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Drift by Alan King

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 102 pgs.
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Drift by Alan King, who read at the 4th DiVerse Gaithersburg Poetry Reading, has a musicality that is distinctly urban and young male, but it transcends these characteristics in the interplay of images he uses to describe not only lovers, but also friendships and hardships. Some of his lines will have you squaring up for a boxing match, while others will have your mouth watering.

from "Translation" (pg. 56)

That evening, when you climbed
on the back of my mountain bike, I might
have been rickshawing a dignitary the way
the hummingbird in my chest fluttered
with your arms around my waist;

King has the distinct ability to put readers in the moment with him, whether his narrators are teenagers unsure of romance or college students unable to stay away from trouble. Some of my favorite poems in this collection are in the voice of Pinky and the Brain on how they’ve become who they are and why they act the way that they do — you even get a little insight into why they are still friends, despite their differences.

Another of my favorites includes an insider’s look at AWP in which a young writer sees the idols of his book spines acting like fools. Some of these poems are very tongue-in-cheek, including a pep talk a poet receives during the month-long write a poem a day challenge. But many of them tackle serious issues adolescents face, particularly young black males.

Drift by Alan King is musical, funny, and serious. It asks questions about identity and fitting it, particularly what it means to be a “brother.” But it’s also about growing up in an unforgiving urban landscape.

RATING: Quatrain

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.

Almost Invisible by Kateema Lee

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 44 pgs.
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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.

Ache by Joseph Ross

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 108 pgs.
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Ache by Joseph Ross, one of the readers at the fourth DiVerse Gaithersburg Poetry Reading, is a collection that will gnaw, get under the skin, and force readers to review the world around them through new eyes. Whether taking on the persona of Nelson Mandela or John Coltrane, Ross has a knack for demonstrating the persistent, dull pain alive in this country and throughout the world. It is not just the pain of racial bias, but also the pain of immigrants searching for better lives and crossing hell to get there.

from "Nelson Mandela Burns His Passbook, 1952"

You thought you might eat
its ashes for dinner. The blue

flame, tiny and cautious at first,
crawled up the paper like a 

well-dressed thief, about to steal
what is already his.

Ross demonstrates a deep empathy with his subjects and begs readers to understand the point of view of others, even if they are vastly different from their own. He pinpoints the absurdity of violence that erupts from fear and the lasting ache it leaves behind for not only mothers and siblings, but for those yet to come into being. The history of their lives informs our present, and should be remembered.

from "When Your Word Is a Match"

When your word is a match-
head, hissing into flame,

testifying aloud but blown
out as soon as you speak.

Ross leaves readers with powerful images that speak for historical figures, those lynched in Birmingham or bombed in a church or even those who merely followed their dreams to make music. Listen. Can’t you just hear the Coltrane in these lines:

from "On John Coltrane's 'Lush Life'"

A saxophone needs
supple, lush. When human

breath swims through its
golden canyons it sings

only if the player bends.

Ache by Joseph Ross is a balancing of both sides of ache — a deep-seated, persistent pain — running through the country’s past, present, and future. Unless, we’re able to absorb the beauty around us, forget the misconceptions we use as shields for poor decisions, and move forward and “believe everyone/deserves forgiveness.” (pg. 89, “For the Graffiti Artist Whose Tag Covered the Last Cool ‘Disco’ Dan Tag in Washington, D.C.”)

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Joseph Ross is the author of three books of poetry Ache (2017), Gospel of Dust (2013), and Meeting Bone Man (2012). His poetry has appeared in a wide variety of publications including The Los Angeles Times, The Southern Quarterly, Xavier Review, Poet Lore, Tidal Basin Review, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and Sojourners. His work appears in many anthologies including Collective Brightness, Poetic Voices without Borders 1 and 2, Full Moon on K Street, and Come Together; Imagine Peace. He recently served as the 23rd Poet-in-Residence for the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society, just outside Washington, D.C. He is a six-time Pushcart Prize nominee and his poem “If Mamie Till Was the Mother of God” won the 2012 Pratt Library/Little Patuxent Review Poetry Prize.

On That One-Way Trip to Mars by Marlena Chertock

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 102 pgs.
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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.

Point Blank by Alan King

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 104 pgs.
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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.

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.

Mailbox Monday #467

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog. To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links. Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Martha, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what we received:

Point Blank by Alan King, which I purchased at the DiVerse Gaithersburg Poetry reading this month.

“In Point Blank, we are given an intimate look at one man’s inner and outer life, but there’s no navel-gazing nonsense. There’s always an awareness, implied or explicit, of the sociopolitical crucible. With language both tough-minded and celebratory, Alan King ignites the important details of his experience, compelling us to ask what-plus-what added up to our own lives.” TIM SEIBLES, author of Fast Animal and One Turn Around the Sun

“Alan King is one of my favorite up-and-coming poets of his generation. His poems are not pop and flash, rather more like a slow dance with someone you’re going to love forever. Here you will find poignant slices of life, so bright in a rough age of race killings and hate speech. He reminds us that what matters has always mattered.” JOY HARJO, poet, musician, performer, and teacher.

