My Poem, “One Day,” is the American Life in Poetry Selection for the Week: Thanks to US Poet Laureate (2004-2006),Ted Kooser for Selecting Me in A Country of So Many Great Poets

When you come from the small West African country of Liberia, you are not expected to be picked by the US Poet Laureate in his search for what he knows is a great poet to share with his millions of fans and readers. So, you can understand why someone as lowly as I am should be so grateful that US Poet Laureate chose my poem several months ago to be featured today on American Life in Poetry and to be permanently included on the Poetry Foundation website. Thanks, Mr. Kooser for selecting and featuring me this week. It makes my life better to know that there are poets who are so well learned that they understand the simplicity of the language some of us from far away backgrounds speak, and that even our voices must be heard. I am humbled by this kind honor.

If you are wondering where to go to read this poem, here is the link:

http://www.americanlifeinpoetry.org/current.html

http://www.americanlifeinpoetry.org/columns/COL325.pdf

American Life in Poetry: Column 325

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006

Many of us have attempted to console friends who have recently been divorced, and though it can be a pretty hard sell, we have assured them that things will indeed be better with the passage of time. Here’s a fine poem of consolation by Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, who teaches at Penn State.

One Day

Love Song for the Newly Divorced
One day, you will awake from your covering
and that heart of yours will be totally mended,
and there will be no more burning within.
The owl, calling in the setting of the sun
and the deer path, all erased.
And there will be no more need for love
or lovers or fears of losing lovers
and there will be no more burning timbers
with which to light a new fire,
and there will be no more husbands or people
related to husbands, and there will be no more
tears or reason to shed your tears.
You will be as mended as the bridge
the working crew has just reopened.
The thick air will be vanquished with the tide
and the river that was corrupted by lies
will be cleansed and totally free.
And the rooster will call in the setting sun
and the sun will beckon homeward,
hiding behind your one tree that was not felled.

“One Day” was originally published in my fourth book of poems, Where the Road Turns (Autumn House Press: 2010)

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Happy Mother’s Day to All You Mothers Out There! No One Can Ever Match the Love of A Mother. Love Your Mother While You Still Have Her!

My Late Mother Here Below: Hne Dahtedor Mary Williams  who died in 2000.

I celebrate each mother’s day by remembering my own mother, Hne Dahtedor Mary Williams, who was a wonderful mother to me. May her soul and the souls of all our gone mothers rest in the peace of God. I have a short blog post this time, a few poems and just a word to encourage those of us, for that includes me, who have chosen to be mothers to know that the labor from dawn to dust is not in vain. It is difficult to be a mother living in the Diaspora, raising children away from family and friends, from the grandparents, some of who have passed on, away from aunts and uncles, from extended family members. Many of us have raised children who will be strangers to their own family, but we do not give up. Life is w

hat we make it. Love you all.

if there are any heavens my mother will

——–By e e cummings

if there are any heavens my mother will(all by herself)have
one.  It will not be a pansy heaven nor
a fragile heaven of lilies-of-the-valley but
it will be a heaven of blackred roses

my father will be(deep like a rose
tall like a rose)

standing near my

(swaying over her
silent)
with eyes which are really petals and see

nothing with the face of a poet really which
is a flower and not a face with
hands
which whisper
This is my beloved my

(suddenly in sunlight

he will bow,

& the whole garden will bow)

The International Poetry Festival of Medellin Celebrated 20 Years of Bringing Poetry to the People: A Cultural Revolution of Healing Decades of Pain from the Colombian War, July 8-17, 2010, and I Was There!

The International Poetry Festival of Medellin is always so amazing, neither rain, thunder or the blazing sun can drive away the thousands of lovers of poetry who pour in during the opening and closing ceremonies in any given year. The first sign of rain, and the thousands in the audience quickly begin to put on plastic coats, pull out umbrellas, sitting on the hard wet stairs of the Theatre Carlos Vieco to hear the World Poets read in their various languages one after the other, from 4 pm up until 10:30. Translators and poets, reading side by side while the audience cheers, screams, enjoying the power of poetry. For twenty years, poets have come and gone, children have been born, and have grown up under the warmth of this powerful tool of healing, and some of those young people are today volunteering with a literary revolution that gave birth to them.

This is inarguably, the largest, the most fascinating, most revolutionary, and most people-centered poetry festival in the world. The International Poetry Festival of Medellin was founded in Medellín in 1991 by two young, idealistic and practical Colombian poets, Fernando Rendón, who was also editor of the Colombian magazine of PIW,  and Gabriel Jaime Franco. Of course, they were assisted by a great group of poetry enthusiasts who banded together to establish what is now a cultural revolution, impacting the entire world over twenty years. Today, one of those hardworking poetry lovers is Gloria Chvatal, whose dedication to organizing and helping to run the festival is simply inspirational.

