Monday, April 28, 2014

National Poetry Month: Guest Blogger Daniel M. Shapiro

Daniel M. Shapiro is a special education teacher who lives in Pittsburgh. His new book of poems, How the Potato Chip Was Invented, is available from sunnyoutside press.

'Other' Is My Favorite Category

Poetry that seems to be one thing but could be another often makes people uncomfortable. When I submit work to journals, editors sometimes reject what I consider to be prose poems because they consider them to be too prosaic or too poetic. Occasionally, I will read humorous poems in public and expect laughs in particular places, but members of the audience might remain quiet and later discuss the poems as if they were meant to be serious (as if humorous and serious were mutually exclusive).

I am particularly interested in poetry that’s not obviously poetry or that doesn’t easily fit into conventional categories. I don’t usually like the straight-up love poem or the sincere break-up poem or the 100% somber death poem. Sprinkle a few obscure references in between the sobs, and I’m there. When you introduce your writing to someone by saying, “I’m not sure this is even a poem,” say it with confidence. Poems that do something innovative might not even be poems anymore, and it’s OK to celebrate that.

Anyhow, when Chloe and I were messaging each other about what I could write for this column, she ended a string of her suggested topics by saying I could cover “really, anything else.” Consider these 10 books to be prime examples of that topic. They take pieces of pop culture, literature, music, politics, and other elements and whisk them through one-of-a-kind voices of poets to create new ways of seeing their sources and new ways of seeing poetry, in general. These writers have learned to expand boundaries. They have no interest in taking easy routes to accessibility, but their work is nonetheless approachable. These are books to enjoy without the customary pigeonholing.

1.) 2500 Random Things about Me Too, Matias Viegener (Les Figues Press, 2012). Takes the onetime Facebook practice of listing “25 Random Things about Me” and supersizes it, creating a highly entertaining series of mini-events while commenting on 21st-century narcissism and other pastimes.

2.) Missing You, Metropolis, Gary Jackson (Graywolf Press, 2010). Mixes giddy comic-book nostalgia with a deeper analysis of race/racism and what it means to be a super hero.

3.) But Our Princess Is in Another Castle, B.J. Best (Rose Metal Press, 2013). Connects the speaker’s obsessive interest in videogames to a wide range of emotions experienced from na├»ve youth through responsible adulthood.

4.) Dear Lil Wayne, Lauren Ireland (Magic Helicopter Press, 2014).
5.) Letters to Kelly Clarkson, Julia Bloch (Sidebrow Books, 2012).

Books of epistolary poems that focus on how people try to introduce themselves into celebrities’ lives. The former juxtaposes playful references to the rapper and his lyrics with a wistful sense of loneliness, whereas the latter is jarring and eye-opening in its survey of femininity in the “American Idol” age.

6.) The Follower’s Tale, Stephen Roger Powers (Salmon Poetry, 2009).

Three words: Dolly Parton poems.

7.) Darling Hands, Darling Tongue, Sally Rosen Kindred (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013).

Deconstruction of Peter Pan that insightfully reshapes points of view of J.M. Barrie’s characters and themes.

8.) Noctis Licentia, Amy Lawless (Black Maze Books, 2008).

Eclectic, humorous writing with distinctive voice; “Internet History December 7, 2006,” a brilliantly bizarre series of fragments that somehow form a narrative, is a highlight.

9.) The Presidents (and Other Jokes), Sommer Browning (Future Tense Books, 2013).

Poetic tomfoolery or comedic poems or whatever. Many laugh-out-loud moments that skewer deserving politicians.

10.) Night Moves, Stephanie Barber (Publishing Genius, 2013).

Book-length found poem collects YouTube comments from the video of the Bob Seger song “Night Moves.” Occasionally agonizing as people nakedly reminisce about years-gone romance, “real music,” etc., yet also colored with the rude, grammatically challenged exchanges we’ve come to expect from the Internet these days.

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