Breboac! Karrak!: Jack Kerouac

IMG_4153San Francisco Blues is a 1954 fever dream of a chapbook by beat writer Jack Kerouac. Its tiny pages, mimicking, he explains the “small page of the breastpocket notebook” are filled with images and half thoughts, observations and miscellany, fragments of dialogue and the occasional nonsense he experienced on the streets of the City by the Bay in the middle of the last century.

Divided into eighty “choruses,” San Francisco Blues feels immediate and unfiltered. Kerouac’s stream of consciousness puts readers on the street alongside the characters who populate his version of San Francisco.

There’s no telling
What’s on the mind
Of the bony
Character in plaid
Workcoat & glasses
Carrying lunch
Stalking and bouncing
Slowly to his job”

Those characters “stalk and bounce” the streets of the city, some:

Become respectable
In San Francisco
Carrying newspapers
Of culture burden
And packages of need
Walk sadly reluctant
To work in dawn
Stalking with not care
In the feel of their stride
Touching to hide the sidewalk,
Blackshiny lastnight parlor
Shoes hitting the slippery
With hard slicky heels
To slide & Fall:
Breboac! Karrak!”

Breboac? Karrak? Kerouac being Keroauc.

Others appear as groups, as in the 73rd Chorus.

Bakeries gladly bright
Filled with dour girls
Buying golden pies
For sullen brooding boys”

Chorus after chorus Kerouac provides snippets that stick. “Youth is worried,” he tells us in Chorus 9, and in Chorus 65: “The neons redly twangle / Twinkle cute & clean.”

And sometimes the images are just weird:

A young woman flees an old man,
Mohammedan Prophecy:
And she got avocados
Anyhow.”

But then again, for anyone who has spent some time there (in 1954 or today), sometimes San Francisco is just weird. That’s not a bad thing; it’s just a San Francisco thing.

San Francisco Blues is a photograph of a very specific place by a very specific eye at a very specific point in time. The eighty choruses are worth reading, both to see a poet making magic with words and as a window into a world now gone.

 

Continuing this year of poetry next week with The Wellspring by Sharon Olds.

Swirl in the Flow: Gary Snyder

In his introduction to Turtle Island Gary Snyder tells his readers that his “poems speak of place, and the energy-pathways that sustain life. Each living being is a swirl in the flow, a formal turbulence, a ‘song.’”

Snyder is a poet of purpose, a dreamer, a magic maker, a weaver of words, and a storyteller. He harbors an optimism, albeit guarded at times and tempered by reality at others, that humans and the natural world can thrive together …if we do our part, show our respect, and care for this planet we share with so many other living things.

turtle islandHe is also a poet with a clear voice and a strong point of view, the kind of writer whose work makes a good companion on a backpacking trip or weekend of rain at home.

I grew up in Oregon and have spent most of my adult life on the west coast; the landscapes and details of much of Snyder’s poetry are as familiar to me as they are to many who live this side of the Rocky Mountains. I’ve seen the forests he brings to life in poems like “Pine Tree Tops.”

in the blue night
frost haze, the sky glows
with the moon
pine tree tops
bend snow-blue, fade
into sky, frost, starlight.
the creak of boots.
rabbit tracks, deer tracks,
what do we know.”

I’ve driven behind the log trucks he mentions, and have met people like the old men he describes in “Two Immortals” a prose poem that isn’t above sneaking in some sly internal rhyme as Snyder introduces us to the ex-con and his traveling companion.

     His friend, in a red and black buffalo check jacket stuck his hand out, under my nose, missing the forefinger. “How’d I lose that!” “How?” “An axe!”
Texas Slim said “I’m just giving him a ride. Last year his wife died.” The two ambled off, chuckling, as Kai and Gen came running back up from the banks of the Rogue River, hands full of round river stones.”

That those people and places can be so perfectly captured in Turtle Song strikes me as something pretty magical. I wonder if readers beyond these rain soaked climes feel the same sense of place I do. I suppose some must; Turtle Song won Snyder the 1975 Pulitzer Prize. Still, it feels  personal when I read poems like “Dusty Braces” with its catalogue of “punchers, miners, dirt farmers, railroad-men” and the poem’s narrator, a “tree hearted son.”

There is a sense of purpose to Snyder’s poetry. In poems like “For the Children.”

The rising hills, the slopes,
of statistics
lie before us.
The steep climb
of everything, going up,
up, as we all
go down.

