Let there be light in my house

& also, a video reading next week

I'm not going to shut up about Black lives mattering and I'm going to keep featuring some brilliant poets of color in these emails. I read one poem and one collection lately that gave me that gasping, top-of-your-head-taken-off, walking-around-with-your-whole-heartmind-open feeling.

The poem in question gets its titular Kendrick Lamar track stuck in my head. We love our nation’s Pulitzer-winning rapper. The track is GOD, the poem is "Self-Portrait as Kendrick Lamar, Laughing to the Bank" by Ashanti Anderson. The line that catches me in my tracks (still, and I've read this poem dozens of times) is:

I've noticed that good people must die

to let there be light in my house.

So much is happening here - God and Genesis and goodness. And even noticing: an ideal verb of observation, one that I think of often in my daily life. (Notice the pace of your thoughts. Notice the space your breaths take up as you meditate, as you walk, mask on, around public spaces). Here the speaker may or may not be complicit in what must be going on. I take it to mean — no matter what, our suffering is bound up in that of others. That none of us are free until we all are, that we are each other's harvest where it counts the most.

And a whole collection of poems intimately concerned with Godliness, goodness and complicity — and with intimacy itself — is A Fortune for Your Disaster by Hanif Abdurraqib. You may recall this author from last month's Black Joy Poetry Playlist right here in this very email newsletter, which included him reading the prose poem/lyric essay/striking piece of writing that is "Defiance, Ohio is the Name of a Band."

I'd like to thank my dear Empty Bottle Book Club for giving me a needed kick in the pants to concentrate on reading a whole book of poems for the first time since the pandemic began. When we discussed this book on Sunday afternoon someone said it seemed so prescient that it was as if the poems were appearing on the page especially for these times, even though the book was published last year and surely written before even a glimmer of the terms "social distancing" or "novel coronavirus" existed in the American public's eye. Still, lines like “& I guess loneliness is another type of debt” will ring through my ears as I mask up, stay six feet away from my friends and neighbors, and keep going.

But back, briefly, to God. There’s a series of poems in A Fortune for Your Disaster that share the title “It’s Not Like Nikola Tesla Knew All Those People Were Going to Die.” Like most good poems they’re about a lot of things — including playing God and puncturing the concept of history’s great men. “Everyone wants to write about god / but no one wants to imagine their god / as the finger trembling inside a grenade / pin’s ring,” this poem begins. “Faith, weaponized,” I wrote in the margins. Blind faith — believing beyond evidence that you’re in the right — that’s a dangerous force. I don’t want to quote more from these poems tonight but I do want you to read them. Reply and let me know what you think. (You can help me figure out this whole Substack situation.)

And now, self-promotion