With exquisite wit, Eric Tran turns the dirty secret of being in thrall to the creepiest guys into a wrenching meditation about power and its inexhaustible allure. ~Paul Lisicky, author of Unbuilt Projects
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We are pleased to announce the winner of the 4th Annual Lucille Clifton Poetry Prize. Our final judge, Reginald Dwayne Betts selected: Ode to the Barbershop by Malcolm Friend. See his comments below:
“In these times of turmoil – maybe I should just say in America – the experience of black folks has often been relegated to one extreme or another. But the barbershop has always been something different: motley. Political and humorous. Dangerous and attentive to our vulnerabilities. Ode to the Barbershop captures that: “Call it oxymoron where to shed means to gain.” You hear that and recognize it, remember your last cut – maybe check your line up out in the mirror and make a point to visit the shop again soon. ~ Reginald Dwayne Betts
Ode to the Barbershop
call it oxymoron where to shed means to gain
dead weight of curls
falling to floor in waves—
this be baptism by blade or maybe phoenix reburst
birth by burn of razor and astringent where astringent means
yeah, your ass needed a cut and fuck happened to your line nigga?
thrown from seller to customer and
first time I sat in the chair was summer freshman year of college
I didn’t know the name of the haircut I wanted
stuttered something vague about taking it low and nodded
at everything Tony said in response hoped he wouldn’t
fuck me up would keep me fresh and fitted place where fitted
just means fitting in means what won’t I do for the benefit
of a lineup? means I knew I belonged when I said nigga
and didn’t choke on this this mutt blood where this mutt blood
means one time a barber laughed
nigga your light-skinned ass must be swimming in bitches where nigga
means I swallowed my tongue in response
and the bubbling in my throat matched the hum of the razor
Malcolm Friend is a CantoMundo fellow originally from the Rainier Beach neighborhood of Seattle Washington. He received his BA from Vanderbilt University where he was the 2014 recipient of the Merrill Moore Prize for Poetry, and is an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Pittsburgh. He is also a 2014 recipient of a Talbot International Award for writing. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in publications including La Respuesta magazine, the Fjords Review’s Black American Edition, Alicante’s Información, Word Riot, The Acentos Review, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, and Pretty Owl Poetry.
Review: When Kerosene’s Involved, Daniel Romo. Black Coffee Press; 2012.
The paragraph structure of a prose poem gives the semblance of narrative, whether narrative is intended or not; the reader’s expectations can direct the tides of creation. When Kerosene’s Involved, a collection of prose poems, seeks to subvert that—Daniel Romo’s poetics are ones of difference, of variation, of multiplicity.
Here is where I reveal my flaw as a reviewer. I don’t much read the works of any cultural diasporas. I read what’s on my bookshelves, what my friends recommend, whatever on my list I can get at my local indie book store or—in a pinch—Barnes & Noble. I am a white girl considering the book of a Latino man. From it, I can tease out some markers of Latino culture—Grandpa Manuel, Pancho, “…Chivas (which means goats in English)”, “…Baby Joker, just released from jail, thought I looked like a rival who hit on his heina.” Throughout the collection, however, the reader encounters the Spice Girls, The Young and the Restless, Cliff’s Notes, the Millennium Falcon, Rice Krispie Treats, and Hoarders. There is so much variety in the book’s tropes and figures that I do not read When Kerosene’s Involved and think, Latino poems! Done!
In Kerosene, I read Daniel Romo on every page. The narrative underpinning this collection is one of loyalty and honesty to the varied worlds from which the self originates and the multitudinous experiences that comprise and distinguish the self. The imaginative work in each poem shows a willingness to extend the boundaries of that self to explore other experiences and lives, or simply to create them for fun; Daniel Romo inhabits them all well and completely.
In the poem “Word Problem #37”, there is Daniel-Romo-the-high-school-teacher:
Train A departs Duluth at 7 a.m. traveling 20 miles per hour faster than train B, which departs from Sheboygan at 6 a.m. The conductor of train A is drunk. The conductor of train B is asleep. … There will be an explosion. Everyone will catch on fire and die. How far will the charred limbs fly when the trains collide head-on and create algebraic wreckage? Show your work.
The teacher appears also, enmeshed with the Latino, in the “Pancho” poems; these pieces are imbued with the sadness of the marginalized status of most Latino-Americans, a situation to which most American citizens would not admit. Consider “Pancho As Show Not Tell Mini-Lesson In The High School Creative Writing Textbook”:
He is dirty.
Pancho’s pores hold filth hostage. His skin is a grimy husk.…The ringworm on his back keeps growing and laughs at this attempt.
His clothes are ugly.
Pancho’s wardrobe consists of holes that house bits of fabric. His shirts were too small two years ago. His pair of pants can also function as shorts. His sandals are held together by masking tape and a miracle.
Pathetic Pancho stands in for the plight of many poor Latino-Americans, and the precision in Romo’s detail makes many of the poems vivid, poignant, and sad.
