Poetically Speaking with Alexandra Hernandez

poeticallyspeaking2Alex is an aspiring young adult author and publicity assistant living in New York. When she is not immersed in the pages of a great book, she is taking dance classes. Her passion right now is salsa.

Alex is also one of my favorite bookish people and one of the first friends I reached out to when I was looking for new contributors to Poetically Speaking this year. Today Alex is sharing one of her poems and talking about how and when she started to write poetry.

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What Abuela Carries

A poem by Alexandra Hernandez

Abuela carries a large wooden spoon,
to stir the pot of hearty sopa we use for healing.
For a cold, for a bad day, for a broken heart,
Especially then…
Our medicine.

She carries the pain of it,
Our heartache.
She may not always understand it, or agree.
But she pushes against the weight of it,
Our defeat.

Abuela carries our brown eyes, our Taino tan skin, our dark hair,
Although hers has long been gray.
She passes them on and on down the line.
As we grew, we cut it, we dye it, we change.
But she carries our original form, for it was hers to begin with.

Abuela carries his heart in hers.
She keeps it there, like a secret.
Their secret.
Maybe she knew from the beginning,
That he wouldn’t always be hers.
Before her, he belonged to another, after all.
Nights spent dancing in corners of darkened rooms,
Surrounded by strangers that could never judge them.
Those memories, she carries them too.

Abuela carries that baby in her belly,
That baby she didn’t plan.
That baby is my mother.
She is heavy.
Heavy with love she already has for a child she’s never met,
She is already her pride and joy.
With this blessing, she also carries guilt, anger, pain.

Most of all,
Abuela carries strength.
She carries hope.
She holds it high for us to see when she wipes away our tears,
When she feeds our bellies.
Abuela carries proof.
That even in darkness,
There is light.

My relationship with poetry has evolved over the last few years. To be honest, it’s not something that has always been part of my creative writing life. However, I realized fairly recently that while I loved to hear poems read aloud, it scared me to try writing them. My favorites poets are great writers of love like Shakespeare, Rumi and Pablo Neruda. When I was a child, I was all about Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein. Most recently, I discovered and fell in love with contemporary poet and fellow Latina, Mirtha Michelle Castro Marmol and the social media juggernaut, RM Drake. But with my own work, I felt that my poems were slightly melodramatic and, frankly, not very good. For me, reading them back, I sounded awkward or like I was trying too hard to sound deep and insightful.

A few years ago, a family friend and mother of an old dance student of mine approached me about my writing. She wanted to know if I’d be interested in contributing a number of pieces to an anthology she was editing about grandmothers, or Abuelas, as we call them in Spanish. She spoke to me about The Abuela Stories Project, about the fact that the contributors were all women of color with powerful stories to tell and as much as I wanted to be part of that, the old fear snuck back in. I did not consider myself a poet by any means.

“It doesn’t have to be a poem!” She insisted, her bright, contagious passion beginning to rub off on me. “It can be an essay, short story, anything that inspires you.” Easy for her to say. I’d heard her read her poetry aloud before – it was electric.

But I thought about it. It wasn’t the first time I would be writing about my own Abuela. At the time, I was taking a memoir writing class in college and she had been the focus of many of my projects. My Puerto Rican heritage, ancestry, and the secrets of my family’s past have always been of great interest to me and I spent a lot of time that year reflecting on where I came from, the people I came from. And so, as intimidated as I had felt, I knew I wouldn’t be saying no to the project. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to connect with other writers and to put my own thoughts down on paper.

Fast forward to the end of last year and the pieces were due. And still, I was second guessing myself. Since our first talk about the Abuela Stories Project, I had fallen in love with spoken word, the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in the Lower East Side, and using poetry as a therapy, whether it was screen shooting my favorites from Instagram or starting a small collection of books. So it wasn’t that I felt uninspired! I just never considered myself to be a poet. I was already struggling with using the word WRITER to describe myself.

