Great Poetry Heats Up the Summer

That headline is deceptive. It promises safe, sundrenched verses--beach read poems. But the amazing poetry I've been reading this summer is anything but safe. These words open eyes, minds and hearts. 

cleckblue"I'm a black body in this Commonwealth, which turned black bodies/ into money. Now, I have money to spend on little trinkets to remind me/ of this fact...," Kiki Petrosino writes in her poem "The Shop at Monticello," from White Blood: A Lyric of Virginia (Sarabande Books). And in "Message from the Free Smiths of Louisa County," she observes: "When you search for us now, you find silence./ You may trace us back to a moment. No further./ We avoided the courthouse, the census, the bank/ with its clock, tracking everyone's time but our own."

Dionne Brand's epic The Blue Clerk: Ars Poetica in 59 Versos (Duke University Press) is a series of prose poem dialogues between a poet and her Blue Clerk, keeper of the poet's reams of pages--stored in bales on the dock of a mysterious wharf. "I am not really in life, the author says. I am really a voyeur. But the part of me that is in life is in pain all the time. That's me, says the clerk. You watch, I feel."

In her poem "Landing" (Passport to Here and There, Bloodaxe Books), Grace Nichols recalls her return to Guyana, the country she left for England at 27. "Homing in to my first-time landing at Ogle,/ nothing can stop my Demerara-smile..../ Not even the immigration officer, who flicking through my British passport,/ grants me exactly the fourteen days of stay/ I'd asked for, in the country of my birth."

And in "After Avery R. Young," included in The Tradition (Copper Canyon Press), Jericho Brown writes: "All land owned is land once stolen./ So the blues people of the world walk/ On water. We will not die. Blk music./ Blk rage. Blk city of the soul/ In a very cold town. Blk ice is ice you can't see." --Robert Gray, editor