Explode for small change (PoemTalk #104)

Akilah Oliver.

Editorial note: The following conversation has been adapted from an episode of PoemTalk recorded in 2016 at the Wexler Studio in the Kelly Writers House in Philadelphia. The episode features Al Filreis, Yolanda Wisher, Charles Bernstein, and Patricia Spears Jones discussing Akilah Oliver’s poem “is you is or is you ain’t” from Oliver’s collection the she said dialogues: flesh memory (Smoke Proof/Erudite Fangs, 1999). Akilah Oliver’s PennSound page includes a recording of her reading this poem at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York on January 6, 2007. Yolanda Wisher is author of Monk Eats an Afro (Hanging Loose Press, 2014), and is the 2016–17 poet laureate of Philadelphia. Charles Bernstein, codirector of PennSound, is the author of Pitch of Poetry (University of Chicago Press, 2016). Patricia Spears Jones is the author of A Lucent Fire: New and Selected Poems (White Pine Press, 2015). This interview was transcribed by Zoe Stoller and can be heard in its entirety here. It has been edited for length and clarity. — Mariah Macias

Al Filreis: I’m Al Filreis, and this is PoemTalk at the Writers House, where I have the pleasure of convening three friends in the world of contemporary poetry and poetics to collaborate on a close, but not too close, reading of a poem. We’ll talk, maybe even disagree a bit, and perhaps open up the verse to a few new possibilities, and, we hope, gain for a poem that interests us some new readers and listeners. And I say “listeners” because PoemTalk poems are available in recordings made by the poets themselves as part of our PennSound archive

Today, I’m joined here in Philadelphia at the Kelly Writers House in our Wexler Studio by Yolanda Wisher, a poet and educator born here in Philadelphia, whose books include Monk Eats an Afro, and who has coedited Peace is a Haiku Song, sponsored by the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, for which vital project she served from 2010 to 2015 as director of art education; who has received many grants and has been a Cave Canem fellow; and who I’m totally thrilled to say has recently been appointed as the new poet laureate of the city of Philadelphia. 

And by Charles Bernstein, poet, theorist, essayist, scholar, and extraordinary interviewer, whose latest of his many, many books is The Pitch of Poetry, published by the University of Chicago Press; an active and generous supporter of young and emerging poets; beloved teacher here at the University of Pennsylvania, and before that, at the State University at Buffalo in New York, where he cocreated EPC, the Electronic Poetry Center, and helped lead the Poetics Program, which recently celebrated its twenty-fifth year; and who is, with me, I’m happy to say, cofounder and codirector of PennSound. 

And by Patricia Spears Jones, whose books of poems include PainkillerFemme du Monde, and The Weather That Kills, and whose new book, A Lucent Fire: New and Selected Poems, is out from White Pine Press. A longtime resident of New York and teacher there, she is very widely anthologized in, among many books, Starting Today: 100 Poems for Obama’s First 100 Days and Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry; crucially involved in many poetry and arts communities and organizations, recipient of grants and honors, and whose distinguished appointments include Senior Fellow at the Black Earth Institute. Congratulations, Patricia, on New and Selected Poems. That’s very exciting.

Patricia Spears Jones: Thank you.

Filreis: Is it out now? Or soon?

Spears Jones: It was out in October of last year.

Filreis: Ah, fantastic. That’s great. And Yolanda, everyone in Philly — everyone I know — is thrilled that you’re the new poet laureate.  

Wisher: I’m pretty thrilled. And very busy. And just trying to get to all of Philadelphia.

Filreis: That’s not easy.

Wisher: No. 

Filreis: Can you tell us, I know you’re involved in two or three projects that are going to have your stamp on them, can you name one of those?

Wisher: Yeah, I’m working with the US Department of Arts and Culture, which is a fake federal agency —

Filreis: Entirely fake.

Wisher: Entirely fake.

Filreis: Your invention. 

Wisher: My invention with some other great collaborators across the country. It’s a combination of a national platform with local grassroots organizing, and my title is Chief Rhapsodist of Wherewithal.

Filreis: Fantastic.

Wisher: Pretty excited to be doing that.

Filreis: Thanks for joining us. And Charles, always good to see you.

Bernstein: Good to be here.

Filreis: Today we four are here to talk about a poem by Akilah Oliver. It appeared in Oliver’s book the she said dialogues: flesh memory, published in 1999 … and the poem is called “is you is or is you ain’t,” and it appears on page 43 of the book. Our recording of her performing this poem comes from her Segue Series reading at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York on January 2007. So here now is the late Akilah Oliver performing “is you is or is you ain’t.”

