Quantcast

Almost Invisible by Kateema Lee

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 44 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Almost Invisible by Kateema Lee, who read at the fourth DiVerse Gaithersburg Poetry Reading, is a short collection that explores the nature of family and how oftentimes as children we can feel like we’re on the periphery of others’ lives. Even as the narrator in these poems laments the life and relationships that she did not have with her father and sister, for example, it is clear she still views them as positively as she can.

From "Taraxacum" (pg. 19)

the passenger window of a police car
three little girls innocently giggling,
talking to someone who's vowed to be impartial,
to defend, nothing menacing in that scene,

I felt afraid. At that moment I remembered
being nine or ten, learning that to some
I was cute for a brown girl and to others
I was no more than a weed needing to be pulled,"

Through juxtaposition of innocent scenes, she clings to the good, but the darker memories of hate and racism creep in. The narrator also strives to remember relatives as they would like to have been remembered if war had not harmed their psyches — a war in Vietnam and a war with drugs.

“Elegy for My Sister” is a poem that will evoke deep sadness. The narrator’s sister, an artist who captured faces in charcoal beautifully, realistically, is dies long before she ages. “But somewhere deep in the District/my sister haunts hallways and vacant lots,/never taking flight,” the narrator laments after watching red birds fly. A moment she wishes her sister could have. She also speaks of a father who was proud of her as the new beginning he almost made. The narrator is “almost” invisible in her own life with these larger than life relatives, but she also is a reluctant pessimist.

Almost Invisible by Kateema Lee is a daring and deeply emotional collection of poems that lament what was, wishes for a better beginning, and has made peace with how it has arrived. Lee has a strong voice that echoes throughout the shadows of the District.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Kateema Lee is a Washington D.C. native. She earned her M.F.A in Creative Writing at the University of Maryland at College Park. She’s a Cave Canem Graduate Fellow, and she’s a Callaloo Workshop participant. Her work has appeared in anthologies, print, and online literary journals, including African American Review, Gargoyle, Word Riot, and Cave Canem Anthology XIII. When she’s not writing, she teaches English and Women’s Studies courses at Montgomery College.

#FridayFinds in Poetry

Sometimes as a parent you have to choose between your child’s soccer practice and a poetry event that is bound to be spectacular. Lucky for my girl, I can resist seeing her at practice and doing her best, even if an evening of poetry is preferred.

Last evening, I was unable to attend a reading at Curious Iguana in Frederick, Md. However, I was able to see the video of their event on Facebook. Alan King, whose poetry has been reviewed here, was reading, as was the delightful Reuben Jackson. Nancy Pearson also read, though I’m not familiar with her work.

If you’d like to hear some great poetry from your home, check out the video.

Curious Iguana has been mentioned on the blog before, even though I have yet to go. I’m really looking forward to my visit in May when Sweta Vikram is in town, and then I can check out this independent bookstore for myself.

I long for a closer bookstore, an indie store with author events closer to where I live and maybe I’ve held secret dreams of opening my own. But that all requires money, which I have little of.

In writing poetry news, I have 4 completed poems near final stages. Three are on one topic, which never happens for me. I tend to write randomly. I’m happy to have written just the four, though I wish I had more time this month to write poems.

If you’re looking for an interesting note about poetry and protest, check out this article in The New York Times. I agree with Audre Lorde; poetry is vital.

The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 199 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace is a debut collection from another Instagram poet, but unlike the poems of Rupi Kaur, Lovelace’s poetry is more like the diary entries of a teenager or merely the instant reactions and out bursts of a teen who has access to social media.

This is not to say that her poems do not seek to empower young women with self-esteem issues or those who have been abused and are feeling emotionally drained. They do those things in a simple way, but the lines of verse lack the imagery and substance of Kaur’s poems. Even so, this collection does have some poems that will have readers staring in awe at the “drop the mic” moment.

sticks & stones
never broke
                 my bones,
but words
made me
starve myself
until
                 you could
                 see all of them.
-skin & bone.
i was the one thing
he had to deny-
the beautiful truth
within his
terrible lie.

-who knew such a young heart could shatter?
when your mother
begins to forget
your name,
you begin
to wonder
if you exist
at all.

-stage 4, terminal

On the other hand, taken as a whole, Lovelace is telling a story and it happens to be in a form that straddles verse and prose in a way that captures the readers’ attention. The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace is a product of today’s social media 24/7 world. Whether or not it is your cup of tea, it is good to see that poetry is gaining attention.

RATING: Couplet

About the Poet:

growing up a word-devourer & avid fairy tale lover, it was only natural that amanda lovelace began writing books of her own, & so she did. when she isn’t reading or writing, she can be found waiting for pumpkin spice coffee to come back into season & binge-watching gilmore girls. (before you ask: team jess all the way). the lifelong poetess & storyteller currently lives in new jersey with her fiancé, their moody cat, & a combined book collection so large it will soon need its own home. she has her B.A. in english literature with a minor in sociology. the princess saves herself in this one is her debut poetry collection & the first book in the women are some kind of magic series. the second book in the series, the witch doesn’t burn in this one, will be published in 2018. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Insomniatic by Valerie Fox

Source: the poet
Paperback, 36 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Insomniatic by Valerie Fox is a unique chapbook in which readers are subject to a disjointed world where reality creeps into dreamlike sequences and hallucinations. An insomniac generally does not get a lot of “good” sleep, and these poems illustrate that electric energy of someone on the verge of exhaustion and their scattered thoughts. These thoughts are sometimes dark, but also playful and absurd, pushing readers to wonder if one could get addicted to such oddities of sleep deprivation.

From "Incorruptible" (pg.24)

On nearby Hanover Street a once inviting and
cared-for house has been recently demolished. An upright
piano stands slightly elevated at the top of the front
steps. Someone should remove it, but it looks nice there,
surrounded by blue skies and summertime.

Fox crosses the line between wakefulness and dreaming and re-crosses it again and again. A bewildered reader needs to commit to simply being along for the ride, rather than parsing out reality from dream. Insomniatic by Valerie Fox is a search through the dreaming wakefulness that is playful and disconcerting all at once.

Some recent poems can be found here.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Valerie Fox’s books of poetry include The Rorschach Factory (2006, Straw Gate Books) and The Glass Book (2010, Texture Press). She co-wrote Poems for the Writing: Prompts for Poets with Lynn Levin. Bundles of Letters Including A, V and Epsilon (2011, Texture Press) is a collaborative book with Arlene Ang. “Scarecrow Lists of Failures and Grocery Items” (a collaboration with Ang) may be found here, at Thrush.

Her work has appeared in many journals, including Thrush, Painted Bride Quarterly, Hanging Loose, Apiary, West Branch, Sentence, and Qarrtsiluni. Originally from central Pennsylvania, she has traveled and lived throughout the world, and has taught writing and literature at numerous universities including Sophia University (in Tokyo) and currently at Drexel University (in Philadelphia). Visit her at Texture Press.

On That One-Way Trip to Mars by Marlena Chertock

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 102 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

On That One-Way Trip to Mars by Marlena Chertock is a collection of poems broken up into sections named for the planets and the sun in the solar system. Blending scientific fact about the planets — Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto — and the Sun, and grounding it into a more personal experience is a balancing act that Chertock does well. But her poems also have a child-like wonder and humor to them that many can appreciate, especially as she tackles some tough issues.

From "70 Million Years Ago" (pg. 10)

The Milky Way spat out 
the Smith Cloud
from its edges,
a brussel sprout it couldn't swallow.

Now that unwanted green
is on its way back, a giant fart
of gas hurtling towards the galaxy.
From "Find Us" (pg. 19)

When they find us
we'll be long dead.
When they find us,
the chosen or rich frozen,
faces intact,
they'll wonder why
we're a people that don't move.

From those who were split from families by an invisible demarcation line after war in “An invisible middle” to a struggle with prematurely decaying bones in “Short curve II” and others, Chertock inserts wry humor to ease the hurt. In “On that one-way trip to Mars,” the narrator speculates about how to apply to become an astronaut and turn her disability of decaying bones into an asset:

"Don't worry
about my bone deterioration rate,
I had arthritis at 13. Walked like an old lady
at 20. It'd be nice to float
and give my bones a break." (pg. 42)

On That One-Way Trip to Mars by Marlena Chertock begs readers to look beyond the visible to see the potential inside. Remove the bias that comes with the outer surface of someone and rely instead on the inner strength and power of the person. Chertock’s poems explore both inner and outer space; take a trip on this rocket — you won’t be disappointed.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Marlena Chertock has two books of poetry, Crumb-sized (Unnamed Press, 2017) and On that one-way trip to Mars (Bottlecap Press, 2016). She uses her skeletal dysplasia and chronic pain as a bridge to scientific poetry. She regularly moderates or speaks on panels at literary conferences and festivals, serves as a judge or reviewer of creative work for contests, and reads her own work at open mics and reading series. Find her on Twitter and on Instagram.

