Please Excuse This Poem: 100 New Poets for the Next Generation

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9780670014798: Please Excuse This Poem: 100 New Poets for the Next Generation

One hundred poems. One hundred voices. One hundred different points of view.
 
Here is a cross-section of American poetry as it is right now—full of grit and love, sparkling with humor, searing the heart, smashing through boundaries on every page. Please Excuse This Poem features one hundred acclaimed younger poets from truly diverse backgrounds and points of view, whose work has appeared everywhere from The New Yorker to Twitter, tackling a startling range of subjects in a startling range of poetic forms. Dealing with the aftermath of war; unpacking the meaning of “the rape joke”; sharing the tender moments at the start of a love affair: these poems tell the world as they see it.

Editors Brett Fletcher Lauer and Lynn Melnick have crafted a book that is a must-read for those wanting to know the future of poetry. With an introduction from award-winning poet, editor, and translator Carolyn Forché, Please Excuse This Poem has the power to change the way you look at the world. It is The Best American Nonrequired Reading—in poetry form.

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About the Author:

Brett Fletcher Lauer is the deputy director of the Poetry Society of America and the poetry editor of A Public Space, and the author of the collection A Hotel In Belgium. In addition to co-editing several anthologies, including Isn’t It Romantic: 100 Love Poems by Younger American Poets, he is the poetry co-chair for the Brooklyn Book Festival and lives in Brooklyn.
 
Lynn Melnick is the author of If I Should Say I Have Hope, named a Top 40 Poetry Book of 2012 by Coldfront Magazine. She teaches poetry at the 92nd Street Y and works with VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. She grew up in Los Angeles and currently lives in Brooklyn.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Also by
BRETT FLETCHER LAUER

INTRODUCTION

Most poets begin writing poetry in secret. As with love and other experiences, there is a first time and it is remembered. The first poem might be written on the back of something else, or in a notebook shown to no one. It might be a poem where someone falls in love with someone but that person falls in love with someone else. It might be a poem about floating alone / in the cold blue, or about sex or the distance / between a missed train and love. The poet begins to understand that when she picks up her pen, she doesn’t know what’s going to happen. The poet knows only that when he’s writing, his true self is speaking on paper or in his thoughts, strangely and without fear. This anthology is a collection of such poems. They are filled with ending up in the wrong adventure, and with the little things we tell ourselves about our pasts. One poet writes, Inside here are many moments, and it is true: the neighborhood, summer boredom, handsome drugs, suburban rabbits // and warrens of junkies and the number of clips emptied / into an unarmed Guinean man / on a dark Bronx stoop. A father’s embrace is here, and a grandmother who only wants to tell . . . who died / and how. Another poet writes, I hope we all die just like this, in someone else’s arms, young and beautiful and true. In these poems, we sleep under the stars, get stopped by the police, and hang from trestles as the trains come. In these poems a good way to fall in love / is to turn off the headlights / and drive very fast down dark roads. Inside the poet there is the burning chandelier . . . where the language begins. The poet tries to dance like firelight / without setting anyone ablaze. Inside, the poet is dreaming of tornadoes again, too many for the sky to contain. Another spent all night / collecting your photographs / and cutting them up. These poems were written young, but death isn’t absent here: there’s a dead woman in the river / dead baby in the cradle / there’s a dead soldier in the desert / & three crows wonder over and over / whether to cry out.

Most poets continue to write in secret until they trust someone enough to show her a poem, and this sharing continues one to another until the poems are strong enough to be sent out into the world, as these poems have been, the poems you are holding now, and as your poems may someday be sent, because why not? When you look down / inside yourself / what is there? It is a question any of us can ask ourselves as poems begin within us. There is often a feeling that precedes or accompanies the poem as it is born, and the poets write, I can’t shake that something is coming. I opened wide my door to it. I’ll sleep when I’m dead. These one hundred poems, drafted by one hundred younger poets firmly launched on their careers, will provide writers with inspiration and aspiration, and all readers with exhilaration. In poems you will never run out of ways to say I am here. And having read this far, you also know what it means to be waiting, like an animal, / For poetry.

