Here’s me entering an MFA program in 2008 because I thought I wanted to write fiction. Here’s me emerging in 2010 fully committed to poetry. We don’t always know who we are; the trick to finding out is to put one foot in front of the other, to travel along the road to discovery.
Here’s a photo of my mother as a young woman enjoying a night out with girlfriends, cocktails and dinner, at a place called the Loendi Club in Pittsburgh’s historic Hill District.
Harlem Renaissance poet, Claude McKay, dubbed The Hill, “Crossroads to the World,” because it was home to Billy Eckstein, Earl Hines, Billy Strayhorn, Art Blakey and Joe Harris, to name a few greats and including entrepreneur, Gus Greenlee, owner of the Old Negro Baseball League Team, The Pittsburgh Crawfords.
Here’s me submitting a manuscript titled Good Dirty Down to The National Poetry Series 2017 Competition. On Wednesday, September 13, 2017, I received an email announcing winners and informing me that from 1,500 manuscripts, my collection Good Dirty Down was chosen as a finalist. The email concludes, “Many congratulations again on an extraordinary manuscript.”
So I’m thinking, what made me a finalist and not a winner. These thoughts prompted me to rethink, revise and refashion the collection. During the extensive reconstruction, I realized that, among other things, the title was wrong. It did not capture the essence of what I wanted the poems to reveal.
My mother began speaking. She was aggressive and gentle; she pushed and soothed until finally the magic clicked. I thought about that haunting photo of her, my Christian, upstanding community member mother (the mother I knew) sitting in an after hours club with friends, relaxed and enjoying food and cocktails. I think by studying the photo, my mother gave me permission to dig deeper, to dismiss the obvious, to linger long (a phrase my friends and I used to say during heated Bid Whist parties at my house back in the day) on the blurred and uncertain in order to make sense of the seemingly senseless, thereby discovering or rediscovering the valuable.
Here’s me realizing that the poem I’d written about my mother needed to take a front row seat, if not in placement, then certainly as the needle and thread that would anchor the collection. After reworking and improving her poem, everything else fell into place.
I wrote an earlier post about a collection I’m writing called The Book of Spells. In my mind, The Book of Spells was supposed to be my next published book. But, we don’t always know what we are doing; the trick to finding out is to put one foot in front of the other, to trust the process, to travel along the road to discovery.
Daughter Mouth Blues (formerly Good Dirty Down) will be published by Blacksmith & Bones Press, available here.
I think Daughter Mouth Blues articulates signs and symbols of our time, including magic; the differences between prophecy and divination; the change from ancestral analysis to sculpted concealment; and the ramifications of profit or passage.
Daughter Mouth Blues reveals necessary work at the crossroads, the “sudden transformation, sudden certainty, sudden articulation, long legged talking finally foaming from [our] daughter mouth blues.”
This is a blog about how we make things.