NEW POEM DRAFT: “Darkless Prayer for the Longful”

Posted On June 30th, 2014

Terrible news of the struggles of a friend’s infant son to survive prompted this poem recently, which ends up being (as T. S. Eliot would say ALL poems do) about the act of writing itself. Keep tiny Graham in your prayers!

Darkless Prayer for the Longful

Some people have more guts
than they will ever need.
I wish that were the reason

some babies are born
with their intestines
on the outsides of their bodies

in a small sac, as they were
with your son, born
already willing and able to give.

I wish this in the same way
I wish sometimes
certain words existed that do not,

words like darkless, to be utterly
and completely without
darkness. I wish I had more darkless news,

you wrote of tiny Graham, who has died
so many times
and been brought back that he has become

a miracle modern medicine
can perform again and again
but never heal. Once, years ago, feeling longful,

needy, and sad, I searched online
for longful, just to see
if it was a real word I had permission to use.

But all I could find were people, hundreds,
all searching and asking
the same questions—Is longful a word
 
I can use? To be filled with longing?—
which was just
the permission I was looking for.

Fall lineup for Page Meets Stage announced

Posted On June 30th, 2014

Microsoft WordScreenSnapz015We are on summer break right now, but if you’re planning on being in New York City in the fall and your trip happens to include the third Wednesday of the month, meet me at the DL Lounge on the Lower East Side for one of these pairings of Page Meets Stage, which has also been called “Where the Pulitzer Prize meets the poetry slam.” Because of the success of the last two pairings of the Spring (sold out!), we are now offering (and recommending) advance tickets to all future pairings. Regular admission at the door is $12, but advance tickets are $10 (or even $6 if you take advantage of the “Super Intelligent Person’s Early Bird Ticket” up to one MONTH prior to the pairing!).

Something wonderful happened at the June pairing when I announced the new ticket policies at the intermission: By the end of the show, one woman had gone online using her phone and purchased a ticket to ALL of the pairings listed! At the end of the show, I called her out and said, “Who is Andrea? You are wonderful!” and everyone clapped for her!

More about the poets involved in each pairing can be found at www.PageMeetsStage.com. See you there?

Last night, I went to the “open mic night” at The Jalopy Theater . . .

Posted On June 11th, 2014

. . . and no one knew who I was, an unremarkable fact that I nevertheless found refreshing and humbling at the same time. I arrived too late to sign up myself, as I have witnessed other people do countless times at the poetry slam series I help run, and in a moment of integrity and maturity, I acted the way I always hope they will act in such situations, which is to sit down and enjoy the show. We were in Brooklyn, after all, the beloved home of Walt Whitman, who once famously wrote that great poetry requires “great audiences.” The world needs more people willing to listen.

The Jalopy Theater is a curious little gem of a space at the entrance to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel a short bike ride from my house. It’s not quite Red Hook, I think, and too low and west to be part of Cobble Hill or Carroll Gardens, a typical Brooklyn neighborhood in that it is easier to say where it is not. It’s the ground floor performance space of an adult “roots” music school, and indeed many of the performers had just finished their evening classes. That’s right, it was an “open” mic where every single person called to the stage was a musician. I asked the organizer on the way out “Do you ever have poets?” and he said that it was a truly open mike, “so you can do whatever you want.” I resisted the urge to tell him that was not an answer to the question I asked, and just inferred that he meant “No, not in a long time.”

These were not word people, which was fun. One bearded dude sat down at the mic and said, “I’ve got a couple songs to play for you, and I hope you like it.” I smiled and looked around, hoping to make eye contact with the owner of another pair of smug and captious ears like mine—a half-dozen of which I could have found at my own venue—and found . . . nothing. No other grammar nerd looking around for corroboration and confirmation of his or her own superiority. These were singers, songwriters, and musicians: they have other skills and other concerns. And so they played. And they were good! Shaky, sure, and tentative at first, but everyone blooming a little under the nurturing rays of public scrutiny.

