Saturday, July 30, 2022

Review: Verna Hampton's Sister FM Diva

 


“I’m a daughter, a sister, and a mother

Both grand and great

And I am here to enlighten, entertain, and educate”

-        Verna Hampton, What Is A Name

 

The poems in Sister FM Diva celebrate, sing, rap, bless, curse, revel, and ultimately reveal a poet who is devoted. This is a poet devoted to her community, to her love of humanity, to her love of justice, of truth. These poems are anti-apathy, anti-delusion. I have been encouraged by the poet Sean Thomas Dougherty who once said (paraphrased): I try not to use the word brilliant or great when describing a poet or poem, but instead try to look in the direction that the poet is pointing. With this in mind, it is clear that Verna Hampton is pointing to the human heart.

In these wild & savage times, with the new millennium not even mid-way through its third decade, this heart energy is needed. The poems in this collection are teeming with so much heart and soul, it’s nearly impossible to walk away from time spent with this collection and not be encouraged, challenged, changed; each and every time. At times I was inspired to weep, at other times I was filled with so much anger I wanted to break something. The poems in Sister FM Diva encourage sincere responses, it is clear, because they are coming from a sincere place.

Another thing I noticed while spending time with Sister FM Diva is that the poet is committed to the real. Verna Hampton is a poet of reality. She sees clearly the situation at hand, the on-going crises that human beings are faced with; and does not shy away from delivering her assessments as far as what is required of us, of human beings, in order to truly be free. As well, these poems are unapologetically Black. Hampton is a member of a cohort of Black story tellers, poets and griots with a rich tradition of truth telling.

While reading Verna Hampton’s collection, I was reminded of Wanda Coleman, and her one-of-a-kind delivery of her poems. When I first heard a Wanda Coleman poem recited by the poet herself, I had heard nothing like it before, and have heard nothing like it to this day. Similarly, I would be eager to hear or see Verna Hampton recite her poetry in a live setting. From what I can tell on the page, the poet has given herself much room for song, much room for her own human uniqueness to shine through—in a way that I think Wanda Coleman also wrote to ensure that nobody was as capable of delivering the power, insight, and beauty of her words like she herself was able to do. I see this possibility in Verna Hampton’s work as well.

I will also argue that it is largely due to Hampton’s knowledge, wisdom, and understanding of the past; and due to her being grounded, not unlike the grounding of a majestic oak tree, with its deeply rooted foundation in the Earth, in the present moment; which makes these poems so enjoyable, enlightening and entertaining.

I see Verna Hampton's poems as a reminder for these generations. In a world that seemingly continues ever spiraling towards forgetfulness, delusion, poets like Hampton, who enlighten in their reminding, are healers. To witness the truth of the past and present being told with so much strength and courage is a healing endeavor.

While reading Sister FM Diva, I was reminded of a quote from Jonas Mekas, who said: In the very end, societies perish because they listen to their politicians, and not to their poets. I hope this review serves as encouragement to those with open hearts, with open minds; Verna Hampton’s voice and poems are saying something we need to listen to, attend to, and carry within that sacred human heart-space I believe she is pointing towards.


To order copies of Sister FM Diva by Verna Hampton, click here.


Tuesday, July 26, 2022

TO BE A MORTAL THING



Rains move in from the north
and somewhere in my home town
someone is playing the final trumpet.
This planet has taken about as much abuse
from human hands as it can fathom, I'm afraid.
If you place a penny on the cool bent steel of 
railroad tracks, it is only a matter of time
before the thing is heated and flattened.
In the end you will have a neat looking souvenir
and only be a penny the lesser. All my suffering
has led me to this. To be a mortal thing,
one must shine in some brief and unmistakable way. 
Like glimpses of daylight receding across a puddle. 
The last funeral I attended was for a soldier. 
Tears and tears and tears and yet we still allow 
rich and greedy men to keep sending our brothers 
and sisters back home in closed coffins. I listen to the 
pitter patter of water against concrete blocks, a motorcycle 
in the distance, probably a Honda, faintness of birdcall—
love is in the air now—I'm remembering the last time 
I made love: we were too exhausted for fucking 
so we laid on our backs in bed, hand in hand, reading our 
thoughts to each other. For a long time, it became
quiet and we laid next to one another in the silence of night, 
I would squeeze my left hand, she would squeeze her right hand
in intervals to keep each other awake to the moment. 
We went on like that for hours, and woke up the next day 
hand in hand. The rain has stopped. Smoke pirouettes 
from my exhales, a lit cigarette, like a lantern surrounded 
by a phalanx of black crows gathering in droves, a reminding 
of the truth: darkness surrounds us and we don't even know it, 
the weight of the world.



