April is National Poetry Month! Check out the work of these local poets.
Black Seeds is the work of poet and activist Tariq Toure, who takes a personal approach as he reflects on the circumstances of the Freddie Grey protests and the discord that followed. You may recognize some of the poems, which were previously published in the Baltimore City Paper. Toure is keenly aware of the societal rifts that caused the incident and seeks to bridge these striations with his writing. The intensity of his call to action is honed with intimate details drawn from Toure’s everyday life, occasionally diverting into simple reveries akin to William Carlos Williams’ work, which drives home how much personal impact such events hold. The poems are interspersed with photos of Toure’s community that are so candid they seem like they belong in a family photo album.
It Shouldn’t Have Been Beautiful is the latest chapbook from Lia Purpura, a writer in residence at the University of Maryland. Purpura’s poems are intimate reflections on the poignancy of nature and how new technologies have only increased the sensation of ephemerality in life. There is a very scientific approach taken to describing her subjects, honing in on the microscopic details of her impressions like a lepidopterist examining their collection. She revels in introspection, transforming the quotidian details into transcendental experiences.
If you are a prose lover apprehensive of taking on the wilds of poetry, Poetic Meter and Form by Octavia Wynne is a helpful crash course in the medium. Wynne explains the fundamental elements of poetry in two pages and then breaks down how these elements are manipulated with different poetic devices and styles. It is easy to skip to a particular section if you’re looking for information on a specific device or to look up a definition in the glossary. The text is peppered with numerous examples of the terms described, including many works from one of the greatest of poets of all time, Dr. Seuss.
Baltimore native Ta-Nehisi Coates capped a remarkable year last night when he won the National Book Award for nonfiction for Between the World and Me, a frank narrative outlining his experience as a black man in America. Coates received a standing ovation from the crowd at Cipriani Wall Street and told the audience, “I wanted to make racism tactile, visceral. Because it is.” Coates wrote the memoir as a letter to his teenage son and dedicated last night’s award to Prince Jones, a classmate from Howard University who was killed by a police officer while unarmed. Coates’ award-winning title has been selected as the adult nonfiction title in Baltimore County’s inaugural community-wide read, BC Reads, coming in April.
Adam Johnson won the fiction award for Fortune Smiles, a collection of short stories dealing with a wide range of global subjects. The award for young people’s literature was given to Neal Shusterman’s Challenger Deep, a novel about a mentally ill teenager inspired by Shusterman’s son. Robin Coste Lewis won the poetry award for her debut collection Voyage of the Sable Venus, an exploration of race, gender and identity.
The National Book Award, which was established in 1950, has been awarded to some of the country’s most celebrated authors, including William Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy and Lillian Hellman. Presented by the National Book Foundation, the awards were open to American authors who published books from December 1, 2014, to November 30, 2015. The prizes were presented at a black-tie dinner, and all four winners will receive $10,000. Watch the entire ceremony, including all of the winners' acceptance speeches here.
Congratulations to Marlon James who won the Man Booker Prize last night in London for his novel A Brief History of Seven Killings. James is the first Jamaican author to win the prestigious award which promotes the finest in fiction and comes with a £50,000 prize. Spanning three decades, the novelist was inspired by the true story of the attempt on the life of reggae star Bob Marley to explore the unsettled world of Jamaican gangs and politics. The Guardian calls the winning novel “an epic, uncompromising novel not for the faint of heart. It brims with shocking gang violence, swearing, graphic sex, drug crime but also, said the judges, a lot of laughs.”
The National Book Award finalists were announced today. The winners will be announced on November 18th.
Young People's Literature
Today, the world lost Maya Angelou. Yet we will never lose the irreplaceable voice she used to shape our world to make it a more compassionate and stronger place.
She is most widely known for her first memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, in which she reveals the hardships she endured being both an African-American and a girl in the Jim Crow South. In her memoirs, she expresses such complicated themes as race, identity and womanhood in an honest style that illuminates the human condition. In her last book, Mom & Me & Mom, Angelou investigated the loving yet complex relationship she had with her robust mother, an exceptional person in her own right.
Along with telling her own story, Angelou used her unique voice in other transformative ways. She was a poet. Her stimulating poetry is gathered in The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou. She was a singer, a dancer, an educator and her voice continues to reach far beyond the literary realm. Angelou was a vigorous civil rights advocate, working alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Multiple presidents honored her linguistic power by having her speak as the heart of the nation. In her words and throughout her life, Angelou proved "one isn't necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can't be kind, true, merciful, generous or honest." She embodied these virtues and instilled them in others, to the benefit of us all.
