The Associated Writing Program Conference in Chicago will bring writers from mostly the US and a few from outside the US together. Last year, thousands gathered in New York City to read, sign books, present papers about writing and network for new publishers and agents. Last year, I did book signing and read my poetry with three other writers, Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Yusef Komunyakaa, the acclaimed, award-winning, poet, Quincy Troupe, and the internationally acclaimed young African novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Quincy Troupe, one of my favorite poets and his wife Margaret became my good friends then. They are two of the most fun people I’ve met. This blog will pay tribute to some of my favorite writing friends or influnces. Enjoy.
I took this photo during my visit to New York University where I was invited to read my poetry with two other writers on October 24, 2008. Here, Quincy was introducing me. But here is a clearer photo of him.
Quincy Troupe is the author of numerous books, including many books of poetry, and has won many awards. Some of his books of poetry include:
Miles and Me (George Gund Foundation Book in African American Studies) Quincy Troupe (Paperback – May 30, 2002) and The Architecture of Language (Paperback – Oct 1, 2006). Quincy is the editor of Black Renaissance Noire, a literary magazine published out of New York University, and teaches at New York University. He and his wife Margaret are two of the most fun people I know. Below is one of Quincy’s poems taken from the webstie of Poets.org.
For Duke Ellington
— By Quincy Troupe
that day began with a shower
of darkness, calling lightning rains
home to stone language
of thunderclaps, shattering, the high
blue, elegance, of space & time
where a broken-down, riderless, horse
with frayed wings
rode a sheer bone, sunbeam
road, down into the clouds
spoke wheels of lightning jagged
around the hours, & spun high up
above those clouds, duke wheeled
his chariot of piano keys
his spirit, now, levitated from flesh
& hovering over the music of most high
spoke to the silence
of a griot-shaman-man
who knew the wisdom of God
at high noon, the sun cracked
through the darkness, like a rifle shot
grew a beard of clouds on its livid, bald
face, hung down, noon, sky high
pivotal time of the flood-deep hours
as duke was pivotal, being a five in the nine
numbers of numerology
as his music was one of the crossroads
a cosmic mirror of rhythmic gri-gri
so get on up & fly away duke, bebop
slant & fade on in, strut, dance swing, riff
& float & stroke those tickling, gri-gri keys
those satin ladies taking the A train up
to harlem, those gri-gri keys
of birmingham, breakdown
sophisticated ladies, mood indigo
get on up & strut across, gri-gri
raise on up, your band’s waiting
thunderclapping music, somersaulting
clouds, racing across the deep, blue wisdom
of God, listen, it is time for your intro, duke
into that other place, where the all-time great
band is waiting for your intro, duke
it is time for the Sacred Concert, duke
it is time to make the music of God, duke
we are listening for your intro, duke
so let the sacred music, begin
(taken from Poets.org.)
Marie Howe is one of my favorite poets, one who has influenced my own writing. I discovered her while I was in the Ph.D. Creative Writing Program at Western Michigan University. My professor then, Nancy Eimers, who herself is a great poet, adopted Howe’s book, “What the Living Do,” and that semester changed a lot of style or my line structure. I love the book she is reading from on this photo. Her use of couplets introduced a new kind of couplets to me, couplets that were couplets even though the verse was as free as any contemporary poetry could be. My second is filled with couplets influenced by Marie’s style. One of my dreams is to meet her one day. I love not just her line structure, but her poetry, her intensity of feelings, her use of Christian images at times. Below is one of my favorite poems. Enjoy.
The Star Market
by Marie Howe January 14, 2008 (copyright: The New Yorker)
The people Jesus loved were shopping at the Star Market yesterday.
An old lead-colored man standing next to me at the checkout
breathed so heavily I had to step back a few steps.
Even after his bags were packed he still stood, breathing hard and
hawking into his hand. The feeble, the lame, I could hardly look at them:
shuffling through the aisles, they smelled of decay, as if the Star Market
had declared a day off for the able-bodied, and I had wandered in
with the rest of them—sour milk, bad meat—
looking for cereal and spring water.
