Unbinding the Lyrics of Being

Many thanks to Christal Cooper for featuring my poem “Astral” in her blog series “Backstory of the Poem.” I really appreciate all the work she puts into this series. She dug up and included lots of fun photos of me that I didn’t even know I had, like the one below, as well as images of and by Leonora Carrington, who is the subject of the poem. I talked about how I wrote “Astral,” resisting unhealthy conformity, and how I used to jump on a trampoline in my dress when I got home from work. Also included are notes that didn’t make it into the final draft of the poem.

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https://chrisricecooper.blogspot.com/2018/10/32-backstory-of-poem-astral-by-melissa.html

New York Times Photo and Poetry Collaboration

My poem, “Everyone in Me Is a Bird”, which was originally published for the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day series, is now featured as part the New York Times’ “Being Women” project, an exciting poetry and photography collaboration.

This beautiful series, created by Kerri MacDonald and Morrigan McCarthy, began last summer and will run each year.

Other poets in the project: Tonya Ingram, Joy Harjo, Layli LongSoldier, Jennifer Chang and Nickole Brown.

Photographers: Ruth Anna Fremson, Cig Harvey, Maddie McGarvey, Annie Flanagan, Nydia Blas, Erika P. Rodrgz and Anjali Pinto.

The print edition is on the cover of the “National” section for Saturday, August 18, 2018.

Here’s the online edition:

And here’s the Instagram write-up:

View this post on Instagram

🔊“What they said to think, I thought not but instead made my mind into a birdcage with wings.” This summer, we selected 6 #poems by female poets working in the United States and asked photographers to let the words inspire them. Turn your volume up to hear @melissastuddard read her poem “Everyone In Me Is A Bird.” ✨“This poem can be interpreted in many ways, depending on how you feel about your own womanhood or gender,” the photographer @maddiemcgarvey writes. “There is so much pressure in society to be a certain type of person or female, and not everyone feels like they fit that mold.” She worked with the photographer @annieflanagan to create these composite images, a creative project they’ve worked on together for years. They explored different ways people might feel confined in their own bodies — ”a preteen girl and a broken window, an aging woman surrounded by both a riot scene and a peaceful willow, or a transgendered woman with birds flying everywhere,” @maddiemcgarvey writes. They also photographed one another. “We wanted the images to reflect the darker side of womanhood, and what that might mean to people individually,” @annieflanagan writes. Swipe left, then visit the link in our profile to see more photos inspired by #poetry. Audio recording by @lauratx.

A post shared by The New York Times (@nytimes) on

 

 

 

 

 

What they said to think, I thought not

I’m delighted to see my poem “Everyone in Me Is a Bird” featured at the Academy’ of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day today! This poem was inspired by a line from Anne Sexton’s poem “In Celebration of My Uterus.”

https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/everyone-me-bird

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Democracy, Pigeons, Skylines and Such

The Journal is one of my favorite lit mags, and I’m happy to have a poem in their new issue, along with some stellar company. I think of their aesthetic as the ideal manifestation of Emily Dickinson’s “tell it slant” advice. Here’s a link to The Journal’s website, if you’d like to check it out: http://thejournalmag.org. And here’s a shot of my poem in their current print edition:

 

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Interview by Jonathan Taylor at Everybody’s Reviewing

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JT: Melissa, I hugely enjoyed your poetry collection I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast, which seemed to me original, strange and often sublime. At the same time, your neo-Romanticism is also accompanied by an eye for the beauty of the everyday – so that the sublime mixes with the mundane (“Washing clothes … is an act of prayer,” you say in one poem, and another is entitled “Starry Night, with Socks”). For me, I would say this was one of the hallmarks of your style – but do tell me if I’m wrong. How would you describe your style?

