My honey and I are in the midst of a slight writing glut: Ms. Betts, of the 30/30 challenge (she's about 17 poems in and has a hella intriguing series currently underway); and I, of my recently-revisited poem "Blues For Good Latinos." Inspiration seems to be following us both these days.
So what to our wondering eyes should appear this week but the National Book Award nominees.
First and foremost, Oscar Bermeo has a bunch of links and commentary up on his blog about Patricia Smith. You should go check them out.
Patricia's latest book, Blood Dazzler, was just nominated for a National Book Award. So was Fire to Fire, Mark Doty's new and collected. I am in love with both these poets for a number of reasons, and I can feel their presences in a lot of the new stuff I'm writing now. I also saw them read together at the Bowery Poetry Club, and it was a trip to hear Mark's voice sounding out Patricia's "Building Nicole's Mama." What a fantastic reading that was.
But I gotta send a special shout out to Patricia, though. For somewhat selfish reasons. It just thrills me to death that she's on this list, and if she won it, I think I'd have to rethink my whole jaded stance on the "po-biz."
When I was slamming and doing the open mic thing with more frequency, I had an urgency to write that was sometimes overwhelming. A poem a day, sometimes two. Always coming to the mic with some new shit. There's something about that kind of discipline and desire that always said, "This is what a poet is supposed to do."
Of course, the demands of the organizer/job holder/generalized hand wringer sometimes put a damper on the writing side of things. It shouldn't, but it does. It did. I'm going to school for poetry, and even now the poems don't come with that kind of urgency. I want them to, and it's beginning to happen again. And it's doing so because I see the writers around me making it happen: Willie Perdomo's press, my honey's 30 poems, and Patricia. Ah, yes, Patricia, who was at the Obama fundraiser this past Sunday, chillin' by the back table, writing the poem she was about to recite. And goddamn, what a poem it was. Will it stay in that form? Maybe, maybe not, but that's not what the poet is supposed to do: worry about form, that is. She had something to say, now not later, she crafted the best way to sing it, and she sang that sucker. Eso, like Clemente Soto Velez said, es ser poeta.
Smith is a kick in the ass for poets of all stripe to come down off their theoretical high horses and write some damn poetry. You have to scare yourself sometimes, as she put it to me. Word. I'm up at 5am these days, scaring and challenging myself, and I have Patricia Smith to thank for that. And that I can actually call her a colleague, a friend, makes this National Book Award nomination that much more special.
So yeah, congrats to Patricia and to Mark and to what is really a wonderful list of nominees in poetry:
Frank Bidart, Watching the Spring Festival (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Mark Doty, Fire to Fire: New and Collected Poems (HarperCollins)
Reginald Gibbons, Creatures of a Day (Louisiana State University Press)
Richard Howard, Without Saying (Turtle Point Press)
Patricia Smith, Blood Dazzler (Coffee House Press)