[Recording of Oliver plays.]

Filreis: I wonder if we could start with each one of you just making one observation about the structure of these sentences, these paratactic sentences. They’re short. They have no capitalization at the beginning. Some of them connect to the next sentence, but some of them don’t. I think it would be a great way to start. Charles, do you want to start? Any observation at all about how these sentences work?

Bernstein: It’s “flow of perception,” to use a term that Lyn Hejinian takes from the famous “stream of consciousness” or “stream of perception.” So one perception melts into the next with a strong rhythmic connection between them; it seems as if it’s things going through her head, but the more you read it, you see the social commentary that pushes back against the seemingly dreamlike or meditative quality.

Filreis: Thank you. Yolanda, a thought on this? 

Wisher: Yeah, I agree with a lot of that, and I would add body scan, pile, kind of a pileup. The structure of it reminded me a little bit of that song Nina Simone sings, “I got my eyes, got my legs, got my hair, got my lips, got my eyes.” You know, it’s a kind of litany of body parts. But yeah, I got the sense of the piling up and the juxtaposition between these one-word lines like “over” or “pop” or “gin” or “right,” which almost kind of have an imperative feel.

Filreis: Fantastic. Patricia, your thoughts on the sentences, how it’s structured?

Spears Jones: They don’t sort of seem like sentences so much as they seem like phrases. And they seem — “groom the poodle,” “clean dream” — those are all very … specific phrases, and they make me think a lot about music and about the phrasing in music. Which I know that Akilah was very much interested in. Listening to her read it for about the third or fourth time, you can sort of hear that sort of phrasing going on.

Filreis: Let’s go back to Yolanda’s mentioning of pieces, of body — I don’t think you said body parts, did you? But a kind of accumulation of body references — the subtitle of the book is flesh memory, and Akilah defined that, and I quote, in part: “That which my body recalls. Everything has to do with the task of remembrance and its narrative reinvention. I was always translating an idea of the world as it presented itself at any given time. To write was a choice about how to be seen, how to enter the world as a translator, actor, participant in the dialogues that apparently made the real, real.” That’s her definition of “flesh memory.” Anybody want to add to that as expressed in this poem? That way — I mean, we’ve sort of already said it, but anyone want to add —

Spears Jones: I think it’s very clear. I mean, I think that one of — you know, the start is “nobody’s home in my body.” And so it ends with “it’s only between me and you. right.” So that there is this kind of internalized dialogue that’s going on. It’s very female. I mean, very, very female. And it is so — gender is a major issue here. And it’s interesting ’cause this is called the “she said diary.” And going back to what Yolanda said about those sounds, like “pop” and “clean dream,” and there’s these long and these short vowels, and they’re very tough. They’re tough sounds. And I think that she is sort of talking about the way in which the body moves in space. There is some real sense of this woman’s body going from literally, sort of adolescence to womanhood throughout this poem. And some of the ways in which this body is encountered.

Wisher: I love all of that, and that this phrase “happy is the password” makes me think about —

Filreis: Can you paraphrase that somehow? It’s hard. 

Wisher: The body is … a computer that can be unlocked with happiness.  

Filreis: Yet she defined flesh memory in another context, in an interview with Rachel Levitsky, as “genetic memory,” but she seems to have meant genetic memory as having cultural imprintings —so that “ed sullivan introduces,” present tense, “diana ross and the supremes” —

Spears Jones: Right.

Filreis: “done to the tune of deceit,” that’s not genetic memory, but it is flesh memory, in the sense that she means: it’s still present, I’m still watching this, and Diana Ross is still telling me something about being a black woman on stage and what it’s all going to mean, and all that. Does that make any sense?

Wisher: Yeah, it’s all mixed in there, it’s all part of the body, it’s all collected and gathered in here. And there’s this sense that there, you know — if happiness is a password that unlocks the body, there’s some kind of enclosure and kind of imprisonment or, you know, that “nobody’s home in my body” makes the body this structure, this house, and it’s got all this infrastructure and plumbing that she refers to. It’s a really complex place that, in some ways, can’t really be decoded simply. 

Spears Jones: But then she also talks about pleasure throughout, and what this body can and cannot do, and that’s why I’m thinking about the encounters: “groom the poodle,” you know, which definitely sounds like masturbation to me. “miniature men painted in combat green.” So there’s this, sort of this sense of the G.I. Joes down the street — 

Filreis: “line them up” — “line them up and [sic] watch them die.”  

