Category Archives: Poetry

Revisiting Pat Parker (1944–1989)

June 2020: 50th anniversary of LGBTQ+ Pride Month and Traditions. 

June 2020: America again fought racism and police brutality. 

In these turbulent times, being non-racist is not enough. The words of Angela Davis are being immortalized—whether it be on placards or on social media posts—with voices rallying and urging for global awareness on anti-racism. By turning to literary sources, people are educating themselves about the systemic racism and the white privilege and supremacy that continue to reign today. 

In the wake of this enlightenment, it is only befitting to shine a light on Pat Parker, one of America’s most prolific activists and poets, who was not only black but also a lesbian. 

Parker published a total of five works, Jonestown & other madness (1985), Movement in Black (1978), Woman Slaughter (1978), Pit Stop (1975), and Child of Myself (1972). In 2016, Sapphic Classics published The Complete Works of Pat Parker which was edited by Julie Enszer with an introduction by Judy Grahn. The poem, “My Lover is a Woman”, from Pit Stop explores the dynamics of being in an interracial relationship with sharp commentary on the ostracization of queer, black women in society. 

The opening lines of the poem: “my lover is a woman/& when I hold her/feel her warmth/I feel good/feel safe” gives the underlying tone of warmth and tender love. This tone especially stands out when juxtaposed against the lines “never think of the policemen/who kicked my body & said crawl/never think of Black bodies/hanging in trees or filled/with bullet holes/never hear my sisters say/white folks hair stinks/” (Parker). It is notable how in just these few lines, Parker packs the complex themes and events of oppression, discrimination, and prejudices that caused immense anguish in her life. 

There is also the extensive use of refrain in the poem which lends almost a musical quality, and one can very well imagine this being sung by a church choir. For instance, there is the repetition of the words “I feel good/feel safe” which reflect the solace sought by Parker while also encompassing the depth and understanding of their love. In contrast, the melancholic refrain of “never hear my mother cry/Lord, what kind of child is this?” (Parker) brings out the lack of acceptance from her family of her identity as a lesbian in a time when even being black was a struggle. 

Despite all this trouble and turmoil, Parker still accepts and chooses to be with her lover. It matters not whether her lover’s eyes are blue and hair is blonde, for love itself trumps all. And isn’t love and acceptance what we all crave and deserve in the end?

Pat Parker was born in Houston, Texas, and after high school, she moved to Los Angeles, California where she earned her bachelor’s from Los Angeles City College in 1962. In the late 1960s, after two divorces, she identified herself as a lesbian and was soon actively involved in civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights movements. At these events, she performed pieces of her poetry and soon, she joined the ranks of great poets like Judy Grahn, Audre Lorde, June Jordan, and more. 

Bibliography 

Parker, Pat. n.d. “My Lover Is a Woman by Pat Parker – Poems | Academy of American Poets.” Poets.org. Accessed June 19, 2020. https://poets.org/poem/my-lover-woman

 

Amala Reddie

 

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The Guttural Poems of Billy Childish

With the world trapped at home, Americans have had their lives and communities forced into micro focus. Poetry is one expression of day to day life under adversity. Concentrated prose is a natural fit for moments that are small, honest, but also potentially ugly. An artist who expresses this reality like no other is the English writer Billy Childish, whose work examines the grit and grime of the domestic and the industrialized community.

billychildish-696x522-1Childish is well known for his poetry collections and longer form memoir. However, he has also had a successful career as a punk rock musician and studio artist. His accentuated British style with tweed, suspenders, and a waxed mustache makes him out to be a living deconstruction of working-class England. As an art school dropout and someone who lived on the dole for over a decade before making a living as an artist, Childish certainly walks the walk.

His poetry books are interspliced with original paintings and prints which create a modern Neolithic style, depicting sex, naked bodies, and misery. These drawings, which feel like neolithic cave paintings, make Childish out to be the artistic intersection between a back-alley addict and a Celtic shaman before the arrival of the Romans. Childish’s poetry is written like a primeval record of a cockney England in its most degenerated form. His writing forgoes the principles of the King’s English in favor of phonetic spellings in lowercase type with minimal or no punctuation. Stanza breaks and enjambment are the reader’s only guide to what feels like the ravings of a drunk outside an English pub. If Bukowski is modern masculinity unveiled in its ugliest and most honest face, then Childish walks that same path back much further to literary tradition of a decrepit England spanning back to the settlement of the British Isles.

