The Editors Write: Scott Woods is a writer who has a way of getting under the skin of culture, and uncovering what is indelibly human there. He doesn’t overly concern himself with conventions. He’s as likely to pull from H.P. Lovecraft or comic books as he is from the classics, or from jazz and hip-hop. What makes it all work is an overt joy … a sense of reveling in language, storytelling and the histories those things bring with them. His work is witty — sometimes to the point of hilarity — but he never loses sight of the poem, its subjects, or the minute details which bring his subject matter to life. And he never backs away from those details … there’s a fearlessness in Woods’ writing which makes each poem an electrifying journey, the crisp, vivid language coercing the reader to pay attention.
What The Black Poets Will Kill Me For Telling You
By Scott Woods
Never mind the trees and the wind sitting in their lines,
their limbs folded pleasant, broken clean in their laps:
all of their poems are black.
They don’t want to shake those bones every time you ask.
They want to write poems about their obsession
with BBC shows without having to point out
why there can never be a black Doctor Who.
All of the rhythm ascribed to their poetry
in their introductions doesn’t hit on the one.
They need a jazz poem as bad as you do, more.
Despite their odes to the chain link gods,
none of them can actually play basketball.
There isn’t one of them who wouldn’t trade their tenure
for a championship ring.
You should see them at the meetings.
So much cream and sugar in their Styrofoam cups
you’d think the coffee foreplay.
They leave the magazine with their picture on the cover
in the seat next to you by accident.
Do not be fooled by the Hottentots
or the smell of vinyl revolutions
or the streetlight cool brownstone steps
they all use to braid hair on.
These are the bones required for admission,
the voodoo they beg to be cursed by,
the blue notes firing around the campfire
like drunken cigarette butts tossed into an inkwell.
Writes Woods: I became aware and instantly smitten with Kevin Young’s work upon the re-print of his collection, To Repel Ghosts. I thought it was a compelling way to revisit one’s own work, by way of “remixing” it for a different moment in time, and the construction of the book was beautiful. That a lot of his muses looked like mine — blackness, hip-hop, Basquiat, and so on — only endeared me to him more, and I have fully embraced his fearless range as a trait to emulate. His book, Dear Darkness is one of the best collections of poetry so far this century. This poem, Aunties, originally appeared in Dear Darkness.
By Kevin Young
There’s a way a woman will not relinquish her pocketbook,
even pulled on stage or called up to the pulpit.
There’s a way only your auntie can make it taste right.
Rice and gravy is a meal if my late, great Aunt Tuta cooks it.
Aunt’s cook like there’s no tomorrow, and they’re right.
“Too hot” is how my aunt Tootie peppers everything,
her name given by my father for seeing her smiling in her crib.
There’s a barrel full of rainwater beside the house
that my infant father will fall into
trying to see himself, the bottom,
and there’s his sister, Margie, yanking him out by his hair,
grown long as superstition.
Never mind the flyswatter they chase you ‘round the house
and into the yard with, ready to whoop the daylights out of you.
That’s only a threat.
Aunties will fix you potato salad and save you some.
God mothers, godsends,
Aunts smoke like it’s going out of style and it is.
Make even gold teeth look right.
Shining, saying, “I’ll be John” with a sigh
Make way out of no way.
Keep the key to the scale that weighed the cotton,
the cane we raised more than our share of.
If not them, then who will win heaven?
Holding tight to their pocketbooks at the pearly gates,
just in case.
Writes Woods: I saw Jamila Woods read this poem on stage a couple of years ago at the National Poetry Slam, and I was leaning forward in my seat because I wasn’t sure I believed what I was seeing. To see “Pigeon Man” performed is to see the future of performance poetry: a poem wrought large by the sheer originality of its creator. To say the things this poem says, through the voice this poem presents, captured by someone as young as Woods is, demands not only rapt attention to what else she does (and she is far from a one-trick poet), but awe. If I was doing what she does at her age, I wouldn’t know any of you people.
By Jamila Woods
Ever since I was a squab
people been jackin nickels
jackin nickels from my couch
That’s why my fluff
That’s why my feathers tousled
See my eyes?
They wasn’t born like this
no they was born grey
like my brothers
but the smoke! The smoke
turned em orange
People been litterin in my house
Their sunflower seed scabs fall off
their plastic fingers. French fries
hot dog buns, granola crumbs
That’s my breakfast. That’s my
This is my house
That spot you’re sittin in right now?
I’ve shat in that spot five times
Five times that spot was my bathroom
before you sat there
It’s still gonna be my bathroom
You ever seen a pigeon ass up close?
Jackson Pollock ain’t got shit
on my ass. I dropped a mural
in the foyer. I call it
my Fowl Welcome Mat
Speakin of ass
You ever seen a pigeon man
sweet talk a lady?
Our whole necks swell up
like a sparkly indigo scrotum
balloon, and they run
That’s how we know they like it
We watch their scaly pink legs
scuttle past, bouncin like bubble gum
red noodles the color of flamingo sex
It’s a compliment
But pigeon ladies wouldn’t know
a bouquet from a dandelion
a mirror from a clean glass window
if it hit em in the nose
You know how pigeon ladies are
Finicky feathers, beaks in the air offended
like they ain’t strut past my burnt cantaloupe
eyes on purpose
Speakin of struttin
somebody put a boot in my spleen
Yesterday somebody put their boot
in my spleen, like I was a rock
or soda can or piece of shit
But this is my house
Know what I’m sayin?
This is MY— I’m not a football I live
here, people should SEE me
See my eyes?
They wasn’t born like this
My eyes were the color of clean
cement before people with their smoke
in my house turned my eyes to this
tangerine mush so when I say
ladies roll their eyes away like silver
marbles like I’m contagious o-o-o-o-o-r
invisible so I say HEY
PIE YOU LOOK
GOOD FINE SEXY
and they run away
so I chase I say
I ain’t mean that
in a bad way baby
Look at my apricot cellulite
eyes, my dirty couch chest look
look at my city shit feathers look
how shiny nickel ball blue
I make my neck
swell up just for you
Just for you
Good poetry, and glad to see there’s a bit of anti-spam on your side now.
All I have to say is, poetry obviously isn’t dead. This is what I want from poems: music and thought dueting, a living language, etc.