Poetry

OUR LITTLE NEW BORN BABY

OUR LITTLE NEW BORN BABY

(The Joke)

cannon fam 2.jpg

by Naomi Brown


I have a little brother,

He’s a new born baby boy

Such a happy, healthy baby

To the Cannons, he’s a joy!


As a child, he wasn’t lonely....

Seven sisters, five brothers, too...

They all made up the Cannon Clan,

Thirteen kids were in this crew.


They grew and scattered all around,

Our baby’s in New York City.

He established quite a following,

That’s why I write this ditty.


Steve is always on the go...

He rarely is at home,

Everyone wants a part of him,

He’s almost never all alone.


We wonder where he is sometimes,

Maybe Phoebe or Tracie might know.

Engaged in a lively discussion,

Can’t tell where he might go.


Checking on my email,

I was quite dismayed to see

That Steve fell down and broke his hip,

This is a definite concern to me.


Steve’s now in rehab, doing fine

Although his hip was broke.

He laughed during our conversation,

Taking it as his latest joke!


Do you know my baby brother?

Steve Cannon is his name.

But Steve’s not a tiny baby;

He’s now a full grown man.


He thinks that he’s a New Yorker

But New Orleans has a bigger claim.

His ancestry and genealogy

Both contributed to his fame.


Steve’s a writer and a poet,

A novelist and teacher, too,

Founder and publisher of a magazine,

And still he is not through.


He still puts pen to paper

But his pen’s in another’s hand.

Steve has been blind for decades.

This has never stopped this man.


He needs no tea or sympathy

His life is really full.

Steve Cannon is to be admired,

You can bet that there’s no bull.


“Blind Professor of the East Side”.

That’s how he is fondly known.

When I think of his accomplishments,

My mind is completely blown!


You think, “ That,s just Steve’s sister.

Who’s so generous with praise”.

But folks at “A Gathering of the Tribes”,

All agree in a thousand ways!



Lyricism, Dark Nostalgia, and Vulnerability in Willie Perdomo's The Crazy Bunch

The Crazy Bunch  Willie Perdomo Book was designed by Elise J. Strongin, Neuwirth, & Associates.

The Crazy Bunch
Willie Perdomo
Book was designed by Elise J. Strongin, Neuwirth, & Associates.

Willie Perdomo Public Domain Photo Credit: Oscar B.

Willie Perdomo
Public Domain
Photo Credit: Oscar B.

Willie Perdomo's The Crazy Bunch, snakes up on you like a twisting code of portmanteaus and allusions that exemplifies some early lines as told by Papo/Skinicky: "Bro, poems were falling from rooftops, flailing out the/windows; sometimes you'd pick up the corner pay phone and a/poem would be calling collect" (xiii). The nod to Pedro Pietri's telephone booth poems is not just a nod. It is documentary, for within the vivid language in this poetic bildungsroman, we are given back doorway into the very real poetic imaginary of crews that carry secrets to the death. This is not poetry about a world; this is a world that lives and speaks in poetry because there is no other way to decipher it or survive it.

There are three ideas that I explore in this review. The first has to do with its lyricism. Early reviews of the collection have made much of its homage to hip hop (Abdurraqib; Publisher's Weekly) and Perdomo himself acknowledges his love of the art form. However, I would like to pose that this collection is not influenced by hip hop. Instead, it records moments when hip hop is created, meaning that the collection reflects and records the phenomenon, the people, the actions that manifested hip hop. hat is to say, the work remembers that hip hop came from somewhere and it places the who, what, where, and why. The second idea I explore here is what I call dark nostalgia. We often think of nostalgia as sweet or bittersweet, often smoothing over edges and casting a sunset filter on memory. However, over the course of the weekend depicted in The Crazy Bunch, the look back is an excited frenzy couched in pool dips, fire escape adrenaline, junk food, high school crushes, and blood. T When the mix is gloomy, I argue the pull back is stronger. The final concept I explore is the vulnerability of our black and brown men, shown as a tableaux in what amounts to a poetic memoir. Right now, when so many African American and Latinx men are being shot, and then accused as an afterthought in order to justify these shootings, we desperately need a text that reveals that running boys with hard muscles en el barrio have soft hearts, too.

