The Strop Weekly Roundup

Weekly Roundup: 6 Poems and Poets You’ll Want to Read Again and Again

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1. “My Lungs” by Jay Hulme

 Not a lot of people know the sensation of having to read their work with their chest bound down. From personal experience: It sucks. Decreased lung capacity and difficulty expanding your diaphragm make for a lot of lightheadedness and broken phrases. Then there is Hulme’s poem. The phrases are short, rhythmic, rhymed, and arranged to flow into each other when spoken aloud — even with shortness of breath. “I do not have the space in my lungs / To combat these words you have said, / My lung tissue is probably dead / But I keep on breathing. / Shallowly.” The poem opens with a refrain familiar to many trans men and nonbinary people. Prolonged binding, even when done safely, can and often does cause the deterioration of breast and lung tissue. As the poem goes on, the speaker engages with the destruction of his body with familiarity and pride: “My lungs bleed red, / More than lungs really should. / I cough up blood sometimes / But I see it as worth it, / The chest that I have / Not given from birth it’s / Bound once around / With a shirt of elastic, / I’m flat, it’s fantastic!” The speaker contends with a man who follows him and shouts slurs at him, turning the poem’s familiarity with pain into a rallying cry for support against transphobic violence: “My lungs / Are tattered flags / On bone masts, / Calling on armies / That are not yet recruited / To save people / Who are already dead.” “My Lungs” is at once witty, dark, and familiar. It leaves no uncertainty in its frank language and metaphors: These are the costs trans bodies pay every day — to our transitions, and to bigots. Hulme’s book, Clouds Cannot Cover Us, released earlier this month. – Daniel Mazzacane 

2. “What I Know About Fresno” by Sara Borjas

Borjas’ debut collection Heart Like a Window, Mouth Like a Cliff (2019) is filled with poetry that pulls no punches, especially when it loves its subject. It is a deep, often painful kind of love, the type of emotion that leaves no room for lies, tenderly stripping away pretense to leave people, places, and the speaker bare. Force me to choose just one poem, and the one that draws me back centers on the familiar surety of home. “What I Know About Fresno” is a call to place, to the palm trees and chain link that build a Fresno the speaker can feel in their bones. “I know the silt left dry / at the bottom of an irrigation ditch / which is sometimes the same thing as pride / which is sometimes the same thing as devotion. I know I will die here.” There is no resignation in this admittance, only the pride and love that can come from intimately embracing the place you come from. It is self as place rendered on the page, and, honestly, it’s only the tip of the iceberg for what this collection does. Read this poem, then when you’re done, go read the entire book. – Daniel Mazzacane

3. “This Will All Be Yours Someday” by Oliver Baez Bendorf 

Saying that Bendorf’s poetry fascinates me would be an understatement. A quiet yearning can be found in the wandering, often haunting images of nature he invokes in his poems and the large swaths of blank space on the page that force a reader to stop. Consider each syllable. Each word. Phrase. Then, continue. “This Will All Be Yours Someday” doesn’t play with blank space in the same way as some of his other work. Instead, it utilizes long and short paragraphs to fashion the persistence of queer identity, juxtaposing blood and found families, and how one creates oneself in queer identity. “Queerness — its histories, practices, rituals, words, admonitions, and pent up dreams — does not all get passed down through the biological line, it finds other routes.” The poem turns on a question and its simple answer, “what is to be done about the pile of pent-up dreams and suffering? For me, one thing: write.” Then, into a further poetic lineage entwined with identity — queerness, race, gender — to an evenhanded, hopeful understanding. “Though experiences with disposability may muddy or sever our roots, the earth is our home, and we inherit everything terrible as well as everything joyous, everything beautiful and good.” Bendorf’s debut collection, Advantages of Being Evergreen (2019) just dropped in September, and, like “This Will All Be Yours Someday,” is very much worth the read. – Daniel Mazzacane

4. “Abecedarian Requiring Further Examination of Anglikan Seraphym Subjugation of a Wild Indian Reservation” by Natalie Diaz

The abecedarian form is so outwardly simple (A, B, C … ), but it both fuels and is fueled by so many different things in this poem: It controls the line breaks, which allows for some really interesting jumps and cuts; it decides when the poem needs to use elevated diction and when it goes for the occasional vernacular; and it also speaks thematically to the concerns of the poem in multiple ways. The ending of this piece takes what comes before and builds it to a logical conclusion in that perfectly poetic way where it’s so perfect that I hate myself for not seeing it coming even as I don’t really think I could have on a first read. The title of the piece purposely screws around with what is and isn’t “proper” to ridiculously good effect. I’ll also admit I’m a massive sucker for long titles. This poem comes from Diaz’s first collection, When My Brother Was an Aztec. – Brandon Williams

5. Literally anything by Gary Young

Everyone that’s ever heard me talk poetry knows I love me some Gary Young. He writes the world into single paragraphs, and sometimes into single sentences. He doesn’t use titles, he doesn’t use line breaks, his fancy rhetorical flourishes and poetic turns of phrase are almost always heavily understated. It feels, to a large extent, like he’s just writing sentences, just stray observations. They force you to consider what poetry is, while reaffirming (at least for me) what poetry does. You should go read Even So, his collected works — it’s fast reading, or it’s slow thinking, and either way, it’s luxurious. – Brandon Williams

6. “Sitting on the Floor with Your Back Against an Interior Door Frame, Sobbing” by Elliott Vanskike

Maybe I was in a mood when I first read Vanskike’s poem back in April, but it has stuck with me ever since because it so tightly captures the listlessness of domesticity and the knowledge that, in order to keep moving forward, one must push through the daily frustrations of living. The sonnet’s 14-line structure is a definitive structure, an attempt to capture a sense of order — and yet the poem’s images reflect the sensation of fighting an uphill battle, creating order in a world that has none. The third stanza captures this with focused imagery that is grounded in normalcy: “It also helps if you arrange the eggs in the large carton from Costco / Into shifting symmetrical chevrons as you remove them to / Crack and fry for breakfasts or hard-boil for the children’s lunches / Because by ordering the small things you can the larger pain expunge.” I’m a sucker for juxtaposition, and this stanza contrasts working through a larger pain against the small act of regaining control by arranging eggs in a carton — and it works. In order to move through the stressors and anxieties and frustrations that build and build, we have to tackle the small stuff first, one step at a time. And now, more than ever, aren’t we all rearranging eggs into symmetrical chevrons, trying to hold onto something real and simple and comforting while the larger world is churning? – Rebecca Paredes