826 Valencia is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting under-resourced students ages 6 to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write. Our services are structured around the understanding that great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention, and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success.
The work of the participating poets in Read This Poem is a reflection of their own point of view and artistic expression, and does not represent the views of 826 National or its chapters. Some of the poems may address mature themes or contain adult language, and may not be suitable for all audiences, including students at 826 chapters.
It is a privilege to introduce the first poem in 826’s fantastic Read This Poem project. I have chosen a poem that is lyrical and haunting, mysterious yet accessible, and best of all, a profound marriage of the personal and the political. In a mere twenty-two lines, Jennifer Elise Foerster’s “Relic” traces the effects of colonialism on the land and the body of Native America. A member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma, Foerster uses the trope of cartography to illustrate how the past is always the territory of the present—not just to a culture but to an individual person, like a mother or a daughter. But, “Relic” is just as powerful on the micro level as the macro. With stunning images and gorgeous music, the poem is expertly crafted. Every time I read this poem, those first four stanzas slay me. They’ll slay you, too.
Dean Rader’s Works & Days (Truman State University Press, 2010) was the winner of the 2010 T. S. Eliot Prize, and his book Landscape Portrait Figure Form (Omnidawn, 2014) was a Barnes & Noble Review Best Poetry Book of the Year. He is a professor at the University of San Francisco and the editor of 99 Poems for the 99 Percent: An Anthology of Poetry.
Photo credit: Jill Ramsey
Jennifer Elise Foerster is the author of Leaving Tulsa, published by the University of Arizona Press. A member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma, Jennifer has received a Lannan Foundation Writing Residency Fellowship, and was a Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University. She lives in San Francisco.
Photo credit: Richard Bluecloud Castaneda
Cedar Sigo’s “Seriously Underdressed” is an elegant tango of rush and resistance. I love how each line of this poem spins on diamond-like compression; a counterpoint of sound and image; a finely tuned fugue of tensions played out on few notes. Throughout many of Sigo’s poems, you find yourself woven into the city’s textures; you glimpse, then become, the figure moving through the landscape, until moving becomes a foghorn and you are listening from someplace else, some half-room underground, then resurfacing, in an instant, into the light. Cedar Sigo can at once enclose and open an image into its luminous invisibility, drawing us into the “combed” interior of the vanishing point. Masterfully, these nineteen lines bend in graceful, columnar motion, like a funnel cloud tracing across the poem-field, pulling at the deep root, pushing unrelentingly toward that vanishing point’s shine.
Cedar Sigo was raised on the Suquamish Reservation in the Pacific Northwest and studied at Naropa University. He is the author of eight books and pamphlets of poetry, most recently Language Arts published by Wave Books. He is currently a visiting writer at St. Mary's College.
Photo credit: Alan Bernheimer
The poem "gotham in arrears" seems written with a hot stylus, bearing down into my brain then bound to infect my tongue forever after. The typeface cannot seem to contain the dynamic of language on display; it seems to blur in the tumult of the line, “let all the trim gone daisies / be forgot. let bloodbaths fill the dailies.” The poem feels exhilarated in this space, both honored for the meters of its past (their encryption in rhyme), while also lopping off certain parts to uncover a future syntax. All four sections of gowanus atropolis move along in this manner. Julian Talamantez Brolaski leaves our language feeling spent and slightly undone for whoever should take it up next.
Julian Talamantez Brolaski is the author of Advice for Lovers (City Lights Publishers, 2012) and gowanus atropolis (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2011), and coeditor of NO GENDER: Reflections on the Life & Work of kari edwards (Litmus Press, 2009). Julian lives in San Francisco.
Photo credit: Charles L. Sjölander
Zoe Tuck takes us on a Luciferian journey, full of magic and viscera, where we can’t distinguish the hellish from the paradisical state: “run from paradise into below the spout / and ride the rim and circle down the fur.” She guides us by haruspicy, the ancient Etruscan method of divination by the examination of entrails of sacrificial victims: “another sheep to glut and slit its throat and pay attention.” Partaking of another ancient gesture, “as I hear tell,” Tuck reshores up poetic authority, as dubious as it’s ever been: “as sure as it was told to me online.” A further conceit, “I dare you not to think of__,” in which the thing is called immediately to mind, and the magic, incantatory plea to some invisible force to shift reality—“fill me a scrip,” Tuck writes, “to raise the dead”—calls the thing inevitably to manifestation.
Zoe Tuck, author of Terror Matrix, has cotaught the class Vampire Poetics at the Bay Area Public School with Laura Moriarty, and a class on ghosts with Zach Ozma. She will be playing the filmmaker Maya Deren in a production of Brittany Billmeyer-Finn’s the meshes: an iteration in 2 acts.
Photo credit: Brittany Billmeyer-Finn
How do we visualize the complex systems in which we live—not just visualize but hold them in our minds, or imagine ourselves as held by them: held up as well as held down? How do we carry ourselves in our desire for the exquisitely complex simplicity of goals like human contact and meaningful work? In “ii: our obsessions are obsessions,” a voice called o is our guide, taking us through lack and want and imagination and tenderness and trauma and curiosity in a style that undulates between spare lyricism and prose block plenitude. o knows the world for what it is: a tough and beautiful place to live. I know this work for what it is: tough and beautiful poetry.
Tessa Micaela is a poet, full-spectrum doula, community educator, bookmaker, and quiet firecracker, living in Oakland. Tessa's list-of-things-to-learn-in-a-lifetime includes midwifery, carpentry, bicycle repair, herbalism, and the best-places-to-get-lost. Tessa's work can be found in make/shift magazine, Dusie, Open House, Sink Review, Jupiter 88, and in various jars and corners.