Poetry, pickled

I spent a lot of 2017 thinking about what poetry can DO. I wish poems could stop inhumane deportations and government shutdowns, and I hope poets will keep trying to make the world more kind and fair. Mostly, though, my aims are smaller in scale: can writing this poem change ME for the better? The stories we tell about ourselves really matter, and I’ve been trying to tell hopeful ones. After all, that’s what I want to read–literature that acknowledges the complicated mess we live in but ultimately tilts towards love.

Now, two weeks into a new class on documentary poetics, I find myself thinking about poems, instead, as testimony, carrying some part of the past into our present attention. That’s not unrelated to poetry as spell, prayer, or action, but the emphasis is a little different. The poets we’ve been reading–Rukeyser and Forché at first, and a host of Katrina poets now, including Patricia Smith, Cynthia Hogue, and Nicole Cooley–are asking what we need to remember. Their poetries still look towards the future but are more explicitly grounded in history. We’ll be sailing even further in that direction soon with Kevin Young’s Ardency, a book I’ve never taught before. (I’m really excited about this class, but once again I’ve scheduled a lot of new labor for myself, as if destroying work-life balance is my explicit goal.)

Then these arrived in the mail. THANK YOU, SCOTT NICOLAY!


There’s art just in the words on the stickers, right? I’m excited to taste what delicious parts of an apparently bad year my friend transformed and preserved for me. And I’m thinking , too, about poems boiling up in me that I can barely snatch time to can, these days. What surplus can I doctor up and put by for another time, when I or somebody else might need them more?

Well, not much, maybe. I’m working flat out right now just staying on top of tomorrow’s obligations. But I do have some jam from April 2014 to share this Wednesday: I’ll be reading from Propagationand my colleague in the History Department Roberta Senechal de la Roche will be reading from her poetry chapbook, at 4:30 pm on 1/24 in Northen Auditorium in Leyburn Library at W&L. There will be a fruit and cheese platter, coffee and tea service, and books for sale, and I will endeavor to keep the poetry tasty–but, selfishly, I won’t be sharing Scott’s plum-pluet-Asian pear jam with amontillado. Maybe visit me with a good baguette, and we’ll talk.

In the meantime, here’s a poem from a few years back. It’s about another government shutdown, with salsa verde on the side. My thanks to One for serving it up.

5 responses to “Poetry, pickled”

  1. Hey Lesley! Thanks much for today. As always it is great to be in your presence. You mentioned Patricia Smith, well take a look at her poem, “Black, Poured Directly Into the Wound.” I took each end word of each line, and found an entire poem could be made which really related to her poem, but from a different person’s perspective.
    Black Coffee
    Emmett’s mother is
    a pretty brown-faced
    thing the tint of pulled
    taffy she sits in
    a red room drinking
    black coffee she kisses
    her killed boy
    & she is sorry

    chaos in windy grays
    through a red prairie

    This poem was created by taking the end words of Patricia Smith’s poem,
    “Black, Poured Directly Into the Wound,” and using them in the exact order
    in which they appeared in the poem, line by line.

    Hope to see you again in the near future!


  2. That’s a Golden Shovel poem, Sara–meaning the right hand margin spells out a Gwendolyn Brooks poem, “The Last Quatrain of the Ballad of Emmett Till.” Very cool form but I haven’t managed to try it out yet.


  3. I will try to make your reading, but I have an obligation at 3:30. I’m still waiting for my book/your chapbook to arrive. Seems I ordered it ages ago, but that is probably time playing with my mind. Congratulations again.


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