To be a working poet in one's 30s these days is to be under the gun. With the kinds of opportunities available to poets these days, through grants, prizes, competitions and whatnot, many of us in this age range can begin to feel some serious anxiety around now if we haven't yet accomplished what we believe we ought. Although most poets still don't truly establish themselves until later on in life, this is the age when we begin to fret the world might not take notice of our talent and skill. Many of us begin to profoundly question our choice of profession: this can mean worrying about the financial solvency of an artistic career, growing disillusioned with any given poetic establishment, or losing faith in our own abilities to continually produce work that is both solid and innovative.
Happily, a plethora of poets in this age range are making all of this look easy to us mortals. In this series, I want to highlight a few that stand out – some of whom I've had the pleasure of meeting, some of whom I've only had the pleasure of reading, but all of whom have displayed an admirable seriousness when it comes to the craft of writing poems. I hope these names will be occasionally recognizable to Muzzle readers, and occasionally, entirely, surprising.
The first poet I'd like to spotlight is Aricka Foreman. Aricka first seriously caught my attention in 2010, long before we'd had a real conversation, long before we got to know each other. We became acquainted through mutual friends: Aricka is a part of what I like to call the Detroit School – a group of emerging poets whose talent has been cultivated, largely, by the poet and professor Vievee Francis (whom I previously interviewed for Muzzle).
Aricka's sharpness and brilliance - her understanding of the limitations and freedoms of form, her deftness with imagery and metaphor - startled me the first time I read her work. Three years later, I'm only more impressed. I have the pleasure of calling her a co-editor on this journal, so I occasionally have the opportunity to read her amazing insights on any given submission. This kind of dexterity deserves to be noticed. Her first collection is going to be ridiculously good. Read the poem excerpted below, and you'll see what I mean.
Between Heaven and The Most Southern Place On Earth
for William Foreman Sr. and Emmett Till
I watch my grandfather's morning fingers slip each button
in then out slotted cotton, sleeves starched to gleam.
Effortless magnolia of a man swaying throughout the house,
limbs bending to his own wind, pooling cologne into his palms,
blessing the edges of jaw, arch of neck, having remembered less
beautiful preparations of the body. Delta men know how precious
it is to age into the darkness of their own wine, and when his mouth
widens around darling, I'm so surprised, it's not the promise of
what a baptism might wash away, but what the 1955 Tallahatchie
River did not. Sometimes I forget which man lives inside my memory,
whose hands lifted me as close to the stars as his shoulders could
reach, making up constellations that didn't ladle the night. I push
against my waking years later to him curled beneath the kitchen
table, folded over and swatting away snakes only he could see,
his howling out writhing from blows his uncle's ghost unleashed
when he was a boy too young to understand why his shade of
gorgeous made people violently uneasy. There are no love songs
for Sunflower, Yazoo, or Money boys to sing to themselves, too few
moments to take in their reflections. They learn to make threading
ritual, pulling a string of slow breaths between buffing black
shoes until they catch every fleck of light. When my grandfather pours
into his overcoat I am young and full of possibility, not realizing the ease
in which he can return home before his musk fades from the front door.
Aricka Foreman's work has appeared in The Drunken Boat, Minnesota Review, Vinyl Poetry, The Bakery, TheThe Poetry, and others. A Poetry MFA Candidate at Cornell University, she has received fellowships from Callaloo and Cave Canem. She is a Poetry Editor for Muzzle Magazine.