In the next century
or the one beyond that,
they say,
are valley, pastures,
we can meet there in peace
if we make it.

To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:

stay together
learn the flowers
go light”

And there is also a streak of something close to resignation. Addressing his readers at the end of “The Call of the Wild” (a poem that shares its title with the classic Jack London novel, and knows it, but takes as its subject something more human than London’s dog story) Snyder writes: “I’d like to say / Coyote is forever / Inside you. / But it’s not true.” I suppose the line would feel cynical if it weren’t true, but Snyder’s collection reminds us over and over that our human lives are, by our own choosing, at odds with nature. That we might overcome those choices always lurks nearby, but Turtle Island is a reminder that we aren’t living the clean life yet.

In “By Frazier Creek Falls” Snyder allows himself a painterly touch to the description of nature around him.

Standing up on lifted, folded rock
looking out and down—

The creek falls to a far valley.
hills beyond that
facing, half-forested, dry
—clear sky
strong wind in the
stiff glittering needle clusters
of the pine—their brown
round trunk bodies
straight, still;
rustling trembling limbs and twigs

listen.

This living flowing land
is all there is, forever

We are it
it sings through us—

We could live on this Earth
without clothes or tools!”

Sure criticisms about the veracity of those last two lines come to mind, but the sentiment, the same sentiment that led so many “back to the land” in the 1970s, carries with it a sense of belonging and a belief in the holiness of nature.

Snyder, incorporating Native American imagery, catalogues of animals and geographical features, and helping of Zen, describes our natural world and our human place in it (sometimes aspirationally) in a way that resonated in the mid 1970s and I suspect might resonate with a new generation of youth who look around and see a planet, as Snyder describes it: “Turtle Island.”

 

Continuing this year of poetry next week with San Francisco Blues by Jack Kerouac.

Making Eye Contact with Pain: Fatimah Asghar

If+They+Come+for+Us+cover“Every year I manage to live on earth,” writes Fatimah Ashgar, “I collect more questions than answers.” In her collection If They Come For Us, a powerful first volume of poetry that stretches the definition of poetry to encompass word heavy images that are much more than simply clever, Ashgar presents history, both her own and that of a greater world, and her work inspires “more questions than answers.” Movingly so. 

If They Come For Us opens with a note of explanation of the Partition, an event that looms over many of the poems throughout the collection. Explaining to any in her audience who do not know, “at least 14 million people were forced into migration as they fled the ethnic cleansings and retributive genocides that consumed South Asia during the India / Pakistan Partition.” But those are the facts, the poems that follow tell what happened.

In poems like the dense, haunting “Partition” Asghar writes of belonging and the lack of belonging. 

you’re kashmiri until they burn your home. take your orchards. stake a
different flag. until no one remembers the road that brings you back.”

The poem, the first of several simply titled “Partition”, continues with descriptions and reversals, ending in a new country:

…you’re muslim
until it’s too dangerous. you’re safe until you’re alone. you’re american
until the towers fall. until there’s a border on your back.”

That border on her back is just one of the poetic ways Asghar describes her history and her family’s history, which she tells readers “violence [is] not an over there but a memory lurking / in our blood, waiting to rise.”

Asghar uses her poetry deftly to illustrate those memories lurking in blood. In another “Partition” poem, this beginning with the line “1945: my grandfather steps / off a train in Jammu & Kashmir” she takes readers through more than a half century and back. It is brutal, beautiful, and encompasses volumes through couplets and short stanzas.

But these are not only political poems, or verse written on the subject of nations. If They Come For Us is just as insightful when Asghar turns intimate and accessible.

In “Map Home”, a poem disguised as a crossword puzzle, she writes “but still you insist on making eye contact with pain.” Asghar does just that over and over, sometimes breaking our hearts, as in “The Last Summer of Innocence” when she puts us in the shoes of a Muslim child in the United States “the summer after the towers fell or were blown down / or up & I watched the TV over & over.” Identity, puberty, belonging, and a thousand emotions universal to humans coalesce in two pages of raw poetry. Asghar is masterful at creating a world her readers (independent of their backgrounds or experiences) can inhabit with her.

Sometimes confessional, as in “My Love for Nature,” when she writes: 

…My love
for nature is like my love for most things:
fickle & theoretical. Too many bugs
& I want a divorce.”