FOUNDERS: Fernando Rendón (R) and Gabriel Jaime Franco

Gloria Chvatal, a strong arm of the festival, Fernando, and Gabriel against the backdrop of one of the festival audiences.

With the powerful vision to reach their people through poetry, they launched a poetry festival that draws audiences from across the Americas, their neighbors  and from other regions of the world. They have featured close to 1000 poets from around the world, bringing in African, European, Asian, South, North, and Central American poets and poets from every region of the world. This year, I was invited for the second time, including my first invitation in 2007, to be a featured poet among one of the largest if not the largest group of world poets in the twenty years, nearly 100 of us, in a celebration worthy of itself. Again, as with my first visit to Colombia, the International Poetry Festival of Medellin remains the most powerful experience of any poetry festival in the world. Stay tune as I bring you various features, photos, video clips, etc.I in this blog posting. It is long overdue, but you will forgive me if you realize I had to get a new book out and begin readings to promote the book.

Medellin, 2007:

A Poem for Fernando’s Colombia (copyright “Where the Road Turns, 2010) By Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

Medellin, Oh, Medellin…
to God, I wish I could take out my heart for you,
but how will I sing this song to you without a heart?
You, with so much heart for love and poetry,
for hope in the eyes of the little girl
who with a scrap of white paper, wants me to say a word
to her, to autograph my name for her, to write it in her
name. She tells me with that unusual smile how
she loves my poems, but she is only eight years old.
She and Carlos, the five year old brother who have
pushed through the thousands to get to me.

Medellin, Oh, Medellin…
where we go down from the mountain
into the bowl of a city, into the deep heart of a city,
so warm, a city where people still smile
and clap to a poem, and cry for the war, a city
where concrete houses hold up the hills with muscles
of steel, muscles of pain, and somewhere along the roads
as the bus descends from the airport, the poor have
erected their own lives so sadly, waiting,
and yet, they overlook the city with hope.
From the edge of sharp cliffs and the side roads,
the burning lights and flames of the city, hard
and indistinguishable from anger.
But theirs is of the pain from the years gone.

Medellin, Oh, Medellin…
Waiting can be so hard, Medellin.
And I love you from my heart. I love your laughter,
your warm hugs and kisses, your Spanish, so simply
plain and warm. I love even your tears that
you have shared with me, when a poem I’m reading
touches you in that place where only a poem can go.
At the International Poetry Festival, you sit there,
along your hill arena, clapping, thousands of people,
sitting and thinking and listening and hoping,
Medellin, I have never seen anything like this before.
Thousands of people sitting for long hours
at a poetry reading, Medellin…
we wait for that day, Medellin, we wait.
Trust me, I know how to wait, and I know you do too.

Here, I am, reading with African poets in the beautiful Jardín Botánico. Theatre al aire libre on July 10: l-r: Paul Dakeyo (Cameroon), Niyi Osundare (Nigeria), Patricia Jabbeh Wesley (Liberia) and Amin Haddad (Egypt), reading.

I was honored to read with, meet with, eat with, and be in the company of some of the finest poets in the world. Our poets came from every area of the globe, different languages and cultures, different world issues in their works, different looks, dress and cultural patterns, but we were all one in the use of poetry as a medium of expression of the sensibility of our unique people, and therefore, of the world.

Here, a group of us poets on our way to sight-seeing in Medellin, Colombia, were chased by newspaper crews who made us stand in the middle of a busy city street to take this shot, featured in the paper the next day. (L_R)Poets sJean Jacques Sewanou Dabla of Togo, Alhaji Papa Susso of Gambia, Lola Koundakjian of Armenia, Veronica Zondek of Chilli, Althea Romeo-Mark, representing Antigua and me, representing Liberia. Middle photo- Me and Althea Romeo-Mark, Me and Koumanthio Diallo of Guinea, West Africa, standing with an Afro-Colombian brother after our last Africa Reading.

Poets, Gemino H. Abad (Phillipines) and Imtiaz Dharker of India looking on.

I have been privileged as a poet to be in the company of Pulitzer Prize winning authors, renowned authors, even Nobel Prize winning authors and to be influenced by their unique ways of viewing the world. But the experience at the International Poetry Festival of Medellin 2007 and 2010 alone has been a life-changing experience for me. Let me discuss in brief the kinds of impact such a great festival has on the invited poet, the Colombian people and others from parts of the Americas who descend upon the city, and finally, upon the country, friends, associates of those who return home with this huge vision in their life experience.

