by Alexis Smithers
taken from Bill Hader’s Interview with Hazlitt, “Empathy Implicates You”
It was I think, like
(that’s the looking)
and then discover This.
what I’m gonna do with my life:
having family and
explain them and
them saying “Very well.” and
meeting falling in love, and
just…out of the gate you see this is gonna go awful.
the mistakes and the great and the start become bad things
and the bad become unexamined
and I found every kind of movement
I found touching
it is that, while you go,
–how can they and you can’t–
it has to exist.
but the power
is the fact.
it’s taking you know.
Alexis was invited to participate in the LAMBDA Writer’s Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Voices as a fiction student in Los Angeles this summer! If you have the means to donate to help get them there no amount is too small & every share would be a blessing, click here to for the details. Thank you Lit Lovers! ♥
by Alexis Smithers
13- A Story About
“This is a story about you,’ said the radio
because you always wanted to hear about yourself
Welcome to this story about you.
you live out near the car lot, next to Josie.
Occasionally, she’ll wave you on her
for the Angels
Occasionally, you’ll wave back.
You’re not terrible
You can see the red blinking on and off of the human
the impeccable drop of stars and void.
You’ll sit with your back to the brightness
watching the hours.
But only you.
This story didn’t always live.
Somewhere else there were
you wrote dear
you wrote some good
this dreary world!
At last, not yourself!
Then you would delete that and
something else would be sent out and
not read by anyone.
You had a friend
“Look life is stressful. This is true everywhere.
[…] But when Cecil talked it was possible to let some of that go.”
(p. 24 from the Welcome to Night Vale book)
Review by Alexis Smithers
The Pulp vs. the Throne by Carrie Lorig left me confused, bewildered, and magicked.
It’s something I never would’ve picked out on my own and I’m glad, poet and Actual Cloud (the first edition has sold out but you can keep an eye out for it here), Dalton Day gently pushed me into her path with this tweet:
I was hooked in with monotonous and incredible in the same sentence. That seems impossible yet full of truth and that is exactly what this book is.
Divided into four or nine parts depending how you look at it, each section is sliding you towards the edge of a cliff. The first three parts you’re wondering why you’re on a cliff, by part four you’ve accepted your fate, and the last part of the book you’re evaluating, enjoying, exciting the fall. It’s a trip and a half to be honest.
There are some books that every word fills you with complete and total clarity.
This is not one of those books.
Here, you have to scavenger for understanding. Take to the page with pen and open heart, digging up and through and around and below each letter, slash, space, picture and pause until you glean something that you can hold up to the light and decide to keep.
It’s like when you go for a walk by yourself as a kid, or before the world breaks something important in you, and you’re still amazed at everything you see. You’re living capital letter exclamation point.
That tree was yellow but noW IT’S ORANGE!!!!!
I AM BREATHING AND ALIVE LOOK AT THAT BUG!!!
and you pick up little rocks and sticks and leaves and bottle caps and scraps of paper along the way because the important in you says you need to. And then, you bring all of those home and sit on the bedroom floor with a huge smile smacked on your face as you take all these treasure clues you’ve found and put together a story a secret the world needs you to tell, to know.
You don’t hide it when it’s time to go to bed because there’s nothing to hide.
But when you wake up in the morning, you find your mom has thrown your work play away because you’re “not supposed to bring the outside in with you.”
This book is digging through the plastic bag in the garage to find the unknown necessary she’s tossed. This book is learning that you didn’t bring the outside in with you, you’re learning to bring the inside of you out.
A lot of it doesn’t make sense if you’re looking for a clear cut answer. I can’t tell you what this book is about because it holds so much. Right now, it’s about living within contradictions, turning back to read the notes your feet leave, repetition that uses different words but comes to similar meaning, and embracing the un-doneness of what clings to your heart like familiar alien pulse. Who knows what it will be when I finish writing this.
