Poetry

*Listen to Cynthia Manick's reading of the poem

like the air ain’t filled with
coarse windchimes
sirens loud as a jet in flight

the quick jabs
of a couple arguing about cheese
and face masks …

STORY

*Listen to J. Estanislao Lopez's reading of the poem

My daughter learned to point
in a cemetery.
There were many deaths that year.

The priests’ black shirts grew discolored from sweat.
Florists did well …

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greenery overlapping in the poet’s back garden in Jakarta

*Listen to Khairani Barokka's reading of the poem

because do calls this house an ecosystem

where straddling folioles tangle mighty-fisted

along a wire canopy he strung

above the brick-and-pot garden …

STORY

Sundays are for the depressed
half-naked
dancing in alleys
of fiction
of fructose

Sundays are for feeling small
submerged in our dreams

misty eyes
and
mild madness …

STORY

May Poetry Curator Cynthia Dewi Oka

Sailor Moon Was My Childhood Hero

Cynthia Dewi Oka is the author of four poetry collections including Fire Is Not a Country (2021) and A Tinderbox in Three Acts, a BOA Editions Blessing the Boats Selection, forthcoming in fall 2022. Currently Poet in Residence at the Amy Clampitt House, she is originally from Bali, Indonesia.

"Khairani Barokka, J. Estanislao Lopez, Cynthia Manick, and Raquel Salas Rivera are poets whose works effortlessly join the historical and the timeless. Their voices are singular, faithful to each poet's relationship to place and time, yet they are united by their nuanced, vigilant attentiveness to the edges of collective experience. Through Barokka's imagining of a culturally-specific micro-local ecosystem as refuge, Lopez's mourning for the lives we have lost against the grain of back-to-normal imperatives, Manick's questioning of the crisis-as-spectacle news cycle, and Rivera's accounting of the hopes, contradictions, and pressures inherent to anti-colonial praxis, we are invited not only to feel, but to extend the breadth of our perception and possibilities in the world" …

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At the threshold of the sitting room
Standing
On the only stair that separates the door and the floor
The device snapped

The father, his amaranth red bubu
The son, his navy blue
The earth, its ocher twilight
And two flowers on the right

A door opens into the darkness
To the left …

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We will keep wake up until the boundaries of insomnia
We will not sleep
We will pluck out the eyes of drowsiness
We will pull the bed away from naive naps
We are part of those who keep wake

Our eyes rolled wide
Blushed by the challenge
Open to vigilance
We will walk in front of the fire to protect the flame of awakening …

STORY

What storm is brewing
With the falling of dead stars
That lie along these alleys of sea foam?

Suicidal waves
Rise and crash
Into the throat of a gaping gulf
Which absorbs their wreckage
While swallowing sea shells

The sky hits rock bottom
Even the vultures flee away
From bewildered branches …

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Hot Stepper at the Gates of Hell | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

*Listen to Martin Egblewogbe's reading of the poem

who now pleads with the ancestors
seeing with naked eyes the gates of the dead

who now sees the impossibility of life
finding at last the answer to the question

and wonders how it could all be so ugly
if it be under the power of god

and wonders how it could be so petty
despite the promise of colour and glory …

STORY

April Poetry Curator Patron Henekou | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

April Poetry Curator Patron Henekou

If I Start Playing Football, There Is Nothing Else I Can Do

Patron K. Henekou is a poet, playwright, literary translator, co-founder and director of Festival
International des Lettres et des Arts, and professor of English at Université de Lomé in Lomé,
Togo. He has been a a Fulbright fellow at the University of Nebraska’s creative writing program
and an African American fellow at the Palm Beach Poetry Festival. His recent works include Des
cheveux et des ongles
(poetry) and Vendredi soir sur la 13 (short stories).