Spears Jones: Yeah — but then, then there’s this moment where […] she said “somalians in bloated stomach costumes,” and this sense that all of a sudden, the body can become something, like you were talking about the unlocking of happiness, it can also be the unlocking of horror and outrage and — but then what she follows that with is “wrecking my panafrican day.” Because she goes for deep irony here. 

Filreis: She’s calling herself out, maybe a little bit? 

Spears Jones: No, I think she’s going for deep irony. 

Wisher: And there’s this sense that, you know, this pristine idea of African cultural memory is in some way tainted by the present-day Somalians with the bloated stomachs. It kind of invades that perfect Africa.

Filreis: So that news abrupts itself onto the flesh memory — which is making her feel “pan,” a “panafrican day.” I take “panafrican day,” followed by the word “happy” to suggest: I’m feeling like I’m writing out a kind of pan-African spirit, but the news is making that complicated. Charles, you heard Akilah Oliver perform. Patricia mentioned pleasure. There’s some pleasure, it’s not overall a happy, fun poem, but there’s some remarkably clever lines here. Do you take her to have a comic turn at all? And if so, is there anything in here that — 

Bernstein: Yeah, I don’t know if I would call it comic. I think the deep irony that Patricia mentions is more like it, but it’s not a funny irony. The “somalians in bloated stomach costumes” — it’s the costumes which is very dark, because, of course, you’re talking about people who have empty stomachs. She’s looking at that almost as if it’s a carnival or a masquerade. That’s much darker than if she just said that people are starving in Africa.That’s really dark, and it fits into the whole masquerade that the poem is about. So the poem is about a masquerade. “Bloated” rhymes with “empty” too:“emptied of pleasure,” “bloated stomach,” bloated and empty. The word she uses the most, which is very striking to me, is “home.” “nobody’s home”; “then go home”; “fly away home.” There is this fundamental sense of homelessness in the poem: “nobody’s home.” But also the invocation of home. And on the other hand, there’s this deceit, as the costumes. So there’s denial, there’s empty, there’s deceit, there’s flaw. “so I lied again.” So you have that strata: the home strata and the deceit strata, and at the same time it’s all woven together within a fabric of perception.

Filreis: When you get to “guess i forgot to turn the denial faucets off last night,” there is a domestic scene, something of a comic domestic scene, that’s what I meant, you know. […] And yet there’s this sense of homelessness, or, as Yolanda’s suggesting, the home is the body, and the body is the poem. Turning the denial faucets off, if the home is the poem, that’s a very interesting, and also clever, statement.

Bernstein: But “nobody’s home in my body” — it’s just hard to exactly make out, because that’s emptiness, right?

Wisher: Yeah, yeah.

Bernstein: And then it has that bloated stomach as emptiness too.And away from home.Those things are always double.

Filreis: Patricia suggested a few minutes ago that there’s a woman that’s dealing with relationships, or that there’s some kind of sexuality happening here. The title “is you is or is you ain’t,” she refers to as a phrase of St. Louis, which is where she’s from originally. But as any of us who did a little research found out, it’s Louis Jordan’s “jump blues” classic from 1944, which is about a man and a woman. Does anybody want to say how that might be relevant, either that song or the tradition of that song? Yolanda?

Wisher: Well I think it goes back to the costumes that Charles mentioned. Going back further into the research about that song, there’s the guy Octavus Roy Cohen, who that phrase apparently came from. 

Filreis: Oh. 1921, a humorous dialect fiction writer, a Jewish writer.

Wisher: Right!

Filreis: Doing black dialect. 

Wisher: Right, so there’s this element of caricature and minstrelsy that comes up, and — I was of course looking at it through the romantic lens, and then I started to think about the “is you is or is you ain’t” as almost a statement, a question, of like do you exist or not. Are you alive, and, you know, ultimately, who are you? And that led me less to the relationship between the man and the woman kind of posed by that song, and more about a relationship between the body and the self.

Filreis: That’s really great. The song is the question that a man, the lyricist, asks, though it’s been reversed by women who’ve performed the song.

Wisher: Right, yeah.

Filreis: But it originally — it’s the man saying are we together or aren’t we? Okay, so that’s why “my baby” is parenthetically at the end, which is an addressee. Akilah Oliver seems to be doing exactly what you said. She’s taking that phrase which is about men and women in jump blues, and she’s turning it into something existential.

