When I said I wasn’t with another girl
the January after we fell in love for the 3rd time,
it’s because it wasn’t actual sex.
In the February that began our radio silence,
it was actual sex. I hate the tight shirts
that go below your waistline.
-from A Working List of Things I Will Never Tell You
Jon Sands is a wizard. I am waiting on him to grow a long white beard and either start a long journey with some short dudes, or to head a school where he teaches other poets how to be wizards. In his work, his voice shines with its need to say what it wants to say exactly how it needs to be said and no other way. There are surprising families of words here, coming together to show us something new and wild can be made with our same old English, but there are also words that remind us of our family, so familiar and comfortable on our tongues that we are floored by memory and warmth. That’s only one of Sands’ many magics. We stand spellbound by the overwhelming expressions of love that flow out of his work. Whether that love be romantic, familial, or otherwise, there is much a passion to honor and embrace the humanity, fragility, and validity of others that we are all at once aware of our emotions and all the people invested in them. These poems overflow with the heart, with it’s many chambers and guarded secrets, giving us a poems crafted with care as if the poems themselves were loved ones coming into the world. It is that care that makes Jon’s work throb on the page as it does in performance. We are pulled in by not just the grand awe of his talent, but by the energy that radiates from the work. Jon, as a poet, organizer, and teacher, brings that wonderful fire of his to everything, and the burn is quite infectious. I am here for Jon Sands, for his collection ‘The New Clean’, which is a testament to his humbling brilliant. I am here for what he brings to our spaces as a light. I once heard someone call him ‘a good man’ with no intent of using those words lightly, but with 100 stories behind each word. I want to echo that. Jon Sands is a good man. Folks, check out this good one if you haven’t already.
“And when he came for me, straight from the folds
of my own treacherous history, I turned to face him
with an open mouth, consumed that which had been
poison down to what’s beneath the bone, licked the air
clean of his hands gripping for my voice until all that was left
was a blank spot in my memory and my own scent.”
-from Wherein the Author Gains Courage
Sometimes I forget the power that comes with being a human. In the constant presence of Gods, birds, nature, & fiction, I feel like my simple collection of bones and blood sometimes just isn’t that much to sing about. Enter Tatyana Brown, whose poetry of self-empowerment, love, gender, survival, and healing makes me realize the grand gospel there is in just being. Tatyana uses her verse to curse out the wrong and unnecessary of the world, to sing the praises of that which is strong even with meek muscles and dull teeth. Tatyana reminds us that we are all powerful and responsible for using our power correctly and for proclaiming our own majesty. Tatyana gives us permission to be the blooming seeds of change and force that we are. I am thankful for that voice in her work. And it makes sense looking at everything else that Tatyana does. As a community organizer, she is consistently creating spaces in the Bay Area and nationally for people to share, grow, receive critique and be critical of our art, our world, ourselves, our communities. As co-curator of the Lit Slam in San Francisco, Audience members get to act as live editors for a live-performance submission process for the journal Tandem. This act of calling us to be present, aware, and critical is exactly the same thing that Tatyana’s work on the page does, calling us to own our place in each other’s stories, calling us to realize the community within the self, and the power that gives us. I am forever thankful for the work Tatyana Brown is doing in our world, so folks, get into this poet/organizer for your own sake, for your spirit’s good.
“I learned to cry like that, as if
I could sprain the heart, the body hurting its way out.
But that morning my mind snuck
back to the nights he took paychecks and split,
sometimes for weeks, his head and body
humming for dope, his wife and kids
suspended by the boundlessness of waiting.”
