study the masters

study the masters

like my aunt timmie.
it was her iron,
or one like hers,
that smoothed the sheets
the master poet slept on.
home or hotel, what matters is
he lay himself down on her handiwork
and dreamed. she dreamed too, words:
some cherokee, some masai and some
huge and particular as hope.
if you had heard her
chanting as she ironed
you would understand form and line
and discipline and order and
america.

–lucille clifton (1936-2010)

i.m. Lucille Clifton (1936-2010)

A year ago this week, Lucille Clifton, one of this country’s finest and most beloved poets, passed away, after a long struggle with cancer. Given the magnitude of the loss — to literature, to poetry, to civil rights, even just to anyone who met her — to say it still feels like only a few days is an understatement. I only knew her for a short while, but even then she left a profound impression. In her honor, an essay I wrote a few days after her death is below. (This piece was slated to run in the Baltimore Sun — her adopted city, where she taught and served as Poet Laureate of Maryland for a number of years — but I don’t know if it ever did.)

Continue reading “i.m. Lucille Clifton (1936-2010)”

Liao Yiwu

Nick has put up a mention of Liao Yiwu’s The Corpse Walker, an incredible collection of interviews by a Chinese writer and dissident. I first came across Liao’s work in an issue of the Asia Literary Review, while I was traveling in Southeast Asia. I vividly remember traveling by bus from Bangkok to Khorat, in slow, gradual pursuit of the temple of Phanom Rung, reading this article. Each time my eyes drifted out the window, within seconds they came back straight back to the page: not just because of the interviews themselves, but because of the lengths to which they went to make the book. They’re nothing short of extraordinary. And a reminder of how much we, in the West, take for granted: the ease with which we write and publish, the carefree assumption there will be no knock on the door once a book has gone to print. Unlike Nick, I’m not in a position to comment on the translations, but he’s right: the interviews in The Paris Review are worth the time regardless.

Room 220

There’s a fine interview with Win Riley, director of the new Walker Percy: A Documentary Film, over at Room 220. The site is a brand-new arm of Press Street, itself a publishing house of no small repute; earlier this year they published the excellent How to Rebuild a City: A Field Guide from a Work in Progress, and threw a cracking launch party to boot. (For those not from the area, Press Street is a street that runs along the railroad tracks downriver from the French Quarter; it’s the traditional divider between the Faubourg Marigny and the Bywater neighborhoods. Bywater residents know it best as the place where you get stuck in traffic, staring at the broad iron flank of a train.)

Dark Mountain

I’ve just heard from the editors at Dark Mountain that they’ve taken several poems for their upcoming journal, Dark Mountain Volume 2. The first issue of the journal was as beautifully produced as it was powerfully imagined; I’m honored to be included in the second. In May of last year I attended Dark Mountain’s first festival, as did Abbie Garrington; their interest in narrative time, local knowledge, and political and philosophical communitarianism continues to strike a chord. They’ve just announced a call for ideas about their next festival — if you’re anywhere nearby, keep your August open. I know I will.