In November, the writers of the Abuela Stories Project came together for a writing and reflecting session at El Fogon Center of the Arts in the Bronx. It was my first time meeting all of the women at once and while I thought I would be more shy and reserved, I started to feel comfort within this circle. I felt safety. I felt acceptance. During one of the writing exercises, we were given a prompt – What Abuela Carries. I don’t know why but my first instinct was to use the prompt as an opportunity to try writing a poem. I never thought anyone would see it. It was meant to be for my eyes only. I wrote and wrote. I took the poem home and I worked on it again. I worked on it until it became something I could really be proud of and wanted to share with people. I haven’t read it aloud to an audience yet but it’s something I feel like I might want to do in the future. The best part is, it makes me want to write more poems. It makes me want to connect with that more hidden part of myself. It makes me want to incorporate my Latina pride into other works, like my young adult fiction writing.

When Emma asked me to take part in her poetry celebration for National Poetry Month, I said yes right away because it felt like more opportunities were presenting themselves for poetry and sharing that in a new forum. I can honestly say that poetry has grown into a new role in my life and I can only hope that it’ll continue to inspire me and prove to me that I can write anything, as long as my heart is connected to it. So, Happy National Poetry Month, readers and friends. Here’s to the greats. And here’s to us making our own magic.

Thank you Alex for this terrific post!

If you want to follow her on social media, you can find Alex here:

You can also learn more about The Abuela Stories Project at their website: http://abuelastories.com

When Green Becomes Tomatoes: A (Poetically Speaking) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

april 27

today

under a magnolia tree

i ran into a dachsund named paul

he was very much a sausage

with paws

and a nose

poor paul

if only he would look up

for a second

and notice the magnolias

with their pink

and their white

and their gentle flutters

he would soon realize

that it’s not so bad

to be a dog

tied to a tree

in the shade

when it’s springtime

and fluttering

When Green Becomes Tomatoes by Julie Fogliano and Julie MorstadIn When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons (2016) Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Julie Morstad, presents meditative poems set over the course of one year starting on March 20 when spring arrives. From there the poems follow winter’s retreat, the blooming of springtime flowers, beachy summer adventures, the crisp start of new days and falling leaves every autumn, all the way through winter’s pristine quiet. The collection concludes by circling back to March 20 with the initial poem appearing again the same way spring returns each year.

Each of Fogliano’s poem is titled with the date so that the book reads as a series of fun calendar entries. The poems are free verse and don’t rhyme. The variety of lengths, structures, and forms played with in When Green Becomes Tomatoes offer excellent examples of everything that poetry can do when used by a talented writer. The poems’ lack of punctuation and capital letters also bring the poetry of ee cummings to mind.

Fogliano’s poems are accompanied by illustrations from Julie Morstad bring the wonders to be found in each season to life. Morstad’s illustrations are populated with a variety of animals including paul the dachshund and the first bird of spring. The artwork in When Green Becomes Tomatoes also includes a diverse group of children enjoying what the each new season has to offer. A variety of pull page spreads, double page spreads, and smaller vignettes add variety to Morstad’s colorful illustrations and bring movement to each page.

When Green Becomes Tomatoes is a stellar addition to any poetry collection. Introspective poetry and finely detailed illustrations make this a book to savor. Readers are sure to find more to enjoy each time they sit down with this charming title. Highly recommended.

Poetically Speaking with Jessica Spotswood (+ Giveaway)

poeticallyspeaking2

Jessica Spotswood grew up in a tiny, one-stoplight town in Pennsylvania, where she could be found swimming, playing clarinet, memorizing lines for the school play, or—most often—with her nose in a book. She now lives in Washington, DC where she can be found working as a children’s library associate for the DC Public Library, seeing theatre with her playwright husband, or—most often—with her nose in a book. Some things never change.

Jessica is the author of the critically acclaimed Cahill Witch Chronicles and the editor of A Tyranny of Petticoats, an anthology of feminist historical fiction short stories.

Her latest novel, Wild Swans, will be released May 3, 2016.

Today Jessica is here to talk about Wild Swans and the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay.

(And thanks to Jessica I’m also hosting a giveaway for a finished copy of Wild Swans! Click for details and see the end of this post for more info on the giveaway.)