Carolyn Forché

JAKOB

Dorothea Lasky

I am sick of feeling

I never eat or sleep

I just sit here and let the words burn into me

I know you love her

And don’t love me

No, I don’t think you love her

I know there are clouds that are very pretty

I know there are clouds that trundle round the globe

I take anything I can to get to love

Live things are what the world is made of

Live things are black

Black in that they forgot where they came from

I have not forgotten, however I choose not to feel

Those places that have burned into me

There is too much burning here, I’m afraid

Readers, you read flat words

Inside here are many moments

In which I have screamed in pain

As the flames ate me

BARBOUR STREET

Samuel Amadon

My junior year of high school I had

to go all spring to this

middle school on Barbour Street

for an afterschool thing for college

applications or whatever

& I tried to look like I wanted to

be there but those kids knew I didn’t

& they could see I didn’t know

shit about them or their neighborhood

so it’s not surprising they didn’t wave

that summer when Spencer

& I rode past them day after day

on the way to the gym where we were

getting ready for football

season or fucking off on our bikes

& Spencer kept pointing out to me

how even though a block

out there was about twice as long

as my block instead of there being

three hydrants evenly placed

along it there was only one at the end

of each so there had better not

be any fires in the middle

of those streets which I would think

about the summer I was back from

school when I’d drive

Ray Rose home from work at this

Italian restaurant where Kenny got

me a job. Ray had a tear

tattooed by his eye & somebody had

told me by then what that meant

so I never said no to him

& every night I got to be the white kid

in the North End past dark parked

on the edge of some huge

project waiting for Ray to finish

whatever lesson from jail he was

teaching me since

everyone from jail always has some

endless lesson they want to teach

& so I learned a little

more about the ghetto than I was

supposed to & I kept Ray friendly

& even got the chance to

teach him something I’d just learned

about Hartford which was that there

used to be a field where

his mom lives now & when the circus

came to town they put up these tents

which were rainproofed in

gasoline & then all these people died

in a fire which it turns out is actually

the first thing after

insurance Hartford is famous for.

IN DEFENSE OF SMALL TOWNS

Oliver de la Paz

When I look at it, it’s simple, really. I hated life there.

September,

once filled with animal deaths and toughened hay.

And the smells

of fall were boiled-down beets and potatoes

or the farmhands’ breeches smeared with oil and diesel

as they rode into town, dusty and pissed. The radio station

split time between metal and Tejano, and the only action

happened on Friday nights where the high school

football team

gave everyone a chance at forgiveness.

The town left no room

for novelty or change. The sheriff knew everyone’s son and

despite that,

we’d cruise up and down the avenues, switching between

brake and gearshift. We’d fight and spit chew

into Big Gulp cups

and have our hearts broken nightly. In that town I learned

to fire a shotgun at nine and wring a chicken’s neck

with one hand by twirling the bird and whipping

it straight like a towel.

But I loved the place once. Everything was blond

and cracked

and the irrigation ditches stretched to the end of the earth.

You could

ride on a bicycle and see clearly the outline of every leaf

or catch on the streets each word

of a neighbor’s argument.

Nothing could happen there and if I willed it,

the place would have me

slipping over its rocks into the river

with the sugar plant’s steam

or signing papers at a storefront army desk, buttoned up

with medallions and a crew cut, eyeing the next recruits.

If I’ve learned anything, it’s that I could be anywhere,

staring at a hunk of asphalt or listening to the clap

of billiard balls

against each other in a bar, and hear my name.

Indifference now?

Some. I shook loose, but that isn’t the whole story.

The fact is

I’m still in love. And when I wake up,

I watch my son yawn

and my mind turns his upswept hair into cornstalks

at the edge of a field. Stillness is an acre, and his body

idles, deep like heavy machinery. I want to take him

back there,

to the small town of my youth, and hold the book

of wildflowers

open for him, and look. I want him to know the colors

of horses,

to run with a cattail in his hand and watch as its seeds

fly weightless as though nothing mattered, as though

the little things we tell ourselves about our pasts

stay there,

rising slightly and just out of reach.

WARNING

Leigh Stein

There are better ways to break a heart than Facebook,

such as abandoning your pregnant girlfriend at Walmart

like that guy did to Natalie Portman. If you read this book

sequentially, bad things may happen to you, but only as bad

as the things that would have happened to you anyway.

If, however, you do not read this book sequentially you may

find that you are suddenly aboard a sunken pirate ship,

staring into the deep abyss, and wishing you had chosen

not to chase the manatee in your submarine after all. Do not

panic. If you end up in the wrong adventure just go back

three spaces and draw another card. Or go back to bed.

