Wordsmith Wednesday:

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This week’s Wordsmith Wednesday is a poem from Nayyirah Waheed’s collection salt.

It reads:

“remember,
you were a writer
before
you ever
put
pen to paper.
just because you were not writing
externally.
does not mean you were not writing
internally.”

It is often difficult to remind ourselves of this. We do not stop or start becoming a writer at any point just because we aren’t physically writing. Our minds are constantly writing novels of their own, coming up with stories, drafting scenarios, reiterating our feelings and thoughts, all internally. This is the most constant and unrestrictive form of writing. In this form we do not hold back, there is no one around to judge but us. We/society is the only one that holds us accountable to this arbitrary definition of a writer. We are always, constantly, writing, do not let the physicality that is placed behind writing hold you back from being/feeling productive as a writer. We all do it in different forms at different times in our lives. How is not what is important, it’s the fact that we do that is.

– KK

Nayyirah

Wordsmith Wednesday: Kendrick Lamar’s “LUST.”

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Our words this week come from Kendrick Lamar’s song “LUST.” from his latest record “DAMN.”

The words are:

“We all woke up, tryna tune to the daily news
Lookin’ for confirmation, hopin’ election wasn’t true
All of us worried, all of us buried, and the feeling’s deep
None of us married to his proposal, make us feel cheap
Still and sad, distraught and mad, tell the neighbor ’bout it
Bet they agree, parade the streets with your voice proudly
Time passin’, things change
Revertin’ back to our daily programs
Stuck in our ways, lust”

On a collection of songs built around breathing life and form into broad human themes, Lamar engages lust not just as a sexual concept but also one of desiring the easy, the pleasurable, the lazily indulgent. The self-centered default. He reflects on this concept in men, women, and himself before dropping the above words at the end of the final verse. These lines reflect something essential and troubling about the recent US presidential election and the national response in the months that followed. After clenched stomachs and disbelief came genuine discussion and community building efforts, energetic and directed and productive. But sustained, unsexy resistance is hard. Legs start to hurt and throats go hoarse. Victories are small and meaningful outcomes require a marathon. Time passes. Normalization begins. Constant engagement and outrage get exhausting and complacency starts to return to those privileged enough to afford it and to some that can’t. Back to the default. So, while it may be human nature to seek the comfort of the self-centered action, real growth requires personal sacrifice for collective progress, less lust and more love. I’m definitely guilty of making the selfish choice in the face of greater injustice, but I’ve also made sacrifices to reach out and pull others up. It’s right, but it’s hard. Damn.

– NR

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Ross Gay’s “Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude”

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Our words this week come from Ross Gay’s eponymous poem “Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude” from his 2015 poetry collection.

The stanza is:

“And to the quick and gentle flocking
of men to the old lady falling down
on the corner of Fairmount and 18th, holding patiently
with the softest parts of their hands
her cane and purple hat,
gathering for her the contents of her purse
and touching her shoulder and elbow;
thank you the cockeyed court
on which in a half-court 3 v 3 we oldheads
made of some runny-nosed kids
a shambles, and the 61-year-old
after flipping a reverse lay-up off a back door cut
from my no-look pass to seal the game
ripped off his shirt and threw punches at the gods
and hollered at the kids to admire the pacemaker’s scar
grinning across his chest; thank you
the glad accordion’s wheeze
in the chest; thank you the bagpipes.”

Gay’s ability to shine warmth and love into dirty crevices and tease beauty from everyday experiences is what I believe puts him at the forefront of contemporary poetry. He doesn’t stray away from darkness or sadness, but he also doesn’t wallow; he shows it and says “This is what being alive and being human is” with an inspiring generosity. In a poem in which he expresses gratitude for a number of things from a lone lady on the bus to a patient, listening ear to finding the dreadlock of a murdered friend, I chose this passage because I find the images breathtaking, moving snapshots of human goodness and strength and life. I love the gentle men helping because it’s the right thing to do, I cheer and laugh for the old man proudly patting the pacemaker in his chest. These tiny actions, these little victories are the most beautiful parts of being alive to me and Ross Gay’s ability to show that beauty without overstatement and with a knowing smile is what keeps me waiting on his work.

– NR

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Rupi Kaur’s “milk and honey”

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This week’s Wordsmith Wednesday is from Rupi Kaur’s milk and honey.

The poem reads:

“you said, if it is meant to be. fate will bring us back
together. for a second I wonder if you are really
that naïve. if you really believe fate works like
that. as if it lives in the sky staring down at us. as
if it has five fingers and spends its time placing us
like pieces of chess. as if it is not the choices we
make. who taught you that. tell me. who
convinced you. you’ve been given a heart and
a mind that isn’t yours to use. that your actions
do not define what will become of you. i want to
scream and shout it’s us you fool. we’re the only
ones that can bring us back together. but
instead I sit quietly. smiling softly through
quivering lips thinking. isn’t it such a tragic thing.
when you can see it so clearly but the other person
doesn’t.”

Kaur’s milk and honey has become a companion to me. Something I carry and reference constantly. Each poem a beautifully crafted image of the daily internal and external struggles we face, pointed and direct. Though they are short and clear, I have spent hours indulging in certain poems, their words weighing heavy. I’ve read and reread them until my shock towards the raw, unadulterated realness subsides, leaving me that much more connected to my present state of mind.

