People are sometimes surprised to discover what awkward conversationalists poets can be. We blunder, we stumble, and time and again, we say the wrong thing. As with anyone, the language of poets is often ragged, filled with false starts and second thoughts. For some, writing pleases us because it's a chance for us to finally get the words right.
Sometimes the writing I love best is that which is self-consciously sculpted, that speaks from the pedestal of Art. Nicole Sealey's work always gives me that impression. One of the defining features of Sealey's style is her poise: deliberate diction, and a cool, powerful tone. Whatever their origins, Sealey's speakers tend to know exactly who they are and what they want, and they're not afraid to say so. They give the impression of being self-made, with intention - and they have no fear of heights. Sealey's poems give us something to reach for and look up to, and that's one of the reasons this poet is such a star.
The poem below was previously published in Jewish Currents’ chapbook, “The American Dream;” Summer 2013.
If you shoot an arrow and it goes real high, hooray for you.
- Dorian Corey
If Grable’s legs were billed at one million,
I can’t see mine selling for less than two.
If an unknown Norma Jean Mortenson
can become Ms. Marilyn Monroe, who
says a boy from Buffalo can’t flower
into a her from Harlem? Hepburn did
drag. Dietrich, too. But as you get older,
you aim a little lower—delighted
if a few are familiar with the myth
of you. I know many a handsome broad
in this godforsaken city fine with
just waking in the morning to applaud
What they lack in legend
they remedy with wigs and a weekend.
*Dorian Corey was a performer featured in Paris Is Burning, a documentary about drag balls in 1980s Harlem.
Born in St. Thomas, U.S.V.I. and raised in Central Florida, Nicole Sealey is a Cave Canem graduate fellow whose work was selected for inclusion in Best New Poets 2011. Winner of the 2012 Poetry International Prize and finalist for the 2011 Third Coast Poetry Prize, her poems have appeared in Callaloo, Harvard Review, Ploughshares, and Third Coast, among other literary online and print journals. She is currently an MFA candidate in poetry at New York University.