Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “To Red,” by Shara McCallum

 

red

To Red

I’ve been wrong about you so long.

You’re not the colour of war

on Kingston streets. When you stain

you become rust. You cheat

even the flame tree, more orange

in truth than you in your crimson,

your scarlet robes. Not even

the poppy contains you.

Not even one hundred huddled

in the field. Maybe

like you I am a liar. Or memory

is a story I keep telling myself.

But I understand, being as you are

from a long line of women

who regard facts as suggestion,

who know what it is to burn

inside the closet of night.

Which is why, when I reach for you

and you careen the nearer you come

to my yellow, my alabaster skin,

I still croon your name.

I still insist on you, my lovely,

my death, my life.

 

 

Copyright 2017 by Shara McCallum

Posted in news

AWP 2017: It Takes a Village

In February 2017, the RCAH Center for Poetry staff made the trek to Washington, D.C. for AWP. We thought the trip was worthy of some reflection, and will be sharing attendees’ thoughts over the next week or so.

awp17-bookfair

Day one: Director Anita Skeen leads the way into the vastness that is the AWP Bookfair. See more snapshots of the adventure on Instagram.

 

Anita Skeen, Director, RCAH Center for Poetry at MSU

This February was the RCAH Center for Poetry at MSU’s first excursion to the Associated Writing Programs Conference (AWP) in Washington, D.C. I have gone many, many times in all my years of teaching but this was the first time I went with five of the six interns from the Poetry Center: Grace Carras, Erin Lammers, Sydney Meadowcroft, Sarah Teppen, and Arzelia Williams. The original plan was for all 8 of us to go, but Laurie Hollinger, the assistant director, was laid low by the flu a few days before we were to leave and Alexis Stark had a commitment with her honor fraternity the weekend of the conference. But they were with us in spirit. Without all the logistical arrangements Laurie had made for us—hotel rooms, registration, rental car, etc.—and Alexis’ box of goodies she packed for us on the trip—fruit snacks, applesauce, cereal, granola bars—things wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun. We had financial help for the interns from Lizzy King, the assistant director in the Office of Undergraduate Research, and Dean Steve Esquith who paid our transportation costs. Lori Lancour in the RCAH office was wonderful in suggesting avenues for additional funding and when February 8, 2017 rolled around, we had everything we needed to set out on our 10-hour drive to the nation’s capitol. Spirits were high as we sang and ate our way through four states. I was a little worried about driving into D.C. at rush hour and not knowing exactly where our hotel was, but then I realized I had five people in the car under the age of 22 all of whom had navigational devices in their pockets. We would be just fine.

It’s hard to explain to someone who has never attended AWP what it’s like for three days. With 30-35 sessions in every time slot beginning at 9:00 in the morning and ending at 6:00 at night (and then there are the evening events which run from 8:30 until midnight), there’s a real danger for intellectual, emotional, and physical overload. Several weeks before AWP, individuals who have attended the conference before post on their blogs and websites “How to do AWP.” The advice includes everything from “DO NOT try to do everything,” to where the nearby Starbucks are, from what tables at the Bookfair are “musts” to stop at, to what restaurants are where and, this year, where and when the protests would be held. I’ve been attending AWP since 1974 when, I believe, the conference was held in Kansas City and had 300 people in attendance and I still have never learned how not to be overwhelmed. Sessions I attended this year that were particularly meaningful were ones that focused on social justice and activism in the literary community; writing about place; recovering neglected poets; the poem as invocation, the poem as persona; crafting the feminist historical lyric; rural America in contemporary literature; and the importance and power of the work of Adrienne Rich. That last one left me in tears. The keynote address on Thursday night by Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Teheran, was powerful, political and personal in extraordinary ways. Readings by Sonia Sanchez, Ocean Vuong, Terrence Hayes, Rita Dove, and Eileen Myles reminded me why I do what I do, why I write what I write, why we need so many writers to remind us, in the words of Audre Lorde, that poetry is not a luxury, it is a necessity.

Finally, I have to reflect on what it was like to be with these five young, bright, energetic, funny, highly-motivated women who were wide-eyed and breathless about what they were experiencing. They attended such a cross-section of sessions from those focusing on social justice and activism, translation, minority writers, publishing, community engagement, literary history, spoken word art and just about every other content area offered. They wandered the Bookfair finding treasures (let me say there were over 900 tables at the Bookfair), getting writers to sign books they had purchased, and spreading the word about the RCAH Center for Poetry at MSU and our new Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Series. I asked them to compile a list of writers whom they heard or met that they thought might be possibilities for visiting writers to the Poetry Center or for Wednesday Night Live. Their lists were epic, and I am sure will result in having some writers come to the Poetry Center whom we might not have known about had the interns not attended the conference. Above all, I watched their excitement about literature and its power, about ways of taking poetry out of the academy and into the community, about what it was like to be in the middle of 12,000 people all of whom cared about language, about diversity, about the necessity for free speech and for everyone’s voice to be heard and valued.

It took the work of a village to get us to AWP. We saw the critical and necessary work of a village as we participated in AWP. Now it is our job to help our village grow and thrive.

 

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: Los Perdidos Del Bosque, by Pablo Neruda

big-trees-forestThe Lost Ones of the Forest / Los Perdidos Del Bosque

by Pablo Neruda (English translation by William O’Daly)

 

The Lost Ones of the Forest

 

I am someone who never made it to the forest,

one of those turned back by earth’s winter,

headed off by lively scarabs ready to bite

or by tremendous rivers that opposed my destiny.

This is the forest, the thicket is comfortable, the trees

are the grandest furniture, the leaves vain zithers,

the trails, fenced pastures, estates were erased,

the air is patriarchal and smells of sadness.

 

Everything is ceremony in the wild garden

of childhood: apples sit beside the river

descended from black snow hidden in the Andes:

apples whose sour blush hasn’t know the teeth

of men, only the pecking of ravenous birds,

apples that invented a natural symmetry

and move slowly toward sweetness.

 

Everything is new and old in the surrounding luster,

those who came here are the diminished ones,

and those who were left behind in the distance

are the shipwrecked who may or may not survive:

only then will they know the laws of the forest.

 

Los Perdidos Del Bosque

 

Yo soy uno de aquellos que no alcanzó a llegar al bosque,

de los retrocedidos por el invierno en la tierra,

atajados por escarabajos de irisación y picadura

o por tremendos ríos que se oponían al destino.

Éste es el bosque, el follaje es cómodo, son altísimos muebles

los árboles, ensimismadas cítaras las hojas,

se borraron senderos, cercados, patrimonios,

el aire es patriarcal y tiene olor a tristeza.

 

Todo es ceremonioso en el jardín salvaje

de infancia: hay manzanas cerca del agua

que llega de la nieve negra escondida en los Andes:

manzanas cuyo áspero rubor no conoce los dientes

del hombre, sino el picoteo de pájaros voraces,

manzanas que inventaron la simetría silvestre

y que caminan con lentísimo paso hacia el azúcar.

 

Todo es nuevo y antiguo en el esplendor circundante,

los que hasta aquí vinieron son los menoscabados,

y los que se quedaron atrás en la distancia

son los náufragos que pueden o no sobrevivir:

sólo entonces conocerán las leyes del bosque.

 

Copyright 1986 by Pablo Neruda and Heirs of Pablo Neruda
Translation Copyright 1986, 2002 by William O’Daly