A Life- Changing Experience:

The city of Medellin, Colombia, is a city on a hill, skyscrapers of the wealthy alongside the dwellings of millions of the poor. As in any other country, the poor find a means of survival. It is in the center of this city that has survived forty years of civil war that poets from around the world must all merge with their many voices of hope with the voices of hope from Colombia and nations around the region. The most exciting is not in the structure of this beautiful city and country; the most exciting for me is in the people of Colombia. They are a warm and beautiful people, vibrant in every way, their warm hugs and kisses will melt  your heart. But what will cause you to jump from surprise is their love of poetry. Upon arriving at the airport, you will hardly clear out of customs before noticing the crowd of volunteers, festival organizers and friends out at the Medellin Airport to meet you.

The hugs and kisses will be a regular part of your nearly two weeks of living in Medellin, basking in the beauty of poetry and culture. And then, another big surprise is the crowd at the opening and closing ceremonies. The number has been estimated at between seven to ten thousand out in the open arena, cheering, listening, shouting, enjoying the experience of one poetic voice after the other. If you are a first time festival visitor, your jaw drops, you wonder if it is real, whether you are now a rock star, and whether these great people have all lost their heads. But trust, me, it is real. They love poetry and they will change your world after this. This was when I realized that my coming to Colombia was meant to change me, not me, them.

Yira, my Spanish reader assigned to me at the 20th festival (l) Yira & me, Me, Norwegian poet, Erling and the Colombian team.

Images of the festival. Me at the Afro-Colombian center in Medellin, where I was the only presenter, Me after the reading with  and my girls after our reading out of town in Municipio del Carmen de Viboral. Casa de la Culturaon next to a quick photo from the car driving from Bogota Airport to the city of Villavicencio.

The Most Important Impact of Such a Festival:

The crowds of thousands who are dedicated to listening to poetry, reading poets from around the world, sitting in rain or shine, bringing their babies, toddlers, old people for two decades now tells you something about this country, about the visionaries of the festival, about how poetry, reading of poetry, and writing can be a powerful tool of healing. If anyone tells you that you can have such a literary revolution where people are dedicated to using words as a tool in healing produces small results, that individual is a fool. When you begin to mingle with the people, whether they are poor or rich, you will know the impact of the festival on the country, on ending violence. Remember, in case you forgot, Colombia has been in a civil war with drug lords and armed movements for more than forty years now. So, how is it possible to have such a peaceful festival when the country is supposedly at war? Well, my visit in 2007 and the 2010 visit indicated to me that yes, there has been a great change.

A group of young people who had come for our last African poets reading on July 16, stayed on after everyone had left, lining up to greet us. They were a force to see.


One of the most powerful evidence of how the festival is positively affecting the Colombian people in a powerful way is through the photos. I know of no other place in the world where thousands of people will sit to hear poetry read in various languages with translators reading in the pouring rain, people pulling plastic coverings over their heads, and just intent on listening, where mothers will bring their children, including infants with gifts to authors they’d never met, as if these authors are Priests needing to bless the children, they come by the scores to teach their little ones how important it is to learn, to be intellectual instead of being a rebel fighter. This to me is one of the most wonderful gifts any people can give to their nation. But we all know how much it must cost for organizers to raise the money to feed 100 poets, excluding staff, student volunteers, to give them all stipends, to give them lodging in individual rooms in a beautiful hotel, to tend to them when they are ill during the 12 day for most and more days for others, to help provide transportation from across the world for many, and to pay for the use of numerous venues, to fly dozens of poets across the country or drive them hours away. It is a powerful machine that must be recognized. We are most blessed to have lived this experience; hopefully, some of us will be inspired to emulate this great example.

Poets Saturate the City & Country With Poetry: A Dynamic Organization by the Festival Organizers:

Many of us poets had several readings throughout the 11 day festival. The poets included the following number:We were eleven poets from Africa: Niyi Osundare (Nigeria) Alhaji Papa Susso (Gambia), Arif Khudairi (Egypt), Paul Dakeyo (Cameroon), Mohammed Bennis (Morocco), Luis Carlos Patraquim (Mozambique), Koumanthio Zeinabou Diallo (Guinea), Patricia Jabbeh Wesley (Liberia),Jean Jacques Sewanou Dabla (Togo), Amin Haddad (Egypt) and Chirstopher Okemwa (Kenya). Some of us poets came from the Diaspora of Europe and America while others came from the continent of Africa.