-from What I Mean When I Say Elijah-Man
I love the softness of the word ‘masculine’. Too often the word is associated with what is muscular, rigid, strong, recluse, stubborn, & fisted. Geffrey Davis’ work takes that off and splits it open, shows us the soft cotton that makes the word muscular, the tender, purple flesh it takes to make the word strong possible. Geffrey’s work tackles manhood, fatherhood, sonhood (I’m gonna claim that as a thing today), love, & sexuality with a boxer’s hands: firm & weathered, capable of so much violence and wreckage, but purposefully gentle & fond when handling our fragile humanity. Geffrey is a master of the turn, able to guide us patiently through the nature of work, and because he is such a honest voice we trust him to lead us to where we want to go, where he wants us to go. He holds back from giving you the entirety of what he wants to say, and rations you the goods until you reach the end having survived and full from the nourishment of his words. People have taken notice of this. You name it, Geffrey has won it. This year he has been awarded two different prizes from literary journals, won BOA Edition’s A. Poulin, Jr. Prize, selected by the brilliant Dorianne Laux, and soon you will be able to carry the raw workings of Geffrey around in your pocket. Folks, get into Geffrey Davis. This man is a wonder of strength & delicacy, someone that we will watch for years and he muscles his way to the venerable & quiet.
“When she plants her fist
in the sloppy pocket of my chest,
I topple. When we lose people
say things like, ‘That’s pathetic,’
without say what, precisely.”
-from Women’s Rugby
When I first encountered Aimee Le’s work, I was floored. That pattern has continued ever since. Her work comes to you dressed as a human, all humble and vulnerable and whatnot, until you realize it’s a steed ready to gallop all over your emotions & ideas of language. What strikes me the most is Aimee’s frankness with words, everything is said plain as day, albeit beautiful and adorned, there is nothing hidden or disguised. We are at first taken in by the clarity of Aimee’s voice, swooned by it, and then Aimee starts giving it to us. Do you hear me honey? I have read and watched in amazement at the things I was hearing on stage, how bare the words came, how honestly Aimee offered them to the audience, moving all the BS out the way so we could actually talk about and consider the real world concerns of the poem. This work calls us to consider, calls us to action, calls up a visceral reaction from baring witness to such amazing truth. Aimee masterfully handles race, sexuality, desire, gender, and survival in a way that is laden with care, but allows those topics of have their teeth and nails. Aimee grants her poetry the permission to be soft, but also the permission to hurt, to fight, to show its music and bones and use them to defend, defend, defend. Folks, you needs to get into Aimee Le, child’s work will make you believe in something greater and in the greatness of yourself and the blood filled folks around you. Get into it and let Aimee’s work get into you.
“Nobody notices the way the word
races off, searching for a neck
to wrap around.
This endless running with scissors.
This is something’s daughter.”
Miles Walser can do things to my emotions that shouldn’t be possible. His work and the glory that it be can take me from joy to sorrow and back without warning & against what I want, but definitely what I and the poem need. It’s more than a rollercoaster of emotions, it’s turbulence at its most graceful, it is wind after wind after wind blowing us over and around until we find ourselves standing, unsure of which way we came from but certain of where we must go. I trust Miles to guide me through his work, to bring me to a place where peace is a possibility, even if I am still wandering through the shadows. Miles’s work handles race masterfully, always aware & questioning and pushing forward a conversation on privilege that doesn’t have to be moderated by brown bodies. Miles’s work is also aware of the body, able to honor it and adorn it with golden language, but also able to question its role in our lives and our daily performances. To that same masterful extent, Miles navigates love and love lost, able to make us swoon & need the act of needing, but also able to make us retreat, not from work, but from the gruesome & teeth laden possibility of love. I am so grateful for the love in Miles’s work (the love of self, community, family, and lover) and for his ability to critique it, question it, doubt it, revive it, and give it back to us in the form of amazing verse that is just as brilliantly performed as it is written. Miles demands our attention, much like darkness does in his new book What The Night Demands. Folks, I am HERE for Miles Walser and you should be too, if for no other reason his work is here for you.