And sometimes clever, as when the “Old Country” of one poem’s title turns out to be Old Country Buffet and the poem surprises with the topic of family not nation, at least not until later in the poem when Asghar, as she does so well, widens our eyes a little more and balances the universality of family and childhood insecurity with the sobering specificity she can see because she has had the courage, to quote from a later poem, to “pluck my ancestors eyes / from their faces / & fasten them to mine.”

Fatimah Asghar is a poet to celebrate, a poet to introduce to others, a poet to read and re-read. My “Year of Poetry” has brought me in contact with some old favorites and some voices less familiar. Reading If They Come For Us, I can say that Fatimah Asghar belongs in first category. Her work is really, really good.

If you haven’t yet read If They Come For Us, hurry to the bookshop. Asghar has collected questions and some answers (she tells us in a poem: “I collect words where I find them”) and her words are worth finding.

 

Continuing this year of poetry next week with Turtle Island by Gary Snyder.

Noun and Story: Jane Hirshfield

beautyThe Beauty, a 2015 collection by Jane Hirshfield, is filled with the kind of carefully crafted verse that has earned the poet a mantle of awards and acclaim rare amongst contemporary poets. In a year when I’ve spent week after week reading poets from across years and continents, The Beauty felt like the kind of book that should itself inspire such an endeavor. 

Hirshfield is a Bay Area poet, and having lived in the shadow of Mt. Tam myself a number of years back I like to imagine that I have at least a little understanding of the landscape in which some of her poems take place.

But sense of place in Hirshfield’s poems is hardly geographic. Hers is a world of unexpected focus (or focus on the unexpected) and insightful imagination. In “Quartz Clock” Hirshfield juxtaposes her work as a poet with the labors of a scientist.

The ideas of a physicist
can be turned into useful objects:
a rocket, a quartz clock,
a microwave oven for cooking.
The ideas of poets turn into only themselves,
as the hands of the clock do,
or the face of a person.
It changes, but only more into the person.”

Hirshfield’s musings stuck with me. As much as any single poem, her little insights and turns of phrase echoed in my mind all week. “My eyes went / to the window,” she wrote, “as a cat or dog left alone does.” And “It’s hard to unlatch a day / from noun and story.” And: 

A well runs out of thirst
the way time runs out of a week,
the way a country runs out of its alphabet
or a tree runs out of its height.”

The Beauty presents a series of small “pebbles,” mostly two and three line snippets that feel like Haiku gone wild, or Blakean aphorisms with less sharp teeth. The dozen in the middle of the collection provide a breath before the final batch of verse that encompasses much, nodding to physics and poetics, science and soul. In “Entanglement” she describes relationships in ways that make nature, including human nature, feel almost magical.

No one can explain it.
The strange charm between border collie and sheep,
leaf and wind, the two distant electrons.

There is, too, the matter of a horse race.
Each person shouts for his own horse louder,
confident in the rising din
past whip, past mud,
the horse will hear his own name in his own quickened ear.”

The poem goes on with the story of a woman in Beijing buying a metal turtle for her love. It is a story of infinite regression, or at least the peeling away of layers to the point of a single electron. Hirshfield’s poems do as much, word by word, deeper and deeper, making it impossible to unlatch day “from noun and story.”

This is a beautiful book of poetry.

 
Continuing this year of poetry next week with If They Come For Us by Fatimah Asghar.

Like Narrow Banners for Some Gathering War: Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks is a fabulous poet. Like profoundly good. Like name your children after her amazing. Mind-blowingly talented, heartbreakingly (and often heartwarmingly) insightful, and clear in her clarion call for a more humane and understanding world, Brooks’ voice is what our planet needs now.

brooksMy copy of Selected Poems is a paperback from 1963, so much of her powerful political work isn’t included in this volume, including her 1968 tour de force In the Mecca, though the final section “New Poems” hints at the voice that Brooks brought to her work up through her death in 2000.

Even in these relatively early poems Brooks’ range is inspiring. She knows her poetic standards, but it’s when she’s riffing on these that her verse takes on an even more interesting, complicated, and unexpected reality; a sonnet is nice, but there’s a boldness and beauty to a sixteen line poem has lulled her reader into expecting they knew what was coming, or a poem of a dozen lines that could be a sonnet if it wanted, but is just fine at twelve lines thank you very much.

Narrative, philosophical, intimate, and expansive, Brooks turns her verse to a multitude of purposes, inspirationally so.