Some of us will read The Crazy Bunch and interpret one thing, but I swear that Perdomo's crew from back in the day will read something on top of, or perhaps underneath, the something the rest of us read. The pretext and subtext will be different for its varied readers, depending on whether you are from a barrio, or el Barrio, or whether you were part of the inner sanctum of the crew. Perdomo said in an interview that this book was a response to his homeboy Baby Los asking when he would write about their crew (Charney), and the poems themselves confess to us, "But there's some shit I promised to take to the grave. Y'all know/how that go" (xv). Regardless of your velvet rope status, the poetics communicate how this gathering of Black and Brown folk weaved "wild style" (3) and "masticated benches" (7) into the gold that became the world's rhythm.

The titular name of the crew was born on a day when two dozen friends were planning to "crash Josephine's sweet 16" and select members set up "a Florsheim guiso" or cooked up plan to get some shoes for free (7). The juxtaposition between the saccharine celebration and the economically-driven desire for kicks—both for selling and stylin'—sets the tone for the moniker. Skinicky, who is the central character, responds to Nestor's suggestion of calling the crew The Crazy Bunch, with a non-chalant, "Naturally" (7). Not, yes, that's great, or sounds good. Naturally. Yes, naturally because that is the beat, the rhythm, the vibe. The feeling isn't the crazy bunch electricity alone. It must include the casual, everyday acceptance of the crazy bunch static and its melodious crackle. Of course, naturally, that's just what we have here. Poetry droppin' everywhere.

Some of the poetry drops in the form of interrogations, which, unfortunately, are part of the locale's tapestry, but Perdomo's Poetry Cops are "Consolidated Poetry Systems," so in this imaginary those doing the questioning are the embodiment of word artistry. The neighborhood has come together to form an interconnected mechanism that brings together creative aspects of genius and wordplay, all to figure out what happened that weekend when three friends met their untimely end and left others with the puzzle. The answers are in the soundwaves of syntax. Dying too soon is an echo of Gwendolyn Brooks, reformed in the words:

Body Shot
Chop Shop

Black Hole
Myths Sold

Break That
Like This

Black Cat
Death Kiss (10).

House-heads will also hear Chip E's "Like This" remix spinning in the background as the friends wonder if they will be next. At this point, I remember, these are boys, the age my son would be, if I had one. Sons of nature and concrete, specifically sons of pineapples, grapes, and daisies (13), just the same as "cracks in planks" and a "rumble down a fire escape" (22-23). One begins to hope that the frutas are sweet enough to counteract the bricks that break the night (89). Nothing is certain except the pulse of language. When the barrio sages speak, even they say language is "a lemon running/up the stairs, a piano plink, an uppercut & a right cross" (90). Perhaps there is the salvation, the fact that here no one merely moves or speaks, they "electric boogie past that old hot dog stand" and "rock your Lees right" (25). Life itself must be a conglomeration of poetic action, in everything from naming your crew to the search for "Juice & Butter," juice being "a wink underwater,/a finger snap in a dark hallway,/…a club of coded fists" and butter being "leather bombers,/Virgin Mary medallions, Starfire/rubies" (18). Juice=power; Butter=the profits. All of it a campy painting of what it takes to create music when under pressure.

This dark nostalgia is perversely entertaining, a very guilty pleasure that borders on obsession. What happens when all of a sudden you are face-to-face with how dangerous your surroundings are, when you thought you were just having an illegal midnight swim with your homies? Perdomo writes, "We could've been six feet under for all we knew, so we hopped/the public pool gates, & swam 400-hundred-meter relays/in our soaked boxers" (91). This moment, three days, is all-consuming and it feels like a year. Isn't that what it feels like when you are shaken from the day-to-day to see what is actually before you? What has been taken from you? The first encounter with death is through Nestor, who was left so mangled on the crime scene, his "bile/the shade of old butter" echoes the power he would no longer be able to cop (47). The bravado changes here, Perdomo explaining, "Who was there to see what became of us at the touch/of blood?" (47). How can someone feel nostalgic for such moments? My response to that question is, "How can one not?" Anyone who goes through such heartbreak will become tormented by it. It will hound the thoughts, begging for a rewrite, as shown in the lines: "None of us wanted to exit this world without a sense of/procession" (47).

The series of deaths occur at the same time these young men are learning to shape their love. "That's My Heart Right There" explains to the reader that the phrase reveals a metonym for someone who is dear to you. Perdomo uses a prayer beat to explain:

We used to say
That's my heart right there.