[An excerpt from Oliver’s reading is played.]

Spears Jones: I look at this through the lens of gender a lot, and so, we’re talking about costuming, we’re talking about white and pink knee socks, we’re talking about looking in the mirror, we’re talking about the whole idea of how do you create the female persona. What does she look like? How does she come and then how does she deal with the “big dick. / exploding for small change.” I didn’t think of this as a relationship so much as it is about that whole thing about what is, what happens to you once you hit — once menstrual blood shows up. “menstrual blood turns some boys / on.” And that’s the second line of this poem, and so that by the time you get to “baby girl,” “you got it,” you have some sense that the persona in this poem has kind of figured out who she is in relationship to all of this, and she doesn’t particularly like it.

Filreis: “small change” is a great phrase, there. Can we spend a second on that? “off went the big dick. / exploding for small change.” So on one hand “small change” means just “not much,” but it also means change as in change of values, change of behavior, and it being small. Maybe I just answered my own question, but Louis Jordan’s, the second bridge in the song goes like this: “A woman is a creature that has always been strange / Just when you’re sure of one, you find she’s gone and made a change / And took my change.” So he’s got exactly the same pun in there.

Bernstein: “Is you is or is you ain’t my baby?” I mean, I know that song pretty well, but before I looked it up for this show, I didn’t know who wrote it. And I would have missed the St. Louis echo if Akilah didn’t mention it in introducing the poem at the reading.

Filreis: What would it mean that she was growing up in St. Louis on the street or in the house? What would that have meant? 

Bernstein: Well “is you is or is you ain’t my baby” in the song means, you know, are you with me or not, but in this, it becomes existential, and it could also be the body itself — or not …

Spears Jones: Yeah, and also I don’t assume that, you know, that she says this is a St. Louis phrase — you can say that it’s about Louie Jordan. didn’t know that. And I didn’t look it up, so there you go. But I also think that sometimes there’s a presumption about cultural memory that is not necessarily correct. There are things that — there are ways in which people talk about things in Memphis that they don’t say in St. Louis. There are ways in which people talk about stuff in St. Louis that they don’t say in Detroit. So same kind of people, different phrases. 

Bernstein: If you know the song then you’re going to immediately recognize that in the poem’s title. But, actually, I think it probably means something different here anyway. Are you real, or are you not? Am I real or am I not?

Spears Jones: Well that goes up almost back to something that isn’t here but that, you know, that famous Bert Williams song, “I’m nobody.” I mean, that “nobody” is a very powerful word in African American literature.

Bernstein: Right. Right.

Spears Jones: So, that she starts with “nobody’s home” is very interesting to me. 

Filreis: Several critics — and there have been some very good articles on Akilah Oliver, and I recommend just looking for those; some great stuff — several critics describe her particular use of parataxis as undermining the usual division between experimental writing on one side, which would of course use parataxis more regularly as a tool, and “expressivist” poetics, so-called, on the other side. Saying that Akilah Oliver uses parataxis in a way that just messes up that distinction that obviously can be pressed too far. Does this make sense to you as a response to what she’s doing with this kind of — these kinds of phrases and sentences that don’t, in conventional narrative, connect? Does this make sense as a criticism? As a response?

Wisher: I think so. I think, based on a lot of what Patricia was saying about — if I didn’t look at the poem before as a journey, like an evolution of womanhood — starting as like, when you’re young, nobody’s home. That sense of feeling not at home in your body, or nobody’s home, to the end where she’s like, “right?” And in the recording she’s not really sure.

Filreis: How does she say it in the recording?

Wisher: No, no, no, she says it, she’s like “right?” It’s like a question —

Spears Jones: It’s almost a question. It’s almost a question.

Wisher: Or like “yeah?” Like “for real?” And so, thinking about that, there is that sense of accumulating wisdom, right? And there’s that sense that, you know, something is evolving or growing or changing cause when you get to the “she said baby girl. you got it,” you know, there’s this sense of self-possession that becomes more and more present.

Spears Jones: But then that’s undermined by “gin. / shoeboxes full of dope.”

Filreis: Sure is.

Wisher: Yes.

Spears Jones: So that, you know, you can get to this point where you know who you are, but then there are all these things outside of you that can screw that all up.

Wisher: Yeah.