WILD SWANS has changed a lot from its original conception – perhaps the most of any of my books – but the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay has always played a role.

Back in the fall of 2013, I’d just read April Tucholke’s brilliant BETWEEN THE DEVIL & THE DEEP BLUE SEA. I loved the creepy-gorgeous atmosphere of it and admired how the Citizen Kane, the family’s crumbling old mansion by the sea, functions almost as another character. I’ve always loved setting-heavy books, and I was in a strange place with my career, where I’d just finished my historical fantasy trilogy and wanted to write something completely different. So, I set out to write a sort of Gothic-flavored contemporary mystery. I decided that the house in my new book would be a big white farmhouse on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, right on the Chesapeake Bay.

And in the book’s early incarnation, the house was haunted. Not – as it is now – figuratively, by the weight of being a Milbourn girl. (Everyone in their small town knows what it is to be a Milbourn girl: Talented. Troubled. Cursed.) Originally, there was a ghost of a woman – a famous novelist – named Dorothea whom Ivy’s granddad had built his career studying. She’d written one Great American Novel, which had been made into a famous, award-winning film, and then – like Harper Lee – become a recluse. Only, over the course of the summer, as Ivy worked with her granddad’s cute student to archive Dorothea’s journals, they discovered a series of clues that perhaps Dorothea hadn’t written the novel after all. Perhaps she’d stolen it. Perhaps she’d murdered someone to keep that secret. And perhaps her ghost was willing to murder again to make sure it stayed secret. One of the clues that Ivy and Connor would stumble upon was the Millay poem “Dirge without Music.”

But…the thing is, I don’t actually know how to write a mystery. I am constantly surprised by TV whodunnits. I do not have a suspicious, logical, clue-parsing mind. The book, in that incarnation, was clearly not working.

An editor who read the beginning suggested that perhaps I could take the ghost and the mystery out and still have a summery, character-driven, romantic YA. It was a little more complicated than that. But Dorothea became Ivy’s grandmother, who was selfish and talented and troubled, but not murderous. And now the plot revolves around a family legacy of both artistic talent and mental illness. Ivy and Connor still work together to archive Dorothea’s journals, but now Dorothea’s a famous poet.

And Connor is a poet, too, who has tattoos of snippets of poems he loves. One of those poems – one that means so much to him that it’s tattooed right over his heart – is “A Dirge Without Music.” (I’ll let you read the book to find out why.) In early days, that was the epigraph for the book, but – well, it is not in the public domain.

My editor, searching for a title, read some Millay and came across “Wild Swans.” She suggested that as the title. And when I read it, it felt appropriate:

I looked in my heart while the wild swans went over.
And what did I see I had not seen before?
Only a question less or a question more;
Nothing to match the flight of wild birds flying.
Tiresome heart, forever living and dying,
House without air, I leave you and lock your door.
Wild swans, come over the town, come over
The town again, trailing your legs and crying!

To me, this speaks to the yearning that the Milbourn women feel. Ivy, like her mother and grandmother and great-great-grandmother, is ambitious and ambivalent about small-town life. She clings to the comfort of it even as she finds it suffocating. “House without air, I leave you and lock your door” – this line particularly resonated with me; it nails how I think Ivy’s mother feels about the house and the town and how desperate she is to escape, no matter who she hurts in the process.

I’m so happy that this poem is in the public domain, so I can share it here and as the book’s epigraph!

Thank you again to Jessica for this wonderful post. Remember to stop by Rafflecopter to enter the giveaway to win a finished copy of Wild Swans. Giveaway will run from today through May 3. US only. Winner will be notified on May 4 via email. If I don’t hear from them by May 5 I will pick a new winner. You can enter the giveaway here: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/ccfb7e5a23

If you’d like to learn more about Jessica and her books, be sure to visit her website: http://jessicaspotswood.com

You can also read my review of Born Wicked here on the blog.