Winners of the 64th annual National Book Awards were announced last night at a black-tie dinner held at Cipriani Wall Street. This morning, the literary world is abuzz about James McBride’s win in the Fiction category for his novel The Good Lord Bird. With a strong list of finalists, many considered McBride’s novel to be an underdog. McBride seemed shocked by the win. He shared that writing the novel became an escape for him during a difficult season of his life. McBride also expressed his pleasure about the win, remarking, “Had Rachel Kushner or Jhumpa Lahiri or Thomas Pynchon or George Saunders won tonight, I wouldn’t have felt bad because they are fine writers, but it sure is nice to get it.”
Mary Szybist was presented with the Poetry Award for Incarnadine: Poems, her second collection of poetry. The award for Young People’s Literature was given to Cynthia Kadohata for her novel The Thing About Luck. George Packer’s The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America won the award for Nonfiction.
Congratulations to all the winners!
Acclaimed poet Mary Oliver, winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in poetry, celebrates the dogs she has loved with words of tender care on each page of Dog Songs. Pet owners and animal lovers alike will find a kindred spirit in the voice of Oliver, who has immortalized her wooly confidantes with compassion and humor in a tone reminiscent of the veterinarian memoirist, James Herriot.
Oliver is known for her elegant treatment of the natural world but Dog Songs reveals a rare and intimately domestic side to the poet’s heart. She invites us into her home and introduces us to the cherished pets of her past and present like the unforgettable souls of Bear, Luke, Benjamin and Percy. Whether on a long walk, down at the surf or curled on a couch, each dog’s personality radiates with bliss and, at times, secretive wisdom.
However, we are not spared the pain that unavoidably comes with loving a life outside your own. While grieving in the poem “Her Grave,” Oliver addresses her lost friend by asking “How strong was her dark body!/ How apt is her grave place./ How beautiful is her unshakeable sleep./ Finally,/ the slick mountains of love break/ over us.” Too often the death of a pet is portrayed as an unimaginable horror but Oliver offers a holistic alternative where heartbreak and light might linger. Although devastated, she holds onto the love she has shared with her fallen friend and stands in awe of the animal who has brought her such joy, warmth and spiritual fullness.
Lifelong fans of Oliver, acclaimed for Why I Wake Early, Red Bird and Thirst, will find this both a gratifying and surprising addition to her life’s work. The narrative tone of these portraits, accompanied with gentle line drawings, make this collection appealing to non-poetry readers as well.
You wouldn’t think that the expanding universe, the glam-enigma of David Bowie, and the grief for a father could all be explored in one collection of poetry, however, Tracy K. Smith has done just that in her latest collection Life on Mars. In her poem “Don’t You Wonder Sometimes?” Smith contemplates The future isn’t what is used to be. "Even Bowie thirsts/ For something good and cold. Jets blink across the sky/ Like migratory souls." Smith addresses pivotal world events with rage and amazement, from Abu Ghraib prison to the D.C. Holocaust Memorial Museum shootings. Each poem is an odd and strikingly unfeigned examination yet, when read as a whole, the collection serves as a journey of intergalactic magnitude.
Slow Lightning by Eduardo C. Corral, 2011 recipient of the Yale Series of Younger Poets award, is a seemingly effortless yet complex interweaving of Spanish and English that challenges both literal and linguistic borders. This undaunted Latino voice contorts the boundaries of sexuality, immigration, and cultural consciousness. Each unexpected word crackles. "My right hand/ a pistol. My left/ automatic. I’m knocking/ on every door./ I’m coming on strong,/ like a missionary./ I’m kicking back/ my legs, like a mule. I’m kicking up/ my legs, like/ a show girl." If you’re looking for unflinching poetry that writhes across the page, this ruggedly poignant collection shouldn’t be missed.
Crazy Brave is a lyrical coming-of-age memoir by leading Native American poet and musician, Joy Harjo. Born in 1950’s Tulsa, Oklahoma, Harjo recalls her early struggles with an abusive stepfather, her seminal years at the Institute of American Indian Arts high school in Santa Fe, and her personal journey of inspiration. Harjo, a Muscogee (Creek) Native American, interlaces brute realism with tribal myths to create a haunting variation of the American dream. From the jazz of Miles Davis to transcendental memories of her ancestors, this slim but eloquently raw autobiography has wide readership appeal for those interested in the process of creativity, social injustice, U.S. history, and women’s rights.