion. The crush is everywhere
or maybe it’s me, my luck, like always
seeing the corner crooners by the storefront
of The Heart, loitering—singing for quarters
and grins. Most days I can count on the first
and second crush, and sometimes there’s a fifth
or sixth. They’re as likely not to notice me
as to smile in my eyes. Either way my heart
skips like those flat stones that kiss the skin
of the pond and fly off again before sinking.
Today it is you in that polka dot dress I need
to thank for getting me to three. The Heart’s
a big chain; there’s one everywhere you go,
and they rarely have those No Loitering signs.
You’re more likely to see No Solicitations.
I’ll leave this postcard here for you to find.
Blood Ties & Brown Liquor, University of Georgia Press (Poetry)
Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, selected and edited by Camille T. Dungy, U of Georgia Press, 2009
Blues Poems, selected and edited by Kevin Young, Everymanï¿½s Library, 2003
Gathering Ground edited by Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady, U of Michigan Press, 2006
The Art of Angling: Poems about Fishing, selected and edited by Henry Hughes, Everymanï¿½s Library, 2011
The Ringing Ear, selected and edited by Nikky Finney, U of Georgia Press, 2007
Villanelles, selected and edited by Annie Finch and Marie-Elizabeth Mali, Everymanï¿½s Library, 2012
Hoilette is a Jamaican-born poet, living in Colorado.
Photo: Rachel Eliza Griffiths
several rappers slain
several rappers slain
in whole foods, feedback, couplets
and beats spill in aisles
a rain bursts in the
store, they page Jah for clean up,
Jah to the cafe,
to the register.
can he be everywhere at
once? the manager
calls Rasta to put
a science pon it, but he's
out on a smoke break
it will be fifteen
minutes, maybe little more?
a bent, white spinster
veil raised, asks if i
know when watermelons are
ripe. i tell her i
will divine it, i
will knock on it. i will go
or break it over
her head and know then by the
coolness on my feet
now filling with rain
water, grave sites hum making
bodies into songs
Def Poetry Jam: Bum Rush the Page
Roll Call:a generational anthology of social and political Black art & literature
Darrel Alejandro Holnes is an award-winning poet and playwright from Panama City, Panama and the Programs Director of the Poetry Society of America. He holds degrees in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan and the University of Houston. He and his work have been featured nationally and internationally in the Kennedy Center Annual College Theater Festival, TIME Magazine, and The Caribbean Writer among others. He is the recipient of scholarships to Cave Canem, Summer Literary Seminars, and the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, various writing fellowships, and a writer’s residency at VCCA. He was most recently a finalist for the Arts & Letters Rumi Poetry Prize, the Pablo Neruda Prize in Poetry, and others. He continues to work as a writer and emerging performance artist in New York.
Resides in Atlanta, GA. Teaches English at Georgia Perimeter College (associate professor). BA from DePaul University; MA from University of Colorado; DA from Clark Atlanta University. Published in anthologies and periodicals. Playwright and photographer. Author of a critical biography of Haki Madhubuti and two chapbooks. Founder and member of the Baobab Poetry Collective (www.baobabpoetrycollective.com) Chosen for American Life in Poetry series, Atlanta's Bureau of Cultural Affairs Emerging Artist Grant, and several writing residencies.
for Sojourner Truth
A tongue should not bear the memory of blood
the tangy sweetness of flesh torn
the ancestral river disturbed.
The old ones know
lashings sting like a searing cry ignored
but this is not a sound to rejoice.
Still, even I admit the subtle satisfaction
from the warm trickle
bruises reverberating like drums announcing
bloated skin the color of late summer plums
How tender we
Art of Work: The Art and Life of Haki Madhubuti, Third World Press (biography; literary criticism)
Crux: Conversations in Words and Images from South Africa to South USA
Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem First Decade
Role Call: A Generational Anthology of Social and Political Black Literature and Art
Tempu Tumpu/walking Naked: African Womens Poetic Self-portrait
The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South
Randall Horton, originally from Birmingham, Alabama, resides in Albany, New York. He has a MFA from Chicago State and a PhD in Creative Writing at SUNY Albany. He is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of New Haven.
a small boy travels with backpack out
past the last subway stop. dark green
shrubbery on the knoll & places backpack
under the sky, just before the moon, a stone’s throw
from his head to dream, but indeed he can
dream a brave new world, new angles
where he not subset to human. but human
in the universe, on the right angle of god
perhaps everywhere else too, dark green
shrubbery moving alongside earth’s rotation
just before the moon. & under the sky the small boy thinks free
with earth, with all things spiritual:
the sea spray the box elder, just before the moon
october’s gentle winds whisper come back home
inhale a new kind of individual but not
really an individual, a human being
under a canopy of falling stars wonderfully
hard to center, a universal free & good.
Elouise Loftin, Barefoot Necklace
Stephen Jonas, The Collected Poems of Stephen Jonas
Ed Roberson, City Eclogue
Gwendolyn Brooks, In the Mecca
Etheridge Knight, The Essential Etheridge
Junot Diaz, Drown
Carl Rux, Asphalt
Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon
Sandra Jackson Opoku, The River Where Blood is Born
James Baldwin, Another Country
Miguel Pinero, Short Eyes
August Wilson, Fence
Lorainne Hansberry, Raisin in the Sun
James Baldwin, Blues for Mister Charlie
Juliet P. Howard (JP Howard) is a poet, lawyer, Cave Canem fellow and native New Yorker. She has been selected as a Lambda Literary Foundation 2011 Emerging LGBT Voices Fellow, as well as a 2011 Cave Canem Fellow-in-Residence at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA). JP was a finalist in the Astraea Lesbian Writer’s Fund 2009-2010 poetry category and recipient of a Soul Mountain Retreat writing residency in 2010. Her poems are published or forthcoming in The Mom Egg 2012, Vol.10, Muzzle Magazine, Connotation Press, TORCH, Queer Convention: A Chapbook of Fierce, Cave Canem Anthology XII: Poems 2008-2009, Cave Canem XI 2007 Anthology, The Portable Lower East Side (Queer City), Promethean Literary Journal and Poetry in Performance. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from The City College of New York, as well as a BA from Barnard College and a JD from Brooklyn Law School. She recently co-founded Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon and Blog, a forum offering women writers at all levels a venue to come together in a positive and critically supportive space.
A Portrait of Ida Mae Johnson
I’m his first born free child.
Papa’s favorite. Never knew mama.
Red poppies on each corner of her quilt won’t let me forget.
Mama’s last breath was my first.
We left the south cause Papa
wanted more for his family up here in Iowa.
Papa’s lungs coughed blue black red powder
That’s how all the railroad builders died in Council Bluffs
Motherless. Now fatherless.
Seamstress by trade. Scared of this child growing growing in my belly.
I am not comfortable in skin.
So I wrap this quilt around old bones.
Each day since papa died
I have sewn a new patch.
Use scraps of papa’s worn kerchief
deep yellow gone pale to warm the room.
Today I won’t let the camera catch me.
Remember: Papa said I was his prettiest.
Papa, I’ll tell that to my baby and
wrap my child in mama’s quilt.
© Juliet P. Howard / 2011
Ghazal: what love takes, Muzzle Magazine (Ghazal with audio )
Cave Canem Anthology XII: Poems 2008-2009 (forthcoming Fall 2011 or Spring 2012)
Cave Canem XI 2007 Anthology