Poetically Speaking with Lindsey Krabbenhoft

poeticallyspeaking2Lindsey Krabbenhoft is a children’s librarian in Canada and one half of the duo behind the ever-popular Jbrary. When she isn’t working in the library or sharing insights at Jbrary, Lindsey can often be found sharing poetry on Twitter with #flashpoetry and Poetry DeathMatch or matching readers with poems at her site A Poem for a Feeling.

I’ve been lucky enough to get to know Lindsey through Twitter in the past year and as I began planning for Poetically Speaking 2016, she was one of the first people I knew I wanted to feature as a contributor.

Lindsey is talking about when she developed a love of poetry (especially love poems) and what she does to share poetry with the world.

Poetry’s been with me my whole life.  My mom tells me that when I was a child I would sit and listen to nursery rhymes and children’s poetry for as long as she would read.  Always one to encourage a love of reading, she bought me a copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein when I was 8, and I fell in love right then and there.  By age 9 I was parading around the house reciting “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout” and enlisting the listening ears of my younger sister.

By the time high school hit, I was one of the few people who didn’t let out a groan when we read poems in our Language Arts courses.  Though there was a fair amount of what I call “beating the love of poetry out of people by asking them what a poem means,” it didn’t deter me.  Instead, I focused on poems I liked even if I had no clue what they meant. In fact, it was during high school that I created a poetry journal. Filled with my favourite poems, songs, and a few writings of my own, I decorated the pages with pressed flowers and pictures from magazines. When I was 18 the journal completely filled up and it was no surprise to anyone that I decided to major in English Literature when I headed to university that fall.

I fell in love with love poetry my junior year at college when I took a course called Love and Desire in Contemporary American Poetry.  We studied male and female portraits of desire, erotic poetry, romantic poetry, LGBTQ poetry, and love poems in translation. I was pleasantly shocked by the honesty in the poems I read.  More than that, I learned things from those poems – about people’s lived experiences and observations. One of my favourite poems I read in that class is homage to my hips by Lucille Clifton:

these hips are big hips

they need space to

move around in.

they don’t fit into little

petty places. these hips

are free hips.

they don’t like to be held back.

these hips have never been enslaved,

they go where they want to go

they do what they want to do.

these hips are mighty hips.

these hips are magic hips.

i have known them

to put a spell on a man and

spin him like a top!

To this day, I’m an avid reader of poetry, love poetry in particular, though I think of love as multidimensional. There’s desire, romance, that giddiness of new love – but there’s also loss, heartbreak, and surprise. We love suddenly, tentatively, nearly, passionately, incurably, regretfully.  Poems provide the best expression of these feelings. If you’re looking for an outstanding collection of love poems I highly recommend Penguin’s Poems for Love selected by Laura Barber and She Walks in Beauty: A Woman’s Journey Through Poems selected by Caroline Kennedy.

Recently, I’ve started to share poems via social media.  It began when I created something on Twitter called #flashpoetry.  If you favourite one of my tweets within a given time period then I’ll send you a poem.  The goal is to give people a poetry boost during the day when they might least expect it. Periodically I also run #poetrydeathmatch which pits two poems against each other, letting my Twitter friends vote for their favourite one.  This is a fun experiment for me because not only do I have to search for two poems on a common theme, but I also love seeing which one people favour. Lastly, I created a website called A Poem for a Feeling. Enter a feeling and I’ll send you a poem based on that feeling. My friends call me their Poetry Fairy Godmother and it’s a title I cherish.

Poetry for me is about feeling. How different people take words and arrange them in a way that makes my heart beat faster. How seeing a particular phrase makes tears spring to my eyes. It is the utter joy of the unexpected in language that reels me in time and again.

Thank you Miss Print for letting me share my love of poetry with others!

Thank you to Lindsey for this fabulous post! I hope you all try her Poem for a Feeling site!

If you want to hear more from Lindsey you can find her on:

Week in Review: April 24, 2016

missprintweekreviewThis week on the blog you can check out:

My first big training that I organized/led happened this week. The Spring New Books Presentation was an almost universal success. Planning it and working as the committee chair involved a lot more moving parts and logistics than I expected but I feel a lot more prepared for what else this committee will have in store moving forward and also a lot more confident in my project management abilities as a result.

