Meghna Chakrabarti interviews David Blight on how Memorial Day started–a pivotal episode of our suppressed history, on a Charleston SC racetrack in 1865.
Eileen Myles talks with Christopher Lyden about authentic diction, working class origins, gender fluidity and the democratic virtue of individualism on Open Source.
Visual poetics: poetry sliders of most commonly used words in the poems of Angelou, Frost, Dickinson, Plath, and more.
The The Poetry’s Michael Young on the importance of the chapbook.
Nin Andrews illuminates gender bias in the rise of Trump. While you’re there, scroll down and read Nin’s heartbreaking description of losing her canine companion, Sadie.
Basma Abdel Aziz and the rise of the Middle Eastern dystopian novel. “Fiction gave me a very wide space to say what I wanted to say about totalitarian authority.”
I clipped the photo of Abdel Aziz and put it on my desktop. Sometimes it’s good to have the right eyes on you, when you sit down to work.
Why do you write? Is it because you fear failing? Because you have some secret embarrassing vision of yourself as A Writer? Because you can’t not create stuff, something propels you, and words happen to be your best, or handiest medium?
I started writing when other responsibilities prevented me from painting. The tools of writing are more compact, portable, less toxic. And I was, confession, always a bit of a Word Nerd (thanks, Wick Poetry Center, for the actual T-shirt).
I started writing because one situation in particular, one person in my past, just would not stop nagging at me. It would be true, on one level, to say that everything I write is for that one person. Addressed to those particular ears. Some vague attempt to speak to that loss, that cracked-apart spot in the world, around which the rest of my life continued.
Maybe that old friend of my youth came to embody something so essential, so rock-bottom-true about life as I know it, that it stands in for everything else. Or became the central, unanswerable question. Maybe that’s what they mean by obsession.
Once, riding the train back from upstate to NYC, where I lived at the time, I happened to sit beside a young man who talked to me the whole way down. His gestures, his froth of afro, his beautiful French Canadian accent, deeply impressed me. He was of course an artist. When I quoted or mentioned him more than once, later on, a supposedly close NYC friend said to me, You need to stop being obsessed with imaginary people and get some real friends.
I think of that comment from time to time. It alerted me to our vastly different backgrounds and temperament, my friend who was very pragmatic, highly privileged, with a warm and close upper middle class family upbringing; I who had grown up with enough food on the table but emotionally starved, isolated, living much of the time inside my own imagination. Relying on the odd teacher, or a distant relative I’d see infrequently, for whatever sense of connection I could root in.
Would I have been an artist, a writer, if not for that floating childhood, that lack at the core? Would I have spent so many afternoons playing albums over and over, drawing in my notebooks, inventing narratives, if I’d had the close-knit and affectionate family, the sense of fitting, belonging, of having a rightful place in the world, that my judgmental friend possessed?
I’ve said before that I’m not a big believer in the mythology of the starving artist, but it seems clear that art comes, often, through some sort of small personal crucible. And by small, I mean that very specific, concretely personal and intimate thing or event, which, in fractal form, stands in for The Whole.
That, after all, is all we ask of art, right? Just, be the specific thing that represents the essential mystery of everything. Our portal. Our simultaneous translator. Our companion in the dark hours, and our little bitty bit of light.
May this summer bring you good books, beautiful walks on the beach, a soft spot to fall at the end of the day.
with love, sammy