826NYC is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting 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 our belief 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.
I’ve selected Nick Flynn’s “The Incomprehensibility” because I couldn’t speak or breathe when I finished reading it and that is how I prefer to understand poetry—where there is embodiment and yet too, flight. The language of his poem hovers beyond the ceiling of my tiny, dreaming skull and I sense the scale of the world, of poetry. In lucid awe, his poem speaks to that familiar and immediate sensation where death and time collapse violently in memory. And how “safe” are we inside these oceans? In Nick’s poem time and grief circle each other like distant clocks, ever missing and never arriving, while absence and kindness devour everything. That contrast is devastating. I smile as I consider Lorca’s profound cameo. Nick's poem draws us deeply into our own bodies, insects of memory, undoing us before we are barely forced to acknowledge so much mystery, intimate and public, when we are bare, bared, and unbearable. And how the look of death, always new, flies above our heads and inside our veins.
Rachel Eliza Griffiths is a poet and visual artist. Her most recent book is Lighting the Shadow (Four Way Books, 2015).
Nick Flynn has worked as a ship's captain, electrician, and as a case-worker with homeless adults. His most recent book is My Feelings (Graywolf, 2015), a collection of poems.
Photo credit: Dion Ogust
In A Poet’s Glossary, Edward Hirsch defines the catalogue poems of Whitman and Smart as having “an incantatory quality and [they] often use it to praise the diversity and unity of the universe…” Amber Tamblyn’s untitled poem, from the Epilogue to Dark Sparkler, is one such catalogue—it is incantatory, yet more condemnation than praise. Dark Sparkler is a book length project circling around real-life actresses, each of whom was a child star, each of whom died young. The fact that Tamblyn, the poet, also fits the first half of this description (child star) gives a glimpse into the book’s central concern, which is how to avoid the second half (premature death). The poem begins with a directive—Search:—and each subsequent line repeats this directive, until by the end we, the readers, are implicated in the cost of our voyeurism. Tamblyn uses the catalogue as a hologram of the whole, channeled by someone who has stood, like many (all?) of us, on the edge of this sparkling abyss.
Amber Tamblyn has been an actress and author since the age of 11. She has been nominated for an Emmy, Golden Globe and Independent Spirit Award for her work in television and film. She is the author of three books of poetry, including her latest, Dark Sparkler (Harper Perennial, 2015).
Photo credit: Katie Jacobs
I am choosing Rachel McKibbens's "Last Love" poem. I chose this poem because it is one of the most haunting and raw contemporary love poems I have ever read. The first time I ever read it, I doubled over on my couch and covered my mouth. It is the type of poem that is so good, it sends you into a state of vertigo.
Rachel McKibbens is a two-time New York Foundation for the Arts poetry fellow and author of Pink Elephant (Cypher Books, 2009) and Into the Dark & Emptying Field (Small Doggies Press, 2013), a finalist for the Paterson Poetry Prize. She cocurates the monthly reading series Poetry & Pie Night with poet Jacob Rakovan in upstate New York.
“Killing the Form” by Camonghne Felix challenges the reader to follow the speaker through the emotional and physical spirals sexual violence survivors and, more specifically, women of color, experience regularly. The opening of the poem is push-back against those who do not believe poetry-of-witness is actual art. Too often, we are asked to not speak of our bodies and the crimes committed against them. But if we do not speak of our bodies, how can we ever return to them? How can we learn to exist and thrive from within them? The quote by Freud, “In what way is the instinctive connected with the compulsion to repetition?” reminds us how repetition itself is a kind of conditioning. So what must be unlearned? What must Black artists, specifically, demand of themselves in response to the devastating racial climate of the United States; this ongoing war on the body? Felix suggests a brighter, more audacious obsession: the unrelenting praise of self.
Camonghne Felix is an MFA Candidate at Bard College and the 2013 recipient of the Cora Craig Award for Young Women. You can find her work in various spaces, with work forthcoming in Poetry Magazine, Apogee and Callalloo Journal. She is also the author of the chapbook Yolk, published via Penmanship Books.