"These April poems are a choice selection from several sumptuous West African voices that interrogate natural and environmental challenges, resilience, and the sacred. The five poets here wax poetic as they attempt to establish meaningful connections and continuity among countries separated by borders that are themselves relics of colonial violence," he tells us …

STORY

Thousands or Millions of Tiny Dots of Varying Size | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

Why March curator Erika Meitner selected this poem:
"I had the pleasure of reading Matt Donovan’s forthcoming book The Dug-Up Gun Museum in manuscript phase, because I wrote a blurb for it–it’s due out from BOA Editions in 2023. As someone else who has written about gun culture in America, I was blown away by the nuanced way Matt takes on this topic from all angles, using narrative, lyric, and more documentary modes throughout the book. [The poem] takes us through NRA headquarters–and into the National Firearms Museum located in those headquarters–and recreates the experience in great detail, until the poem pivots to speak to America directly. 'America, I’m done / with prayers,' Donovan writes, and goes on to meditate on the efficacy of poetry to solve a problem as big as gun violence, and the inevitability of anything changing when we drive the same roads literally and metaphorically over and over."
*Listen to Matt Donovan's reading of the poem

STORY

I’m not sorry for the summer I gave you chlamydia | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

Why March curator Erika Meitner selected this poem:
"Susan Nguyen was a student in some of the first undergraduate creative writing classes I taught at Virginia Tech, and it’s been a joy to see her publish her first collection of poems this past year–Dear Diaspora, which came out from the University of Nebraska Press in 2021. What I love about Susan’s poems is how bold they are–they have a strong and distinctive voice, and 'I’m not sorry for the summer I gave you chlamydia' is no exception. It’s a pleasingly winding poem, with surprise turns every few lines–bees, a sexually transmitted infection, scientists with tiny microphones, and all of it is ultimately an unapologetic love poem stitched with humor and a little melancholy simultaneously." …

STORY

What It’s Like Escaping Something Trying to Kill You? | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

Why March curator Erika Meitner selected this poem:
"I first encountered Karisma Price’s poems when I read her application to our MFA program at Virginia Tech–it must have been almost five years ago–maybe longer. Her long and vivid narrative poems about her home city of New Orleans after Katrina stayed with me for a long time, and I had the pleasure of reading her forthcoming book I’m Always so Serious–coming from Sarabande in 2023–in manuscript form. 'What’s It Like Escaping Something Trying to Kill You?' is from her forthcoming book, and starts in a car with a family trying to escape the path of a hurricane. It begins as a road-trip list poem that plunges us into the immediacy of flight through palpable details, and morphs into a set of deeper existential questions around agency, family ties, caretaking, race and racism, and survival." …

STORY

Why March curator Erika Meitner selected this poem:
"[It] is the closest of everything I’ve read that articulates the visceral feeling of mothering during the pandemic–in this case, as a state of drowning and stuckness and overwhelm. As we come up on the two year anniversary of the initial set of pandemic school closures and lockdowns, mothers are still in distress, our government has still not passed any kind of legislation or funding around paid parental leave, universal pre-k, or affordable childcare, and no amount of journaling or self-care tips can save us. 'The mothers were drowning' is both wholly surreal and utterly recognizable–the mothers are whale-human, beached, and have lost their sheen–they are in perpetual literal and metaphorical distress." …

STORY

An Interview with March Poetry Curator Erika Meitner

I’m a Throwback Jew to Another Century

Erika Meitner is the author of five books of poems, including Ideal Cities—a 2009 National Poetry Series winner; Copia; and Holy Moly Carry Me, winner of the 2018 National Jewish Book Award and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in poetry. Currently a professor of English at Virginia Tech, her next book of poems, Useful Junk, is forthcoming this year.
We got a chance to talk with Meitner, who will be curating Zócalo’s March poetry selections, in the green room, where she shared her favorite meme, why she writes in her car, and how she ended up watching hours of George Balanchine choreography for work …

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*Listen to Thomas McGuire’s introduction and reading of the poem in Dutch

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Brian Turner

2022 February Poetry Curator

Brian has selected four poems in translation from India, the Netherlands, Iraq, and Ukraine. “I’m thinking globally about how can we listen to voices beyond our borders if they’re in a language we don’t have access to,” he told Zócalo. Having had his own poems translated in multiple languages, he knows how meaningful the art of translation can be: “[It’s] a very sweet and kind thing that someone else would take the time from a very short life and use their abilities to care for it.” …

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