His writing contains raw expressions of sexuality and violence. He writes in a poem titled, when the spunk hits yur in the face, “then this bloke says/ ‘ya nans dead’ n its the same man/ who raped you/ then it starts raining/ then someboidy makes yu nob sore/ then all this spunk starts flying atcha// then the bus comers/ but it dont go your way/ it aint half fare…” Childish not only fully displays the raw violence in life, but also a mundane ache and pain that comes with the grime of day to day living. This juxtaposition, combined with strange phonetical spelling and the fearlessness of his subject, makes for fascinating reading. 

The poetry of Billy Childish looks at the world with an apocalyptic glee. His focus and introspection is critical at a time when we are all confined to looking at the world through unwashed windows and bad news on the radio. I return to Childish for a connection with an ancient neolithic dread made new by industrialization. Though not uplifting, the poetry of Childish is certainly liberating in its unflinching gaze into the dark night of the city. 

 

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Seeking Advice from the Great Search Engine in the Sky

the-great-search-engine-in-the-sky

I was sitting in front of my computer, feeling stressed about a lot of things – how to balance midterms, work, internship and Halloweekend without losing my footing on one (or all) of those fronts. I wish I could say that I figured it out, some how striking a balance between these conflicting aspects of my overly complex life – but alas,  that remains a task for another day.

On that dreary afternoon my stressed, poorly dressed, rain-drenched self had no choice but to seek some other means of placating the problem without actually solving it. My first instinct? Ask the internet. A wise friend once told me, “if google can’t solve your problems, you’re in too deep.” And so I approached that all knowing portal, humble in my ruby slippers as if requesting the aid of the Wizard himself. “O Great and Wise Google,” I whispered, “is there any way to make light of these mid-semester blues?” The Great Search Engine in the Sky did not forsake me.

“Write,” our modern God commanded. “Read, be inspired, and produce an echo of the original creation – you have all you need inside you. Simply search, scroll, and the answer will reveal itself.” And so I did.

In my dutiful scrolling, I came across PoetryFoundation.org. Behold yesterday’s the poem of the day:

Dividend of the Social Opt Out

By Jennifer Moxley

How lovely it is not to go. To suddenly take ill.

Not seriously ill, just a little under the weather.

To feel slightly peaked, indisposed. Plagued by

a vague ache, or a slight inexplicable chill.

Perhaps such pleasures are denied

to those who never feel obliged. If there are such.

How pleasant to convey your regrets. To feel sincerely

sorry, but secretly pleased to send them on their way

without you. To entrust your good wishes to others.

To spare the equivocal its inevitable rise.

How nice not to hope that something will happen,

but to lie on the couch with a book, hoping that

nothing will. To hear the wood creak and to think.

It is lovely to stay without wanting to leave.

How delicious not to care how you look,

clean and uncombed in the sheets. To sip

brisk mineral water, to take small bites

off crisp Saltines. To leave some on the plate.

To fear no repercussions. Nor dodge

the unkind person you bug.

Even the caretaker has gone to the party.

If you want something you will have to

get it yourself. The blue of the room seduces.

The cars of the occupied sound the wet road.

You indulge in a moment of sadness, make

a frown at the notion you won’t be missed.

This is what it is. You have opted to be

forgotten so that your thoughts might live.

Jennifer Moxley, “Dividend of the Social Opt Out” from The Open Secret.

Copyright © 2014 by Jennifer Moxley.  Found at PoetryFoundation.org

I was floored. Sparked. Inspired. This poem said everything I had been thinking–not only was I stressed about schoolwork and my job at Starbucks, but I was also harboring a bit of nasty social anxiety (college parties will do that to you). And lo and behold, the answer that Google had promised me appeared.

