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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.
There are few figures whose lives capture the last sixty years of Washington's history more poetically than its recently departed mayor-for-life Marion Barry. And there are few poets who embody the perspective and aesthetic of modern D.C. more effectively than Kenny Carroll. Thus, beginning this thread with Carroll's "The Haint of Washington" seems more than appropriate. While many in the media continue to struggle with (and bungle) the act of framing Barry's legacy, Carroll, as a poet, chooses the honest—and therefore artistically challenging—approach: creatively presenting as much breadth and emotional nuance as possible. Carroll's anaphoric portrait sees contrast and contradiction as opportunities, not as an impediments. No, Marion Barry will not leave, and neither will this poem once you have allowed it inside your imagination.
Kyle Dargan's forthcoming book, Honest Engine, will be published by the University of Georgia Press in April 2015.
Photo credit: Marlene Hawthrone
Kenneth Carroll is a poet, fiction writer, essayist and playwright, whose writing has appeared in numerous publications. He was the director of DC WritersCorps and past president of the African American Writers Guild. He is married to playwright Joy Carroll and the proud father of a daughter and two sons.
I have admired Reuben Jackson’s writing since first reading his award-winning book Fingering the Keys in 1991. This poem typifies much of the genius and stylistic qualities that make him one of my favorite poets. Praise of this piece begins with its sensuality and political conceit. He sets us in this imagined moment when an elder shepherds Trayvon Martin safely home amidst the moonlit summer’s night and the reassuring sound of the latching of his door. This short piece is imbued with African American ritual history, hopefulness and the desire for safety. In the last stanza Reuben presents us with both a hauntingly powerful wish and a jarringly ominous reality. The poignant beauty of Reuben Jackson’s poetry is produced by the collision of his musical sentimentality and this cutting social witness.
Reuben Jackson served as curator of the Smithsonian's Duke Ellington Collection in Washington, D.C. for over twenty years. His music reviews have been published in the Washington Post, Washington City Paper, JazzTimes, and on All Things Considered. Jackson is also an educator and mentor with The Young Writers Project.
For me, the most successful poetry fuses a terse, infectious Ali-like ring dance with equally vivid descriptive mojo. A story that is both familiar and as original as a great Miles Davis solo. Lisa Pegram's "After Dinner" is a poem I read, reread, and often recite during long (and sometimes not so long) drives. I marvel at the way everyday phrases such as "talking shit" roll off my tongue with the same lilt as, oh, something penned by Dylan Thomas. The narrative vividly captures familiar human experience. It says—and evokes—common things uncommonly. How did she do that?
Lisa Pegram won the 1999 D.C. Mayor’s Arts Award for Outstanding Emerging Artist and served as Program Director of DC WritersCorps for over a decade. She completed her MFA at Lesley University in 2012. An excerpt from her poetry manuscript, "White Flag," will be published by Central Square Press this summer.
Melanie Henderson's poem "His Corpse Was Beautiful" has haunted me since the first time I heard her read it. The imagery is powerful and devastating. Her ability to capture both beauty and tragedy in such a compact physical and emotional space, without falling into pieces, stretches between both the content of the poem and the execution of it.
Melanie Henderson, born and raised in Washington, D.C., won the 2011 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award for her debut collection of poems, Elegies for New York Avenue. She received the Larry Neal Writers Award in 2009 and a 2013 Pushcart Prize nomination from Iris G. Press.
Ailish Hopper is a poet's poet, being brave and fearless in style and content. "Dream, Technidifficult" exhibits Hopper's willingness to get into both the poem's and her own skin. She blends the revolutionary and daring spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s leadership during the frightening times of the Civil Rights Movement and Parliament-Funkadelic's "One Nation Under a Groove." The speaker convinces the reader to be true and constant in the face naysayers, who may be quick to define you, your place, and your heights, by revealing the beauty innate to being present and moving forward.
Ailish Hopper is the author of Dark~Sky Society (New Issues Press, 2014), and Bird in the Head (Center for Book Arts, 2005). Her poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Harvard Review, Poetry, Ploughshares, and Tidal Basin Review. She’s received support from the MacDowell Colony, the Maryland State Arts Council, and Yaddo. She teaches at Goucher College.