You’ve got to go into this book with a lot of trust. But that’s okay. It’s good practice for everything else.
n. a message written in a secret code
v. convert ordinary language into code; “We should encode the message for security reasons” (The Free Dictionary)
n. Anything cyclical. If your freestyling, you rap in a cypher (one after the other). Interrupting another man will break that cypher (unless he’s next in line and the dude behind him is falling off).[…] Never break the damn cipher (Urban Dictionary)
People of color are more likely to be blinded by police lights than spotlight. We’re more likely to turn up dead Saturday night than just turn up. There are three things that made me want to make this post. First, that I needed to pull together a portfolio and these videos remind me that poetry doesn’t just come to you through page and mic, but in everything you come in contact with if you listen hard enough. Second, Zola’s twitter story about sex trafficking, attempted suicide, and violence going viral. And how, while it’s hilarious and well-written, it’s a perfect reflection of how people of color talk about trauma as if it’s an everyday occurrence, because it is. Third, this is a language I understand very well. It’s the exact opposite of Chen Chen’s The School of Fury. My family raised us on words, on quick quips and wit, on beats that thunder so loud our hearts’ teeth chatter. Listening to cyphers feels like coming home and in a world that wants us gone, it’s one of the safest, most powerful feelings I’ll ever get. Despite a world that demands our silence, these artists speak their truth and speak it loud, and in this post, I want us all to listen.
Broader Than Broadway: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Daveed Diggs, and Black Thought
This is the one that got me falling down the rabbit hole. My sister and I are huge fans of theatre but most of the people we know laughed it off, called us Oreos for loving such “whiteness”. Watching this cypher made theatre an “us” thing, a black people can have this too thing, a speaking up isn’t just for white people thing and that’s real important.
The Cypher: Tech N9ne, B.O.B., Kendrick Lamar and Machine Gun Kelly
“If you ain’t reppin for your people
then you shuckin and jivin”
(click here to watch on YouTube)
BET Hip-Hop Awards 2014 Cypher: Mook, Arsonal, Calicoe, Couture, and Plus Loaded Lux
“So they through me to the lions’ pit,
I came back with the lion
Taught it how to sit”
(click here to watch on YouTube)
2012 Ruff Ryder Cypher: DMX, Eve, Cassidy, and Murda Mook
“I do this for my chicks that don’t rest
Don’t stop until you the best”
(click here to watch on YouTube)
The Cypher 1.0: Cortez, DNA, Ms Fit, Da Don
(click here to watch on YouTube)
2014 BET Hip-Hop Awards Cypher: Goodz, T Rex, Tsu Surfer, & Rain 910
(click here to watch on YouTube)
BET Hip Hop Awards 2014 Cypher: David Banner, Treach, Vic Mensa, Snow tha Product, and King Los
My jaw literally dropped during this one.
(click here to watch on YouTube)
Print by Raw Art Letterpress
Last week, I made a vow to myself to tell the truth more. There are lots of answers to why I would do this, but only one question as to how — How do I break the silence? These are a bunch of words that I’ve carried around since I’ve started to get better. They help me break my silence and I hope they can help you too.
“You guys know about vampires? … You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. And what I’ve always thought isn’t that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all. I was like, “Yo, is something wrong with me? That the whole society seems to think that people like me don’t exist?“ And part of what inspired me, was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors so that kids like me might see themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it.” — Junot Diaz
The School of Fury by Chen Chen
“& everyone just nods & I want to say No, & scream, & punch Robert Frost in the teeth.
& take everyone through the wound of it.”
The Double Blind by Tafisha A. Edwards
“Can you name your attacker?”
Old Heart by Fortesa Latifi
“OLD HEART CROSSED HERSELF AND HOPED TO DIE
STUFFED COTTON BALLS INTO HER MOUTH AND CHOKED”
To My Father/My Unborn Son by Ocean Vuong
“Because what you heard, or will hear, is true: I wrote
a better world onto the page
& watched the fire take it back.”
Exit Wound by Jeananne Verlee
“you are an exit wound
a name I cannot bring myself
to say aloud”
Conjuring: A Lesson in Words and Ghosts by Jacqui German
“is talking about & is talking about & is talking about & is talking about & is talking about & is talking about & is talking about & just like that, the whole room is haunted.“
For the Offended by Donna-Marie Riley
“It is not my job to write gently.