After the African poets reading the 16th of July, the elderly gentleman was so excited, he came up to be photographed with us.

The audience waiting before the African reading. Above: After the reading photos

Among the 100 invited poets, less than hundred in attendance, there were beside us 11 Africans, 58 poets from the Americas, 10 from Asia, and 18 from Europe. Some of the poets I connected to include all on the African team (speaking French, English and Arabic), Althea Romeo-Mark, my American Lit. professor of long ago, Sir Howard Fergus of Monsserrat, Obediah Michael Smith of Barbados, Grace Nichols and her husband, John Agard both of Guyana, Renato Sandoval of Peru, Bob Holman of the US, Gemino H. Abad and his spouse (guest), of Philippines, Hala Mohammad of Siria, Lola Koundakjian, U Sam Oeur of Cambodia, Uwe Kolbe, excluding our very fascinating volunteer translators, interpreters. Special among the entire crew was my dear reader, the young and beautiful Yira Plaza Obyrne. Yira went with me everywhere to read the Spanish translation of my poetry whenever I appeared, and where there was no interpreter to translate my short speeches before the reading, Yira would step in. The only trip she did not accompany me on was the one to the far away city of Villavicencio.


Hala of Syria, making an early departure and that goodbye photo as the poets hurry through breakfast for another busy day


I had about ten readings throughout Medellin, reading in various venues with a team of four assigned different authors each time. I also had one solo presentation at the Afro-Colombian Center of Arts. My two out of town readings included a reading far into the Andes Mountains. This was one of the most fascinating of my participation. The Nowegian Poet, Erling Kittelsen and I were sent out to read in a far city of Villaviciencio on July 12, returning on July 13. I also had another reading out of town, with Armenian poet, Lola Koundakjian, just about an hour away to the town famous for its ceramic art, china ware. The town, Municipio del Carmen de Viboral.

Here are some connections in photos made during various readings:

In Municipio del Carmen, a five or six year old girl clung to me after the reading, telling me how much she liked my poetry and how she wanted to me to take her with me.


Connections to Children When Parents Bring Them:

Book signing after the African Poets reading in the Botanical garden that morning. Whenever there was a reading, the audience was so inspired and excited, they in turn inspired and excited us poets. Many in the audience came from various parts of South America. Besides these readings, I did a number of print, TV and newspaper magazine interviews.

Reading In Villaviciencio , Colombia:

When I arrived in Medellin on July 7, 2010, I saw that I would have to be driven to Medellin Airport for a one hour flight to Bogota, the capital city, and then driven to Villaviciencio for two hours. So on the morning of July 12, the Norwegian poet and I were taken to Medellin Airport to be flown to the high mountain city of Bogota. The driver, one of my favorite and the son of one of the founders of the Festival made the journey to the airport. To my surprise, the driver stopped by a mountain side eating/stop place and treated all of us to a beautiful lunch. We then took photos in the kitchen of the stop station.

The Driver The sign says 50, but hey.

The City of Villavicencio, according to Wikipedia, lies “in a rural zone of tropical climate… on the great Colombian-Venezuelan plain called Los Llanos. The city is east of the Andes Mountains. The Andes are a series of endless mountains that allows you to drive on clouds as if you were on a plane. I was so mesmerized, I took numerous photos as clouds swirled around the windshield of the car.

Despite its closeness to the vast Savannas that lie between the Andes range and the Amazon, you cannot drive from Bogota to Villavicencio without meandering through high mountains, long winding tunnels or feeling the pressure of the height of the region. According to the records, Bogota is the second highest capital city in the world, boasting more than 9000 feet above sea level. Right off the plane from Medellin, the cold chill hits you along with the pressure of the height. My allergies kicked in right away and I was quick to grab hold of my jacket. My Norwegian poetry colleague, Erling was a gentleman who quickly took my laptop from me as we made our way to the outside for the ride to Villavicencio. Our reading that night was at 7 pm, therefore, we became a bit nervous at being picked up fairly late.We arrived more than two hours later to an auditorium filled with more than 300 people, eager to hear these two foreign poets from different ends of the earth. Our Colombian colleagues and poet partners, interpreters, translators, including the Director of of Cultural Affairs were again as Colombians are, very warm, excited, loving, happy and welcoming. We were exhausted, but we went through quick orientations with our partners, which poems to read, gestures, what to expect, rehearsing quickly, hugs, embraces, laughter, and we hit the stage. Below are the photos of that evening, one of my last three reading evens of the festival.