In order to alleviate responsibility, we often find intangible concepts to take on our own difficulties. They act as surrogates to ourselves, relinquishing the blame of indecision and inactivity. If we leave the decision up to an omnipotent being, or “fate,” then we no longer are accountable. The reality of the matter is that we are the ones who must make the choices that propel us to where we want to be. We do not leave it in the hands of “the world” to guide us or shape us. This is much more difficult than the former. Working hard to achieve the job you want, the relationship you want to work, or the mindset you’d like to be in is not easy. It takes time, effort, and a realization that you want this change. The end result, the satisfaction received from knowing that it was your actions, you in your entirety, that got you there, is what makes it worth it.

– KK

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Ugly Casanova’s “Barnacles”

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This week’s Wordsmith Wednesday is from the song “Barnacles” off of Ugly Casanova’s 2002 album Sharpen Your Teeth.

It goes:

“I don’t need to see
I don’t see how you see out of your windows
I don’t need to see, I’ll paint mine black.

I don’t know me and you don’t know you
So we fit good together cause I knew you like I knew myself
We clung on like barnacles on a boat

Even though the ship sinks you know you can’t let go
I was talking like two hands knocking
Yelling, “Let me in, let me in, please come out.”

More Isaac Brock. I’m sorry everyone.

Beyond just this string of words and the lack of knowing that seeps into every syllable, there’s also this sense of hesitancy and uncertainty in Brock’s voice. It’s soft and deflated. As much as the words create a sense of denial, apprehension, and unwillingness to face aspects of a relationship, there is a subconscious awareness of something hidden, something wrong. This feeling is immediately suffocated and obscured with, as stated in later lyrics, “black glass, dirt-based soap.”

Sometimes you just want a relationship to work so badly, you put all your time/strength/energy/life into it, but it still isn’t enough. It isn’t being reciprocated. Instead, they hide parts of themselves, parts of their life or what they’ve done. You blind yourself to the other person’s problems, infidelities, or the fact that your both struggling, but as much as you push it down, as much as you hide it in the deepest parts of your stomach, you know it’s still there.

– KK

ugly casanova

Wordsmith Wednesday: Octavio Paz’ “Although it is night”

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Our words this week come from the second and third sections of Octavio Paz’ poem “Although it is night” from his 1988 collection, A Tree Within.

The words are:

II

While I’m reading in Mexico City,
what time is it now in Moscow?
It’s late, it’s always late,
in history it is always night,
always the wrong time.
Solzhenitsyn writes,
the paper is burning, his writing goes on,
cruel dawn on a plain of bones.

I was a coward, I did not face evil,
and now the century confirms the philosopher:
Evil? A pair of eyes with no face,
an abundant void.
Evil:
a nobody somebody, a nothing something.

Did Stalin have a face?
Suspicion
ate his face and soul and will.
Fear populated his soulless night,
his insomnia decimated Russia.

III

The party is always right
Leon Trotsky

Stalin had no soul:
he had history.
Uninhabited Marshal without a face,
servant of nothing. Evil unmasked:
the maggot becomes Caesar. A ghost’s
triumph: his memorial marks a pit.
Nothingness is the great harder of nobodies.
And as for the others: evil takes away their faces
in the same unreal game that shuffles us all.
Circular suffering, circular guilt: the spool,
unwound, history relieves their pain
by killing them off. Discourse in a frozen knife:

Dialectic, the bloody solipsism
that invented the enemy from itself.

In a political era in which facts seem every day to be consciously ignored or subverted by superstition, it’s important to remember the lesson of history that blind faith in an authority, even of your flavor, is dangerous for the average person. Paranoia, suspicion, threats. Isolation and insolation. All common attributes for a brutal, detached dictator such as Stalin, the maggot become marshal, but not normal in a nation that prides itself on the ideals of freedom of speech, information, and thought. As partisanship further dominates political discourse, be careful to pledge allegiance to the president or the party rather than the people. Truth is more synthesis than genesis. We must resist the urge to invent reality from within ourselves rather than around ourselves. History and poetry may have some answers on how to do that.

– NR

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Jose Saramago’s “Death With Interruptions”

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Our words this week are an excerpt from Jose Saramago’s 2005 novel, Death With Interruptions.

They are:

“It seemed that families, suffering an attack of conscience, had passed the word from one to the other that they were no longer going to send their loved ones far away to die, that if, in the figurative sense, we had eaten of their flesh, then now would have to gnaw on their bones as well, that we are not here just for the good times, when our loved ones had strength and health intact, we are here, too, for the bad times and the worst, when they have become little more than a stinking rag that there is no point in washing.”

In a book split between an exploration of the ramifications of a country blessed/cursed with a mysterious cessation of death and the personification of death herself, Saramago spins and blends seemingly unfathomable ideas into surreal yet plausible human situations. This excerpt, taken from a passage in which the living begin to feel the guilt creep in after normalizing a practice in which a state sponsored mafia discreetly disposes of near-dead bodies just over the border, highlights an element of human  sociology worth focusing on. Too often relationships, even intimate ones, find themselves on foundations of mutual benefit rather than commitments of support. Life is hard and for many it’s easier to shed the stress of caring for those in their life at their lowest rather than sacrifice without certain benefit. Sometimes your friend relapses regardless of how much time you spend. Sometimes your brother makes the same self-destructive mistakes regardless of your guidance or warning. Sometimes your parent’s disease drags them on the edge of death indefinitely regardless of whether you can shoulder the emotional weight. I think love has a lot more to do with sacrifice and selflessness in times of pain and need than we’d like to believe. That actually might be what it’s mostly about. – NR

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