It’s hard to explain the mechanics of the training when you aren’t there and aren’t a librarian (although I did go out of my way to explain it to one of the security officers I’m friends with for the sole purpose of him telling me it would be fine) but basically it was a lot of presentations of new books and some tips on how to write and present booktalks. It was a casual and fun training and I think everyone had a good time–most of the evaluations at the end were glowing and really that’s all you can ask for. There’s room for improvement because that’s how life works but I am so happy to have the first training with me as the official chair go off without a hitch (moving forward would have been so much scarier with less glowing feedback).

Because I’m me, I also sent some sappy thank you emails to everyone on the committee and it was nice to see that was appreciated and to get feedback and comments back from them. I’m not exaggerating at all when I tell you that my committee is absolutely awesome and filled with a lot of people that I respect immensely so it means a lot.

Anyway, that was obviously the BIG part of my week. In other things I am starting to be more aware of when clothing does not make me happy and that even if it is objectively still in good shape and I still objectively look good, I am allowed to get rid of clothes that don’t make me feel good. Which is actually a much harder lesson to learn than you might think.

Also I decided to rejoin Instagram soooo here’s a pic of candy:

If you want to see how my month in reading is shaking out be sure to check out my April Reading Tracker.

How was your week?

Poetically Speaking with Karuna Riazi

poeticallyspeaking1Karuna Riazi is fond of tea, Korean dramas and writing about tough girls who forge their own paths toward their destinies. Besides pursuing a Bachelors in English Literature, she is an online diversity advocate and blogger. Her debut MG, The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand, will be released in 2017 under Simon and Schuster’s new Salaam Reads imprint.

Today Karuna is talking about finding her own path to poetry.

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My Path to Poetry

I am in love with the idea of poetry. I have little verses tucked away, like strands of hair behind an ear: written in the margins of a long abandoned school notebook, trailing down a peeled off Post-It note that previously graced the sacred insides of a library book.

I grew up engrossed in Walt Whitman’s “When I Heard the Learned Astronomer” and felt a tangible tingle down my spine observing Emily Dickinson’s “A Narrow Fellow in the Grass.”

My world grew colorful, in sharp bursts of realization and sunlight, as I became exposed to Rita Dove and Gwendolyn Brooks and glorious, full-voiced Maya Angelou. The words glittered and jostled each other and I strung them up my arms and layered them about my neck like they were jewels.

I wanted to be able to do that, too. I wanted to be able to pluck out perfectly faceted phrases that made you shudder, made you want to shout and fling yourself back in the grass and stare up at the balmy sky and cotton-clump clouds and feel utterly alive in every sparking, seething vein of your body because someone has put every feeling down into words that you didn’t even think of parsing out so finely.

I nudge words together like magnets, seeing which will snap together with the admirable alliteration I particularly enjoy – and which will disappointingly, laughably press back, offended at the idea that they could possibly have anything in common.

I haven’t been able to find the gift yet that I so admire in others. I feel like there is more to it than experimentation and liking some words more than others (in the best occurrence of favoritism there might be).

At least, I’ve reached the point where I understand that poetry can be for me.

My domain is novels. I’ll never be able to devote as much time to individual poems as I will into entirely shaped books with outline-spines of romance and adventure and intrigue, and that is entirely okay.

My main fear is a lack of beauty. If there is anything I hunger to see in my words, it is a lush, tangible aesthetic: a visual rendering of the feelings that teem through me and that I always associate with the turbulence of being an adolescent. So I try and experiment and like some words more than others and sometimes wonder if I’m going about all of this the right way.

What helps me carry on is the fact that I’ve seen how the beauty of the poem can seep into the density of prose. Nova Ren Suma is a master of it, as are Laini Taylor, Shveta Thakrar, Sarah McCarry, Holly Black, Roshani Chokshi, Anna-Marie McLemore and so many other glorious writers bringing a jewel-like charm and well spun beauty to stories that already glisten and gleam.

Their words reach down into my chest and wrench. They show me that it can be done, it should be done, that there are people out there who know how to balance the sublime meter of poetry into the often unfettered extents of prose.