Brooks takes readers into her characters’ lives in the poems from her first collection A Street In Bronzeville. Capturing the tension between expectations and desire in poems like “a song in the front yard” where her poetic narrator tells readers:

I’ve stayed in the front yard all my life.
I want a peek at the back
Where it’s rough and untended and hungry weed grows.
A girl gets sick of a rose.

I want to go in the back yard now
And maybe down the alley,
To where the charity children play.
I want a good time today.”

Brooks takes us down that alley, into apartments, and into the lives of people living in post World War Two American. Her poems look too at the changes that war brought to individuals, changes that wouldn’t be reflected societally for years to come. In “gay chaps at the bar” she brings her poetic gaze to the white soldiers who were first “perplexed” and then ignored convention when they served with black soldiers, who “looked like men.” 

…it taxed
Time and the temper to remember those
Congenital iniquities that cause
Disfavor of the darkness. Such as boxed
Their feelings properly, complete to tags—
A box for dark men and a box for Other—
Would often find the contents had been scrambled.
Or even switched. Who really gave two figs?”

Brooks is not trying to erase differences as much as she is trying to show similarities, and even as she does she honors characters and culture specific to the black experience. 

In an amazing narrative poem “The Sundays of Satin-Legs Smith” she brings to life a zoot suiter who:

…wakes, unwinds, elaborately : a cat
Tawny, reluctant, royal. He is fat
And fine this morning. Definite. Reimbursed.”

Brooks’ description is exquisite, her eye for detail profound, and the picture that emerges is more than just complete of Satin-Legs Smith, it expands to encompass all of us. “People are so in need,” she writes, “in need of help. / People want so much they do not know.”

Sometimes those needs are literal, as for those she sees around her in a neighborhood of people marginalized by society:

…men estranged
From music and from wonder and from joy
But far familiar with the guiding awe
Of foodlessness.”

Other times that need is spiritual or societal, and Brooks embraces those concerns as adeptly.

In “Riders to the Blood-Red Wrath” Brooks turns her perspective to the Freedom Riders and her poetry to the iambic pentameter of classical poetry. With attention to language, Brooks’ narrative voice takes on the elevated timbre of Milton or Spenser, careful with words even as she is bold with ideas.

They do not see how deftly I endure.
Deep down the whirlwind of good rage I store
Commemorations in an utter thrall.
Although I need not eat them any more.”

The poem is filled with imagery both traditional and unconventional in its use, and ends with a couplet as honest as it is heroic.

To fail, to flourish, to wither or to win.
We lurch, distribute, we extend, begin.”

Brooks echoes the classics again as she makes epic the story of a woman living in poverty, “The Anniad” a play on The Aeneid, Brooks’ hero more human than anything from Virgil. The poem’s opening lines are reminiscent of traditional cadences, but carry a rich intimacy the ancients glossed over.

Think of sweet and chocolate,
Left to folly or to fate,
Whom the higher gods forgot,
Whom the lower gods berate;
Physical and underfed
Fancying on the featherbed
What was never and was not.”

Annie Allen is a very real character with a very real story and Brooks’ decision to tell it using this heroic (or quasi-heroic) style is in itself a challenge to readers to regard the events in a different way than they might if it were presented in a less formal or established style.

Not that she doesn’t do less formal as well. In poems like “Mrs. Small” or “The Bean-Eaters” she tightens her focus to the beads and tobacco crumbs of daily life, and the result is as moving as it is accessible.

…and then, in case you’d forgotten that she was the consummate professional, Brooks drops a sonnet to show her poetic chops and rock the world.

First fight. Then fiddle. Ply the slipping string
With feathery sorcery; muzzle the note
With hurting love; the music that they wrote
Bewitch, bewilder. Qualify to sing
Threadwise. Devise no salt, no hempen thing
For the dear instrument to bear. Devote
The bow to silks and honey. Be remote
A while from malice and from murdering,
But first to arms, to armor. Carry hate
In front of you and harmony behind.
Be deaf to music and to beauty blind.
Win war. Rise bloody, maybe not too late
For having first to civilize a space
Wherein to play your violin with grace.”

It’s a poem that invites rereadings and reading aloud. If I still taught English I’d make it a lesson in and of itself. Here, in this modest post celebrating poetry, I’ll simply suggest reading it again, thinking through how you’d deliver the lines if you were an actor and to whom you would want to speak aloud the poem.