I am not here to make you comfortable.”
Sparklefat by Melissa May Dunn
“All of them have no more fucks to give about a world that wants them to be quiet.”
Crush by Richard Siken
“I make up things
I would never say. I say them very quietly.”
What We Buried by Caitlyn Siehl
“I will go to my grave with the memory
of bravery in my bones.
I am not ashamed of any of it.
Not the closed door in my face
or the static silence of my phone
for weeks after.
I was not afraid.
I am still not afraid.”
This Way to the Sugar by Hieu Minh Nguyen
“That’s all. That’s all.
I have nothing else to say”
The Moment by T.C. Anderson
“She studies your answers like they’re written in Greek, and she needs to decipher them to survive. You want everyone to hang on your words like that.”
The Other Side: A Memoir by Lacy M. Johnson
“Sometimes flashes of poetry are all that we can find in the wreckage; sometimes these flashes are all that can possibly save us, brought together for brief, burning instants, and then let go.”
Bring Down the Chandeliers by Tara Hardy
“As our hound hones his scent, all the children I ever wasn’t but was meant to be, break open the roof, take wing, and I speak speak.”
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Dr. Maya Angelou
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.”
Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison
“All of us were screaming and no one could help.”
The Gospel of Winter by Brendan Kiely
“The problem is that you don’t always get to write your own story. You get written into some stories, and if ask why, there isn’t an answer. You don’t have any control, because the forces at work are too large to confront, and sometimes too large even to understand.”
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick
“Like maybe he really, truly believes I’m worth listening to, worth saving.”
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
“When people don’t express themselves, they die one piece at a time.”
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
“All I want is not to die on a day when I went unseen.”
Illustration by Kailey Lang
I’ve been having a tough time recently (and I’m really bad about honoring events on the day they happen, but this also ties into National Suicide Awareness Day, so watch out for triggers) and these are some poems that help.
by Kait Rokowsi
by Derrick Brown
by Clementine von Radics
by Lucille Clifton
by Caitlyn Siehl
Alexis : If you could begin this interview, what question would you ask yourself?
Q: Do you have a really good recipe for pozole?
A: Yes, I do.
Alexis : How did you get into spoken word? Do you favor written or spoken word over the other?
Brenna : In 2010, I had just moved to this weird apartment complex in Austria with a bunch of other people who I was pretty sure hated me. There were a lot of “bonding exercises” going on, and I felt trapped and overwhelmed and like I had made a Very Big Mistake. I cried a lot that first month, and when I was tired of crying inside, I would pace around the city and cry outside instead, because Salzburg is lovely even when you’re miserable. The second week, I came across a video of Andrea Gibson performing Photograph– and the tuning fork in my belly started humming. My YouTube history from that year is probably just every poem Andrea Gibson ever recorded 300 times over, and a couple plays of All-Star by Smash Mouth. It was never a thought of, “Oh, I could do this! I should write!” That part of it came a lot later. It was just the strongest wave of relief — “I am not alone. Someone else understands the way that I feel.”
Alexis : You made your copies of Sometimes I Still Daydream About Jonathan Taylor Thomas (and other things i’ll regret saying later), and as I’ve said before, they read like letters that got mixed up at the post office: secret, loving, and a bit fearless. What made you decide to create these more intimate books instead of going a more traditional route?
Brenna : I think everyone has a different purpose when they put out a book– mine was to, hopefully, find a couple of people and be able to whisper in their ear, “It’s okay to hurt, and you don’t have to apologize for it, and whenever/if-ever you’re ready to talk about it, there are people who are listening.” The other title that I was working with was “I’M NOT SORRY: A Love Letter to Bravery.” I spent a ridiculous amount of time making each book (and shouting at my paper cutter!) because I think that it reflects my message– here’s something that I put my hands and my heart into, and it’s just for you.
Alexis : What does your process look like? Can you write a poem in one sitting or does it take a bit more time than that?