It can be done. It should be done. It is just a matter of finding the right way to string the words together and the right amount of heart to mete out between my fingers and offer up for the magic to happen. Perhaps this is the awkward stage where I need to want, very, very badly, and watch the masters I so admire at work on their craft, and stare up at the balmy sky at some point and feel utterly alive in every sparking, seething vein of my body and hunger for a way to let all of that spill out on paper.

This is my path to poetry. It unravels with every new voice I stumble upon that lingers in the corners of my mind and tugs the corners of my lips up. It sprawls against my feet and nudges, insistently, when I’m turning the pages of a book that embodies everything I want to be – and want to continuously, constantly indulge myself in no matter what form of media I’m currently consuming.

Perhaps one day, it will unfurl to the point that I will be able to say, too, with appropriate charm and a little twinkle in my eye, “I am a poet. And I know it.”

But that day is not today. At least, though – at the very least – I know that I want to reach that day. I want to be able to unfold stories over my lap and point to the fire, glowing threads that make up their intricately crafted tapestries.

And for now, I continue to bask in the sunlight glow of poetry’s hope and beauty and occasional brisk blue sorrows. I continue to be reminded of how important it is to be so utterly alive, in every sparking, seething vein of my body, and hungry to become more and express more and know that there are others who feel the very same way.


Thank you Karuna for this thoughtful post!

If you want to learn more about Karuna be sure to follow her on Twitter: @karunariazi

Poetically Speaking with Me (Miss Print) about a poem I wrote about traveling

poeticallyspeaking2For today’s Poetically Speaking post I’m taking over to talk about a poem I wrote about traveling (which is ironic because I have zero wanderlust).

Baedecker Love Song
London is burning
Venice is sinking
New York is dirty
Oslo is cold
We booked all the wrong tours
We missed our connections
We bought the wrong gifts
from all the wrong shops
We saw all the wrong places
with all the wrong people
We made all the wrong choices
I’d make them again
given the chance
to make them again
with you

In my senior year of high school I took AP Literature. We had a new-to-the-school teacher who was all of twenty-three at the time. He started growing a beard halfway through the school year to try and look older. He prepared us for the AP Literature test but he also was working with basically no syllabus often asking his classes what we would want to read.

One book that he did assign, because it was a favorite of his, was A Room With a View by E. M. Forster. People talk a lot more about Howard’s End as one of Forster’s major works with it’s theme to “only connect” and the disastrous consequences of the characters’ attempts to do just that. But since reading it in high school, A Room With a View has had my heart and remains, I think, one of the sweeter classics I’ve read.

I’m not mentioning this to rehash Lucy Honeychurch’s stunning and dramatic romance with George Emerson. I won’t even share the two poems I wrote about Lucy and George, or my intense opinions on the movie adaptation.

Instead I start here because this book (and probably a few other classics I read as a teen) introduced me to the idea of Baedecker travel guides. I don’t know much about these books beyond the fact that they did exist and were the travel books for their time. But it’s one of those things that stuck in my mind. How strange to have a book you could reference as the Baedecker and everyone would know what you meant. How bizarre that it is completely obsolete by now.

This poem started with the idea of dozens of things going wrong. In particular “We saw all the wrong places / with all the wrong people” kept bouncing around in my head as I tried to figure out what kind of poem would fit that phrase.

Eventually I realized something about travel was the exact right topic. I went through a few different cities and disasters to start the poem before setting on the ones that made it in here. Similarly it took a while to pinpoint what, exactly, went wrong. In fact, the only thing I knew immediately after decided I wanted a travel poem was the title.

I’m still not sure if this poem is finished. It feels like there could be more to say or a better way to say what’s here. But for now I’m calling this poem finished. My own riff on travel and how even the worst trips can make for the best memories.

Note: This poem is an original work by me. If you are so inclined you can share it but please do so by crediting me (Emma Carbone not Miss Print) and linking back to this post.

Talk to me about your favorite poems or poetic context in the comments and be sure to check back every day this April for more poetry-related posts and guest posts.