All posts by Joshua Gray

Blurb for Steel Cut Oats

As my new book Steel Cut Oats nears completion of production, I have received a blurb from another poet.

Very nice words, indeed!

Steel Cut Oats is not a cookbook. It is a book of food for the gods. Joshua Gray writes through the honest, curious eyes of all the families in our world. Gray surveys the heavens and moons above, and then cores them with metaphors for emotional satiety. He challenges stereotypes and spurs new revelations for his audience. He transforms food into life, and then back again to season its seasoning with these enticing poems.

Meanwhile, I have seen some preliminary sketches of the cover art, and am very happy with them! I am very excited!

Letter To Poetry

keyaKeya is a high school student who had an assignment in her poetry class: write a letter to poetry. But never mind that this was a school assignment, because her letter is something I wish I had written when I was in high school.

I won’t say she is an aspiring poet — she is a poet. With several publications credits already, and the ability to put into a words a letter like this, she’s past the word “aspiring”.

She tackles difficult subjects in her poetry, and she is an advocate for social justice.

Dear Poetry,

We are the high school couple that broke up because college got in the way and long distance relationships are tough. We then later got back together because we need each other the way I need a breath of fresh air. I need to know that you’ll always be there listening to me and letting me trust you in a way that I can trust no one else.

I met you in second grade and if it wasn’t for that teacher who made me love learning, then I never would have fallen in love with you and I don’t know what I would be doing late at night as I wrestle my emotions, wondering why it’s so hard to understand myself.

We’ve gone through different phases. I hated you when I had to analyze you and when I couldn’t connect to you. Some English teachers ripped you apart so much that I had to piece you back together into something that I thought was beautiful. I tried haikus and limericks and finally settled on a combination of prose and free verse to some sort of rhythm.  I fall in love with you every time I grab my pen. I sit in class waiting for the bell to ring just so I can spend time with you. You’re freeing. You’re unique, without a strict set of rules that I have to obey.

We took a break once. I guess I just didn’t know where you fit into my life. There was not enough passion in my heart to spend time with you, but that does not mean that I ever stopped loving you. I had one poem that I was proud of and that was it. That was the end of my writing career, but just for the mean time, until I hit middle school.

I hear people complain about you and my heart breaks into two. I tell them that it doesn’t have to be a giant metaphor that’s deep and profound, but they don’t believe me. They still have the incomprehensible stanzas in their heads that someone long ago made them analyze. It doesn’t have to be like Shakespeare’s sonnets, I tell them. I say that you can be anything. I say you’re art and magic all at once. You’re what gets me through the bad days. You are my coping mechanism.

Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed”. You are effortless until it comes to editing. I don’t have control when I spend time with you. My pen has control over me. The words just come and flow like the tides and it scares me that after a couple months my entire journal is full. Our relationship has become unhealthy. I’m too addicted to you.  I would crash without you. I fall…hard when I cannot be with you. I need you. I’ll always need you. I love you.

~Keya

I wish I had the clear mind in high school to realize I didn’t hate poetry, to remember that I used to love it, to realize that the way it is being taught in schools is what makes it difficult to grasp.

Keya’s Facebook Fan Page:  www.facebook.com/wordsstrungtogether

The Reverse Tree


3 Stars


The-Reverse-TreeThe Reverse Tree is a thin volume of six personal essays by Bengali poet and translator Kiriti Sengupta.  There are poems scattered throughout the book, maybe ten or fifteen of them, which serve to enhance the commentary, but to say this is a book of poetry is erroneous. Sengupta tackles simple everyday topics such as Internet use as well heavier ones such as transgender issues and today’s relevance of the Bhagavad Gita, The essays do not connect, nor are they supposed to.  The book’s title comes from the idea that a human being is a reverse tree — the roots (brain) is at the top and the branches (limbs) are below. The image is very similar to that of the banyan tree, a very important tree in Hindu scripture.

The poems are fun reads, but not necessarily something that stays with you. This may be fine, because they play a supporting role in the collection, and take up very little real estate in the book overall.

Sengupta’s style is very informal. He addresses his readers directly, and does not end his essays with any conclusion — the readers are left to take from the essay what they will. It creates almost a dialogue between author and reader, and I get the feeling Sengupta wouldn’t want it any other way.

Three out of five stars.

The Reverse Tree is published by Moments Publication, is 48pp, and can be ordered from Amazon.