As if to say,
Don't mess with her right there.

As if, don't even play,
That's a part of me right there. (37)

For young people who need to carve a space for tender sentiment to counteract the grind of the daily hustle, the reverence is not overstated. This nascent love in combination with the harshest losses is an acute trauma that results in "PTHD. Post-Traumatic Hood Disorder" (94), a trauma that simply isn't forgotten. However, the love isn't forgotten, either, hence this dark nostalgia that won't loosen its vice. The beauty within the tragedy brings you back even though the signs of logic flash, "forget." The view is distorted, "As in,/the best way to watch was the/other way./To see before they could say, I saw./You lean to the side & recline, only to see/Who else is hurting (69). And the danger is in staying in the distorted view of the past so that you might not have a future, as Perdomo explains, "The thing is, though, not to/stay behind &/take the Life/that was taken/from you" (73). This stanza begs the questions, who took these lives, and didn't a part of all the crew's lives go along with them when they were taken? One might fear that forgetting might be tantamount to taking the lives away again, therefore keeping the dark nostalgia by one's side is the only way to bear the past.

Which brings me to the last part of my exploration: creating space for beautiful, flawed, human Black and Brown men. How we need this space, and it is done here on their own terms. We do not want a space for the White Idea of a Black Man. We want to know that our crazy bunch sons, brothers, fathers, cousins can have a hand in being beauty's father (104), and Perdomo confirms it (although some of us already knew it, just to be clear; this collection just paints the knowledge in technicolor letters). Glory be to "A brother named Jose…[who] will tap out a happy hour blues with his rolled-up/Daily News (81). Thank you Brother Lo, who "was a story master, a library without a card, a cuento" (79). Let us remember that these men "practiced [their] lives in lobbies & layaway, ganders & goofs" and they "were god bodies…had God in [their] bodies" (101). We want to remember the wicked humor, the honorable struggle, the ritual and spiritual. Perdomo sublimes the memory into a vapor that we can breathe and feel, one which I hope will cause more of us to understand what is lost when someone is lost. However, it would be a mistake to think that the work romanticizes Perdomo's experience. No, there is great warning against forcing young men to scrap for cash, or juice, in this way. There is no way one can read this text without coming to that understanding. The reader is left wishing that every crew member had taken flight like Papo/Skinicky, if only to see each one of them dance to make a point (5).

All the words dance on the pages of The Crazy Bunch. It is a text I will be able to read over and over for years because of the unique language but also to help understand my own upbringing in a similar hood, Chicago's Logan Square of the 1970s and 80s. I know these crazies. I still think of the ones who disappeared and wonder if they made it. Part of me feels as if I found them on these pages, and it hurts to admit that this map shows me that everyone's story had a different ending.


Bio: Dr. Grisel Y. Acosta is an associate professor in the English Department of the City University of New York-BCC, where she teaches creative writing and Latinx literature. Her articles, short fiction, and poetry are published widely. She is the editor of the anthology Latina Outsiders Remaking Latina Identity (Routledge, 2019), which features over 30 Latina contributors from throughout the U.S. 

Mayakovsky Maximum Access: poems by Vladimir Mayakovsky translated by Jenny Wade

Review by Peter Bushyeager


Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky is a giant of 20th century literature who defined “literary rockstar” decades before the term existed. He starred in films, propagandized relentlessly for the Soviets, and ended his own life in 1930, feeling betrayed and exhausted by the Revolution he had so passionately espoused. His persona and life story are dramatic, but far more compelling is his poetry, which is vividly brought into the 21st century thanks to Sensitive Skin Press’s Mayakovsky Maximum Access.

The bilingual volume offers 24 of Mayakovsky’s best-known works ably translated into English—and with copious notes and an essay— by Jenny Wade. Mayakovsky Maximum Access is not a dry, scholarly book, although Wade’s keen scholar’s insight shapes it. She has obviously lived for some time with Mayakovsky’s work and has a graduate degree in Russian Literature, so she has in-depth knowledge. But she’s not simply a source of information. She’s also an enthusiast with a well-tuned ear for translation who wants to share and enhance an appreciation of Mayakovsky’s achievements. She makes sure that the hallmarks of this poet’s oeuvre— irrepressible passion and energy, pugnacity, melancholy, wit, and poetic innovation—come through loud and clear.

