Poetry as storytelling. Poetry as intimate conversation. Poetry as painting. If you know serious readers who say they don’t like poetry, give them an issue of Rattle. Especially this one, which features amazing “conversations” with Toi Derricotte and Terrance Hayes, conducted by editor Alan Fox, a “Tribute to African American Poets,” and contributors’ notes that contain brief personal (and personable) remarks rather than dull lists of credentials. “The hope is that a poem might walk the tightrope from which sloganeering topples,” writes David O’Connell in his note. Many of these notes are, happily, as satisfying in their own way as the poems.
“WOW!” is what I have written across the pages of the extensive conversation between Fox and Derricotte, who is as frank and open as always, something for which I hope she is recognized and appreciated. She questions the need for and significance of a special section on African American poets; discusses the ways in which the election of Obama may change what black and white people feel they may say about race; talks about her family; describes the revising of poems; and updates us on the latest with Cave Canem, the highly competitive and popular writing workshop/retreat program she founded with Cornelius Eady for African American writers.
The “Tribute” section includes poems by 32 poets, including Derricotte. I am always pleased to see work by Patricia Smith whose “Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City” is typical of her poetry, a powerful story told in rich images. I was glad to be introduced to the lovely, understated work of DéLana R.A. Dameron (“Cartographer”) and the sharp, brilliant verse of Myronn Hardy (“Mucambo”). Watch out for Thomas Sayers Ellis who makes a brief, but powerful appearance here and whose work is becoming increasing prominent on the national scene (not to mention Facebook). Exquisite black and white profiles of several of the poets by photographer Rachel Eliza Griffiths are frame worthy even as reproduced here.
Poems by 55 poets appear in the non-tribute portion of the magazine, including Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Lyn Lifshin, David Wagoner, and editor Alan Fox. The magazine favors poems that tell vivid stories in conversational language (with some exceptions). At the same time, the majority of these poems have what I might call a “poetry intention” which is effective and deliberate, as in Larry Crist’s “Last Day on Earth”: “On this the last day of earth / I bathe, wash my hair, clean my nails / shave with a new blade” or in these lines from Michael Campagnoli’s “Beirut (1982-84): A Cycle of Poems: “Coco, the parrot, was skilled / at imitating the incoming.”
“Transformation should be in everyone’s definition of poetry,” Terrance Hayes says in his conversation with Alan Fox. Read Rattle and be transformed.