And so began my little poet’s journey back into the world I used to know. In my grade school days, I would burn the midnight oil into the wee hours of the morning, a poem tugging at my sleeve. These days, sleep is so coveted that there is little time to waste it. With my upcoming writing assignments always in the back of my mind, my own personal poetry has fallen by wayside. That explains why I often feel bottled up inside. But then comes the problem of inspiration. Passing thoughts offer meek suggestions to write them down…but then it’s too late, and I’m on my way across town with no time for stopping.

If only I could sit back and breathe once in awhile, I could zoom out and focus the big picture instead of always rushing blindly from place to place. Still, I must remember that I am a work in progress. I am always pursuing self-betterment: with that in mind, the poetry will follow.

Margeaux, Intern

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August News/Poetry

Here at CambridgeEditors the pace is picking up. More and more clients are bombarding us with work which we love so keep sending in your writing, especially if you are applying to grad school or college. We know that grad school applications and college applications are just around the corner and we here at Cambridgeeditors want to help you.

If I remember correctly applying to college is stressful.  Now I’m applying to grad school and I’m convinced that I will spend the rest of my life living in a box on the Esplanade. Hopefully that won’t happen because soon I will switch from being an employee to being a client of CambridgeEditors.  Knowing that I have CambridgeEditors to edit my application is certainly helping me sleep easier these days, especially when applying to Yale.

So get those supplemental materials in and we’ll be happy to help you with them. To see more about our special visit cambridgeeditors.com

In other news, I realized that I’d been talking a lot about fiction and prose, but I’ve barely said anything  at all about poetry.  Maybe this is because I don’t write poetry. I’m no good at it, and believe me I’ve tried a number of times.  I only seem to be good at free verse.

However, I am a voracious reader of poetry.  From Ginsberg to Homer I love it all. However, my favorite poems tend to be spine chilling or goose bump lifting verses. So as a way to steer the blog in the direction of poetry, here is my list of ten poems that will give you awe-inspiring chills.

10. The Charge of the Light Brigade-Lord Alfred Tennyson

 

Tennyson’s poem about a military miscommunication between British command and cavalry at the Battle of Balaclava is awe-inspiring.  First you need to know the story. During the battle the light brigade received orders to rapidly move up the field though they would be annihilated against Russian cannon fire.  Remarkably they followed the orders with sense of suicidal duty. Tennyson’s poem reveals not just the courage and dutiful valor of the light brigade, but it also depicts the horror of war.

“Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,

Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.”

The poem is a wonderful mix of  gruesome battlefield causality and noble acts of courage, which makes it the great poem that it is. There is a stark realism that goes along with the opening line “half a league, half a league onward.” The price of following orders is gruesome but in Tennyson’s mind it is the noble pursuit of serving one’s country that allows the noble six hundred to still be honored.

9. Henry V’s Saint Crispin’s day speech-William Shakespeare

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers, for he to-day that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother”

-Shakespeare 4.3

Yes I know that this is from a play but the whole speech can stand alone as great work of poetry.  Even before I had seen Henry V, I knew all the words to the Saint Crispains day speech. I’m a bit of a sucker for great military dialogue, which you’ve probably figured out by now given my first two choices.  Speeches in war movies and plays have the power to move us in ways that other writing can’t.  Lord of the Rings, Saving Private Ryan, The Paths to Glory; all these movies have great speeches where the general rallies the troops for one last charge.  However, they all take their cues from Shakespeare.  There is no one better at writing rallying cries than Shakespeare.  In Henry V, he shows his finest writing with the Henry’s Saint Crispain’s day speech. The whole speech is pure poetry and will make you want to jump up with the rest of the fictitious British army before they charge the French.

Laurence Olivier as Henry V

If you haven’t seen Laurence Olivier or Kenneth Brannagh perform the role I suggest you go on youtube and look it up. Chills will go down your spine.