When I first read the sonnet, and an (almost) classic Italian sonnet it is, I thought of the rhythms of Gerard Manley Hopkins and the verbal complexity of Donne, then I thought better of comparing Brooks to those old fellows; she is her own voice, powerful and uniquely so.

Proclamatory, and personal, Brooks has the ability to echo from the rooftops and then whisper truth in her reader’s ear. “To be in love,” she tells us, “Is to touch things with a lighter hand.”

In Selected Poems that light hand rests alongside a fist raised against challenges. Brooks is a poet of depth, and her poems are like Satin-Legs Smith’s ties, “narrow banners for some gathering war.”

 

Continuing this year of poetry next week with The Beauty by Jane Hirshfield.

Time to Dream: Floyd Skloot

I’ve been a Floyd Skloot fan for decades, since, I think, my wife purchased a painting by his wife, Oregonian artist Beverly Hallberg, at an open studio event back in the 1990s and somehow conversation must have led from painting to poetry. The oil painting Fallow Field hangs in our living room and never ceases to inspire, not unlike the volumes of Skloot’s poetry, including Wild Light, this week’s walk along the path of my Year of Poetry.

photo (1)

This slim 1989 chapbook, dedicated to his parents (whose photos begin and end the collection) captures much of what I love about Skloot’s poetry. Personal, powerful, and precise, Skloot creates snapshots in verse of his childhood, and especially of his mom and dad, that are vivid and tell stories, stories not limited to his parents in the 1950s and 1960s, but that are somehow universal.

“The Price is Right” captures Skloot’s mother as she engages with hope, dreams, and a gameshow on TV. Guessing price after correct price, Skloot tells us that:

…She could do
nothing wrong that half-hour. She got the trip
to Florence, doublewall Amana range,
classic fox stole. Hardly daring to sip
her Savarin, she sat still in the strange
chill of pure luck…”

When the show ends and “Her fortunes left her as they always did” some of us are left with a familiarity of feeling and understanding of the fleeting nature of that “strange chill of pure luck.” A great poem, “The Price is Right.”

IMG_3289Skloot takes his readers on a tour of mid century marriage and the stresses and successes that echo the world today. Tension over his untucked shirt, a style his mother endorsed and he thought “pure chic” and worth to “make me fit / company for mother in / her flowing cape” but his father “kicked me in / the ass for failing / to tuck the shirttail in” fills “Ruby Foo’s” telling a story richer than any piece of clothing. Skloot knows a synecdoche when he sees one, and whether it is his father’s black Buick or his mother’s fireplace, he builds poems around objects and images that bring the past to life.

Perhaps better said, it is in poems like “The Year the Space Age Was Born” that he bridges his memories and our modern eyes with words that evoke a sense of how Skloot’s experience is similar to our own, whether we had brothers, experienced Sputnik, or listened to Buddy Knox sing “Party Doll.” 

“We shared a room” he writes of his brother, but “not what was in it.”

Now I often think of how it was
Between us when the distance between
us was years instead of miles. Light years,
we used to say, when our eight years were
forever. Now old hits are the same
for both of us.”

That sense of time passing is real in many of the poems in Wild Light, including “Evenings” in which he reflects on his own middle age, specifically turning the age his father was when he was born. It is a heartbreaking poem, Skloot putting his readers on the fire escape of his parents’ Brooklyn apartment alongside his scotch drinking father. “None / of the sounds below drowns his lone / curse brought down on the twin errors / of passion and bad timing singing / father to him there in the bright / moonlight.”

IMG_3290Skloot makes his father’s heart his own, both the heart that could fail too soon (and whose “swift death might / be mine”) and the emotion the poet feels “now that my grown son / has left our home to start his own.” His is an understanding born of time passing, family growing, and age holding up the natural mirror of shared years.

No matter what memory does
with him, my father is thinking
of loss. When he was home the light
dimmed. It was time to dream. He smiled,
but seldom played with me, had been
young until my birth let him know
his years of teeming life were done.
I think I made him feel alone.”

Skloot is not every father or every son, but he is enough of us to resonate like the sounds below his father’s Brooklyn fire escape drowning his own curse. Those final seven words of the poem are curse enough, recognized as they are by the son who has become a father.