Erling reading while I try to stretch my back on stage at our reading soon after arriving in this far away town.



Here in this photo are Erling of Norway, me, my reader, a Colombian young woman, a Colombian poet, Erling’s reader and the government official, Cultural Affairs Director, who hosted our visit and the Festival in his city. What a privilege it was for us to meet these warm people. Before the program began, the Colombian poet read a poem dedicated to me, presented flowers to me, a surprise, and everyone was happy.

Reading that evening in Villavicencio, Colombia

A Cross section of the hall that night.

The After Reading Photos: Folks are often excited after reading, and in this city, the norm was no different.

Kids who come to the reading ask the toughest questions. They know so much about poetry, about suffering, about war, and want to know how someone like me can end up not only in the US, but in a huge poetry festival. How did I begin writing, whether I like their country, and how I feel about returning to another festival. Often, they are accompanied by parents, also wanting answers. The most fascinating when the questions are posed is the warmth, the appreciation, and the open affection of the Colombian people, grateful to the visiting poet. There’s so much to learn from the Colombian people, from the International Poetry Festival, from their survival stories.

Afro-Colombian party.

Kenyan poet and a friend posing and photo from my hotel room porch with my visiting bird friend.

The visiting bird at the Gran Hotel visiting the visiting poets.

Bringing a Great Festival to Closure:

The last couple days of our stay in Colombia, many of us needed to go shopping, but the rain, the busy reading schedules, the lack of individual private translators, and of course interview schedules for some of us kept us from doing so. And yet, we found the time to slip out, some of us in small groups, visiting small vending places nearby the Gran Hotel where we were lodged. Althea, Grace Nichols, and others with me, joined the others, shopping for souvenir for our families and friends. We met the warmth of more Colombians in the market places, receiving small gifts and being recognized by the many who had followed us around the city. I took off on my own in between the beautiful hand-made jewelry counters, and came upon one Colombian vendor unlike everyone else I had met. He wanted to sell a necklace to me for 80,000 Pesos, but the necklace was worth 12.000 pesos, and I knew that. I could not speak Spanish, so I gave him a sheet of paper to write down the price. He did, and I asked him again to do so, and he repeated the price. I looked at him and smiled. “You are a big crook,” I said, but he did not understand me. I left him as he stared after me and went to the next vendor to purchase the same necklace at less than 12,000 pesos. In every beautiful country, you will see someone who is ugly, I laughed as I made my way bravely through the busy traffic back to the hotel where a journalist working for a French news agency was waiting to interview me.

July 17 marked the end of the festival; therefore, our hotel was ready for the last party with our own private dance group to shake up the place. Many of us watched for a few minutes and went to our rooms to pack. We would depart early for the airport, groups of us, coming from various regions of our one world, carrying in our hearts the one spirit of poetry, telling our sad and happy stories in stanzas and metaphors, the power of language that can heal and destroy, depending on how you want to use language. But here  in this mountain country, these wonderful people have discovered that words can be more powerful as a tool in forging peace. They have found the treasure of life, and have passed on this wonderful gift to their children over two decades, have brought the world to their doors, won hearts, and have sent us all out to let the world know that we have seen here is bigger and more wonderful than the negative propaganda that we’ve been told. As for me, I will never be the same again after meeting Colombia, after meeting the world at the festival, after sharing my own stories of pain and suffering with the Colombian people, after learning that love is not about what we have, but rather, about what we can give.

And so, the great festival ended on this note even as we poets sat around to watch the professional dancers do their thing.

(All photos are the exclusive right of Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, and must not be used for any commercial purposes)

Links to Articles Around the Festival:

http://www.univision.com/contentroot/wirefeeds/noticias/8256821.shtml

http://www.festivaldepoesiademedellin.org/pub.php/en/Festival/XX_Festival/Prensa/index.htm




Happy New Year’s Wishes to My Readers, Friends, and Supporters: May 2010 Bring You Lots of Prosperity and Happiness


The Blessing

____By: Patricia Jabbeh Wesley


Let your days ahead be sprinkled with laughter
and with laughter, peace.
May all you touch spring forth with freshness.
Find time to giggle and dance and jump,
and watch the setting of the sun.
When you wake up, wonder out loud
about the sun’s rays, about the darkening
of the morning, about the fog over the hills,
about your babies down the hall,
about the neighbor and her dog. Wonder
at the stars; wonder and wonder why
you are so blessed and why is it you are
among those of the earth who have
more than their allotted air for breathing.
Wonder why the cat meows and why
the dog wags its tail.
Wonder and wonder why dew falls
at night and about the squirrel’s fleeting stare.
Make laughter come alive in your home.
And when you touch someone, let that touch
be real, and I mean, real, my friend.
Walk gently on soft ground, and when
you walk on a bare rock, step hard, this
life is precious. May your year follow only
through a clear path, and please, when you walk,
let it be with God, my love, let it be with God.

