Cleveland Book Week: Six Poems From Local Artists and Anisfield-Wolf Winners

Featuring Ishmael Reed, Ali Black, Stephanie Ginese, Donika Kelly and Victoria Chang

click to enlarge Ishmael Reed and Yuging Lin, his translator from China, whom one of the poems below is written for. "She was responsible for my novel, Japanese by Spring, becoming a national project in China. She visited us for a year under a U.C. Berkeley fellowship. We all visited Yosemite where this photo was taken by my daughter, Tennessee. She died recently of breast cancer, she was 40 and leaves behind two small kids." - Courtesy Photo
Courtesy Photo
Ishmael Reed and Yuging Lin, his translator from China, whom one of the poems below is written for. "She was responsible for my novel, Japanese by Spring, becoming a national project in China. She visited us for a year under a U.C. Berkeley fellowship. We all visited Yosemite where this photo was taken by my daughter, Tennessee. She died recently of breast cancer, she was 40 and leaves behind two small kids."

To celebrate Cleveland Book Week, which is newly expanded this year
, we're featuring poetry by local writers alongside Anisfield-Wolf Book Award winners.

Victoria Chang
Victoria Chang’s collection OBIT (Copper Canyon Press, 2020) received a 2021 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in Poetry. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, and lives in Los Angeles and is Acting Program Chair and Faculty member within Antioch’s low-residency MFA Program. Her new book of poetry, The Trees Witness Everything was published by Copper Canyon Press in 2022. She will be reading from OBIT at Lake View Cemetery’s Community Mausoleum on Friday, September 16 at 5 p.m. as part of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards events.

The Head–died on August 3, 2015.
When the two men finally came, they
rolled a gurney into the other room,
hushed talking on noises, then the
tip of the gurney came out like a cruise
ship. They were worried about dinging
the walls. My mother’s whole body
covered with a blanket. Her head gone.
Her face gone. Rilke was wrong. The
body is nothing without the head. My
mother, now covered, was no longer
my mother. A covered apple is no
longer an apple. A sketch of a person
isn’t the person. Somewhere, in the
morning, my mother had become the
sketch. And I would spend the rest of
my life trying to shade her back in.

Copyright © 2020 by Victoria Chang. Used by permission of the author.

***
Ali Black
Ali Black is a writer from Cleveland, Ohio. Her work has appeared in The Atticus Review, jubilat, Literary Hub, The Offing and elsewhere. Her first book of poetry, If It Heals At All, was selected by Jaki Shelton Green for the New Voices series at Jacar Press and it was named a finalist for the 2021 Ohioana Book Award. She will be presenting at Literary Cleveland’s Inkubator Writing Conference at the downtown Cleveland Public Library on September 9-10.

"I WORE AN 'I LOVE SHARON REED' T-SHIRT ON MY 30TH BIRTHDAY AND GOT BEAT UP & ARRESTED BY THE CLEVELAND POLICE"

whenever I tell this story my wife says she could’ve never been the girl who was with us that the cop body-slammed on the hood of his car because she was trying to record a part of our history that now rattles us anytime we try to celebrate. I know my wife pictures herself hurting the cop’s body before he could ever try and lay a hand on hers, but that type of dreaming only exists when you can no longer celebrate. I tell her how my words meant nothing to the cop who twisted my nose after I told him my uncle wore blue too as if colors ever united any of us. I let her know one of the smartest niggas with us took off his “I Love Sharon Reed” shirt and bounced as if he remembered his mother telling him to never ride four deep in a car or otherwise become a target by kicking it with a group of thirty niggas on W. 6th Street in downtown Cleveland after LeBron James makes his decision to leave a city that calls you and your friends a gang because you are all dressed in the same T-shirt.

Copyright © 2020 by Ali Black. Used by permission of the author.

***
Donika Kelly
Donika Kelly is the author of The Renunciations (Graywolf, 2021), winner of the Anisfield-Wolf book award in poetry, and Bestiary (Graywolf, 2016), the winner of the 2015 Cave Canem Poetry Prize. Donika lives in Iowa City and is an assistant professor in the English Department at the University of Iowa. She will be reading from The Renunciations at the LGBT Center of Greater Cleveland on Wednesday, September 14 at 4 p.m. as part of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards events.

"Love Poem"

Let us be ocean and coast, a taking
into and over one another:
shifting sediment, a breaking down

of rock: dredge and deposit. A series
of prepositions meaning proximity,
although the most of us extends away

from one another. Once, in winter,
I ventured far inland, forgot the crash
of gravity pulling you over me

and away—forgot there is a place
where we meet and retreat but never let go.
Let this be a moment of remembering,

my love, as I stand at the edge of myself,
cliff and sea grass and the screaming gull above,
sighting your breadth to the horizon.

Copyright © 2021 by Donika Kelly. Used by permission of the author.

***
Stephanie Ginese
Stephanie Ginese is a writer from South Lorain, Ohio. She is the daughter of a Puerto Rican mother & an Italian immigrant father. She currently lives in Cleveland, by the lake, with her two children. Unto Dogs (Grieveland, 2022) is her debut book of poetry. She will be presenting at Literary Cleveland’s Inkubator Writing Conference at the downtown Cleveland Public Library on September 9-10.

"prayer to alleviate shame"

Body, first capital & I have bartered it
oh God, oh trined mother, I have
spent it story awash in the stench
of what feeds me I am not
what I have done to get here
Body, trusted compass somehow,
we have always made it out alive
& isn’t that what this miraculous
shroud was fashioned for this dazzling machine
allow me to test the limits of what the senses
can take I am starting to unravel my obsession
with what carries us upright & tangled

a bullet sails past the third moon
& I claw rivers into my
                                                 Body, unholiest of muses

each breath that escapes is its own penance.

Copyright © 2022 by Stephanie Ginese. Used by permission of the author.

***
Ishmael Reed
Ishmael Reed is the 2022 Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards Lifetime Achievement recipient. He has published more than 30 books of poetry, prose, essays, and plays, including the groundbreaking novel Mumbo Jumbo. He will be featured on The City Club on Friday, September 16 at 11:30 a.m. as part of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards events.

"Going For Seventy-Five"
for Yuqing Lin

Alex Honnold climbs with no rope nor gear
He breaks between the meadow and stars
His youthful zest plays chicken with fear
He chalks his hands to grip the rock
And reaches El Capitan's top block by block
We've scaled the cliffs and are climbing down
We nod as the Honnold's pass us by
They dazzle the crowd that made the trip
While we dangle by our fingertips
We made some missteps
In our day
Ducked the boulders of our time
Came through the mists and fog
Okay
Survived to climb another day
Our ups and downs are quite a few
But few of them have had our vista
The silverfish have swarmed us too
And we, too, have sometimes
Forgotten our glue
And often we're cut
And other times, we bleed
The older we get, the less rope we need
Our destination is among the weeds

"Pluto and Luca Walk into a Bar"

Pluto overhears Luca say
Why aren’t I given credit for
All life that exists?
Is it because
I’m a single-cell, bacterium-like organism?
I, who am the ancestor of trees, birds, fish
And just about everything that you
Can think of
Instead of looking to the sky for
God, they should look to the bottom
Of the ocean where I live

O, you think that you don’t get
Respect, Pluto said
First, they gave me that
Dreadful name after the
Greek Hades and then
They dismiss me as
Just a big snowball in space

And now that they find I’m more
Complicated
That underneath my surface
Lie oceans and possibly life
I’m booted from the news cycle
by the discovery of a 9th planet

Turning to the bartender
A pigeon, Pluto said
At least we’re not a pigeon

The pigeon
Was unruffled, he said
Calmly, wiping some glasses
“Well, Pluto, it must be
Scary to be on a
Collision course with Neptune
Who do you think will prevail
From such an encounter?

And Luca, you have to have
One of Jacques Cousteau, Jr’s
Submersibles to even
Notice you
Down there, cold, dark and
Lonely

You will never see a rainbow
While my neck is one

Copyright © 2018 by Ishmael Reed. Used by permission of the author.
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