Bernstein: I think the fact that “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t” departs from the conventional prose form, that it is not structured by logical connections, puts it in a continuum with many other works of associative prose. But, you know, as we’re saying, it has a lot of pushback against the associations, so the associations become self-conscious, and she doesn’t just go with them. But I think that it’s within the general alternative formal structures that all of Oliver’s work explores.

Filreis: So, a paratactic approach typically will allow us to see many subjectivities speaking, or many kinds of vocabulary speaking, so that it’s not obviously a single subjectivity —

Bernstein: But there’s a felt relation —

Filreis: And she thought of herself as doing this in order to create what she called a pluralizing gesture. Right? So that means that there’s expressivity here, but it’s an expressivity of the flesh memory, which is a set of selves that move through time, and not just a single self. So, that critic was simply, or there were several of them, was simply saying that you can’t say, “Oh, well she’s an experimentalist and so she’s not going to have any kind of, subjectivity’s not an issue for — ”

Bernstein: But right, that’s a travesty of what experimental is, that comment itself, and —

Spears Jones: Yeah. Yeah. Thank you.

Bernstein: I think what happens is a very felt connection between the senses. But it’s not just body sense, although there are interesting examples of that. You could look at Bernadette Mayer, for example, in her ’70s work, which has some relationship. Bernadette Mayer doesn’t have this sort of ideological intrusion that this poem has, so I think as we’re saying with the Somalians and some of the other things, it very specifically trips out a sense that the poem’s moving just on sense memory or body memory because she pushes you to see that itself as a kind of masquerade.

Filreis: May I ask each of you if you were encountering a reader of poetry who had not read Akilah Oliver, what — judging from this prose poem, or others, what would you say to recommend Akilah Oliver to readers of poetry? People who hadn’t encountered her before?

Bernstein: Well one thing I should say is that they should start with A Toast in the House of Friends from 2009, Coffee House [Press]; that’s an extraordinary work, and it’s partly an elegy for her son, Oluchi McDonald, who lived from 1982 to 2003, and who died in a very disturbing situation in Los Angeles in a hospital. And her way of extending the elegy in that poem is extraordinary, significant, and innovative. Also note that Akilah was born in 1961 and died in 2011. It was very shocking for those of us who knew her. I was just getting to know her. She died too soon. She’s missed. And that there are a lot of unpublished works, and I’m hoping that some of the people working with her family will manage to bring them out. But A Toast is the most available book now. And it extends, actually, our discussion here, though she’s dealing with a somewhat different frame. 

Spears Jones: Yeah, and I think there are a lot of other ones, but that’s a really good way to start with her work, and I also think too that if you’re new to her work, you are also new to a way in which someone uses some of the tropes of African American literature. And a way that is surprising, is not predictable, and allows for a variety of interpretations. For her, cultural memory is very rich and layered.

Wisher: I would probably introduce her as a poet of the body, and thinking about the ways in which her poems have embedded in them culture and history and personal memory. I think that would be a good gateway for a lot of folks.

Bernstein: Before she wrote her poems, and I don’t know a great deal about this, but have read about it. She did sort of — fits in with what you’re saying — performance and dance work.

Spears Jones: Right. Yeah.

Wisher: Mhmm.

Bernstein: She had a whole body of performance, of work. Pun intended, I guess. That she, I think, also did in Los Angeles, so she’s coming out of that. And into the poetry, so you can see aspects of that.

Spears Jones: Well, I think that’s one of the reasons why she uses a lot of those wonderful long and short vowels because they become ways in which — when she can do the phrasing, that makes it really textured. And her voice does maybe what she had done as dance, in some ways.

Filreis: We could talk about this wonderful poem and Akilah Oliver’s work for a long time, but let’s wrap up by each of us saying one more thing, either about the poem or about her poetry. Something we didn’t get to say and you’d want to put in the record for conversation about this work?

Bernstein: In doing a close reading of a poem like this, you can go through each line and think about what it means and … it begs the point that the poem itself is not really geared toward being read in that way. The poem gives you an impression and a feeling and a kaleidoscope of different sense impressions, and a mood, and a feeling. So it’s a hard poem to talk about in a conventional way because, to some degree, it defies convention.It does have, to me, these very explicit ideological points of reference: the menstrual blood and the Somalians. The Somalians rip the poem out of any nonideological reading, but it’s hard to know exactly what’s going on because it’s a woven tapestry with different levels. One thing I’d emphasize is how the levels of discourse, to use a perhaps overly technical expression, are very different, but they seem like they’re at the same level. If it’s work of the body, as you’re saying, it’s a body that’s really been made through kinds of discourse levels, some of which are imposed upon that body and some of which come from the flow of life, that the body is — still the overall impression is this movement within life and consciousness. It’s sure interrupted, but it doesn’t stop her she doesn’t get interrupted.

