Every year to celebrate Poetry Month, we select 32 poets to battle it out in a competition for the ages: Poetry Madness. This year, we decided to do things a little differently: instead of choosing the players ourselves, we asked four awesome poets — Saeed Jones, Andrea Gibson, Robert Lashley, and Hajara Quinn — to each nominate eight of their favorite contemporaries to compete for the title of Best Poet of All Time (for the year). Who will emerge victorious? Read about the contenders here and then go to our Poetry Madness page on April 8 to vote for your top choices.
|Saeed Jones's 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.
Below are Saeed Jones's picks for Poetry Madness 2015.
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Author of The New Testament
"Whether writing in the voice of Joni Mitchell or a lover rapt with the blues, Brown's poetry darkly glimmers like whiskey on the rocks."
Listen to him read "At the End of Hell."
Follow him on Twitter @jerichobrown.
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Author of Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah
"The roar of Hurricane Katrina, the hopeful sigh of a young mother in Chicago's South Side, Medusa fixing her hair: Patricia Smith has so many voices!"
Follow her on Twitter @pswordwoman.
"Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah" by Patricia Smith
My mother scraped the name Patricia Ann from the ruins
of her discarded Delta, thinking it would offer me shield
and shelter, that leering men would skulk away at the slap
of it. Her hands on the hips of Alabama, she went for flat
and functional, then siphoned each syllable of drama,
repeatedly crushing it with her broad, practical tongue
until it sounded like an instruction to God, not a name.
She wanted a child of pressed head and knocking knees,
a trip-up in the doubledutch swing, a starched pinafore
and peppermint-in-the-sour-pickle kinda child, stiff-laced
and unshakably fixed on salvation. Her Patricia Ann
would never idly throat the Lord's name or wear one
of those thin, sparkled skirts that flirted with her knees.
She'd be a nurse or a third-grade teacher or a postal drone,
jobs requiring alarm-clock discipline and sensible shoes.
My four downbeats were music enough for a vapid life
of butcher-shop sawdust and fatback as cuisine, for Raid
spritzed into the writhing pockets of a Murphy bed.
No crinkled consonants or muted hiss would summon me.
My daddy detested borders. One look at my mother's
watery belly, and he insisted, as much as he could insist
with her, on the name Jimi Savannah, seeking to bless me
with the blues-bathed moniker of a ball breaker, the name
of a grown gal in a snug red sheath and unlaced All-Stars.
He wanted to shoot muscle through whatever I was called,
arm each syllable with tiny weaponry so no one would
mistake me for anything other than a tricky whisperer
with a switchblade in my shoe. I was bound to be all legs,
a bladed debutante hooked on Lucky Strikes and sugar.
When I sent up prayers, God's boy giggled and considered.
Daddy didn't want me to be anybody's surefire factory,
nobody's callback or seized rhythm, so he conjured
a name so odd and hot even a boy could claim it. And yes,
he was prepared for the look my mother gave him when
he first mouthed his choice, the look that said, That's it,
you done lost your goddamned mind. She did that thing
she does where she grows two full inches with righteous,
and he decided to just whisper Love you, Jimi Savannah
whenever we were alone, re- and rechristening me the seed
of Otis, conjuring his own religion and naming it me.
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Tracy K. Smith
Author of Life on Mars
"From the intimacy of lovers in bed after a night of dancing to the far reaches of outer space, Tracy K. Smith's poems have such an intelligent passion."
Read "My God, It's Full of Stars" here.
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Author of Here, Bullet
"In writing about his experiences in war zones as well as under siege by memory back home, Brian Turner continues to make crucial offerings to America's conversation about the wars we wage but so often ignore."
"Here, Bullet" by Brian Turner
If a body is what you want,
then here is bone and gristle and flesh.
Here is the clavicle-snapped wish,
the aorta's opened valves, that leap
thought makes at the synaptic gap.
Here is the adrenaline rush you crave,
that inexorable flight, that insane puncture
into heat and blood. And I dare you to finish
what you've started. Because here, Bullet,
here is where I complete the word you bring
hissing through the air, here is where I moan
the barrel's cold esophagus, triggering
my tongue's explosives for the rifling I have
inside of me, each twist of the round
spun deeper, because here, Bullet,
here is where the world ends, every time.
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Author of Vulgar Remedies
"Journey has a wicked, neon-lit imagination that paints the Southern Gothic in gorgeous and disturbing new colors."
Read some of her poems here.
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Author of How to Be Drawn
"Hayes's willingness to experiment with form and the rhythmic muscle of his lines are just two reasons he is one of America's leading poets."
Watch him read his poem "God Is an American."
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Author of Wunderkammer
"Cynthia Cruz's poems will haunt you like dreams whose images you just can't shake."
Read two of her poems here.
Follow her on Twitter @cindyskylar.
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Author of Unpeopled Eden
"Often inspired by his Mexican heritage as well as the intersection of race, sexuality and class, González's poetry traverses the borderlands of our cultural imagination."
Follow him on Twitter @MariposaBoy.
"Our Lady of the Crossword" by Rigoberto González
I want to be the lady
posing naked in the nicho
of my father's crossword.
In a temple of black and white
tiles she's the only page
of beauty in México's tragic
tabloids, her smile blessed
with the serenity of saints,
her thigh coned like the chalice
of a lily, breasts plump
as cherubs and modest black stars
over the little angel noses.
No wonder my father keeps
the puzzle sacred and never
dares defile it with graffiti.
This encounter soothes him,
like a kiss of light, a yellow
bird perched on dry brush.
I want my body to bring
such a flame to his face.
I want my wink to sing.
But my father's not amused
when I shake the painted
spurs over my nipples
as I shuffle with my penis
tucked into my legs,
my baby pubes shy as nuns.
¡Ay! the wrath of lightning
strikes me down—
the tabloid pages face
the darker windows
on which my mother cracks
her hands against the glass,
helpless witness to
assault. It's not her fault.
And how to blame
my father for miraculous
conversion: his lip a smear
of prayer, a rosary whip, Our
Lady of the Crossword
tattooed like a flash burn
to the tunic of my back.
(From Our Lady of the Crossword, A Midsummer Night's Press, 2015)