Deck the night with weddings of bygone days.

Pour gaiety from body to body.

Let no one forget this night.

Today I will play the flute—

my own backbone.

—from “Back Bone Flute”

Wade’s approach brings “Back Bone Flute,” one of Mayakovsky’s longer poems, to life. I’ve read this poem before in versions that weren’t quite as immediate as hers, and although I knew the poem was inspired by his intense, troubled love affair with Lilya Brik, I was missing many nuances that Wade’s nimble translation and detailed notes bring to the fore.

Rather than the usual symbol for poetry—a lyre that, in ancient tradition, orders the forces of nature—Mayakovsky chose the flute, Dionysus’ instrument of passion and madness, for his central image. His choice of “backbone” echoes contemporary Osip Mandelstam’s lines from “The Age,” where the poet “must bind together the broken vertebrae of two centuries” and “bind together the joints of nodular days with a flute.”

The opening stanza of “Backbone Flute”:

To all of you

who I love or have loved,

watched over by icons in the cave of my soul,

I raise my skull, filled with poetry,

like a chalice of wine before the table

matches perfectly with the final stanza, which appears after nine pages of linguistic and emotional twists and turns:

Color today’s date a holiday.

Come into being,

Magic equal to the crucifixion.

You all can see—

I’m nailed to the paper

with words.


Wade succinctly summarizes the symmetry in this way: “the chalice/the cross; the skull overflowing with poetry/the paper to which the poet is nailed.”

Wade’s commentary helps us realize that this poem, although passionate and a bit unhinged, is quite carefully considered and calibrated. Her notes also include the backstory of the poem’s creation, which adds a special edge. Lilya Brik, the subject of the poem, dutifully reviewed and blessed each ardent stanza as it was written!

Mayakovsky Maximum Access highlights each stage of the poet’s high-wire life. Alternating between all-embracing, seemingly grandiose declamation; outright propaganda; and desperate, pathetic loneliness, Mayakovsky’s writing was always ready to generate intensity.

In the beginning, he was an enthusiastic supporter of the Bolshevik Revolution; his innovative, iconoclastic spirit and aesthetic seemed to dovetail perfectly with Soviet politics. “Khrenov’s Story About Kuznetsk Construction and the People of Kuznetski” is one of his better propaganda pieces. It celebrates the heroic construction of a Siberian industrial city. Structured around the echoing chorus “Four years from now we’ll have a garden-city,” the poem talks about the Siberian cold and other hardships, and ends with the confident “I know there will be a city. I know a garden will bloom, when there are people like this in our country, our Soviet land!” The poem was recited to the workers to motivate them to continue construction despite having their hands frozen to frigid iron scaffolding. From all reports, it was highly effective.

Ultimately, however, Mayakovsky lost faith in both communism and his practice as a poet, became alienated and isolated, and committed suicide. “About Trash” presents his disenchantment.

Bourgeois threads have tangled the revolution.

… Better

to twist off the canaries’ heads

so communism

is not beaten down by canaries!”

“Unfinished”, his final sequence of poems, summarizes his state of mind in a poignant, understated way.

the sea goes away again

the sea goes away to sleep

As they say the incident is closed

love’s boat has crashed on convention [. . .]

Look how silent the earth is

Night has laid a starry yoke on the sky

In hours like these you stand and speak

to centuries to history and to the universe [. . .]

I know the power of words. It looks like a trifle,

a petal fallen under the heel of a dance,

but a man in his soul, his lips, his bones

—excerpts from “Unfinished”


Mayakovsky Maximum Access earns pride of place in my collection of Mayakovsky translations. For those familiar with his work, it offers added insight and a fresh immediacy. For those new to his poetry, it provides a concentrated selection of some of his best works, accompanied by commentary that humanizes Mayakovsky’s accomplishments by placing the poems in a clear context. This book is a key addition to the Mayakovsky canon for English-speaking audiences.