Brenna : My process varies from poem to poem, and day to day. “Fantastic Breasts and Where to Find Them” took me something like four months to write. (And by the time I was finished, I was SO sick of that poem I cannot even tell you. I was pacing around practices for National Poetry Slam yelling “Is this Harry Potter sex joke funny??? What about this one??”) On the flipside, “Another Rape Poem” was written in about fifteen minutes.
I don’t usually write the bulk of my poems in a notebook/on the computer. Once the poems are pretty much done, I’ll write them down. But the actual process of building lines/ideas either comes from-
1.) Shouting poems at my bedroom ceiling; or
2.) Stomping around North Portland when I have something taking up a lot of space in my brain and I’m trying to figure out how to get it out of my body.
I’ve probably lost a lot of poems from not writing them down soon enough, but I’ve also explored a lot of Portland by angry-poem-walking, so I think it’s a fair trade-off.
Alexis : Since one of things you do is terrible magic tricks, I’m guessing you are made of at least 67% magic. Is this true and if so, how do you translate something so abstract into your writing?
Brenna : Oh my word. You do not want to get me started on magic. I am that horrible person who will meet you and be like “HI MY NAME IS BRENNA WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE A MAGIC TRICK?”
I have a lot of feelings about magic, and I wrote an essay recently that talks about a lot of those feelings, but it mostly comes down to this–
There is joy in being surprised. Magic lets you be wrong– and when you are, it’s not a failure. It’s kind of a miracle.
Alexis : You mix humor and heavier things like, absence, grief, and trauma, so smoothly that it makes a lot of your poems easier to swallow but still leave a pit of tough necessary at the bottom of your stomach. How are you able to find such a great balance in your writing? Do you ever struggle with it?
Brenna : I think a lot of this is just a reflection on how I am built. My family is very funny, and we deal with grief in part by making each other laugh. It’s easier for me to write about trauma this way, blended with humor, because I think it’s more true to life– grief doesn’t come packaged up nicely and allow you to deal with it in one sitting. There are all kinds of things coming at you at once– and hopefully, at least a few of them can make you laugh.
Alexis : I recently read that Emma Sulkowicz, the woman behind Matress Performance (Carry the Weight), believes “making yourself vulnerable is what it takes to change the world.” You’re very open not just in your writing but in your online presence (answering questions on Tumblr, being reachable via Facebook, etc.) Do you believe that vulnerability makes for a necessary part of your writing, a crucial part in connecting with an audience or alternatively, in creating community? Do you believe that being vulnerable could change the world, if not at least one person’s world?
Brenna : Yes. Absolutely yes. I think there is an enormous amount of strength in being vulnerable, and I think art is one of the few areas in life where you are rewarded for that vulnerability. I think writing something raw and honest is sort of like reaching a hand out across a room, and saying, “You’re not walking through this alone.” In that way, not only do I think it can change other people, I think it can change you– because now you’re not alone either.
Alexis : Following that accessible line of thinking, a lot of your writing features pop culture (superheroes, Harvey Dent, Law and Order: SVU, Harry Potter, etc.), something a lot of people can relate to before they even finish your poems. Does most of your inspiration lie in this category? Could you name a few of your inspirations?
Brenna : I’m just kind of a Harry Potter dork. As far as inspiration goes, I am inspired by people doing what they love– whether that’s Teller making a ball move across a stage or my mom making the best black bean soup on the planet– I enjoy watching people in their element.
Alexis : I just watched an episode of Orphan Black (where one of the main themes is autonomy in opposition to uniformity) so this question is really neon signing in my mind: Your writing has a very sure sense of self, a knowledge of where it stands and where it wants to go (even when it doesn’t know where it wants to go, it’s very sure in the unknowing). Did it take a while for you to get to a place like that, or were you kind of always sure of your writing/yourself (not so much that you knew everything all the time, but that you were very sure that you are your own person, you have your own beliefs/ideas/soul and that is something that cannot be taken away from you)?
