Definition

One must make a distinction however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the result is not poetry, nor till the autocrats among us can be “literalists of the imagination”—above insolence and triviality and can present for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads in them, shall we have it.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Toad's Favo(u)rite~ Like the Singing Coming off the Drums: Moving to the rhythm of Sonia Sanchez



I honestly can't remember when I first read Sonia Sanchez. What I remember was that I was immediately drawn to her work. The sounds and rhythms resonated with me. When I read more about her, poet and activist, my attraction deepened. 

Sanchez's work is conversational. Her vocabulary is ordinary, and the lines read in the way you wish you could speak: rolling beautiful yet natural rhythms off your tongue. I don't know what came first, but it is clear that I have an affinity for sound, and the sound of Sanchez's lines feel good on my tongue. There is internal rhythm without rhyme. There is an undercurrent of sensuality and the erotic in her work. Like a good love poem, writing the erotic well requires skill. Sanchez is a good place to start if  you appreciate the sensual.

Novice poets and readers alike have mistakenly believed that Ms. Sanchez's short poems are casual, lacking depth and form. The misconception has often lead to attempts at emulating her style without understanding the craft and effort necessary to write short, distilled poetry. I know I made that mistake.

While her work is accessible, a closer examination reveals the nuances of device and form. She is best known for her take on Asian forms including haiku, tanka and senryu. Devoted readers also know her narrative, longer pieces, the most celebrated, Does Your House Have Lions?, a narrative poem about her brother's battle with AIDS and how his family coped with his death and their loss.

In the late 90s and again in the early 2000s, I met the poet. Each time, she graciously took
the time to talk with me. During our first meeting, she told me why craft matters. She said when students take a course with her, they are required to write twelve poems in twelve different forms. Twelve forms in twelve weeks. In her class, the emphasis is skill. Talent can't be taught. In the classroom, the student learns how to read and write poetry. The expectation isn't great poetry written, rather the aim is to cultivate an informed, learned appreciation for poetry.

On one source I read, the author writes that Ms. Sanchez rejected standard English and established poetry convention, and that's true. That was early in her career when her work and her rejection was aligned her with social-political life. What the article failed to acknowledge is that while Sanchez rejected convention, she did not advocate uneducated arrogance being passed for art or activism.

The poet/activist has enjoyed a long, prolific career. Readers have witnessed a shift in perspective in her body of work. Experiences shape what and how we write. I believe art is organic, a breathing thing that continues to evolve.

I invite you to explore the work of Sonia Sanchez. I've included multiple hyperlinks and a short bibliography. Below is one of her most celebrated works and my first favorite:

Poem #3


I gather up

each sound

you left behind

and stretch them

on our bed.

each nite

I breathe you

and become high.



Bibliography

Homecoming, Broadside Press (Detroit, MI), 1969.
We a BaddDDD People, with foreword by Dudley Randall, Broadside Press (Detroit, MI), 1970.
Ima Talken Bout the Nation of Islam, TruthDel, 1972.
Love Poems, Third Press (New York, NY), 1973.
A Blues Book for Blue Black Magical Women, Broadside Press (Detroit, MI), 1973.
I’ve Been a Woman: New and Selected Poems, Black Scholar Press (Sausalito, CA), 1978.
homegirls and handgrenades, Thunder’s Mouth Press (New York, NY), 1984.
Under a Soprano Sky, Africa World (Trenton, NJ), 1987.
Continuous fire: A Collection of PoetryInkbook, 1994.
Autumn Blues: New PoemsXX, 1994.
Wounded in the House of a Friend, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1995.
Does Your House Have Lions?, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1997.
Like the Singing Coming off the Drums: Love Poems, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1998.
Shake Loose My Skin: New and Selected Poems, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1999.
Homegirls and HandgrenadesWhite Pine Press, 2007.
Morning HaikuBeacon Press, 2010.

19 comments:

Kay L. Davies said...

I'm fascinated, reading about Sonia Sanchez. Thank you for introducing her here. I love that Poem #3 immediately became your favorite. It is simple, elegant and heartfelt.
I love what you said here: "while Sanchez rejected convention, she did not advocate uneducated arrogance being passed for art or activism"
And following one of your links I found a Sonia Sanchez favorite of my own. It resonates strongly with me.

"nothing will keep
us young you know
not young men or
women who spin
their youth on
cool playing sounds.
we are what we
are what we never
think we are."

So wonderful is "we are what we never think we are"!
K

Akila G said...

Thanks for sharing this. Wonderful piece here and one more down in the comments. Something which all of us can connect .. Her poetry speaks!

Mama Zen said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for the introduction! Wow!

Kerry O'Connor said...

Your admiration for this poet is contagious, and I so loved to read your experience of her work and of meeting Sanchez in person. Thank you for sharing your favourite poem with us, and for providing us with the links to explore her work further.

Susan said...

This poem is one of her BEST, cut down to her essence. Here's a link to hear her read, from the first or second season of Def Poetry Jam: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7X8gIrkUTh0
Thank you, LaTonya!

Brian Miller said...

she is a fascinating woman latonya...i am familiar with her from Def Poetry...episode 2 has a performance by her and i want to say she was in a later episode...i do know she is in the anthology Bum Rush the Page which is a must have volume in learning performance poetry, imho. after reading this over the weekend, i took some time to dig a bit deeper into her poetry....and was a cool journey

Margaret said...

Fascinating! Thank you for introducing her to me. I can NOT believe how many poets there really are out there. You got to meet her - how wonderful. I have bookmarked this post as I plan to come back and read more of her work.

Marian said...

very, very nice. thank you, LaTonya.

Fireblossom said...

Fantastic choice! (and why am I so NOT surprised that MZ is stoked about her?)

Grace said...

Thank you so much for introducing her to me ~ Wow to her words and will check out the links ~

Susie Clevenger said...

Thank you so much for the introduction to Sonia Sanchez...I knew nothing about her or her work. How fortunate you were able to meet her!!

Hannah said...

Oh, wow! What a rich and delicious introduction to this artist, Tonya...thank you! I just love the piece you chose to share...so poignant. I'm off to read more! Wonderful choice!! :)

grapeling said...

cool intro. many thanks :)

Lolamouse said...


Thank you so much for your introduction to this awesome poet! I've read several of her poems and am loving them all! Great choice!

Ella said...

Thank you LaTonya! How wonderful she is and you met her~ You must of been ecstatic! I can't wait to read more of her poems-she sounds remarkable! Thank you for all the links and book list. I am going to go check her out now :D

Sam Edge said...

Great post.

LaTonya Baldwin said...

Thank you all for reading and commenting. Ms. Sanchez affects me in a way I'm drawn to her again and again.

I hope you find a place for her among your collections.

hedgewitch said...

Thanks for sharing your love for this accomplished poet, LaTonya. I followed several of your links and read a bunch of her poetry, including haiki, which I normally find to be a very bland and overused form--she writes them freshly and well, as they are meant to be--a breath, an opening of the inner eye, a blink of something deeper than the surface. Enjoyed both your article and her work very much.

cosmos cami said...

I'm excited to read more.