Hey guys! This week The New Classics is switching it up to spotlight some short form work! There are some amazing contemporary African and African-American poets out there whose work reshapes the way we think about short form writing. These poets are all rewriting the narrative of what it means to be an American and world citizen, and introducing new perspectives rooted in their inter-sectional identities, and isn’t this the time in our lives–in our era–when these perspectives are so wonderfully impactful?
1. Terrance Hayes
Terrance Hayes is a steadfast name in modern African-American poetry. His accolades outnumber his works, each collection earning plural superlatives. His most recent book, Lighthead, won the National Book Award back in 2010. But the body of work I’m most interested in is Hayes’ American sonnets. These pieces take a critical eye to the American dream, exposing the thorns of its rosy exterior. This commentary is so crucial, so essential to this modern moment. While some families are being separated at the border, other families don red, white, and blue under a sky of fireworks. It is this dichotomy Hayes’ works explore, this haunting that accompanies looming power.
I lock you in an American sonnet that is part prison,
Part panic closet, a little room in a house set aflame.
I lock you in a form that is part music box, part meat
Grinder to separate the song of the bird from the bone.
I lock your persona in a dream-inducing sleeper hold
While your better selves watch from the bleachers.
I make you both gym & crow here. As the crow
You undergo a beautiful catharsis trapped one night
In the shadows of the gym. As the gym, the feel of crow-
Shit dropping to your floors is not unlike the stars
Falling from the pep rally posters on your walls.
I make you a box of darkness with a bird in its heart.
Voltas of acoustics, instinct & metaphor. It is not enough
To love you. It is not enough to want you destroyed.
I’ve only included one of his sonnets, but there are so many more! They’re all truly life-changing, so get to reading…
2. Thea Matthews
Thea Matthews is a huge force in the modern world of poetry. Her unrelenting strength shines insistently through all her prose. Her work centers around themes of humanity, grief, resiliency, and trauma. Her upcoming collection of poetry gracefully weaves together the language of flowers and natural healing with memories of her past and triumph over her trials. Catch her at MoAD in San Francisco this July 11th where she’ll be reading at the Community Voices series!
MARIGOLD | Tagetes erecta
Marigold with torn ruffles extends her arms stretches her fingers
she emanates sacral ways of a brazen orange & yellow
for the lost resistant spirits who only recognize her
they see their lantern through timeless fog cigarette smoke
shots of tequila. Marigold sees her father. His spirit floats
but the orange sun still loves him tries to guide his spirit
to the light
Check out her performance of this poem and others at the San Francisco Public Library here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PfR98tLc-Wg
3. Alexis Teyie
Alexis Teyie is a Kenyan writer. She is a self-proclaimed ardent feminist, a poet very aware of her intersectionality. She writes of languages and the boundaries (and boundlessness) between them, of mixed identities and complicated multi-cultural histories. She describes herself as a Marxist, so much of her work comes from this theoretical and academic lens. The product is forceful poetry promoting ruthlessness, non-complacency, feminism and action at all costs. Her work is some of my favorite on this list, so definitely check this one out!
Msema Pweke Hakosi
I don’t need a phone booth to be a superhero:
just an unfaithful tongue and a world
of uncalibrated axes.
This is my superpower: kumimina. Interstitial loving. Cross-caressing.
The Over-Lover. The Under-Sharer. Deliberate rubbing. Kupapasa:
reveling in the frictions of frivolity. Dreaming in the cracks of Kiswahili,
TV Korean, marketplace-livingroom Luo, unreciprocated Englishes, and see,
a little Sheng to slip through crevices, but dammit a lot of teeth
to make up for it all, for breaks in messages:
Alikufa jana. Ati alikuja jana? You’ve got my wires
all tangled. What I’m good at is inbetweenness
You can read more of this poem at https://jaladaafrica.org/2015/09/15/msema-pweke-hakosi-by-alexis-teyie/ where it was originally published. Her work is also featured in Omenana, Q-zine, This is Africa, Writivism, Anathema’s ‘Spec from the Margins’ anthology, HOLAA’s ‘Safe Sex Manual’ among others.
4. Kechi Nomu
Kechi Nomu grew up in Nigeria, under two Nigerian dictatorships. In 2017, she was a finalist for the Brunel African Poetry Prize amongst ten other incredible peers. A lot of Kechi’s work centers around themes of memory, and the collective consciousness of ancestral generations. She likes to play with moments of shared history and dissect the differing perspectives, the different truths that these events hold for different individuals. She also brings up the flip side of that, a kind of collective forgetting forced by a nationalistic state, an omission of fault or flaw. We are all manipulated by our memories, and Kechi’s work reminds us of this.
Note to the Boy Kicking the Stone
The boy’s body
to pick the stone
and you see how
his body too is a road
Once or twice
Here, a story begins,
5. Leila Chatti
Leila Chatti is a Tunisian-American poet, as her newest chapbook Tunsiya/Amrikiya might suggest. But not only are her nationalities indicated in these words; Tunsiya and Amrikiya are the Arabic words for females of those nationalities. Thus, Leila broadcasts her identity before her words, allowing tales of emotion and universal melancholy to map themselves onto her corner of the world. She writes with clarity, simplicity, and a knot in her throat. Her poetry is acutely concerned; it ebbs and flows with glimmers of hope, wakes of hopelessness.
Postcard from Gone
When you left I walked
into the ocean. Not to
drown but to be held
to let go. Don’t
make this bigger
than it is, which is big
enough to swallow
the blue, I was blue.
And when I looked
down, I shattered
so many times, you know, I couldn’t catch
a clear look at myself.
I’m Annie, a recent UC Berkeley grad and publicity intern here at Art + Deco Agency. I’ll be your resident blogger, chatting with and about emerging voices in the literary industry and getting you started on your summer reading list. Catch me here every Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday!