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#NPRPoetry Month: Lauren Alleyne

Apr 14, 2019
Originally published on April 14, 2019 6:48 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now it's time for one of our favorite things - poetry. Every year in April, Poetry Month, we ask listeners to share original tweet-length poems. And each week this month, we are reading through your submissions. We've been honored to have a number of award-winning poets combing through submissions with us. And joining us this week is Lauren Alleyne. She is the assistant director of the Furious Flower Poetry Center at James Madison University, where she also teaches English. And she's with us now from Raleigh, N.C. Lauren Alleyne, thank you so much for talking to us.

LAUREN ALLEYNE: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So you've picked some poems that caught your eye. Why don't you read us one?

ALLEYNE: I would love to. I would like to read a poem from Patricia Caspers (ph).

MARTIN: OK.

ALLEYNE: Each breath you wheezed became our rosary. As we carried you across the empty hospital parking lot and I thought about the small mystery inside of you, struggling to hold on to this life, this body machine, it's everything I know of God.

MARTIN: Oh, boy. That kind of packs a punch, doesn't it?

ALLEYNE: It really does.

MARTIN: What struck you about this one?

ALLEYNE: I think that there is some sort of alchemy that happens with, like, the perfect image that captures a perfect moment in the perfect language, right? And so that idea of the body machine that happens at the end and then the surprising turn - it's everything I know of God - I think sort of captures in a way that maybe any other kind of language couldn't that feeling of mystery that is part of what it means to be humans. I just thought it was captured so wonderfully in that poem.

MARTIN: Tell us another one.

ALLEYNE: Absolutely. Let's see. Winter, the woods, my brother running away in moonlight the color of marrow. His 200 and some-odd bones hiding warm beneath his skin, tucked tender in his ears, whole and fresh until those few short sharp last breaths.

MARTIN: And that was by Nancy Stone (ph).

ALLEYNE: Yes.

MARTIN: What struck you about this one?

ALLEYNE: Even in this conversation, I can tell I'm always drawn to the body. And the specificity of the poem and those 200 odd bones, right, the short, sharp breaths. I think, again, the way the language is able to capture that exhaustion, that movement, the dynamism in the language itself, to me, that's the miraculous nature of the poem. And that was captivating for me.

MARTIN: We kind of came up with the tweet-length as a conceit. I mean, you know, who are we kidding? We just, you know, we just made that up just because of the brevity of it. We also thought it would kind of make it fun for people to participate. But what do you think about it? I mean, do you like the brevity of it? Does this appeal to you?

ALLEYNE: I am a fan of form in poetry - fixed forms. I love the sonnet. I love the villanelle. I love the Sistine. I love the Rondel. I love the Bop. All of these, like, rules that help for me make a container that you can pour something that is often bigger than you have words to say, right? And I also just think it's fun. Like, I like games. I like puzzles. I like, you know, systems. And so to me, the character limit is a system. Like, what can you do within this space that makes meaning and that makes beauty? And I think that's just the challenge of any poem, really.

MARTIN: Want me to play one that - we were able to get one of the contributor to record this one for us. This one is by Jay Sturner, and here it is.

JAY STURNER: All the right words have gathered on my tongue to form a parade, but my teeth are the walls, and my fractured ego is the rain.

MARTIN: You picked this one, too, I just want to say.

ALLEYNE: I did.

MARTIN: You know, again, it's the body, but what else did you like about this?

ALLEYNE: One of the things I think that can really, for me, make a poem is when I see the poet in the poem, and the poet in a poem in a way that is vulnerable and human and complicit sometimes. And I think that's the thing I really enjoyed about that poem is that it was really sort of revealing the poet's awareness of his own failure to be better, right? Like, you know, here is a perfect thing to say, but I can't get out of my own way. So I think that idea of being vulnerable, to being wrong in the poem is brave. And I feel like I love to see that bravery show up in a poem.

MARTIN: So how did you start writing poems?

ALLEYNE: I'm from Trinidad. And there's a wonderful song form there, the Calypso. And I used to write Calypsos for my sister. Those were my earliest, earliest poems.

MARTIN: So finally, before we let you go - and thank you again for reading these poems with us this week and enjoying them along with us. Do you have some advice for people who maybe are still a little shy about getting started and putting some thoughts to paper?

ALLEYNE: Absolutely. I think the poem is one of the most democratic forms of art. It's a pencil and paper. And if we enter it as a mode of play and exploration, rather than the production of literature, I think we give ourselves permission to discover. And also, I think be fine with having fun and not producing a New Yorker-worthy NPR-worthy poem, right?

You know, I tell people all the time - it's my students - I'm like, listen, you have a pencil. You have a pen. And you think, I am perfectly equipped to make a perfectly good poem. But you have 10 fingers, and you might walk up to a piano and you don't think you can place Chopin. So, like, allow yourself to play the chopsticks of poetry, right? Just go and write a haiku. And you're just playing in language. And then maybe something comes from that.

MARTIN: That's Lauren Alleyne. She is the assistant director of the Furious Flower Poetry Center and the author of "Difficult Fruit" and "Honeyfish." And she was kind enough to join us from Raleigh, N.C. Lauren Alleyne, thank you so much for talking with us today.

ALLEYNE: My pleasure.

MARTIN: And if you'd like to hear your original poem on the air, tweet it to @npratc with the hashtag #nprpoetry. Every week, for the rest of the month, a professional poet like Lauren will join us on the air to talk about some submissions that caught his or her eye. Poems must be 140 characters or less. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.