Highlighting Festival Poets for Black History Month

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In honor of Black History Month, we would like to feature the work of several 2015 Festival poets. These incredibly talented authors work across a variety of mediums (please check out Rachel Eliza Griffiths’ photography!) and have received national awards and critical acclaim. They hail from all over the country, and we were very lucky to have the opportunity to hear them read at the Festival.


Rachel Eliza Griffiths Griffiths

Rachel Eliza Griffiths is a poet and visual artist. Her most recent collection of poetry is Lighting the Shadow (Four Way Books, 2015). Griffiths’ visual and literary works have appeared widely. Currently, she teaches creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

“The Woman and The Branch” from Lighting the Shadow:

I knew. I knew. My mother gave me
her bluebird of happiness. Carrying the glass
inside my skin to school, I was young.
Show us what you have, the world said. I was polishing somebody’s rapture. It wasn’t mine. Not my paradise
or my mother’s love, but oh god
how it shone. I could never tell
which bird was singing. I went home
like a canticle to its branch. I flew
through gray leaves away from
childhood. I gave my mother answers I knew,
didn’t ask whether there was another color—
was blue right after all? Was happiness
a song to be shattered?
I couldn’t explain the frailty, how
the figurine had cracked
when I looked through its life


Major JacksonMajor Jackson

Major Jackson is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, among other honors. He teaches at the University of Vermont and is the poetry editor of the Harvard Review. His first book, Leaving Saturn, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award. Each of his last two collections,Hoops and Holding Company, was a finalist for the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literature-Poetry. He lives in South Burlington, Vermont.

“The Dadaab Suite” from Urban Renewal:

I have come to Dadaab like an actor
on a press release, unprepared for the drained faces
of famine-fleeing refugees, my craft’s glamour
dimmed by hundreds of infant graves, children
whose lolling heads’ final drop landed on their mothers’
backs like soft stones. What beauty can I spell in
this swelter of dust?


Saeed Jones

Saeed Jones’ debut poetry collection, Prelude to Bruise (Coffee House Press), was the winner of the 2015 Stonewall Book Award/Barbara Gittings Literature Award and a finalist for the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award. His work has appeared in publications like Guernica, The Rumpus,Hayden’s Ferry Review, and Blackbird among others. Saeed is the recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem and Queer / Art / Mentors.


“Boy in a Whalebone Corset” from Prelude to BruiseSaeed Jones

The acre of grass is a sleeping
swarm of locusts, and in the house
beside it, tears too are mistaken.
thin streams of kerosene
when night throws itself against
the wall, when Nina Simone sings
in the next room without her body
and I’m against the wall, bruised
but out of mine: dream-headed
with my corset still on, stays
slightly less tight, bones against
bones, broken glass on the floor,
dance steps for a waltz
with no partner. Father in my room
looking for more sissy clothes
to burn. Something pink in his fist,
negligee, lace, fishnet, whore.
His son’s a whore this last night
of Sodom. And the record skips
and skips and skips. Corset still on,
nothing else, I’m at the window;
he’s in the field, gasoline jug,
hand full of matches, night made
of locusts, column of smoke
mistaken for Old Testament God.


Gregory PardloGregory Pardlo

Gregory Pardlo’s poetry collection Digest (Four Way Books) won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.Digest was also shortlisted for the 2015 NAACP Image Award and is a current finalist for the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award. His other honors include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts. His first collection Totem was selected by Brenda Hillman for the APR/Honickman Prize in 2007. Pardlo’s poems appear in The Nation, Ploughshares,Tin House, The Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry, Best American Poetry, and elsewhere. Pardlo lives with his family in Brooklyn.

“Chalk Dust on the Air” from Digest:

Our hero explains what lines behave as waves
also behave as particles depending upon the presence
of observers, a market of admirers, etc. Think of sifted
sands Tibetan monks spend months to whisk in minutes:
their attack on nostalgia. Think of Milky Ways of water
damage on the bedroom ceiling. The Apollo module
on the dresser and the Ring Nebula is the blur where
Mom tried to clean expletives crayoned on the wall.
Whorls beyond, imagine a can of Krylon ship-shaped
with braided-rubber-band-propeller roped out to
the nosebleeds in the murk of heaven’s hood. The spray
can tags earth’s dewy rooftop with synesthetic stars,
foamy scars that welt the blue and melt like meringue
in the dusk, a residue of light in the periphery. Winged seeds
from silver maples at the feet of unshaven sheriffs
offering fists of baby’s breath. They smile with cigar stubs
plugging the breach. Renegade lines unleash the hounds,
shake the weight of undressed eyes. When some lines try
to pass for the color behind the color they came in, our hero
attempts no intervention. When he orders the lines disperse,
one sheriff’s bullhorn blast unsacks a rain of feathers


Wendy WaltersWendy Walters

Wendy S. Walters is the author of the prose collection Multiply/Divide: On the American Real and Surreal (Sarabande, 2015) and two books of poems, Troy, Michigan (Futurepoem, 2014) and Longer I Wait, More You Love Me (Palm Press, 2009). She is a 2011 New York Foundation for the Arts Fellow in Poetry, a contributing editor at The Iowa Review, and Associate Professor of Creative Writing and Literature at Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts at The New School in New York City.

“Character” from Troy, Michigan:

Because I was wrong to bring up the past,
the writer has drawn a version of me
that insists on being subject rather than
implement. Please think of her face instead
of your own if you want to empathize
with my error. Maybe you see her drift
through the atmosphere, trying to arrest
our pursuit of insight. She will not harm
your memories if you let the writer
mock your need to express awkward feelings.
The writer illustrates our girl’s worries
as a wall of windows. Look out. See how
she waves as she walks up the road? She wants
you to join her, but you can’t catch up.