Brenna : This is a really tricky question–
I have severe anxiety and very rarely have confidence that ANYTHING I’m saying makes sense to anyone else. But when I’m writing, it’s because there’s something in my head that needs to come out. I’ve learned to trust that process, and trust that the things that are heavy in my body are things that other people are carrying, too.
Alexis : What do you hope at least one person who reads or hears your work walks away with?
Your experiences belong to you. Your voice is important.
Don’t tell whale jokes on first dates.
Most things heal.
It’s okay if not everything does.
Bravery looks like all kinds of things.
Known for her poem, “Fantastic Breasts and Where to Find Them”, Brenna Twohy is an electric and astonishing spoken word poet based in Portland. Her book, Sometimes I Still Daydream about Jonathan Taylor Thomas (and other things I’ll regret saying later) is a collection of some of her most famous poems including, Another Rape Poem and In Which I Do Not Fear Harvey Dent. Brenna Twohy can be found on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.
“I am terrified of this dark thing/that sleeps in me.”
– from Elm by Sylvia Plath
– from Frida Kahlo to Marty McConnell by Marty McConnell
• • •
“I swear I wasn’t trying to die/I just wanted to see what my pulse looked like from the inside.”
– from When the Bough Breaks by Andrea Gibson
• • •
“I will/pretend the entire time that I don’t know it’s coming.”
– from A Sonnet of Invented Memories by Miles Walser
• • •
“When nobody is looking, I can fly.”
– from Lies I’ve Told My Three-Year-Old Lately by Raul Gutierrez
• • •
“Will I be something?
Am I something?
And the answer comes:
You already are.
You always were.
And you still have time to be.”
– from Here Am I by Anis Mojani
• • •
“Of course this is true”
– from A Bad Weekend in Three Parts by Clementine von Radics
• • •
“I have never called myself survivor. Survivor implies I fought.”
– from Play by Saidu Tejan-Thomas
• • •
“You want a better story. Who wouldn’t?”
– from Litany in Which Certain Things Are Crossed Out by Richard Siken
• • •
“nobody wants to hear you cry/about the grief inside your bones”
– from The Nutritionist by Andrea Gibson
• • •
“FEAR IS A VERB ONLY IF YOU LET IT BE.”
– from I Do by Andrea Gibson
• • •
“We are capable of disaster. And we are scared.”
– from The Weight of Our Living: On Hope, Fire Escapes, and Visible Desperation by Ocean Voung
• • •
“And who would ever choose to be the damaged house?”
– from Bruja by Rachel McKibbens
“I’m not sure what happens when we stop.”
– from How To Build a Fire Pit in the Backyard by Alexis Pope
• • •
“Are you listening?/Can you hear me?”
– from God Box by Ken Arkind
Today’s Focus is answering Richard Siken’s question as posed in his poem, Snow and Dirty Rain:
“Do we simply stare at what’s horrible and forgive it?”
“The answer you find is that the only place where a dark child can be free is in their mind–and even then, not all of us.” – Maurice Tracy
Let’s look into that a little further.
Proclamation of Faith: A clear declaration of belief
“When our worlds are rocked by terror, support can steady us, and sometimes save us.” – from Show Up, White America: The Opposite Of Support Is Silence
The only way to get through this is together, through community. That’s why we put this post together.
Invocation: Petitioning or Supplication for Aid
“To unravel a torment, you must begin somewhere.” – Louise Bourgeois
Praise Music Selections
“No one can escape suffering, but some can speak through it.” – James Kerr
(Black Privilege by Crystal Valentine)
(Ask a Black Dude by Gabriel Green)
(Whistling Vivaldi by McKendy Fils-Aime)
(Target by Anthony Ragler)
(Open Letter to Black People in Horror Movies by Omar Holmon and Anthony Ragler)
(Angry Black Woman by Porsha O.)
