December 28, 2008
Book sections look thinner these days and poetry collections don’t always make the cut. So how do poet and audience find each other? I thought I’d help a little by giving three poets the chance to introduce you to their latest books
Sam Cornish is the author of six poetry collections and currently serves as Boston’s first Poet Laureate:
An Apron Full of Beans (Cavankerry Press) is an African-American sequel to Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Written in the voices and with the lyrics of the blues, the spiritual and the language of writers such as Langston Hughes and Margaret Walker, the poems grow out of the historical and personal reminiscences of those artists and their traditions. The poems are both biographical and autobiographical as they revisit American history through the art forms of film noir, science fiction, the blues, jazz and other aspects of American history and popular culture.
James Smethurst of UMass Amherst says, in his introduction, “In An Apron Full of Beans, Sam Cornish describes his artistic journey as “from Beat to African American.” In many poems the reader encounters a profound engagement with history that is almost Brechtian as Cornish … takes up iconic figures such as Paul Robeson, Harriet Tubman, and Frederick Douglass. The historical figures mix with filmic characters played by Jim Brown, Louis Beavers, Dorothy Dandridge, and Robert De Niro as well as fictional figures such as Richard Wright’s Bigger Thomas and Chester Himes’s Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones.”
Kathleen Aguero is the author of three previous poetry collections and editor of three anthologies:
The poems in Investigations: The Mystery of the Girl Sleuth (Cervena Barva press) investigate, critique, and update the character of Nancy Drew, a role model for me and for many other women when we were young. In addition to wondering what Nancy would be like had she reached contemporary middle-age, while rereading the books I was taken aback by the ethnic and class biases the original series contained and had to consider how those assumptions influenced my own views as a young reader. These poems also gave me a voice in which to write about events in my life that I’d had trouble addressing previously. The poems in this chapbook are, I hope, entertaining but with a serious edge. “For Nancy on Her 50th Birthday,” is virtually a found poem composed of titles from the mystery series.
To Nancy Drew on Her 50th Birthday
What secret does the old clock hold now?
Where does the hidden staircase lead?
It’s time to mount the 99 steps,
accept the secret in the old attic.
The clues have been there all along
in your diary, in the old album,
in the velvet mask you struggle
to remove. You need to answer the invitation
to the golden pavilion, read the mysterious letter
of your own blood, lean against
the crumbling wall and listen
to the mystery of the tolling bell.
Although you wish you’d never started on this quest
for the missing map, now you have
it in your hand, you must follow it
to the message in the hollow oak, cross
the haunted bridge to face the wooden lady
and the statue whispering what you do not
want to hear.
John Hildebidle, the author two previous books, one poetry, one prose; teaches English at MIT:
My book, Signs, Translations (Salmon Publishing), takes its title from a line by a poet-colleague, Ed Barrett: "All around us are signs. Some of them even have translations." Once, asked to give a talk to a student group on the subject "Where do poems come from," I realized I faced a true mystery. The legends of the Muses seemed hopelessly archaic, so I did some Googling, and found that a number of first-rank poets (including Denise Levertov, a great personal favorite) argued that poems arise from paying close attention even to the apparently trivial and ephemeral. The poems in this book undertake that work - focusing on graffiti, birds, and that master observer Henry David Thoreau. If the book has a goal, it is to urge the reader to look more closely -- and appreciatively -- at what they pass, day-to-day.