© 2022 Daniel Cyran

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

EVERY MORNING



You look up and it's suddenly 4 p.m.
in the tragedy of lives in constant motion
in the heat of mid-summer, body & mind somewhere else
completely, a grasshopper on its hind legs 
somewhere in the tall grass 
an unintelligible prayer in its being,
humans and what they've made
of each other's presence,
nuclear fallout endless wars toxic oceans,
eminent catastrophe at every turn,
erratic step by erratic step
gecko making mockeries of the walls 
which act as barriers for
curiosities of the neighbors—
their lives too in constant motion,
their lives too touched by an endless drama of confusion,
it's been more than a few months since I've stepped outside
my own shoes, though light through the window pane
still does something wordless to my spirit,
the candles still sing, voices in the head
still console, what more can I say? Our problem
isn't too much desire, our problem is not enough
desire. Our species doesn't know what is needed and
on a macro level we're lost because individuals do not know what they want.
Give me a cup of tea and a cool shower in the summer,
and the thieves can keep their money tables in the temples.
I wouldn't be surprised if by 2032 every church bell on both sides 
of the Mississippi rang and rang and rang to no one at all beneath them.
Give me my lady's hand on a wind washed tree-lined street with our joys intact
and I don't give a fuck about celebrity news, whom said what to whom,
four-star generals, the apocalypse. While I believe the Buddha was right when
he cautioned against attachments; being in love is not for the emptied mind, 
nor is she meek. I've seen her lifting the same one-ton from the weight 
of her babies’ crying beneath it on this block each and every morning since 2009.


© 2022 Daniel Cyran

Saturday, July 9, 2022

SET IN MOTION (freewrite 2)


SET IN MOTION

Give my body back to the earth—
I will live the remainder of my life
as an ocean  an eddy  a canal  a puddle
a branch of oleander swaying in dawn's rainlight

The neighbors for the first time in my life
are crazier than I am
For the first time in my life I have
let go in the fight against my mind

There is solace in letting go—
Beauty is not a pleasant thing—
My heart is torn from my chest
daily, nightly in pursuit of it

Summers come and go,
cool damp grapefruit or
nameless thunder
or a flash of flesh and bone 
set in motion
towards numberless darknesses
like countless unbroken horses
drumming the ground with pure animal instinct

(Light is born millions of times per second)

I have come here to celebrate life

Turning back the clocks
Unlocking the windows
Opening the doors

Searching a warm wind
to lean this sorrow against
as the fires 
on every one of my tongues
begin
to slowly
vanish



© 2022 Daniel Cyran



*freewrite: a stream-of-consciousness exercise where the first thought that comes to mind is written down, followed by the next, and the next, and the next, without any interruption from second thoughts, second guesses or time for reflection.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Review: Owen McLeod's DREAM KITCHEN

 


Inflated elves give way to inflated rabbits clutching inflated carrots. Smiling toast. Water that was once the sky. Bubba is Lord. Reading DREAM KITCHEN is an enriching, life-affirming experience.

Owen McLeod writes with a child-like wonder and fascination that seems to be a celebratory exploration of language. Seemingly melding his own life experience and vocabulary with a dash of the imaginatively marvelous, these poems ignited, intrigued and perplexed my own imagination throughout.

Throughout DREAM KITCHEN, McLeod’s first full-length poetry collection, it feels like the poet is writing an invitation of sorts. The poet invites the reader to look at the world through his eyes, to see with his vision in the current moment, the current poem. These poems are remarkably inviting. With an unquantifiable depth of emotion, the way this poetic captivates attention, and rewards the reader with a sincerity in the humor and an open-hearted insight? Marvelous.

These poems seem to run the entire gamut of the emotional world. Curiosity, longing, joy, pain, sorrow, fear, ecstasy; it’s all in here. Some of my favorite lines come from McLeod’s ‘characters’ being set on a process of discovery. There is a running theme of seeking and searching throughout the collection as well. Such as in the final lines of MIDDLEMARCH, when the speaker’s son is fascinated by a chocolate bunny rabbit on Easter:

“He bit off the head and peeked inside,

Then wept when he saw it was hollow.”

Or, in SOMEONE JUST SEARCHED FOR YOU:

“I open the piano lid and crawl inside.

If they search long enough, they’ll find me.”

Perhaps the speaker is lamenting on the ever fading privacy which seems to be an on-going predicament for human beings in the 21st century. These lines conclude the poem in a way I relate to. Perhaps the poet is pointing to an intrinsic, human need for solitude. The very last line alludes to a kind of hope, and a kind of paranoia at the same time. I find McLeod’s lines complex at the right times, and simple at the right times. This is a poet of depth, of a range which embraces the often elaborate and complicated modes in which a humane voice finds it possible to spring forth.