Thursday’s Poetic Thoughts #2

Thanks to everyone who has shared poetry-related posts this month.

Jill at Rhapsody in Books always has a string of #NationalPoetryMonth blog posts, and I love that she highlights children’s books that are poetic.

Catch her reviews of The Watcher by Nikki Grimes and Enormous Smallness of E.E. Cummings by Matthew Burgess.

Cummings is one of my favorite poets and one of his poems was read at our wedding by my friend, Anna. The illustrated book about Cummings is going on my list for my daughter.

Jeanne at Necromancy Never Pays shares her new kitten adventures and a poem for Spring by Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Naida of the bookworm shares a spot of Anne Sexton‘s poetry.

In other poetic news, I read a poem at the last open mic, attended by the mayor of Gaithersburg, and I’ve written 3 poems this month. One poem is still a work in progress, but that’s ok.

LOCAL EVENTS (MD/DC):

For upcoming local events, check out the Split This Rock Poetry Festival which starts today in Washington, D.C.

Additionally on April 22, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., you can attend Kensington Day of the Book. Some poets like Luther Jett and Don Illich, who read at the DiVerse Gaithersburg Poetry Reading Series, will be there, as well as Nancy Naomi Carlson and Indran Amirthanayagam. There also will be young poets and storytellers. Although I will be unable to attend this year due to a prior engagement, this is a local event you won’t want to miss, Marylanders.

Also on April 19 and 20, The Bethesda Urban Partnership is hosting its annual literary event with winners of the Poetry and Short Story/Essay contest. Find out more about those events here.

A Bag of Hands by Mather Schneider

Source: Purchased (Rattle subscription, bonus)
Paperback, 31 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

A Bag of Hands by Mather Schneider won the Rattle Chapbook Prize in 2017 and provides a glimpse into the nation’s struggle with immigration and insight into the working class for those who are unfamiliar. Schneider’s poems are beautiful in their simplicity. The chapbook opens with “Hot Iron,” and explores the residual effects of emotional and physical abuse. Even the most mundane and routine actions of people, like turning on the flat iron to straighten one’s hair, can be a symptom of something deeper.

From "41st Birthday" (pg. 24-5)

A mile later I hit a train.
The long arms descend
like at a border crossing
with dramatic clanging and the hysteria
of the lights.
I move up, nose in real
close
and I just can't help
but be afraid sometimes

Many of his poems are this way, little stories from the lives of two people spending time together, supporting each other, and more in a way that reflects larger issues of immigration and abuse. There is beauty in the little moments of watching hummingbirds reach a feeder or the last living tree of a certain species. In “Chasing the Green Card,” Schneider explores the raw emotion of a man and his wife who love one another and must face government scrutiny in their immigration hearings with little guarantee of a solid decision.

A Bag of Hands by Mather Schneider tackles some raw subjects and emotions. It’s a solid chapbook that explores a part of America that is solidly in the news and looks at the human side of the debate. Readers will connect with the plight of this tax cab driver and his wife, but they also will see the beauty in their struggle.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Mather Schneider is cab driver who writes poems. For many years, he and his wife would get up together and drive in to work, and he got a few good poems out of those commutes. He writes poetry and prose.

Point Blank by Alan King

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 104 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Point Blank by Alan King, who read at the second DiVerse Gaithersburg Poetry Reading and Open Mic, opens with the poem “Hulk,” and there are a number of references to the comic book universe. In “Hulk,” the narrator believes he’s like everyone else able to walk where he wants and do what he likes as any other teenager, but given the hour and his skin color, reality begins to seep in, shattering the illusion like the hulk stomping through the city on a rampage.

King’s poems are like this — musical, dreamlike, and nostalgic — only to be abruptly shattered or altered by forces beyond the narrator’s control. Isn’t this the essence of life? It sometimes upends us without our consent.

With “point blank” precision, King tackles issues of race, poverty, stereotyping, and uncontrolled anger. His poems often begin with stereotypes of race and as the poem unfolds, he teaches his readers to see how ridiculous those generalizations can be. In “Swarm,” he asks, “That’s when I wonder/if Insecurity’s the biggest instigator./The one constantly egging you on/to prove yourself./”

King’s poems speak with frankness about living in America, a nation that pretends to be equal in so many ways, a nation that is still younger than it thinks it is, and a nation rebelling against the world even now. The beauty of these poems is that frankness and how he mixes it like a song with rhythm and firecracker lines like “to scorch my boss/with her fire-bottle words/” and “my veins and arteries are the blood’s highways/and interstates, that too much of what I love/will slow traffic like an accident.”