Drift by Alan King, which I also purchased at the DiVerse Gaithersburg Poetry reading this month.

Poetry. African American Studies. “Alan King reminds us of the beauty of efficiency. His poems do not waste moments or words. These are wonderful journeys into the lives of everyone (something of you is here, I guarantee it), effortless, peaceful but powerful walks that focus upon the compassionate things: friendship, love, family, justice, tradition. Alan King has started his own tradition in DRIFT, one born of his own generation but timeless and strong; a voice we should all hope will be showcased for years.”—Brian Gilmore, poet, public interest lawyer and columnist for The Progressive Media Project

Walk with Me by Debra Schoenberger for review from iRead Book Tours.

Whenever I’m asked “which is the best camera?” I pretty much respond: “the one you have on you.” In fact, most of the images in this book were taken with my cell phone simply because I always have it with me. ​

This is not only a book about street photography but a visual diary, or collection of quirky, unusual and sometimes just plain weird photos I’ve taken over the course of the last decade. ​

As a street photographer, I need to be an assiduous walker. My sneakers often take me to little known, hidden corners, seaweed strewn (and sometimes stinky) beaches and really cool back alleys of my rather small island city of Victoria, BC.​

I’ve also included images of curiosities I’ve seen throughout my travels.
​​
Everyone sees the world differently and this is my collection of the quirkyness that I call life.

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins

It’s the first day of school for Penelope Rex, and she can’t wait to meet her classmates. But it’s hard to make human friends when they’re so darn delicious! That is, until Penelope gets a taste of her own medicine and finds she may not be at the top of the food chain after all. . . .
Readers will gobble up this hilarious new story from award-winning author-illustrator Ryan T. Higgins.

What did you receive?

2nd DiVerse Gaithersburg Poetry Reading Recap

This past weekend’s DiVerse Gaithersburg Poetry Reading and Open Mic was once again at the Gaithersburg Public Library, with featured poets Joanna Howard from A Splendid Wake, Alan King, and Sarah Browning of Split This Rock fame (celebrating 10 years this April).

I was really looking forward to this event because I’ve seen and connected with Sarah Browning on a couple of occasions, more recently through Facebook than anything, and I wanted to chat with her in person. I’ve also never heard her read her own work! What have I been doing? She’s dynamic as a speaker and a poet.

If you missed out on this event, you better not miss the next one in March.

Alan King and Joanna Howard are new-to-me poets, and I enjoyed Alan’s work so much I bought both his books at the event.  Joanna’s book is forthcoming and I cannot wait to get my hands on that too.  Please check out the Facebook Live of the event.

Here are some photos from the event:

We had a smaller than usual open mic session this go around, but I did read another poem this month.  I’m really making good on a promise I haven’t voiced aloud to anyone — I want to read more in public and more of my own poems. I hope to read at every one of these events, though some poems may be older as newer ones are not coming along fast enough.

If you’re in the Gaithersburg area on March 11, 2-4pm, I hope you’ll stop by and join us when Michele Wolf, Jennifer Wallace, and Maritza Rivera read their poems. Here’s the 2018 calendar of events.

DiVerse Gaithersburg Poetry Reading Recap

This past weekend’s poetry reading and open mic at the Gaithersburg Public Library was a huge success with more than 30 attendees and 13 poets reading at the open mic after the two featured poets, Sunil Freeman and Luther Jett.

Unfortunately, Kim Roberts was unable to attend and read thanks to that flu! I was really looking forward to hearing her read.  Next time.

I was lucky enough to help Lucinda Marshall with the setup, but my help wasn’t really needed. It was good to try my first Facebook Live for the event.  Thanks to those who popped in to watch.  I hope to do it again in February.

Here are some pictures from the reading and open mic:

So, even if you are not nearby and cannot attend, think about attending the Facebook live on February 11, 2-4 p.m. EST. This event is sure to be a big draw with local favorite and Split This Rock icon, Sarah Browning, reading her poetry.  I’m looking forward to it. She’ll be joined by Alan King and Joanna Howard. View the 2018 calendar.

I hope you’ll join us.

Sunday, Jan. 14: DiVerse Gaithersburg Poetry Reading and Open Mic

You’re Invited!

When: Jan. 14, 2018, 2-4 p.m.

Where: Gaithersburg Public Library
18330 Montgomery Village Ave.
Gaithersburg, Md. 20879

Who: Luther Jett, Kim Roberts, and Sunil Freeman

 

Our first poetry event of the season!