Elsewhere, there is Romo-the-satiric-philanthropist (“Donation”: “My almost dollar a day saves a starving Somalian. The pocket change jingles in Samboobwa’s bloated belly. Sam for short.”), Romo-the-Dodgers-fan and Romo-the-high-school-student (“Direction”: “I had no sense of patriotism but I was loyal to my Dodgers, and lab partner, Debbie. Even though she scribbled she loved someone not me all over her Pee Chee.”), and Romo-the-academe (“Thesis”: “She wrote comments on my eyelids in red ink. Ultimately I failed, but appreciated the feedback. Sometimes when I’m reading Cummings in the library, I drub my fingertips against my lips feeding myself the commas on the page…”).
Even when the poems do not speak in the voice of Daniel Romo, they are informed by his identity and his experiences, and When Kerosene’s Involved is all the stronger for it.
Won’t Be There
At 8, I want to be him,
wear his billowy coif
smidgeon smaller than his black halo.
Like him, I perform when prompted by adults
equally desirous of amusement
as I, attention,
do his signature spin,
wail his wail,
imagine I was born in Gary,
goin’ to Kansas City
as if I could spin there from Queens,
easy as 1, 2, 3 – I’ll be there.
I stop, look over my shoulder honey –
Grandma’s tenement building still rises behind me,
reaches vainly for heaven.
~for Richard Pryor
You didn’t tell jokes,
held up mirrors –
a comedic Langston
Profanely profound words
touched our core –
breathed through laughter,
Wendell Ottley is originally from Queens, NY, but currently lives in Durham, NC with his wife and three children. He has bachelor degrees from Shaw University in English and Accounting. He is also a member of the Carolina African American Writers’ Collective, and his work has been published in African American Review, BMa: The Sonia Sanchez Literary Review, Black Arts Quarterly, and Rhapsody in Black.
I seal my pain
in a cardboard box
stripe tape over it
in double layers
put it in the attic
under old clothes
and Christmas decorations
let it thicken
the air up there
so that I can breathe
Diane Judge resides in Durham, North Carolina. She is a member of the North Carolina Poetry Society as well as the Carolina African American Writers’ Collective. Her work has been published in Black Magnolias Literary Journal, 34th Parallel, Obsidian: Literature in the African Diaspora, Frogpond, Remembrances of Wars Past (an anthology edited by Henry Tonn) and Poetry South.
you and i
marsh and mellow yellow winds
chiming diatonic kisses,
misses and connections
slipping streams of saliva
washed up tongues
posing for truth
while bathing in lies,
awhile in the spot
you agreed of my success;
though I blessed your recompense,
my doubts like lilies dank and rank
rise with the phony phone calls of your morning cries,
but I love the lifts of love we tarry and sway!
whatever of perfection
predilections you mask are enough for a hand
Ernest Williamson, III has published poetry and visual art in over 400 national and international online and print journals. Some of Dr. Williamson’s visual art and/or poetry has been published in journals representing over 35 colleges and universities around the world. View over 1000 of Dr. Williamson’s paintings/drawings on this website. Dr. Williamson is an adjunct professor, Christian, self-taught pianist, poet, singer,composer, social scientist, private tutor, and a self-taught painter. His poetry has been nominated three times for the Best of the Net Anthology (http://www.sundresspublications.com/). The poems which were nominated for the Best of the Net Anthology were as follows: “The Jazz of Old Wine”, “The Symbol of Abiotic Needs”, & “The Misfortune of Shallow Sight”. He holds the B.A. and the M.A. in English/CreativeWriting/Literature from the University of Memphis and the PhD in Higher Education Leadership from Seton Hall University. Visit his website for more information. www.yessy.com/budicegenius
The basement of my heart is earth quaking
for poems to reconstruct me.
If I was a puzzle set,
would you be able to piece together my bigger picture?
No, I’m not a little house on the prairie
or a lake in the meadows; but maybe — just maybe I’m a barn.
My chest bared open
with children playing jungle gym on my rib cage.
I like to think that when Van Gogh painted Starry Night
he was painting the stars behind my eyelids
I’ve been desperately trying to reach.
Would you spare me the extra fingers to make it?
And if I fall short, will you look at me like a miracle in progress?
Something pending, like a Facebook Friend Request—
if you would just give me 20 seconds of silence
I can do something.
I want to cause you an out of body experience
and I won’t take “no” for an answer
because if you listen closely to the bass of my metaphors
you will hear the Hallelujahs that you are in the line breaks.
When I grow up, I used to want to inherit something of my mother
but I’ve long since noticed I don’t look like her anymore
and that’s okay because her voice box shoots daggers
through the hole in my heart that closed up when I was two.
The doctors say that my heart overcompensates
that it works a little too hard for its own good
so I’ve been singing it love songs
telling it that it doesn’t have to be good enough anymore.
It just has to be good.
There are people in my life that treat me like I’m breaking bad
that I’m broken and that they have to walk around me
Truth is, I’m slowly trying to break myself open
because I want to look like freedom is the most scarred of ways.
When I grow up, I want to be ground zero
so that whenever someone looks at me
they’ll sing amazing grace.