“Booth Seat” is one of the most moving poems in this collection in which Death is racing around the city seeking out and getting his prey. Understanding the murder rates here in the D.C. area, this poems strikes very close to home. It reminds us that life is fleeting, and that even the most anonymous of us is at risk. Point Blank by Alan King is a stunner, and you’ll never forget it.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Alan King is an author, poet, journalist and videographer, who lives with his wife and daughter in Bowie, MD. He writes about art and domestic issues on this blog.

He’s a communications specialist for a national nonprofit and a senior editor at Words Beats & Life‘s global hip hop journal.

As a staff writer for the Baltimore Afro-American Newspaper, King often out-scooped the Baltimore Sun when covering housing and the Baltimore City Council. His three-part series on East Baltimore’s redevelopment and the displaced residents brought together stakeholders (community leaders, elected officials and developers) to work out a plan that gave vulnerable residents a role in helping to build up the city’s blighted neighborhoods.

He’s a graduate of the Stonecoast MFA Low-Residency Program at the University of Southern Maine. His poems and short stories appear in various literary journals, magazines and are featured on public radio. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Crumb-Sized: Poems by Marlena Chertock

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 80 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Crumb-Sized: Poems by Marlena Chertock, who read at the Fourth DiVerse Gaithersburg Poetry Reading, is a short and powerful collection about body image, space, and pain, but it is also a collection of exploration. She explores the strength within herself to do more and cope with more, to “push” through the pain in physical therapy, and to stand tall among those in the forest who are “healthier.”

One of my favorite poems is “I am rotting log of wood,” in which the tree is rotting and seemingly weaker compared to the others in the forest, but the tree realizes she can breathe her own oxygen and feel the sunlight on her leaves — finding strength inside.

Through her descriptions, readers are plunged knee deep in the narrator’s pain. In “Rikkud,” the narrator’s health condition renders her on the sidelines of a dance while those her age continue to party. She says, “my hips and knees are kindling/and I can’t give them more air/or my bones become crisps –” Many of her poems explore debilitating pain and the absurdity of telling a narrator to push through chronic pain, Chertock forces the reader to not only empathize but to be in those moments and live them.

The poems are not all dark and many of them churn on a word or phrase in a poem. In “Application to NASA,” she explores how strong the narrator is despite being below the standards the space agency seeks in potential candidates. Chertock turns the negative into positive, takes a leap of faith into the unknown and creates her own nebulous reality where anything is possible.

Crumb-Sized: Poems by Marlena Chertock is the perfect combination of science and poetry. These poems are Earth-bound until they are launched into outer space to explore life beyond the pain.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Marlena Chertock has two books of poetry, Crumb-sized (Unnamed Press, 2017) and On that one-way trip to Mars (Bottlecap Press, 2016). She uses her skeletal dysplasia and chronic pain as a bridge to scientific poetry. She regularly moderates or speaks on panels at literary conferences and festivals, serves as a judge or reviewer of creative work for contests, and reads her own work at open mics and reading series. Find her on Twitter and on Instagram.

April Poetry and Fiction Festival News

April is often the time when the Internet explodes with posts and articles celebrating poetry. This year is no different.

Even without April’s celebration, however, Split This Rock has been celebrating poetry and activism for 10 years. On this 10-year anniversary, some of the best poets will be flooding Washington, D.C.,  April 19-21: Elizabeth Acevedo, Kazim Ali, Ellen Bass, Sherwin Bitsui, Kwame Dawes, Camille T. Dungy, Ilya Kaminsky, Sharon Olds, Sonia Sanchez, Solmaz Sharif, Terisa Siagatonu, Paul Tran, and Javier Zamora.

Even if you cannot afford to go to the panels, there are open to the public readings in the evenings —  1201 15th St., NW:

    • Thursday, April 19 | 7-8:30 PM
      Camille T. Dungy, Sharon Olds, Javier Zamora
    • Friday, April 20 | 7-8:30 PM
      Elizabeth Acevedo, Sherwin Bitsui, Kwame Dawes, Solmaz Sharif
    • Saturday, April 21 | 4:15-5:45 PM
      Kazim Ali, Ellen Bass, Terisa Siagatonu
    • Saturday, April 21 | 7:30-9 PM
      Ilya Kaminsky, Sonia Sanchez, Paul Tran

I’ve attended this festival several times, and it is always a life-changing experience.

