The Flood Lines and Skyscrapers of Nikky Finney

(Photo Credit: Flickr / Glyn Lowe)
(Photo Credit: Flickr / Glyn Lowe)

In 2012, the poet
and National Book Award winner
Nikky Finney gave a reading
at my university.

After hearing her recite
two poems of her own crafting
about New Orleans – my home, my city –
and its hurricane-drunk drowning,
I raised my un-acclaimed hand
and confronted her.

Her narratives had only focused on one,
small section of the city, the destruction of
an unlucky and forgotten neighborhood
in a new sea of unlucky and forgotten neighborhoods.
And she’d refused to peer into the neighbor’s pool
through her creative-license googles.

I asked her if she was there for the storm.
She said no.
I asked her if she evacuated from the storm.
She said no.
I asked her if she volunteered to clean up after the storm.
She said no.
I asked her if she closely knew anyone
whom had lived through any of this.
She said she’d heard the stories.
Then I asked her how she could be so brazen
as to tell these tales – our tales –
without any intimate knowledge of them.

I felt my own shaking in my chair,
noticed my rising anger,
and offered her a life raft.

I admitted that I would never try to write about 9/11,
the collapse of the World Trade Center,
the heartbreak and fear and shock-sadness
of every dust-covered New Yorker
there to breathe in each final speck.
I’d be too afraid of fumbling it,
getting the distanced details wrong,
trying to impose my thoughts on their feelings.

And Finney, in all her ear-to-earth wisdom,
paused for a second and then posed
this question back to me:
Why shouldn’t you write about things
you haven’t personally experienced?

And then, like a wise teacher,
she helped guide me to the needed answer:
You close yourself off to so much
of the world that way.

* * *

I think of her question often;
it haunts me with flood lines
and crumbling skyscrapers
whenever I think
I might be suffering
from the excuse of writer’s block.

And even if she didn’t get it quite right,
I’ve come to admire her nerve to try,
her audacity to let no murky topic
go without words.

I hope, one day, I can build that
kind of courage for myself;
and that fearlessness finds me,
finds all of us,
in the hours of our unworded darkness.

The Katrina Novena (for Yet Another Anniversary)

(Photo Credit: Flickr / Elvira von der Lippe)
(Photo Credit: Flickr / Elvira von der Lippe)


Nine days before she struck,
the nuns flooded their churches,
believed they could pray away
the wrath of her ungodly power
once again.

The more devout ones
would drown saying the name of their lord,
choking on their own tired tongues,
insistent that he would not forsake them,
not again.

Nine years later,
we’ve loved making memorials
of the things we’ll never fully comprehend,
assigning dates to remember
and to try
try again

to divine why their prayers
hadn’t worked, why the winds
were stronger than their words
yet again.

The repetition is supposed to hold
some force deep within,
so pray this nine times;
and hope that you never have to
pray it again.

When the Genie Copes (For Robin Who Never – But Always – Knew Me)

#33 - Robin williams


The news broke like your spirit –
slow, in the dark, in whispers,
and then on broadcast television.

I heard it 3 beers deep
at a birthday party
and thought it more fitting,
more your style,
to laugh now
and cry alone
at home.

Like you, I wouldn’t
let them watch the pain.
If they’re clever,
they’ll decode it someday,
reading subtext like fading Morse code,
staccato between breathless giggles.


The laughs broke like your career –
alien, magical, unexpected,
and then unstoppable –
until you finally figured
out was how to make it stop.
Make the denial stop
the cackles stop
the demons stop.
Please, please make the happiness stop.

And just a short night later,
you were no longer addicted
to attention, cocaine, and laughter.


The comedy broke your soul,
and then bandaged it only enough
to keep you
from ripping yourself apart –
for a while.

But you could never let the hurt heal
enough to scar over.
You’d always wanted to give them your blood
just to keep them joyful.

And as they wire one last smile onto your face,
we’ll keep laughing
at the memories you made
for us
with the destruction
of yourself.

The Words That Move You – Help Atlanta Word Works get to Brave New Voices 2014!

Team Atlanta's youth poets, coaches, and mentors. (Credit: Dwayne Boyd Photography)
Team Atlanta’s youth poets, coaches, and mentors. (Credit: Dwayne Boyd Photography)
I’ve got some good news to share with you all. As of June 1st, I’ve begun taking over the role of Board Chair for Atlanta Word Works, a youth-focused poetry and spoken word organization. The group is very welcoming, and they’re a great and talented group of youngins with a lot of poetic promise.


And since it’s a young, arts-education organization, my first honor as its new leader is to humbly beg you for money! (Classy, right?)


Here’s what’s up. Every year, Atlanta sends a team of 6 youth poets to represent the city in the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival, which can best be likened to the youth poetry Olympics, and remains the largest ongoing spoken word event in the world. HBO even made an entire series in 2010 about the participating teams preparing for and competing in the festival – a platform for over 1,000 youth poets from all across the world to perform on an international stage and partake in fellowship with one another.


This is where you come in. We have already selected a strong team of youth poets, and have experienced coaches and mentors training and preparing them for the competition, but now we need the backing of our community to get them to Philly this summer for the competition.



I’m managing an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign to defray those costs.
Check it out via the link below. (Watch the video to hear me say smart things, scroll down to see a fancy headshot and bio of me as well.)