8. Ozymandias-Percy Bysshe Shelley

Besides being married to Mary Shelly, the author of Frankenstein, Shelly was a bit of a drama queen.  He was basically the perfect image of a Romantic poet.  A little nostalgic for a time he’d never known and constantly thinking about death and the afterlife.  He also managed to write some amazing poetry, including Ozymandias.   The poem tells the story of a traveller who tells the narrator about a ruin in the desert that once marked the power and might of a great king named Ozymandias.  Now the king’s power and the civilization he rules is gone with the only hint that it ever existed being the ruined statue.

Shelly’s poem is a statement on the role of art and poetry and it’s power to signify. While the actual king may be long gone his statue has outlasted him.  However, what power art may have over humanity is questioned within the line “Look on my works, ye mighty and despair.”  The line is ironic since the mighty statue has become a mere ruin, crumbling with the passing of time.  This poem is particularly chilling because of it’s theme of mortality and fading legacies.  We’d like to think that our greatest achievements will stand as a testament to our greatness long after we have gone.  Shelly challenges that, saying that even our legacies will crumble and be forgotten.  It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Shelly tried to commit suicide…twice.

7. If you Forget me-Pablo Neruda

“Well, now,
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.

If suddenly
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you.”

Neruda has a flare for the nostalgic and somber and he really shows it in this poem.  The words are hauntingly beautiful. On the surface it’s about two people parting ways and their relationship possibly ending. But deep down it’s so much more than that. It’s loss incarnate and sorrow within text.  While their is a happy sentiment of hope at the very end the feeling is that such hope of being united with the beloved is for nothing.  I won’t go much more into it because trying to translate Neruda’s poetry into prose is a crime.  I suggest you read this for yourself, especially if you’ve ever had to end a relationship  when you didn’t want to.

6. Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night-Dylan Thomas

“Rage, rage against the dying of the light,”

This might be Thomas’s most famous poem.  It’s another somber poem about death and dying that has such beautiful language that you will want to beat your chest against the injustice of mortality.   The line that gives me goosebumbs  is “Though wise men at their end know dark is right, Because their words had forked no lightning they, Do not go gentle into that good night.” The reason is because it highlights the inevitability of death and the very human response to fight the inevitable.

5. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner-Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.

Along with medieval honor and chivalry, I like any writing about sea voyages and pirates.  The Rime of the Ancient Mariner may be the creepiest sea tale I’ve ever read, mostly because it was the inspiration for other creepy sea tales of the 19th century.  The main story is that two wedding guests are walking along a country road when they are stopped by an old sailor who tells them about a sea voyage where the entire crew except himself died due to dehydration and starvation. It’s a gruesome tale about death, but it’s also a poem on the 19th century’s search for truth in art.

Besides the thematic content, the language is unctuous, it makes you feel like you’ve devoured a greasy cheeseburger and need a shower. For example, the description of a rotting sea and the ghost ship will make you shudder.

4. The Divine Comedy-Dante

“In the middle of the journey of our life, I found myself in a dark wood, for the straight way was lost.”

Yeah I know the Commedia is a bit cliche, but it still is one of the most chilling and beautiful pieces of writing that has ever been created.  The inferno may be the most well known section of the poem and it is truly a great piece of writing. The imagery of hell will give you nightmares.  However, the last section, the Paradiso, is utterly awe-inspiring.

3. And Death Shall Have No Dominion-Dylan Thomas

With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,

While Do Not go Gentle into that Good Night was dark and somber,  And Death Shall Have No Dominion is much more gruesome and forceful.  This poem also captures the human response to fight against death and the possibility of conquering it.

2. The Waste Land-T.S. Eliot

“A heap of broken images, where the sun beats, and the dead tree gives no shelter.”

Eliot’s masterpiece gave rise to literary modernism in the early twentieth century.  With themes like the fractured nature of reality and the lost generation, Eliot created one of the creepiest pieces of poetry that has ever been composed. The idea that modern civilization had become a barren desert of frivolity permeates throughout this poem.   Due to Eliots amazing ability to create stark images in the minds eye, the imagery of a fallen post enlightenment society is haunting.

1. The Tempest- William Shakespeare

Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again

  O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t!