“My mother was built from faux wood paneling
and my father just loved to rattle her walls, such a
small room he kept her in, loved to force his big
shoulders through all her doorways”
-from Hera VI
Sometimes words are just plain sexy. Not necessarily saying sexy things, but they look so fine with their curves and lines, all stiff and voluptuous, looking like a secret & sweat soaked dance party on the page. Lauren Banka’s work does that for me. Her work as a text artist so empowers her poetry to be nothing short of visually stunning and clap worthy (not applause, but clap. Her work makes me wanna bounce all kinds of ways). Lauren feels like a poet of many hands, able to hold in her hands race, gender, sexuality, survival, addiction, & so many other things with equal weight in her hands, able to offer each one and then pull it back in a flash. Lauren’s work toys with us. We are sometimes too caught in the beauty of the words to notice the beast that lurks in the lines, often too amused by Lauren’s wit and humor to realize that nothing in the landscape she maps should be laughed at until it’s too late. Lauren hides brilliance within brilliance, able to layer her work like a good onion, and we peel and peel until we find ourselves in tears, sometimes from the hurt, some from the overwhelming amounts of joy for love and life. In that same layered vein, Lauren is able to lift her poetry off the page and into the air in the same way. Her stage presence is riveting to watch, able to the rise and cool your blood at will, giving her poems the exact voice in performance that they are asking for in text. And she fly. What more could you want? People of the world, I need you to get into Lauren Banka. Her work is delicious, nutritious, and part of a balanced life. Amen.
“...I could have killed
my white friend for walking in on us.
Or kissed him, right there in the dorms.
Damn the smoldering Newporty cherry
that bathed my room in red. And you
cocking-back that cold, hard Glock
against Samuel L. Jackson’s dick.”
-from Love Letter to Pam Grier
Thank God for making whatever planet Marcus Wicker comes from, but damn him for not giving us access to that land. I want to go to wherever he is from and dance in their sun. Well, this weekend I did. I was in Ann Arbor and at only a glimpse, I stepped into the world of much of Marcus’ writing. What an interesting, cul-de-sacy place to write about blackness in & that’s why I am HERE for Marcus, he is expanding the diaspora so much by what it means to be black in several different spaces than the narrative we are most commonly offered. Marcus is a wizard of race, sexuality, class, and pop culture. He writes within the intersection of all his identities, not attempting to dodge the coming traffic, but allowing it all to move through him and become active participants, even when on an undercurrent, in the work. With all those spirits and partners active in the work, Marcus’ work really comes alive off the page. I am convinced that Marcus’s poems get haircuts on weekends, have occasional hangovers, and forget to call Marcus like they should, that they are veined and bruised and smiling somewhere, that’s how alive his work is. Don’t trust me? Go read ‘Maybe The Saddest Thing’, Marcus’s National Poetry Series winning collection. First off, the cover feels amazing and makes you aware of yourself the entire time you are reading his brilliance. 2nd, the book holds you, pinches you, kisses you soft, rubs up against your jeans, does all likes of things to show you how much it cares for you, same way Marcus cares for the work. Folks, get into Marcus Wicker, if you really love his work, get into the Southern Indiana MFA where he teaches (killing the game) and let his poems overcome you with their humanity.
“If we ever get to where
we want to go,
I swear I will erupt,
as a wingless bird
carried up by my own
as the hand of a god.”
-from The Strap-on Speaks
Poetry is a seductive little fella. When it comes to discovering new work, we have the privilege & opportunity of putting so much of our personalities and blood into our poems that we become them, and when done write, our poems wink and grow come-hither fingers asking the reader, ‘don’t ya wanna read more?’ Kendra DeColo’s work drew me in. I found a set of poems from her & I was hooked. I binged on poem after poem the same way her poems binge on desire. Kendra’s work is so filled with a bone-quivering want that I cannot help to want myself; when she needs, I need, and what can you do but shudder when standing before her brilliant articulation of yearning? Shudder, that’s what. Maybe drool, as I often find my mouth agape after reading Kendra’s brilliance. These are poems that are fully aware and embracive of pleasure and pain, poems that are aware of their senses. Her work is willing to touch, leaving no body part unaware of its song, These poems are bursting out of their seams with sound and music, and at the same time they are drenched in every color from the 125 piece crayon set owned by the coolest kid in your 3rd grade class. Kendra’s work is indeed cool, which might be a dangerous word. While her work is all at once urgent, needed, gentle, and pushing us forward, I still find myself saying ‘that was f**king awesome’ after I finish that last exhausting line. Her work is cognizant of our generation and how we were shaped and broken down, hence she speaks in a language that is relatable as it is beautiful, colloquial & inventive in the same breathe. People, let Kendra DeColo into your world! She will be here for a minute, and when she becomes one of your new favorites and eventually takes over the world with her poetry, I won’t even say ‘I told you so.’