(Grief by Julian Randall)
(Dark Skin by Tova Charles)
(Da Rules by Marvin Hodges, Em Allison, and Saidu Tejan-Thomas)
Lessons and Readings
Written word to empower and educate
- alternate names for black boys by Danez Smith
- Citizen: An American Lyric
- Your White Friends Cannot Save You by Hari Ziyad
- Writing Race the Day After Charleston by Naomi Munaweera
- That Transformative Dark Thing by Alexis Gumbs
- After Charleston to be Young, Black, Gifted, and Alive by Maurice Tracy
- Poetry is not a Luxury: Poetry as Power by Kiki Nicole
- Poetry is not a Luxury: Poetry as Survival by Kristina Haynes
- Poetry as Grief by Clifton Gachagua
- Revolutionary Hope: A Conversation between James Baldwin and Audre Lorde
Tithes: Pay or Give (Attention)
Invitation to Worship
Resources to expand on and celebrate Black Voices
- Winter Tangerine Review’s Hands Up, Don’t Shoot Edition
- Black Poets Speak Out Tumblr
- Open letter to White Poets by Danez Smith
- Huffington Post Black Voices
- for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf by Ntzozake Shange
- The Black Poets: A New Anthology edited by Dudley Randall
- The Breakbeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop edited by Kevin Covall, Quraysh Ali Lansana, and Nate Marshall
Benediction: The Utterance or Bestowing of a Blessing
“We do this because the world we live in is a house on fire and the people we love are burning.” – Sandra Cisneros on Writing
“We must resist. We must refuse to disappear.” – Margaret Atwood
I cannot answer the question of whether we forgive or not. I, right now, am in no place to forgive anyone without causing harm to myself. But I can tell you this: we are not meant to just stare at the horrible. We are called to act. And that comes in many forms: talking, listening, healing, creating. Poetry can heal. Poetry can be activism.
Please resist. Don’t let yourself disappear.
Monozygotic | Codependent by Stephanie Bryant Anderson
72 pgs | Blue Hour Press, 2015
“I do not know who I am, where I am going – and I am the one who has to decide the answers to these hideous questions.”
These poems encourage us to accept that we will find more than one answer to these questions and we can change our answers over and over again. These answers are not set in stone because we’re not stagnant, we grow and change and so should the questions and answers we ask and find of ourselves.
(of twins) derived from a single ovum, and so identical.
Codependent relationships are a type of dysfunctional helping relationship where one person supports or enables another person’s addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement.
Three things floated through my mind as I read this book:
The first line out of Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina:
A song from the Far From Any Road playlist:
and how many people have told me:
I’m going to tell you I read this at work and it just made me jump out of my chair and do quite a bit of praise hand (there are many different ways to do a praise hand, this one involved me reaching out towards my computer screen as if I could communicate through my fingertips the amount of yes and bless my heart found in these words).
The book rounds out perfectly starting with “Loneliness Came Inside My Home, Unpacked It Things” ending with “Sometimes I Pack my Things and Leave.”
It makes you think that loneliness isn’t something that vacations, it’s something that makes a home of you and even when you make your mind to leave it, it doesn’t mean it will leave you, just like family. Maybe loneliness is something your family makes in you.
There are a lot of poems I read that talk about the struggle with family but they can move on to other topics. I can’t run away from my family, I’ve tried and I always end up right back on the Welcome Home mat. I’ve always felt it’s made me a failure but this book doesn’t make me feel like that: it makes me think that a lot of the things I’m looking for lie in the broken stove in my grandparents’ kitchen, the lock that leads to the basement we used to hide in, in the stories that we tell over and over. This book of poetry makes me think that maybe it’s not a failure to find pieces of my family lining my laughter, tripping over their regrets whenever I become the person I need to be, or waking up in the middle of the night to find their ghosts staring at me.
Monozygotic | Codependent is a perfect bound, soft cover poetry book written by Stephanie Bryant Anderson. She is the founder of Red Paint Hill Publishing. She has worked also as editor with Up the Staircase Quarterly, Inkception Books, and she served on the Editorial Board for The Manatee, Southern New Hampshire University’s literary journal. Nominated for Best of the Net, storySouth Million Writers Award, and twice for the Pushcart Prize, Stephanie is the mother to two amazing boys. Besides poetry she enjoys kickboxing and math.