Jesus must have been a saint, I said to myself, looking for my lost car
in the parking lot later, stumbling among the people who would have
been lowered into rooms by ropes, who would have crept
out of caves or crawled from the corners of public baths on their hands
and knees begging for mercy.
If I touch only the hem of his garment, one woman thought,
could I bear the look on his face when he wheels around?
Gabeba Baderoon (pronounced Habeba Baadaroon) is one of my favorite poets and friends. I discovered her or she discovered me more than two years ago when we both were attending MLA in Philadelphia. I had just arrived at the main conference hotel and was driving into the garage or being assisted by the valet. And since I was in a Penn State car, she, having just arrived herself with her husband, saw me and called me. At the moment, I did not know her, this my South African sister-poet-friend. From then on, she and I read together at University Park, where she teaches African literature. I invited her to my campus at Altoona, where she spoke to my students about South African Literature. She is the author of three books of poetry, including, “The Dream in the Next Body” and “A Hundred Silences.” She is an award winning poet from South Africa, a well traveled scholar and a dear sister. What I have learned as a poet also from Africa, from knowing Gabeba is how to know a hundred silences. She is one of those soft spoken people whose heart for the world is larger than anything you have ever seen. I have learned a lot from knowing Gabeba in a short time. My favorite memories of her to date is when she and I were at the African Literature Association conference, and I was complaining about my nasty hotel room, envying her in her beautiful hotel. She quickly offered me a place in her room, insisted that I moved in with her, and even though I did not take her up on her determined effort to be a true sister, I was quite moved by that. Of course, I stayed in my ugly hotel until I found a room in the better hotel two days later. Find Gabeba’s books and enjoy reading them. Enjoy the poem below.
I Cannot Myself
______by Gabeba Baderoon
To come to this country,
my body must assemble itself
into photographs and signatures.
Among them they will search for me.
I must leave behind all uncertainties.
I cannot myself be a question.
I discovered Cynthia Hogue’s poetry naturally because she and I were published by the same press. New Issues had just published her book, “Flux” came out in 2002, so she was obviously signing books at New Issue Press book table, and the late Herb Scott, who was at the time my mentor, introduced me to Cynthia. I had read the entire book, so imagine how happy I was to meet the poet herself. From then on, Cynthia has always been one of my biggest supporters in the world of poetry. Over the years, I have turned to her for that sister-poet relationship every poet needs. She is the author of five or more books of poetry. Her book, “The Incognito Body” is one of my favorites. I am looking forward to seeing her this year at AWP. Last year, we played the “someone is looking for you” game at AWP New York. I would go to a table, and someone would say, Cynthia is looking for you, and she would get the same world, and not for the thousands of others looking for one another, we may have found each other at that over-flowing New York City AWP. Enjoy the poem below. This is Cynthia for you with her sly power over words.
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Tree
by Cynthia Hogue
It’s just like her to cry,
Oh, stop living in your head ,
Billy! It makes more sense
where the sun always shines
on dreams programmed for optimism.
Often the man wakes up laughing.
He’s lost his wife and calls
himself divorced, but each night
she says, Good night, my dear,
as if she still lived in the house
he bought for her. He hears her
in the live-oak through the open window,
telling him what to do. Everyone tells him
he’s better off. He thinks,
I’ve wasted my life! The man wishes
his wife would come back because
his beard has grown like Spanish moss.
Letters in his book swim through the room
like zebra fish. The salamander-
colored dog noses the screendoor.
The man knows somewhere there’s a reason
to go on. He wrote last week that he hoped
“to build a new life.” He sent the letter,
with his baby picture, to the Times-Picayune,
which put it in the personals. Someone
called to him from the magnolia tree,
which has bloomed into huge, disk-like flowers,
so many satellites waiting for signals.
Goldfinches flit at the tree’s foot.
He loses himself in the perfumed air.
His wife loved hummingbirds,
though the feeder has hardened
with old sugar.