The brilliant poet Nikki Wallschlaeger recently illumined her views of craft to me during a Twitter exchange. She said (paraphrased), that she views craft as a poet’s own authentic way of communicating in their own voice, in their own style, so when you read a poet, you know it’s them, there’s no mistaking it. I was reminded of this exchange while reflecting on McLeod’s work. While I'm certain there is a long list of influences and inspirations behind McLeod's poems, his craft seems to be uniquely his own. The voice, tone, and style are primed for deep listening. 

Reading DREAM KITCHEN was my second encounter with this poet’s work, so I don’t feel I have a big picture idea of precisely what may follow this collection, though this is definitely fertile grounds for a promising poetic craftsman to flourish.

I don’t know that I am ever capable of fully understanding what a particular artist or poet is doing. And I’m not usually concerned with understanding poems in this way, either. One thing I learned from, or rather, was reminded of, in my reading of DREAM KITCHEN, is to strive to see and appreciate where the poet is coming from, and to meet them there, on their own turf, so to speak. There is a great reward in meeting the poet on this sacred ground.

Certainly, writing poetry is work. And I think reading can involve work as well. It is an enjoyable kind of labor, sure, but it can’t be a one-way street. I felt like I was immersed in a world that was similar to my own, but not quite the same. A voice and points of view that were similar to my own, but with a tinge of difference to them. This dual feeling of familiarity and difference is welcome, cherished, and I am grateful to celebrate the gift of poetry with Owen McLeod as I continue my reading and explorations of DREAM KITCHEN. 

 

From the University of North Texas Press:

Owen McLeod’s extraordinary debut maps the contours of an ordinary life: the rise and fall of romantic love, the struggle against mental illness, and the unending quest for meaning and transcendence. Ranging from sonnets and sestinas to experimental forms, these poems are unified by their musicality, devotion to craft, and openness of heart.

Owen McLeod’s DREAM KITCHEN is the Winner of the 2018 Vassar Miller Prize in Poetry


To purchase copies of DREAM KITCHEN, via University of North Texas Press, click here.


Friday, June 24, 2022

MAN BECOMES


I walk with Mount Lemon and
feel small in my own witness
wandering past ant hills lines of ants
two wide thousands long
coming & going beneath the lonely star
red bodies on fire eyes miniscule
beads of time burning crawling
beneath my vision in the 
midst of Mount Lemon's shadow.

The dance of bats in midnight 
moonlight man becomes a stoking something
else entirely I become an image embraced by water
and light therefore animated with the motion
and rhythm of the living. There are many
ways to make a fist many ways to listen
to the heart's music beating brightly 
torn from my chest by finch feathering 
the fence line three times every hour.

If we are to be anything
let us be this journey. No gods
to ask thanking this one life,
all living beings sustained 
by the natural flow and rhythm
of living breathing vibration, 
clouds passing in the night.



© 2022 Daniel Cyran

Monday, June 20, 2022

Poem for Giorgia Pavlidou

 INTO THE VOID
for Giorgia Pavlidou

 
When I think I've found the truth my gecko eyes explode with laughter.
This world is born & dies & is reborn & dies & is reborn on a hinge of my very humane eyelids.
The clock is always hungry.
I tried to feed time to the river but the river rejected time.
You will starve, I said.
You're drowning in air, the river said.
Still thinking about a hallucination I saw when I was -3,000 years old.
I have often wished to escape myself.
My face before I was born is now another moon orbiting Jupiter.
I sleep with Cygnus in my ears & awaken to stardust in my pillowcase.
A sign in the park reads "Do not feed the birds" but there are no birds.
It's only a man & a woman dancing in circles on the grass, unchaining the earth from its orbit with each step.
Somewhere this universe is sitting on a shelf next to a pair of maracas & an accordion.
A crowded dancehall on the tip of the tongue.
If you knew everything that has ever happened & everything that will ever happen, would life be easier or harder?
The otherside is often misunderstood.
There are thousands & thousands of suns in the sky tonight & they're all held together by kite string & super glue.
The next time I get drunk in a cemetery I'm going to stay there forever.
Last night my heart was torn out of body by a pigeon looking down from a telephone wire.
The last time I saw an orb of light in a stranger's chest I walked to school uphill both ways with rain clouds in my shoes.
My dreams have been serious blunders ever since coyote took that vow of silence.
Now days I rely on these mountains to evolve my languages.
Things haven't been the same since the invention of the wheel.



© 2022 Daniel Cyran