“Like you, I was born underwater.
(I lied: there was never a stone.)
Like you, I was born but that’s not the half of it:
I lived. Lord, I lived.”
-from Epitaph at the Foot of the Stone
Let’s talk about Rickey Laurentiis aka Rickey ‘Ballin On These Stanzas’ Laurentiis aka Rickey ‘Show You How Much My Words Worth’ Laurentiis aka Rickey ‘Sashay, I’m Paid’ Laurentiis for a second. If you didn’t catch on, Rickey gets the money. In 2012, he was awarded a Ruth Lilly Fellowship & a NEA grant, and here is why. Rickey’s work comes you humbly but with fist. There are emotions and dramatic turns hidden in plain view, but their surprise is just as grand as if they came from out of nowhere. In Rickey, we see the hands of Lucille Clifton, Robert Hayden, and Toi Derricote working their way through his work, guiding this young voice and catapulting to a level of mastery on the page that makes me quiver at the idea that homie is under 25. Rickey’s words soften you, breaks you to dust, then give you your humanity back to you one bit at a time. Rickey’s work is a celebration of survival, of lust, of the holy and the not whole; it’s a testimony as much as it is a test. Rickey can call all the gods down from the hills in the same breathe that he can question the light within himself and in all of us. This man is a lightning to be reckoned with. I sit in awe of the genuine power and grace that shapes his work into the pillar of joy that it is in my life, his ability to demand the human in all of us to stand in attention and be accountable. I am HERE for Rickey Laurentiis. He is a poet we will be seeing for years to come, someone we will continue to learn from. Rickey, Shante, you stay. Reader, Sashay away to the Internet and get into Mr. Laurentiis.
“I make her a charade of holy
a stampede of raw
She can barely look at anything
She everything’s wife.”
-from Angel’s Heart Clowns the Ocean
What in God’s black earth am I to say of Angel Nafis? Understand that in lieu of writing about her, I was tempted to post of black kids singing Nina Simone’s "I got life" next to a fire in an undisclosed backyard BBQ, but I couldn’t find no ribs. Understand that Angel is everything right with poetry. She is so unapologetically herself in her writing, which allows her to take up so much space with her pieces of holy, holy that we will go ahead and call poems. Angel often writes about the idea of everything, of all, of the world, but in such a masterful way that we can’t question the everything and everywhere of her world, of her black girl brilliance in is vastness and depth. I am HERE for Angel Nafis. Never have I encountered someone so in touch with language that she can hold it up against her skin and sweat with it just as quick as she can give it the finger start and slamming doors all up in her poems. Her book, Black Girl Mansion (in which I would expect to find aunties like Harriet Mullen, Tracy K. Smith, and Patricia Smith), is a heaven I want to live in. Her poems on family & lost, of need to love and need to be loved, on the black of her skin and the black of this world all sing their songs so loud, tipsy, and brilliant. They make you want to read the whole thing out loud, to give the world back the beauty, which it has given us through Angel. That beauty is Angel’s proof of pain, of love, of fun, of lust, of all the things a human can and should experience, is so brilliantly fit into her poems and we are lucky enough to be sharing this earth right now to get to experience that. So, if you don’t already know the deal, get into Angel Nafis, and let her boogie and holy funk get all the way up into you, move you, and bring you into the sky.