If you read/watch the IndieGoGo page and are still not moved to give away a chunk of your hard-earned cash, I understand. But, then please do me a big favor and donate at least $1 to the campaign. It helps the campaign gain exposure and makes it more likely to be featured on the IndieGoGo website for more folks to see. (And you get a swanky digital badge in exchange!)


And remember, sharing is caring! So please send to any and all whom may be interested in seeing the young succeed (and tag me or Atlanta Word Works too).
- Post the link to our campaign on Facebook for all your digital friends to see.
- Tweet about us to your thousands of adoring Twitter followers.
- Share the link with your friends, teachers, and fellow writers in whichever way you prefer. (Email is nice, but we’re not too picky.)


With your help, we’ll have the chance to put our southern city on the literary map and our team of poets upon the finals stage.


Many thanks, in advance, for all your support!

My Poetry Is Getting Some New Pages Love


For those of you who may not yet know, New Pages is a great source and resource for writing news, information, and guides to independent bookstores, independent publishers, literary magazines, alternative periodicals, independent record labels, alternative newsweeklies. and more. (Essentially, go there and learn things.)

Today, I found out from one of the editors that my poetry website/blog has been listed up there as well, right alongside other prominent writers (such as Seth Abramson) and aspiring poets!

It may be but a small step, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

Check out all the blogs listed right here!

(P.S. – I also  wanted you to let you all know that I’ve been working quietly on a few different projects, and some of them are soon to come to light. Stay tuned.)

To all my new, fellow alumni

The degree we all fought for. (Photo Credit: Chris Barisich)
The degree we all fought for. (Photo Credit: Chris Barisich)


I hope the roller coaster was kind enough to you.
It may have tried a time or two
to dislodge and fling you
forty feet face-first into the ground,
but you held fast.

You rode the rails,
suffered through the hard banks,
and vaguely remembered learning something
about the powers of different forces.

I hope you’ve made the most of the ride,
because the next one,
whichever you choose,
is about to start in just a few minutes.

An Exquisite Corpse 30 Days in the Hole

(Photo Credit: Flickr / Johnson Cameraface)
(Photo Credit: Flickr / Johnson Cameraface)

[Below is a poem I’ve puzzle-pieced together using my single best line/stanza from each and every one of my 30/30 poems composed this year. I like to think of it as a combination of two, popular poetic forms – the found poem and the exquisite corpse – and I always find it fascinating to see how these lines and words can be re-purposed to create entirely new meaning with minimal alterations. If you feel moved by a line or are curious how it fits in the original poem, then simply click on it! Each one links back to the initial post.]



She rouses from a road bump,
spots me reading a book of poems,
and assumes me to be educated.

Her sweatshirt is rolled up like a bikini top,
unveiling her large stomach
with the pomp of a premiering vaudeville show.

She’s been unselfish since birth,
salt of the earth worth her weight in gold.
Sold down the river at her own demand,

she walked straight into our house of mourning,
wrapped her wise arms around my 11-year old frame,
and kissed my tortured mind.

She reminds me that spring is coming back for us soon;
we just have to spin the world a little more first.

But she’s been forgotten and forlorn,
a run-down ghost town
whose people left her long ago in heart
before she lost them to industry.

And I write to you because I loved, love, will love you
and I want to understand who you are,
who you were, and who you’re still yet to become.

Watch now how slowly a tear can form,
and then fall, when you’re crying
and think you have nothing
worth being sad about.



The sexiest thing you’ve ever said to me was
I want you inside me
and all my blood rushed center and down.

But you were supposed to be my sandbox, not my stone tablet.
Make me realize how quickly I would die.

Our void grows contemptuous,
widens with each jealousy,

sprouts a new offshoot so green,
so doomed to be forgotten.
And I hope your children grow up to be poets
so you’re never able to understand them.

I reread the printed letters from my lawyer,
make constellations of his patterned excuses.

I catch every person’s phone conversation
and reply to both ends, snatch their vested secrets,
could expose the truths of their youths.

But you haven’t read about me in your guidebooks,
and you’re not sure who to believe anymore.



Born of the same soured soil and tainted rain,
we did the only thing we knew how,
grew inward – tighter and tighter into each other,
hoping that our togetherness could save us
from the harshness of our surroundings.

But the darknesses we hold inside us –
deep and consuming enough to digest galaxies –
have somehow found homes in our foreign bodies.

And we are eroding within,
like our coast, ever crumbling into the gulf.

Grown men seek a fantastical world
where their monsters obey them
and not the other way around.

She had to have heard the morning moanings
of VHS vixens through thin walls.

Just shut up, sit down, and get lost
in this sitcom rerun with him for the third time today.

His self-slapped golden handcuffs keep him
tight where his boss wants him,
marionetting stability and rigidity
And our former selves fight inside to stay alive,
waiting for the worst moments to
resurrect themselves in their familiar haunts.

He couldn’t domesticate the beast with obedience;
his training just taught him to gnaw the wrong things.

We want to be brackish,
but fear what we may kill in the process –
some just can’t comprehend the water’s ways
filled only with soft breathing and flushed skin –
the work of an inexperienced child
who’d only before fucked women
to submission in his mind.

And your elegance and innocence couldn’t save you,
not this time.

One day, they’ll understand
the power of a peaceful moment,
the courage of calming the raging storms of their souls,
the wisdom of harnessing their ferocity for greater ends.

"How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live." — Henry David Thoreau


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