Beyond April and into May, literary festivals continue. In Gaithersburg, Md., residents and authors will meet on the City Hall grounds on May 19, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

This is another go-to festival for me: Gaithersburg Book Festival

The authors I’m most looking forward to are: Kim Roberts and her Literary Guide to Washington, D.C., Gayle Forman and her latest I Have Lost My Way, Deborah Heiligman and her book Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers, Gareth Hinds and his illustrated book Poe, Alma Katsu and her latest The Hunger, and Kateema Lee, who read at the last DiVerse Gaithersburg Poetry Reading, with Almost Invisible.

I’ll be there on May 19, will you?

Also, in case you missed it, there was a wonderful piece in The New York Times about our U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith and her work to bring poetry to rural areas as a cure for our currently toxic culture.

In the piece, she said, “I want to just go to places where writers don’t usually go, where people like me don’t usually show up, and say: ‘Here are some poems. Do they speak to you? What do you hear in them?'”

It’s a wonderful piece and well worth the read.

4th DiVerse Gaithersburg Poetry Reading Recap

Unfortunately, I missed the 3rd reading due to other obligations.

However, this past weekend’s DiVerse Gaithersburg Poetry Reading and Open Mic at the Gaithersburg Public Library had a spectacular lineup with Marlena ChertockKateema LeeJoseph Ross, as well as special guest Gaithersburg Mayor Jud Ashman, who spoke about the upcoming Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 19.

Ross kicked off the reading with poems from his collection Ache, many of which are written in the voice of famous civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela. The collection touches on a great need for empathy and highlights some of the most horrible events in recent history, particularly the murder of black young men. I did want to ask how much consideration he gave to the community he was writing about when writing in these voices, but I’m not one to start controversial arguments in public settings. I did enjoy what was read from the collection and thought it well done. One beautiful thing about poetry readings is you can directly buy books from the poets you hear — no waiting, no forgetting their names (I’m horrible at remembering names) after the reading when life gets in the way…

Marlena Chertock’s poems were definitely different in that they exposed pain and suffering with the help of science and space exploration. Her poems immediately reminded me of the science-based poems of Jeannine Hall Gailey and others. Chertock’s style carries a very personal voice, a perspective from a short woman with bones that are older than her chronological age. Crumb-sized: Poems was the collection she read from the most and her “Application to NASA” had me hooked. Even the cover suggests “space” or at least “planets.” (my review forthcoming)

Kateema Lee has a new collection of poems, Musings of a Netflix Binge Viewer, coming from Finishing Line Press that I just pre-ordered on their website. Her poems from this collection really caught everyone’s attention, especially with her rhythmic lines and humor. She also read from Almost Invisible, her first collection, and these were more sobering poems about her relationship with her Vietnam War veteran father. I had hoped to speak with her about the collection and her father, as well as buy a copy but she disappeared before I got to it. It was simply a busy reading. I know that she and Chertock will be at the 2018 Split This Rock Poetry Festival April 19-21 in D.C., so perhaps I will run into her again.

Lucinda Marshall, who has been the point person for these readings, solicited ideas from the audience about how to spread more poetry to the community. My daughter even filled out her notecard. You can find those ideas here.

Some of them are already being used in D.C., and it would be fantastic to see some of them used in Maryland’s Montgomery County.

For the special Mother’s Day poetry reading, check out the 2018 calendar of events. See you at the next reading.

Thursday’s Poetic Thoughts

National Poetry Month has started, and there are a few poetry posts cropping up to celebrate poetry. Here’s my rendition of #WednesdayWisdom

As Jill at Rhapsody in Books found science and poetry are not mutually exclusive. In fact, there are similarities in how they peel back the layers of our reality to provide us a better understanding of the world around us. She highlights some great poems for adults and children, and I encourage you to check out her post to learn more.

At Necromancy Never Pays, Jeanne speaks about the difficulty she’s had making time to read and talk about poetry since the election of our new president. Time has been taken up by causes that she believes in, and these are equally important. However, she does share a “political” poem of sorts — more of what I would say is a lament for things that are no longer the same. But the most powerful part was her images of Mr. Rogers who reminds us that we “choose” what we spend time on and we each make a choice every minute. We need the wisdom to remember that.

For those looking to purchase some great poetry, the National Parks System is offering 20% off its Poetry in the Parks books, posters, magnets and even an Edgar Allan Poe bobblehead.