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Yes I know this is a play. But there are so many great verses and lines in this play that I couldn’t decide which to pick.  For me, the Tempest is Shakespeare’s greatest achievement as a writer. It has drama, comedy and depth, not to mention some of the best writing that has ever, or will ever be produced.  It’s the kind of writing that will bring you to your knees.

Best regards,

Sandor Mark

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Springtime

If you’ve never lived here, the winters in Boston can get pretty unbearable. This past season has been almost shockingly mild (much to the dismay of people like my dad who plow snow for extra cash), but throughout my childhood growing up in this area, there have been some winters for the books (literally; in the winter of 1995 it snowed 107 inches). I remember when the heat would go out and my family would all pile into the room with the fireplace, hanging blankets over the doors to keep the heat in. When we ran out of fuel, we would have to venture out into the blizzard, shoveling a path to the woodpile; my mom would turn it into a game of Little House on the Prairie (in which she was Pa, for some reason).

I mention these cruel winters of yesteryear, because there’s one thing about winter in Boston that makes it all worth it: that first day of spring. Which this past winter robbed us of by throwing us 70 degree days in February. At the time I didn’t mind, but now that I think about it, I’m kind of disappointed we missed that first, significant day of warmth, made so much sweeter after a long winter. Everyone emerges from their dens, bleary-eyed, venturing forth onto the Boston Common, some even daring to take their shoes off and wiggle their toes in the new grass just because it’s felt like so long. And when you see the hundreds of other people lounging on the Common, with their dogs and Frisbees and happy toddlers running around, there’s such a feeling of comraderie. We made it through another one, guys. We earned this.

Everyone is revived by spring, and artists in particular have been inspired by it for as long as there has been art. Even moreso in the past, when everyone relied more heavily on the land and the seasons, spring has always meant the return of life and rebirth. I think poetry is one of the best mediums to capture the spirit of spring, because something about the (relatively, I’ve read Paradise Lost) concise form forces the writer to encompass all the emotions of spring in a short burst, which is sort of the essence of spring; it’s here and then it’s gone, turned into the long, hot, hazy days of summer.

Some poets do this better than others, however.

Spring, the Sweet Spring

by Thomas Nashe

Spring, the sweet spring, is the year’s pleasant king,
Then blooms each thing, then maids dance in a ring,
Cold doth not sting, the pretty birds do sing:
      Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo!
The palm and may make country houses gay,
Lambs frisk and play, the shepherds pipe all day,
And we hear aye birds tune this merry lay:
      Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo!
The fields breathe sweet, the daisies kiss our feet,
Young lovers meet, old wives a-sunning sit,
In every street these tunes our ears do greet:
      Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to witta-woo!
…Oh really, Thomas? Show me a bird that says “jug-jug,” “pu-we,” or “to witta-woo,” and I’ll show you a more effective poetic device. But in any case, here’s one of my favorite poems about spring that doesn’t involve bird calls:
Spring is like a perhaps hand
by e.e. cummings
Spring is like a perhaps hand
(which comes carefully
out of Nowhere)arranging
a window,into which people look(while
people stare
arranging and changing placing
carefully there a strange
thing and a known thing here)andchanging everything carefully

spring is like a perhaps
Hand in a window
(carefully to
and fro moving New and
Old things,while
people stare carefully
moving a perhaps
fraction of flower here placing
an inch of air there)and

without breaking anything.

Simply lovely! For a list of further springtime poems, you can check out the Poetry Foundation’s list here. I hope you let them inspire you to write your own springtime material, whether it’s poetry, or simply how you can tell that that bed of daffodils on your street, the one surrounded by a chain-link fence, is about to burst ferociously into bloom, filling the air with sweetness, and you’re going to get to walk by it every day.
Unfortunately, the turning of the seasons also brings the turning of the school semester, and since I’m graduating in May, I’m sad to say that as of this Friday, my internship at CambridgeEditors has come to an end; as such, this will probably be my last blog post. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time working here, as well as my time spent updating this blog, and I hope those of you who read my blog posts enjoyed them too, in all their silliness. I wish the best of luck to all my fellow aspiring authors out there, and remind you to always keep writing!
From CambridgeEditors,
Good night, and good luck.
(Just kidding.)
Katie

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