Shanice Shamzy Thompson more commonly known by the name Shamzy is in her second year at USF double majoring in Secondary English Education and Creative Writing. She is also pursuing a minor in Women and Gender Studies. She chooses to be identified with the gender neutral pronouns because they are not defined by the heteronormative gender binary. Through her creative works she tries to explore and express the human condition through deconstructing the individual’s effect on the world and the world’s effect on the individual because personal growth stems through relationships whether positive or negative.
And yours is the face
Cold steel circles
We are Adam and Eve
The Lights are flashing
On your face
And our last kiss
Is a sacrament.
You must have known the whole time
And the tears on my cheeks
Are a silent cry
The lights recede
You brightest of them all
With a last look, a wink
We could have gone so far
But you were never a runner
Without you, I slowly slip,
Of my own depressions.
Patrick Adigweme is a part-time writer, part-time devourer of knowledge, and full-time travel enthusiast based out of Portland, Oregon.
An embryo’s heartbeat paces
fast like the crescendo of a song,
an upbeat tempo.
In the deep of the night
a crescent moon is bent like an ear
as the heart quiets and listens.
Low murmurs in the secret dark.
You rest your head on my belly
and we spend minutes
whispering about our future,
about the name of our unborn child,
if he’ll have your nose and teeth
or my black hair.
A hiccup in summer gust,
a pause in lilac breeze,
a fetus’s heartbeat slows,
hangs on, and then
and that song we’ve been listening
to for the last eight months
a stillborn’s final breath.
Silence on repeat at noon,
silence on rotation at night.
The silence, turn it off,
play something tranquil for me,
of a xylophone
Melody muffles grief.
We can’t hear each other in the dark,
it’s easier this way.
And you’re crying like a man
who lost his son.
And I’m crying like a woman
who lost her firstborn.
The Hunger Artist
Hollow as a baby pumpkin,
a hole forms in my stomach
after you’re done scooping out
the seeds, slime, and pulp.
I once weighed fullness on a
supermarket scale, it was plump
as a melon, tipping the scale at
six pounds, 2 oz, but that weight
was aborted a week later and
emptiness felt like a glass of
tap water, half full.
In times of welfare and poverty,
you’re carving a grin on the
outer shell of a pumpkin, but
to be honest, it looks like
an upside down frown.
Seven o’clock before dinner,
I am reading about Kafka’s
hunger artist fasting behind bars,
shedding skin and bones,
and when he lost consciousness
in a cage stuffed with skeletal
straws and public scrutiny,
I wonder if he remembered how
it felt to be full again?
You bring me a bowl of rice to
fill my belly, but what about
feeding my growling heart?
I’ve tasted the sweet and the salty,
chewed the solids and drank the
liquids, but nothing edible,
not even two bowls of rice can
lift the unbearable weight of
emptiness from the heart.
Ha Kiet Chau currently teaches art and literature in San Francisco, California. Her poems have been published in many literary journals in the US, UK, and Asia. She also received nominations for Best New Poets (Ploughshares 2011) and Best of the Net (Flutter Poetry Journal 2012). Her chapbook, Woman, Come Undone is forthcoming from Mouthfeel Press in 2013. http://hapoetryblog.tumblr.com/
I am smashed against you in the stinking crevice
of a back room in some haven of skeptical antiques.
We ravel mouth in the gray of the stupefied past,
blot estival steam, slow-pump hips until stone
and porcelain quiver. We stop to stroll, affecting
a grasp of rhinestone brooches, we spritz our hands
with spit, scrub breath into grimy daguerreotypes.
We browse, sneeze, and sneakingly swap spittle
while avoiding the storming glower and bulged
cerise lips of the mammy dolls. Laquered mute,
they screech their awful lessons of Jesus and dust.
It’s On You
down a mountain
ripping your own body
open with the thick thunderous
fingers of weather. Beginning to die
is hearing growls at the paper gate
of heaven, and laughing uproariously at the gag.
The joke’s on you, tumbler, mountain climber, hurricane eye.
It’s on you, crazed searcher, almost angel, goddamned liar, bleeder.
I Bet You Looked Beautiful
when you were pregnant, you say, and again
I dream myself bulging with river, feel my calves
muscle with odd weight. You’d collect blooms,
raging chocolates, scraps of Neruda, to bring home
to me, where I’d lay on my side in our bed, naked
and amazed by errant flow. Sweet bumbler,
you’d make a mess of our bleached floral sheets.
I would carry your child unbridled, bared
to the horror, and then to the damned sun again.
Patricia Smith is that rare poet who has succeeded in both the
realms of spoken word and published poetry. A powerful performer,
she is a four-time National Individual Grand-Slam Champion
(an unsurpassed achievement). Her work has appeared in such
prestigious literary publications as Poetry, Paris Review,
Best American Poetry and many other journals and anthologies,
and she has been a National Book Award finalist for poetry.
Patricia Smith’s poetry collections include Shoulda Been Jimi
Savannah (2012); Blood Dazzler (2008); Teahouse of the Almighty
(2006), chosen for the 2005 National Poetry Series; Big Towns,
Big Talk (2002); Close to Death (1998); and Life According
to Motown (1991). ~ bio courtesy of Dodge Poetry