— Patricia Jabbeh Wesley (Copyright: from new manuscript of poetry)

New Year’s Day is celebrated all around the world with grandeur, pomp and pride. No matter where you are, New Year’s Day is recognized as a significant bridge between the old present and the future, between the past and the future, between the new and old generation. Today, 2010 is no different. This however, is the end of a decade, a major bridge into a new era. In Liberia, New Year’s Day is celebrated by huge cooking and neighborly well wishing, visitation of relatives and open doors for children to roam in their dressy outfits just as much as they did at Christmas. In fact, when I was a child, our parents bought us two holiday outfits, one for Christmas and one for New Year’s Day. Today, however, many of us now live abroad, in the US, in Europe and around the world where our children can be assured of lots of eating and watching of football at home after watching the ball drop at Times Square or for some, after partying all night.

But why is the New Year significant to us Africans? In many African traditions, the New Year is a time when there is much hope and expectation that the old year’s troubles will be past and the new year will bring better times, goodness and happiness, prosperity and greatness. In many traditions, our people sacrifice animals in order to assure a good future. Here, today, many of us who are immigrants pause for a better year, for prosperity just as much as our forefathers.
Last night, I called home at about 8:30 Eastern time here, 1 am, in Liberia, and wished my father a Happy New Year. He, at 83, was already in the new decade, already in the New Year, and I, living across the ocean was still in 2009.

This is the serious question however: what do you expect of this New Year? What was the last year like for you? Many will say that the last year was a difficult year for them. For many, there was the loss of good jobs, of relatives losing their jobs, and yet despite all, many of us for the first time saw the Presidency of the first black president in the United States. So, maybe, it was a mixed year for you. For some, their heartache was not just professional, but emotional, social, marital, etc. Whatever the year was for you, you are at this new beginning, hoping for a better year. I wish you the best. I wish you will receive all that is good and wonderful, that your home will be healed, and that you will draw closer to God. I am grateful for the thousands of hits this blog has got since its founding a less than three years ago. I am grateful for the hundreds of comments from my readers, and wish that we together can one day bring peace to refugees, immigrants, and all of the downtrodden of our world. May the sun go before you and the moon be upon your path in 2010.

Fall for the Book Festival-2009—My Friend, Gabeba Baderoon and I, Patricia Jabbeh Wesley Read at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art on September 19, 2009 at 2 pm

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Fall for the Book Festival Reading: Gabeba Baderoon and Patricia Jabbeh Wesley- Saturday, Sept. 19, 2009, at 2 pm. The reading takes place at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art on 950 Independence Ave. You are invited, and please, bring all of your friends.

THE FESTIVAL

Fall for the Book Festival 2009 began on September 6, 2009 with preview events, and will continue throughout the DC, Virginia and Maryland areas this month. Many great readers will bring their works to literary audiences through readings, discussions, and other festivities in libraries, institutions and other locations throughout the Washington DC area. This year, the festival is significant to me because my friend, Gabeha Baderoon, a poet, originally from South Africa and I will be participating in the readings as featured authors. Our reading takes place during one of the many preview events of the Festival. I would like to take this time to invite you to come and hear us read from our books of poetry, and enjoy the diverse cultures of Africa through our works. Our work will also surprise you because when you come to the reading, you will see that we do not only write about the great continent of Africa, but we also write about our experiences as  Americans and immigrants from another world, living in a new world, exploring all of the images both of our homelands and our new found home of America.