 

Conaway’s Poetic Justice


4 Stars


Until You Make The Shore by Cameron ConawayUntil You Make The Shore by Cameron Conaway is another poetry book in the growing and much-welcomed trend of long poetic narratives receiving publication, and it does not disappoint. The framework of the book is centered around four girls in the juvenile justice  system (specifically, Pima County Juvenile Detention Center), where the poet plays a supporting role as a creative writing teacher. In traditional narrative poetry, a poet needs to decide whether to be a narrator (not be present in the poem) or storyteller (be present in the poem); however, one gets the feeling that Conaway has managed to employ both: the poet makes himself known in the poem and is thus a storyteller, but the girls are the poem’s collective narrator. It is a dichotomy that works so well together. In the book’s forward, playwright Brad Fraser notes that the book reads like a stage drama, and he was correct. While there is a little dialogue between poet and his students, there is a lot of unwritten communication happening.

There are four stages of the system the youth have to go through before making it out, and Conaway establishes this as the parts of his book, and designates one girl for each part. Conaway is not only a poet but also a social justice advocate, and while he obviously has had personal experiences with the system, the people in the book — and the story told — are fictitious.

There is a lot of white space in the book, which helps the reader understand how the book should be absorbed. Unfortunately the poem’s layout is not suitable for the Web, making it difficult to provide readers with a sampling of the work as it is written. For the poem below, I have modified its layout by necessity. The underscore (_) denotes white space within the line of the poem. Removing white space altogether does not feel right upon reading. Note, italicized points in the book refer to the poet speaking; this is reversed below. Precious is the name of one of the girls, each girl gets about ten poems.

FOUR

Precious, what did it mean to you when she called you a “hardened criminal?”

___Dreams are soft, Cameron. _____________My uncle’s

knuckles are vapor in dreams. ____________My throat

___doesn’t burn when I scream,
even a falcon’s talons can’t hurt me _____but reality

___is abrasive concrete pebble-izes knee skin

_______when we fall
in love it feels good or it hurts ____so I guess

_____________________she meant ___________I don’t dream enough?

Conaway’s detailed attention to craft, excellent use of imagery, his novel approach to storytelling, and his passionate commitment to social justice make Until You Make The Shore a must-read. I finished the book wishing for more, and that is exactly what an open ending of a well-written story should do. Four out of five stars. Published by Salmon Poetry, 73pp.

Poetry FAIL

Warning. This is a rant.

I am getting really tired of physical bookstores — the kind with a front door and shelves and an actual counter you walk up to in order to buy something — and their complete and total lack of awareness to the genre known as poetry. I received a gift card to an unnamed chain bookstore (but take your pick — they’re all the same) and drove to the nearest one to see what they had available. What I found was anything but surprising. While I was thankful that the store allocated two columns of bookshelves to poetry instead of one, or worse, merely a couple rows, the buyer for the store seemed to think that the drama section, which was next to the poetry section, only needed to include Shakespeare, and the poetry section only required famous dead white male poets and a couple minority and female poets.

While I am not disputing the importance of the poets that DID rest on the shelves, there is a whole huge community of contemporary poets all across the world who deserved to have their spot in any bookstore.

Within its four walls the store carried toys, puzzles, stuffed animals, board games, gourmet snacks, and a whole lot of other non-book-related items. Most of the books in the store were from contemporary authors. But the entire history of poetry, including today’s poets, were represented by fewer than ten poets.

Seriously?

There are so many things wrong with this picture — I don’t know where to start. From the store’s buyer, to the literature media coverage, it is no wonder people tell me poetry is a dying art.

Poetry is not dead — the people in a position to make a difference are.

Sort of Review on PoB

I recently came into contact with an old friend of mine. She was the Best Woman at my wedding — I didn’t have a Best Man. But it has been years since we’ve spoken — more than a decade!

Anyway, she bought both my recent books, and write me this note. Yes she is an old friend and that has to be considered, but as she says, she can be critical. She wouldn’t have written what she wrote if she didn’t like my poetry. She would have told it like it is.

So I finished your books and I really loved them.  And I am not just saying that…I can be pretty darn critical.  I thought they were both great but you wanted to know which I liked more and hands down it was Principles for Belonging.  I am not sure I can fully express why as I really did enjoy Mera Bharat.  I think I liked the different stories coming together in Principles of Belonging.  Wow, though.  Your work is beautiful and I love hearing your voice in that form!

Thank you, dear friend!