IMG_3288Skloot’s own children enter Wild Light in the final half dozen poems, showing the energy and hope of youth in “The Stagger” and “September Fruit” before tying the collection together when his daughter “models the gown / my mother wore on her wedding night” in the poem “Vintage Clothing.”

This wild connection of youth and age, seen through Skloot’s poetic eye, puts us in the room “teem[ing] with apparel” from the years described when new in the first half of the collection.

I do not know
which one to watch—
the young woman twirling
through a shaft of moonlight,
or the doyenne in housecoat
who has clung to her finery
hoping for this very night.”

This moment of intimacy, not unlike the connection between brothers earlier in the volume, is palpably real, and for so many readers, me included, it speaks eloquently to a world too often made prosaic by stress, grief, or sadness. The hope that Skloot’s mother felt watching the Price is Right on that lucky day in 1958 is evident again when:

From the doorway, I watch
my mother coddle a burnt
umber heap until it becomes
the jumper she wore in Brigadoon.
She croons while she smooths out
its matching shawl and drapes
it over my daughter’s shoulders.”

One feels, however, that this time that haunting line of the earlier poem (“Her fortunes left her as they always did”) may not be true; she is there, her son near, her granddaughter connected with her in a way that may be fleeting, but is certainly real, and whose memory will remain always.

Skloot has a way of ensuring that memories like this do remain. His poetry offers windows into an often complicated life, a life that feels like it shares much with our own.

 
Continuing this year of poetry next week with Selected Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks.

Finna: Nate Marshall

I had started a perfectly solid post this week about Jane Hirshfield, a fantastic contemporary poet, and her collection The Beauty. I’d read and liked the book and was mulling ideas about how to approach writing about it for my “Year of Poetry” (an undertaking that, at its halfway point, is a mix of hurrying to keep up and reveling in the way it helps me slow down). And then, as happens from time to time, the gift of a poem from a friend knocked me off my expected trajectory.

He’d done it before, this former English teacher now site administrator, with a poem by Edwin Romond, and as I was sitting at my computer mulling Hirshfield, my inbox pinged an email he’d sent out to his English Department (once my English Department) with Nate Marshall’s poem “Finna.”

“Argonauts of Acumen,” he wrote to his teachers. “I came across this poem this morning and I had to share it with this group. My students would often complain about the amount of negativity in literature. The refrain, “Can’t we just read something happy for once?” was often heard in my classroom, especially with this district’s 10th grade curriculum. But as we start the second term, I am reminded that there is always room for optimism and hope.”

A link to the text of “Finna” led to The Adroit Journal’s January 2020 edition, where it’s collected with two other poems by Marshall, whose upcoming collection Finna is already on my list of books I need to head over to Powell’s to pick up as soon as it is released in August.

Until then… it was the poem in my inbox that captivated my afternoon and on into the next morning, both with Marshall’s explanation of the title word and its power: 

finna comes from the southern phrase fixing to
like i come from my southern grandmothers & finna
is this word that reminds me about everything next.
even when i’ve been a broken boy i know i’m fixing to
get fixed. i’m finna be better.”

…and the passion of his personal story as he wrote of struggles not uncommon to too many of the students who fill our schools, challenges that might go unnoticed, or unaddressed, like: 

…the day
my grandma died & my grades dropped & i was finna
not finish high school except i had a praying mama
& good teachers & poems to write. i’m thankful for all these finnas
that never were & when i remind myself
of who i’ve always been i remember why
my finna is so necessary.”

How important it is that our students are heard, told that their stories (and themselves, so closely connected) matter, and that we find ways as educators to ensure that this happens.

Screen Shot 2020-01-30 at 1.54.31 PMI loved that “Finna” was the poem that my friend chose to share with his teachers of English, a reminder to them that they are on the front lines of learning (learning not only English, but empathy, understanding, and so much more. Another friend once kidded me that English was the “confessional department” and while I suppose that friend was correct, I want to say: “Yes! And thank heavens a place like that exists) and that they have a choice to help cultivate a world welcoming to students like the one Marshall was when, as he begins his poem “so this one time i was finna say finna in a academic context / & a voice in my head said shouldn’t you be worried / about using a word that ain’t a word & i was like word.”

As educators we can do better than create this kind of doubt; we can instead pause, listen, and make a difference.

Marshall’s poem is a paean to purposeful optimism. His voice is true. His words are real. His message is one that educators like me are better for being interrupted by.

 

Continuing this year of poetry next week with Wild Light by Floyd Skloot.