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GABEBA BADAROON– POET

Our Published Books:

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Gabeba Baderoon, here presenting at a previous occasion, will be reading from her collections of poetry, including  “The Dream in the Next Body” “A Hundred Silences,” among others. I believe Gabeba will also read a poem or two from newer poetry. Gabeba is an Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature and Women’s Studies at Penn State University. She is particularly dear to me because she is my friend and colleague. Over the last two years since I first met her, Gabeba and I have collaborated on various projects, including presenting on a panel on African Women’s Literature at the African Literature Association, visiting one another’s African Literature classes at Penn State talking on issues to our scholarship, reading together at other poetry events, among others. This fall, she and I will be part of a discussion on a panel with the African author and friend of ours, Binyavanga Wainaina, when we will discuss the topic, “Who Owns African Literature.” In November, I will be visiting Gabeba’s Comparative to read from my new book, “The River is Rising,” for the benefit of her students who are currently reading the book. Gabeba and I usually compliment each other in our readings, if you ask me. This is because my own poems and poetry reading complement the silences in Gabeba’s images, the beauty of softness of her language and the vividness of feelings her work brings to the reader. Where my images can be brutal in its portrayal of war and ruin, Gabeba can bring the softness, and where my poetry may often burst out with humor, she can bring calm and seriousness. All of this is from my own observation, but you will have to speak to Gabeba yourself or hear us read to know. I have read all of her books not because she is my friend, but mainly because her voice as a writer originally from South Africa is a necessary voice in this contemporary day of poetry, and because I believe poets have a lot to learn from each other.

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Patricia Jabbeh Wesley performing at the City of Asylum Poetry-Jazz Festival 2008

Our Published Books:

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Here I am  above, reading at another occasion. My books above include, “The River is Rising,” “Becoming Ebony,” and “Before the Palm Could Bloom: Poems of Africa.” I will also read from a new manuscript. I am shamelessly inviting you and your friends to attend our reading on September 19,2009 because unless you come, Gabeba and I will have to collaborate again this time by reading to each other.  I don’t want to say anything about myself because when you attend the reading, you will get to know my poetry and about me. The one thing, I’d say is that I am also a professor at Penn State, but I teach Creative Writing and English mainly, specializing in poetry writing. When you explore the rest of my blogging, you will get to know me. We are both fortunate to be among 130 writers from across the US who will participate in this important occasion, and it will be our honor to come hear us at the Smithsonian. Sherman Alexie is the main reader, I think. Don’t take my word for it. Visit the Festival site at:

http://www.fallforthebook.org/participants.php

http://www.fallforthebook.org/2009_FFTB_program.pd

———————-POETRY FOR YOUR ENJOYMENT———————————————————-

The Sound of My Name

————-              By Gabeba Baderoon

To step into another language
direct the breath
swell the mouth with vowels
feel the jaw configure itself around the word
write another script on the tongue

Russian
A woman learning Russian describes
the new inclination of her head,
her chest, her hands,
the muscular changes in the tongue
the way sibilance tightens
the upper lip
like bee stings around the jaw
the movement of air over her throat
a subtle invasion
taking possession of her mouth

Arabic
I teach you to say the first letter of my name,
a sound between g and h,
for which there is no letter in English.

Breathe in,
take a sip of water,
make a flat oval of the lips,
breathe out.
Remember the sound of the exhalation.

Clear the throat.

Between the two is the start of my name.

image

The River Is Rising

————————Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

a song for Liberian women

The river is rising, and this is not a flood.
After years of drought, the ground, hardened

and caked in blood, in dry places, here we are, today.

River banks are swelling with the incoming tide,
coming in from the Atlantic just beyond the ridge

of rolling hills and rocks in Monrovia.

Finally, here we stand at the banks!
Finally, here we are, see how swiftly

the tide rushes in to fill the land with salt.

Fish and crabs and the huge clams and shrimps-
all the river’s creatures are coming in with the tide.

The river is rising, but this is not a flood.

Do not let your eye wander away from this scene.
Yes, all the bones below the Mesurado or the St. Paul

or Sinoe or the Loffa River will be brought up
to land so all the overwhelming questions
can once more overwhelm us.

But they are bringing in our lost sister
on a high stool, and there she stands, waving at those

who in refusing to die, simply refused to die.

This is not a song just for Ellen. This is a song for Mapue
and Tenneh and all the Ellens there are.

This is a song for Kema and Musu and Massa.

This is for Nyeneplue and Nyenoweh, for Kou and Glayee
and Korto, for the once solitary woman of war.

This is a song so Wani will also dance.

This is a song for that small girl child who came out
just this morning. They are still seeking a name

to call her- a river name, a name from the water
and from the fire too. That solitary mother in flight

will no longer birth her child by the roadside
where shells were her baby’s first bed.

Let the womb quiver!
Let church bells jingle!
Let hundreds of drums pound, Klan-klan-teh!
Let men bring out old trumpets
so the wind will take flight!

Let that small pepper bird on the tree branch cry
and sing no more the solitary song.

Let the Mesurado behind my home or what was my home
or still is or maybe, maybe, who cares?

The river is rising, but this is not a flood.