MS: I love that assessment, Jonathan – especially that you called I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast “strange.” In pointing out the commingling of the mundane and sublime, you nailed not only my style, but also how I experience the world. I grew up in a secular home. My father is agnostic, and my mother is spiritual with a deep curiosity about supernatural mysteries. We didn’t go to church, but I would sit at the top of the jungle gym in my back yard and talk to god. I believed and still believe that god is in my backyard. That’s part of it. Also, there’s something a monk said to me years ago when I was learning Buddhist meditation. He said, “When you learn to relax inside your mind, you can be on permanent vacation, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.” You don’t need to go anywhere or seek anything. The beach, the flower, the mountain – they are all inside you. So, yes, I carry them with me when I vacuum and put on socks. Then I realize that vacuum cleaners and socks are sublime too. So, I think I would describe my style as you have, except to also possibly add that I think figuratively. I’m sure I have driven people crazy with my constant metaphors and analogies in everyday conversation, but if I want to understand or explain something, my mind almost always reaches for a comparison.

JT: Clearly, there’s a lot of cosmic and creation imagery in the collection.  What themes and ideas were you exploring in this respect?

MS: I was exploring a feminine, cyclical conception of god, time, and the universe. Rather than fashioning my poetic god in man’s image, I fashioned her in woman’s image. It was important to me that she be god and not the diminutive or adjunct “goddess.” I wanted to convey her as the origin and the all powerful, but I also wanted her to be present in the whole of everything. So, in I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast, most everything is pretty much a microcosm of the divine and the all. That’s why a pancake is creation flattened out. It’s all interconnected, all divine. As well, I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast plays with ideas of reincarnation, god birthing the universe, and god attempting to parent the world.

To read the rest of the interview, please visit Everybody’s Reviewing.

 

Patricia Smith Interview for VIDA Voices & Views

About This Episode:

In this episode of VIDA Voices and Views, Melissa Studdard interviews poet and fiction writer, Patricia Smith, who reads from her award-winning poetry collection Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah and discusses topics ranging from the poetic inspiration of children’s books to learning how to use technique to resonate your voice in the reader’s head.

About Patricia Smith:

A renaissance artist of unmistakable signature, Patricia Smith has been called “a testament to the power of words to change lives.” She has authored and edited six critically-acknowledged volumes of poetry, a children’s book, a crime fiction anthology, and a companion volume to the groundbreaking PBS history series, Africans in America. Her numerous accolades include the Rebekah Bobbitt Prize from the Library of Congress, the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets, and the Phillis Wheatley Award in Poetry. As well, she is recognized as one of the world’s most formidable performers and is a four-time national individual champion of the Poetry Slam. She was featured in the film “Slamnation,” and appeared on the HBO series “Def Poetry Jam.” Additionally, her works have been transformed into award-winning films and plays, and her vocals have been featured on jazz CDs and radio commercials. An accomplished and sought-after instructor of poetry, performance, and creative writing, Patricia often appears at creative conferences and residencies and is a Cave Canem faculty member, a professor of English at CUNY/College of Staten Island, and a faculty member of the Sierra Nevada MFA program.

To learn more about Patricia Smith, please visit: http://www.wordwoman.ws/

 

Photograph by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Patricia Smith Quotes from This Episode of VIDA Voices & Views:

“When something comes back to your head more than three times, it’s begging to be written about.”

“If you learn how to look at the world the way a poet looks at the world, you will lose your mind—because inspiration smacks you in the face wherever you are.”

“[Poetry] is one of the only things you can do where your voice is always legitimate.”

“I want to be able to put a poem I’ve written on a table and have someone pick it up and say ‘Patricia, you must have dropped this poem’ and my name’s not on it … We should all be in pursuit of signature.”

“If you don’t tell your own story or even find a way to tell snippets of your own story, you give permission for someone else to do it.”

“I kind of think of poetry as a second throat.”

“When you’re afraid of parts of your story, you’re afraid to even write them down.”

“The key is to still have all that feeling and all that spontaneity in the poem but be able to bring it under a structure so that there’s a tension developed.”

“If you say you are impassioned about writing, you should want to write in as many ways as possible.”