It was Tuesday night, June 10. And I was only there because the regular Tuesday poetry slam that I help curate in Manhattan—Urbana—happens to be on one of its two monthlong summer breaks. If I am ever to be found at The Jalopy Theater on a Tuesday night, it must be June or August. That’s the one downside of running your own series: that night of the week is simply unavailable to you; since I almost ALWAYS have something to do on Tuesdays, I can rarely do ANYTHING (else). It was great to be out of the house on a Tuesday and NOT to be doing anything other than listening to others play music.

I performed poems at a singer-songwriter open mic once before, and it was wonderful because they so rarely saw anyone like me in their circles. It was there that I met Jennifer Marks, maybe 15 years ago (a quick search turned up this gem from her website: “Hey there everyone. I hope that 2005 brings you everything you hope and wish for. I don’t make New Years resolutions but if I were to make one it would be to update my site more often.”) Jennifer said to me (and I’m paraphrasing now), “Musicians never get to see anyone like you! We tend to hide behind our instruments. No one here tonight could imagine standing in front of an audience armed with nothing but our words. You reminded us that words alone have incredible power if you know how to use them.”

So I’ll be going to the Jalopy Theater next Tuesday night, June 17th. But this time, I’ll get there by 8:45 pm in time to sign up. I’ll do my two “songs” like everyone else, and spend the rest of the time listening.

More than an anthology of poetry, a TROVE of inspiration and reserve

Posted On May 31st, 2014

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I’m happy to report that a book I wrote the introduction for is finally out and available. It’s called Teaching with Heart: Poetry that Speaks to the Courage to Teach, and it was edited by Sam Intrator and Megan Scribner, who have edited similar anthologies (and they’re all beautiful). They asked teachers to choose one poem that sustains them or reminds them why they chose to teach in the first place, and those poems are reprinted along with the teachers’s testimonials (which are often quite poetic as well). I remember exulting in poems I had never read or even heard of! The book is available everywhere now and makes a great end-of-the-year gift to a favorite teacher.

THIRD Wednesday of this month: Marie Howe meets Andrea Gibson!

Posted On May 21st, 2014

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Page Meets Stage is a reading series I run which brings together two poets—one ostensibly repping the “page,” the other ostensibly repping a more performative style—to read/perform back and forth, poem for poem, continuing the conversation of where poetry exists. Some of the most prominent poets in the United States both in the “academy” and in spoken word circles (Gerald Stern, Mark Doty, Carol Muske-Dukes, Valzhyna Mort, Paul Muldoon, Thomas Lux, Roger Bonair-Agard, Patricia Smith, Rives, Lynne Procope, to name just a few) have been involved.

Check out YouTube to see some of the more memorable moments in the series (search for “Page Meets Stage”), or go to www.PageMeetsStage.com for the complete schedule.
Tickets are $12 ($6 students) and are sometimes available in advance online.

All shows take place at The DL Lounge on the Lower East Side (95 Delancey Street at the SW corner of Ludlow).

 

If you can’t beat them . . . MEET them!

Posted On May 13th, 2014

I’m developing a new lesson plan for middle school poetry workshops. For years, I have virtually OUTLAWED intentional rhyming in my workshops with early teens (usually to the effusive gratitude of the regular classroom teachers). I try to emphasize other things like honesty, originality, description, beauty, and risking looking like a fool (“When I was four Timothy told me that it was unhealthy to poop more than once every other day.” Yes! Go on! Everyone is listening!) Disappointed middle school MCs would often ask if it was okay if they rhymed “accidentally,” and I would always say “Sure.” After all, that pretty much describes the way I use rhyme: not with the sacred precision of an elegant choir—more like the bumbling of wet sneakers in a drier. But what usually followed was NO ACCIDENT! They were disingenuously claiming it was an accident so they could do what they wanted to do in the first place: work on their MC skillz. So I’m trying a new approach. I’m developing a lesson that will help middle school students write in rhyme that is less OBVIOUS. Where the rhymes are arranged so that they follow the narrative, instead of drive it. Stay tuned!

Read a NEW poem here every day in April!

