What Sparks Poetry

Delineated: Prose Writers on Poetry
What Sparks Poetry is a serialized feature in which we invite poets to explore experiences and ideas that spark new poems.
 
In Delineated: Prose Writers on Poetry, we invite prominent writers of fiction and non-fiction to reflect on the poetry that inspires them. Our featured writers describe how poetry illuminates their creative lives, whether as inspiration, a daily practice, or a thread of hope through difficult times.

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Faizullah to me is a poet that speaks to in-betweenness and to the myths of model minorities. That night in Vermont, I felt electric when I heard the poem. Her anger was something I had been scared to ever utter.

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Rereading it—both on the page and listening to a recording of Johnson reading it aloud—has been like bathing in enchanted waters: deep pleasure, stimulation of youthful muscle memory, refreshment. Johnson marries the gritty American mundane with the gorgeous sublime like no other writer.

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It’s the description that’s so fine here, how the description of the physical world makes of the poem’s speaker an avid seer, even in these last lines when “nothing” becomes “white and pewter lights” and a “din” of sound.

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The image of an earring opens and closes the poem but by the final lines the feeling of that image has changed. It’s not only a different earring but the meaning of adornment and defense, and adornment as defense, has shifted. I’m reminded of all the earrings I’ve held within my body, given to me by my friends, my partner, my mother, some lost, some too perilous to wear because they tear at my ears or cleave to my lobes and refuse to come off.

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I remember encountering those words as an eighteen or nineteen year old undergraduate. I thought I was well read in black poets of the past, but here was an older poet who was completely new to me, writing in a style that by itself conveyed dignity and poise. There was a formality there that I usually didn't go for, but here it greatly moved me.

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