Seep into Skin

In foreign air where your ancestors breathed

no longer than a century ago,  you

comforted a belle whose fiance was

lost in twisted charred metal. Look back and

think about how that should have been your fate;

the poison in his system only tasted

sweet for so long. When words came out of his

mouth the acrid smell of death lingered, and seminal thoughts

rush back through your mind and below your spine

in tidal waves of lust, touching thighs under

the table, that was enough of a contact

in order to transfer the tension of

a dead man and his now tranquil lover.

Accidental gravity remains as

the only not so distant memory.

Who will be Philadelphia’s Next Poet Laureate?

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Sonia Sanchez has been remarkable in her tenure as Philadelphia’s inaugural poet laureate, which began in 2012, and ends in two months due to the mandated two year term limit. Sanchez, who just turned 79 in September, is an internationally renowned and influential poet whose poetry is often categorized under the Black Arts Movement, which is often called the sister to the Black Power Movement. Sanchez, in spite of her frail health, has propagated poetry in Philadelphia during her tenure, and her most tangible accomplishment was the “Peace is a Haiku Song” mural on Christian street, a beautiful painting featuring children, poetry, and origami swans; the mural was “inspired by Sanchez’s belief that the haiku form is inherently non-violent in its intent and structure and engenders beauty, serenity, and brief reflection.”

While Sanchez’s legacy will surely be solidified by her exceptional work as Philadelphia’s inaugural laureate, the looming question is who will replace her? The first poet that comes to mind is Lamont B. Steptoe, a Pittsburgh born, but decades-long Philadelphia resident and Vietnam War veteran who has recently returned from headlining an international poetry festival in Lithuania.

Thom Nickels wrote an article for The Huffington Post on Philadelphia’s upcoming selection of a new poet laureate, in which he questions whether “a Steptoe-Sanchez succession [would] interfere with the city’s racial diversity goals”. What racial diversity goals? The city’s population is majority Black, but why should race matter in this situation anyway, unless someone has a pre-conceived notion that two Black poets are too similar? Nickels claims that Steptoe has the same kind of voice as Sanchez, but if he had actually read or listened to their respective poetry, he would know that Steptoe and Sanchez’s voices couldn’t be any more different from one another. Sanchez advocates peace and justice through a passive voice that focuses on natural beauty and the interactions of people through intimate relationships. Steptoe is a raw, no holds barred truth-seeker, a spiritual warrior, and certified Reiki master who has converted Rimbaud’s abstract idea of the poet as shaman into an everyday practice of poetic prophesy.

The Huffington Post article at times borders on conjecture, with labels that arbitrarily question the nomination of fictional poets, such as: “a safe mom poet”, “a vegetarian, Asian, female poet”, “a gay feminist poet”, or “a waspish W.H. Auden or Robert Lowell type”. In doing this, as well as introducing the article with an again, label-ridden description of Moonstone Arts annual Poetry Ink, and repeatedly and mistakenly calling the event “Poetry Link”, Nickels sounds slightly disparaging of what he calls “Poetdelphia”.

There’s no doubt that Thom Nickels had good intentions in his attempt to illuminate the status of poetry in Philadelphia for the usual HuffPo reader. His article would be informative if it wasn’t for his incessant “Poetry Link” misnomer. Nickels speaks favorably of a few poets that he actually mentions by name, including Jack Veasey, Daisy Fried, and CAConrad. Nickels praises Veasey’s poetry, and gives him props for being raised in pre-gentrified Fishtown, but then laments that Veasey is now a Harrisburg resident and therefore is not eligible to be poet laureate. Nickels concludes his article by declaring that Fried should be the next laureate and defends his decision by quoting Joyce Carol Oates on why Fried has “an original voice”. Yet Fried’s poetry consists largely of confessional narrative free verse, which is fine, but it does little to represent the city of Philadelphia as a community.

However, this does not mean that all hope is lost in the pursuit of an adequate poet laureate. As mentioned before, Nickels speaks highly of CAConrad, but then dismisses him because Conrad’s bizarre yet captivating poetry might not go over well “at a City Hall business luncheon”. Although that question should be irrelevant, considering that the laureate’s job is not to give readings in City Hall, but to go out on the streets and advocate poetry to the people. Nickels brings up a valid point, does politics matter in the selection process? Considering that Mayor Nutter will not be making the decision himself, but rather will sign off on a recommendation by a committee of eight poets and academics, politics may not matter as much as Nickels suggests.

ConradSepulcherflower

So CAConrad, who is currently in residence at the famous MacDowell Colony, where Thornton Wilder wrote “Our Town”, should not be looked over in comparison to a conventional poet like Daisy Fried. Conrad was just published in October’s issue of POETRY, the foremost poetry magazine in America, and so it would be interesting for the panel to select an out-of-the-ordinary, nationally-on-the-rise poet to represent the city. Yet Steptoe has the advantage of decades of experience, and he also has explicitly represented Philadelphia in his poetry without ever having been given the task by someone else. Race and politics aside, Lamont Steptoe deserves to be the next poet laureate, and two years after that, CAConrad.

Tracing Emptiness

Release trepidation

when crossing

splintered

wooden beams

spaced three feet apart

at the rusty

trestle bridging nowhere to never-ending

nowhere, in the small town I grew up in

next to the now abandoned city of my father,

at the site of a childhood

beating by an older boy with a 2 x 4.

 

Was it by chance that the nails protruding from the wood

were bent? Was it strange how I noticed, while raising

my bloodied hands in defense, how his weapon

matched the setting?

 

Years later,

the same splinters

tore through love

and fatherly flesh

via PCP disguised as weed.

Incarcerated

place a crystal

in the pocket

of your pants

 

do you feel

a hundred miles

away from yourself?

 

if you’re a witch

then I’m a piece of shit

my perception changes

as my blood thickens

 

gone sane for some reason

you’re comfortable financially

but hungry anyway

 

(by choice?)

we’re misery incarnate

an idiosyncrasy of the failed plan