Let no man stand between us
and the river again!

A TRIBUTE TO AIR FRANCE 447 VICTIMS- A Horrible Tragedy: Please Find those Black Boxes

Photo for possible web

When a Plane Crashes in the Middle of the Ocean, We Are Left Helplessly Grieved—


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Compostie of some of the victims. From top left: Neil Warrior, Jose Souza, Graham Gardner and Arthur Coakley. From bottom left: Aisling Butler, Jane Deasy and Eithne Walls Photo: MARK ST GEORGE / PA

May Their Souls Rest in Peace—

Two days ago, we awoke to very sad news that a French airliner, Air France 447 was missing en route to Paris from Brazil. Then not too long after that, news came in that the plane had possibly crashed in the middle of the Atlantic, that long flight between the continents. Now, it is clearer to us that those 228 passengers and crew, including eleven children have all perished. This is a sad day for everyone who loves human beings no matter where they come from.

Anne and Michael Harris, American couple living in Brazil

Anne and Michael Harris, Americans living in Brazil, Perished.

Dr. Aisling Butler of Ireland, crash victim (Ap photo)

Dr. Aisling Butler of Ireland, also flying on Air France

FRANCE BRAZIL PLANEGrieving family members

There is a somber kind of hopelessness to realizing that your beautiful family or friends who took off on one of the most reliable means of travel in the world have joined a small number of crashed victims in the history of aviation. Everyone knows that flying is safer than driving, and yet each time I board an airplane, I am aware that something might happen, and I might not get off alive. What a scary thought, but let’s take a moment to think of the numerous family members, and friends who have lost so many good people.

Air_France_F100

When a plane crashes anywhere, and so much life is lost, everyone is at a loss for what to do. The living simply can stand around and mourn, try to make sense of the senselessness of the crash. Those responsible for investigating the crash examine all the theories, search for the Black Box in order to discover the last signs of trouble and communication prior to the crash. The painful thing about a plane crashing in the ocean is the feeling of the lack of closure. There are often no bodies to claim or bury, and forever, one might keep looking for closure.

Brazil PlanePhoto of young, Lucas Juca of Brazil who also went down with the plane.

Photos of grieving families at the airports both in Brazil and in Paris can be heart breaking for anyone. Families can only comfort one another.

Air France as an airliner is a familiar plane to me. Twice, I have flown my family members, including my late mother and my father-in-law on that airliner from Africa to the US. I too, have had to fly Air France and its Sister or cousin airline, Air Afrique.

But I am a skeptic about all of the instructions given to passengers during the take off. Maybe this is because I have flown way too many times or because I know about the inevitability of a crash, and that most plane crashes mean a death sentence for most passengers. So every time I hear these carefully and legally worded instructions, I wonder how fit the plane is, how sober the pilots are, whether or not they have the experience to fly the plane. I often wonder if they have had enough sleep, whether they are paid well for their difficult job, and whether the stewardesses are also trained for any kind of emergency.

Often, I simply bow and say a good prayer for myself, the pilots, the entire crew, fellow passengers, and turn my life over to God. I have stopped worrying, but I still have my wondering mind about the connection between the poor world economy and the running of safty

In my own grief for the victims of Air France crash, it is my hope that the families will find closure, will overcome their grief, will cherish the memory of their loved ones, and will move on into the future. I also hope that the families and friends will work hard to make the French and Brazalians find the Black Box.  I hope the French government will not call off the search for the Black Box. Let them not quit looking for it. The Black Box will help investigators determine whether the crash was natural, human error or a terrorist attack. Planes that are equiped to fly across the globe do not just vanish out in the thin air.  I hope the French will not be clumsy about quitting the search. We owe that much to the victims and their families.

Let us conclude this reflexive tribute on John Donne’s powerful poem:

Holy Sonnet X: Death Be Not Proud by John Donne

Death, be not proud, though some have callèd thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which yet thy pictures be,
Much pleasure, then from thee much more, must low
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings and desperate men
And dost with poison, war and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then ?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

Say a prayer for these, will you? May their souls rest in perpetual peace and may their families be comforted.

AWP Conference 2009 In Chicago, Illinois, and I Am Thinking In Poetry: Read A Few Poems from Some of My Favorite Poets

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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.

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QUINCY TROUPE

dscn0705I 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

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

1.
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

2.
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

3.
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

4.
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

5.
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.)

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MARIE HOWE:

marie-howe

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?

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GABEBA BADEROON

baderoon

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.
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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.


_____________________________________________________________________________

CYNTHIA HOGUE

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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.

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