Posted On April 2nd, 2014

(Poem 21 of 30)

The Secret Sisterhood of the Sneezy Feeling

for Rachel

When my father gave me the talk about sex
I was six, and we sat before the embers of a fire
from the night before, a party I don’t remember.

He spoke best when he had something to do
besides speaking, let love happen while we work—
morning, men, and the tools of the fire.

Everything I learned about sex and love and making
babies, I learned while conjuring a steady flame
from the ashes of last night’s laughter and song.

I love him for calling orgasm “the sneezy feeling,”
as much for its accuracy as for its understanding.
But then he exhaled a heavy sadness, and said

As wonderful as it is, the sneezy feeling—and it truly is—
there are some women who love it so much that they—

and that’s where our talk about sex ended!

Either because we were interrupted, or else
he thought his son too young for the truth
about some women, the ones who love orgasm so much

that they . . . I don’t know! Wear certain kinds of hats!?
Or smile in a special way? Like they have a song on their lips?
Or maybe a secret kind of fire in their eyes?

To this day I have no idea. And I blame my father
for my ignorance. As well for the tears of every woman
I have ever loved insufficiently. My father never

finished telling me about what you crave,
about your Secret Sisterhood of the Sneezy Feeling
and the things desire has driven you to do.

My father and his son, spellbound by the fire
before them, the fire we built together,
the one I see even now in your eyes.

A poem I wrote yesterday while writing together with a friend

Posted On March 25th, 2014

During the month of April, I’ll be posting a poem here (if I can) every day. But here’s one I wrote yesterday while sitting with the amazing Karen Grace trading writing prompts:

 

Snakes, the Dark, and Heights

I completely understand the human fear of heights
for I have looked over the edge of hotel balconies,
overlooks, and roadside precipices and fallen
half in love with falling, or at least jumping, feared
I might be halfway down before I fully understood
what I had done; the revulsion of the vision
at the bottom kept me here.

And also can I understand the snakes,
though it not be fair, perhaps, to condemn the species
based on the poison of a few, even if nature
doesn’t make mistakes; the hatred she put inside
us there must be part of how we’ve lasted so long.

But fear of darkness I don’t understand,
which even now I say the words out loud
is not exactly right, but rather how it is
we cannot find some place within ourselves
to overcome such fear, turn it maybe even into
a minor strain of love as I have done with silence,
which once I was afraid to wrap myself into
but now seek almost daily like a prayer.

Nightly comes the dark, and whosoever needs it
takes it in despite its many hands.

THIRD Wednesday of this month: Sarah Kay meets Zack Rogow!

Posted On March 25th, 2014

20130605-131330.jpg

Page Meets Stage is a reading series I run which brings together two poets—one ostensibly repping the “page,” the other ostensibly repping a more performative style—to read/perform back and forth, poem for poem, continuing the conversation of where poetry exists. Some of the most prominent poets in the United States both in the “academy” and in spoken word circles (Gerald Stern, Mark Doty, Carol Muske-Dukes, Valzhyna Mort, Paul Muldoon, Thomas Lux, Roger Bonair-Agard, Patricia Smith, Rives, Lynne Procope, to name just a few) have been involved.

Check out YouTube to see some of the more memorable moments in the series (search for “Page Meets Stage”), or go to www.PageMeetsStage.com for the complete schedule.
Tickets are $12 ($6 students) and are sometimes available in advance online.

All shows take place at The DL Lounge on the Lower East Side (95 Delancey Street at the SW corner of Ludlow).

Greetings from Beijing, specifically . . .

Posted On March 10th, 2014

. . . the exact same hotel where all the families of the passengers on Malaysian Flight 370 are being put up, which means that the lobby is filled with reporters and TV news crews hoping to get interviews with desperate people in tears. Today I started teaching at the American International School of Beijing, and I’m jet lagged beyond belief. Combine that with the dystopian haze that hangs in the air daily in Beijing, and I feel strangely dislocated. I would have tweeted this or posted it to Facebook, but of course both of those sites are blocked here.