Or read up on the side effects of the medication taken

by your loved ones. The great R. A. Montgomery once wrote,

“Suddenly you’re surrounded by eleven Nodoors,” and I

guess what I’m trying to do here is ruin any hope

you may have had of coming out of this alive.

AT LAST THE NEW ARRIVING

Gabrielle Calvocoressi

Like the horn you played in Catholic school

the city will open its mouth and cry

out. Don’t worry ’bout nothing. Don’t mean

no thing. It will leave you stunned

as a fighter with his eyes swelled shut

who’s told he won the whole damn purse.

It will feel better than any floor

that’s risen up to meet you. It will rise

like Easter bread, golden and familiar

in your grandmother’s hands. She’ll come back,

heaven having been too far from home

to hold her. O it will be beautiful.

Every girl will ask you to dance and the boys

won’t kill you for it. Shake your head.

Dance until your bones clatter. What a prize

you are. What a lucky sack of stars.

THERE I WAS UNREQUITED

Kate Litterer

Your door

is like a

war plunked

haphazardly

between us.

It is true

and horrid,

it gets in

my vision

of you

so tell me,

don’t you

agree you

never look

mucked up.

Tell me

what you’re

reading in there,

baby.

I want to hear

your sweet

throat tell me

what’s on

every page.

I want to hear

your train voice

surrender.

You get me there

like a single

night of rain.

There are

birds out here

forever and we

will wait

while you lick

your fingertips.

I promise

I will never stop

writing poems

outside your door

and making

everything up.

So I guess

I am your

necessary

pause.

Before there

was rain

everywhere,

I started off

blasé feminist but

I grew prouder of my

writing you

your door treaty.

I have less

clothes now

and it never

rains more than

when I want

to hurt near you

and share that

with you.

Sometimes

I hope for

pauses

in your breath

because

pauses are

your lips.

You are

the sexiest

bird I have ever

stood outside.

You get me

on a wet page.

I need to

hear you

say it. Press

your naked

little bones

to the other side

and tell me

these birds and

rain and pages

are war.

TALK

Terrance Hayes

like a nigger is what my white friend, M,

asked me, the two of us alone and shirtless

in the locker room, the bones beneath my skin

jutting like the prow of a small boat at sea,

the bones beneath his emitting a heat

that turned his chest red and if you’re thinking

my knuckles knocked a few times

against his jaw or my fingers knotted

at his throat, you’re wrong because I pretended

I didn’t hear him, and when he didn’t ask it again,

we slipped into our middle school uniforms

since it was November, the beginning

of basketball season, and jogged out

onto the court to play together

in that vision all Americans wish for

their children, and the point is we slipped

into our uniform harmony, and spit out Go Team!,

our hands stacked on and beneath the hands

of our teammates and that was as close

as I have come to passing for one

of the members of The Dream, my white friend

thinking I was so far from that word

that he could say it to me, which I guess

he could since I didn’t let him taste the salt

and iron in the blood, I didn’t teach him

what it’s like to squint through a black eye,

and if I had I wonder if he would have grown

up to be the kind of white man who believes

all blacks are thugs or if he would have learned

to bite his tongue or let his belly be filled

by shame, but more importantly, would I be

the kind of black man who believes silence

is worth more than talk or that it can be

a kind of grace, though I’m not sure

that’s the kind of black man I’ve become,

and in any case, M, wherever you are,

I’d just like to say I heard it, but let it go

because I was afraid to lose our friendship

or afraid we’d lose the game—which we did anyway.

FOR THE FAINT OF HEART

Ben Mirov

When you return from the asylum

be sure to gaze at the trees

covered in snow. When the train

enters the forest ask the waiter

for tea with milk. When in darkness

take seriously the lesson

of fluttering hands. If it is offered

take the class they call Ornithography

for it will teach you something

about love. On the subject of love

I have only a single observation—

if you love a grapefruit, you cut it open

and eat its flesh. Take my advice.

Take it home to your husband or wife.

Slip into bed. Turn off the lights.

THE CROWDS CHEERED AS GLOOM GALLOPED AWAY

Matthea Harvey

Everyone was happier. But where did the sadness go? People wanted to know. They didn’t want it collecting in their elbows or knees then popping up later. The girl who thought of the ponies made a lot of money. Now a month’s supply of pills came in a hard blue case with a handle. You opened it & found the usual vial plus six tiny ponies of assorted shapes & sizes, softly breathing in the Styrofoam. Often they h...

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