Poetry Feature: Festival of American Poets, Part One

The Common brings you a special two-part series to celebrate the Pioneer Valley Poetry Productions Festival of Major American Poets, which was held at Amherst College’s Fayerweather Hall on October 13 and 14.

Part One – featuring poems by Evie Shockley, Timothy Liu, and Forrest Gander.



haibun for a parasitic pre-apocalyptic blues

on the nature walk at tahoe, i learned everything the secret life of flora could teach me about creatures that don’t know what to do with light besides admire and squander it :: for instance, the snow plant is not white, but sings the hummingbirds its red siren song as soon as the snow recedes in spring :: it wears no green slip or wrap :: crimson from stem to stern, this barely-plant skips photosynthesis, stalks pines, and steals sugar from their mycorrhizal web :: (trickle-down symbiosis is no symbiosis at all) :: in their language, the washoe called this squat, blunt, scarlet getter coyote penis :: it doesn’t just look like a dick—

a small flame
burns the snows away—
keeps your eye off the subterranean subterfuge

Forthcoming in
semiautomatic (Wesleyan University Press, 2017).


Evie Shockley is the author of the new black, for which she won the 2012 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in Poetry, and semiautomatic (Wesleyan, 2017), among other collections of poetry. She has also published a critical study, Renegade Poetics: Black Aesthetics and Formal Innovation in African American Poetry. Her poetry and essays appear widely in journals and anthologies. Her honors include the 2015 Stephen Henderson Award for Outstanding Achievement in Poetry and the 2012 Holmes National Poetry Prize. Currently serving as creative editor for Feminist Studies, Shockley is Associate Professor of English at Rutgers University–New Brunswick.



Ode To Marriage Equality

They don’t do couples counseling.
They go to Home Depot, they go to Lowe’s,
figure out what it would cost
to tear their kitchen out, replace
the granite counter tops, the stainless
steel, that was so last year.
They think the market is strong.
They take out home equity loans.
They take their “date nights” seriously,
scheduling in “quality time” and faithfully
meeting their mutually agreed upon
weekly coitus quota.
They do Pilates, they do Bikram yoga,
They enroll in “positive” Tantric sex workshops
and swing with other couples
who “sing the body electric.”
They post romantic kisses on Facebook,
tweet about lubricants and lingerie,
put tally marks on a white-erase board
for the number of times they’ve come
each week, their little wink wink
(unless friends ask, don’t tell).
She knows his passwords, reads his emails,
closely watches his history cache, careful
not to delete the cookies
for ExtraBigDicks and onlydudes.com.
Is his cock really big enough?
Can he tell she’s faking it, her intensity
just a little forced, this woman
who knows how to back into a parking space
with her eyes closed, who can talk her way
out of any moving violation?
He says he’s not a misogynist, gives
plenty to Planned Parenthood,
says he’d keep on doing it
even if it weren’t a tax write off.
He keeps his fingernails trimmed.
He keeps an underage boy
in a soundproof room walled-off with foam.
She wears Lanvin, Louboutin.
How much longer can this go on?


Ode To Global Capitalism

Couldn’t sell his novel
after finding himself

120K in the hole

having finished up
his MFA at Columbia

so skipped town

and moved his broke ass
all the way down

to Macedonia where

he quickly set up shop
writing fake news

he’d post on Facebook

and if the thing went
viral, he managed

to pocket 2000 euros

per day, not counting
the interviews he gave

with reporters who asked

about possibly changing
the outcome of the election

back home—stories

about Trump willing to
forgive all student loans!—

and he laughed, saying

you think I give two shits
about what fiction has done

to me? This is better

than credit card fraud
or hacking into someone

else’s server and I’ve got

the Maserati to prove it—
taking hairpin turns

down a mountainside

while Siri takes dictation,
uploading my next

masterpiece. We’re done.


Timothy Liu‘s latest book is Kingdom Come: A Fantasia. A reader of occult esoterica, he offers intuitive guidance at Mirabai (Woodstock, NY) and the Omega Institute (Rhinebeck, NY). His Luminous Debris: New & Selected Legerdemain will appear in 2018.



The Sounding

What closes and then
luminous? What opens
and then dark? And into
what do you stumble
but this violet
extinction? With
froth on your lips.
8:16 a.m. The morning’s
sleepy face

rolls its million
eyes. Migrating flocks
of your likesame species
into transparency.
A birdwatcher lifts

her binoculars. The con-
tinuous with or without
your words
situates you here
(here (here)) even while
you knuckle your eyes
in disbelief. Those

voices you love (human
and not), can you
hear their echoes
hissing away like
an ingot’s fiery
scale hammered
on some
blacksmith’s anvil?
And behind those
voices, what is that
the valves of your ears open
as black rain,
not in torrents, but
ceaselessly comes
unchecked out of everywhere
with nothing
to slacken it.

From Resistance, Rebellion, Life: 50 Poems Now, ed. Amit Majmudar (Knopf 2017)


A writer and translator with degrees in geology and literature, Forrest Gander has most recently published The Trace (a novel); Alice Iris Red Horse: Poems of Yoshimasu Gozo; Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda Poems, and the anthology Panic Cure: Poetry from Spain for the 21st Century. Gander’s book Core Samples from the World, a meditation on the ways we are revised and translated in encounters with the foreign, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Poetry Feature: Festival of American Poets, Part One

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