Captive

Maybe we all have a bit of Stockholm syndrome
The culture that has kept us captive
Is the one we emulate
Aspire to
Protect
Bleach skin
Straighten hair
Adopt their ideology
Strip dialect from tongues
Made mild of spices
To appeal to their taste buds
Fell in line
Even the ones we think speak change are a tinge too light
The safe kind
The ones that appeal to the masses
Knowing well who “they” are
They’re the ones that own your information
Own your freedom
Own your history
That’s why many pages left unpublished of an ancestors truth and troubles
Hurts and triumphs
To protect the image of the image we protect
Cycles of protection
Leave room for no reflection
Staring into false mirrors
Of stories altered
From the grace they faltered
See we can be blended as they please
Ripe for the picking
Time after time
We have been walking in straight lines for centuries
Fell in line
To gas chambers
To guillotines
To unemployment lines
To cultural genocide
When a white teen can mock the song
Of an elder
Glimpses of the past made present
Same story
Same players.
See on paper,
My name wreaks of rice and beans
Of Boricua beaches
I know what they think upon eyes meeting
I know some must be thinking
Yea you’re white yourself
Only seeing European ancestors
Like them
Forgetting my name
Forgetting the mixed blood flowing in my hands 
Perhaps I’m using this platform
This perceived privilege at best
Just so I can attest
These lines are thin
The thin lines between explorer and native
I guess I’m a testament to just how thin
Just how thin that line is
Between ignorance and embrace
Between the past and future
Between love and hate

Upcoming Fly By Night Press release: LIVING WITHOUT SKIN by Gabriel Don

Upcoming Fly By Night Press release: LIVING WITHOUT SKIN by Gabriel Don

This is Gabriel Don. Her light cannot be kept in a jar. Her words turn lead into gold. Don’t mess with her babies — she will G check you without a posse. She is Queen Elizabeth I encamped at Tilbury, she is Isis piecing Osiris together, she is dangerous and vulnerable and powerful. Powerful because vulnerable. This is Gabriel Don’s first collection and she doesn’t mean business; she means “Oh Henry you can’t be so clumsy with your cock.” Don’t let the politeness fool you.

- Sharon Mesmer, Polish-American poet, fiction writer, essayist and professor of creative writing

Dear Poem

fantasy-3471234_960_720.jpg

I want you to reach inside my chest, grab my heart

and squeeze it

until it shouts

so loudly, people turn to stare at me. I want you to dive

from the top ledge of my brain, somersaulting into the blue sea below

while Mozart

plays piano

and a million ballerinas dance and twirl under the crashing waves.

I want you to look me straight in the eyes and whisper the words

even a scarecrow

could believe.

I want you to lie to me in a calm voice and send me on a wild ride

through the heavens and forests, through the core of the earth,

into the third

ring of Saturn

until every known fact becomes a unique and colorful feather.

An urgent call in the second life

An urgent call in the second life

red rays of the unknown sun came down to my new window
warmly shiver touched me, made me laugh as a fresh baby
I decided to think about the source of these unknown rays
but, suddenly a kind of musical sound covered my ears
the sound did not seem like any earthen sound I ever heard 
it was a mix of waves dancers and creation of colorful bird
it was like a smell of honey and the secrets of gold

Nkyinkyim

Nkyinkyim

Sometimes, I stop. I know I shouldn’t, I should keep moving, head down, eyes down, back down, hunched, picking and pulling. But sometimes I need to stop. I see you in my mind. Tiny and warm. I remember kissing you on your forehead and holding you tight to my bare breast. I couldn’t give you anything else. There was none I could give except my body.

Danny Shot’s WORKS Works

Danny Shot’s WORKS Works

He retired, didn't quit his day job, one of the first second third generation immigrant youth pining for space, for more road, aspirations for a better life, "making it in America." The promised land, New Jersey, Springsteen, Patti Smith, WC Williams, Ginsberg, Eliot Katz & Jack Wiler, myriads more, all legends, where the ordinary is extra and the Average is Whitman's Divine Average.

Where Language Moves Like Paint: The In-Betweens of Randee Silv’s Wordslabs

Where Language Moves Like Paint: The In-Betweens of Randee Silv’s Wordslabs

          Randee Silv’s new chapbook, Farnessity (dancing girl press 2018) introduces us to a classification-eluding language event that she calls wordslabs.  A first read-through can feel both seductive and disorienting.  The content and rhythm of the first sentence or two might seem, often enough, to signal narrative, perhaps even fiction, but very soon afterwards, the threads start shifting so much that one has to wonder just what this writer’s up to.