Spears Jones: That’s true. 

Wisher: I’m grateful for this poem. I didn’t know a lot about her work before digging into it, and there’s a lot of overlap between the way we approach performance and poetry, and I was really drawn to Oliver’s notion and what Charles speaks to and the piece that you wrote about her about this idea of holding space. And I do, I think a lot about that work in terms of community engagement, as a facilitator and as a poet, and so I’m grateful to see a poetics of holding space on the page as well. And that active poetry is holding space that you mentioned.

Spears Jones: I agree with them. [Laughter.]

Filreis: Well I’d like to make a couple of final points. First of all, I noticed that amidst the “nobody’s home in my body” and the kind of internal associative work that’s being done here, we have unexplained things happening outside. We have “zoom past the vehicles.” We have “wicked highway beating time,” both fabulous phrases. “zoom past the vehicles” is a little odd because it’s not the vehicles doing the zooming past, but somehow the vehicles are being passed zoomingly by. And then we have “roar down streets [sic].” This poem just keeps on giving, and it’s inside and it’s outside, all at the same time. The second thing I want to observe is “order is / what I like. all the files labelled.” That strikes me, given the fabulousness of the chaos. Of the associations and the memory. And the struggle with, you know, “it’s only between you & me [sic]. right.” The struggle. We get this person who’s admitting that she likes to keep things in order, which I just find smart and clever and interesting, and so interesting that it follows the “miniature men painted / in combat green.” “line them up” suggests a kind of order, so maybe that kind of order is a warlike thing, and destructive and homicidal thing.

Bernstein: It’s a mocking of male culture, “miniature men painted / in combat green” are soldiers, like little male —

Filreis: Toy soldiers.

Bernstein: Like toy soldiers. “watch them die,” just like the “menstrual blood.”

Filreis: So, “order is / what I like” and “all the files labelled” is in quotes; it is an ironic, ironized compulsion to order.

Bernstein: Yeah, and, as Patricia said earlier, it is from a woman’s point of view, strongly antimasculinist in a number of points.

Filreis: Well, we like to end PoemTalk with a minute or two of gathering paradise, which is a chance for several of us to spread wide our narrow hands to gather something really poetically good, to hail or commend someone or something going on in the poetry world. So who would like to gather a little paradise first?

Wisher: I’m gonna recommend a Germantown favorite, Sue Landers, who was born in Germantown, I believe, but has since moved to New York, who’s written a great book called Franklinstein, which is a great collection of prose poems that are based on her own memories, and kind of return to the neighborhood and interviews with folks around the neighborhood. So, it’s a beautiful book, and it just came out, and it’s getting a lot of excitement and buzz around it. So I recommend it. 

Filreis: Fantastic. And for PoemTalk listeners who don’t know the Philadelphia landscape, Germantown is of course a semi-independent neighborhood. And I think you’re originally from Germantown?

Wisher: I was born there; I grew up outside of Germantown but returned as a young adult and have been there ever since.

Filreis: Fantastic. Charles, gather some paradise.

Bernstein: Well, I’m thinking of the world of Akilah Oliver and her wonderful presence in New York. And in that context I think of her contemporary, Tonya Foster, who has a book out, published by the Belladonna Collective, very much in the world of Akilah Oliver. It’s called A Swarm of Bees in High Court, and it’s a wonderful book.

Filreis: It is a great book. Thank you. Patricia, what are you recommending these days in the poetry world?

Spears Jones: Oh gosh, okay. Tyehimba Jess has a new book out called Olio, which I think is absolutely brilliant and also beautifully done as a physical object, and it explores the voice of African Americans whose voices were not recorded in the nineteenth century, so I would highly recommend that.

Filreis: Fantastic. Well, I have a quick triple recommendation. We’ve already said that Yolanda Wisher is the poet laureate of the city of Philadelphia, and I would simply recommend that you do a little googling and you find out what Yolanda’s doing. And if you’re in Philadelphia, or near Philadelphia, or want to come to Philadelphia to be part of this, these projects, please just get in touch with Yolanda. I’m sure it’s not that hard to get in touch with you. And you can go to the office of the mayor of the city of Philadelphia, or you can just google Yolanda Wisher. And it is, once again, just so fantastic that you’re in that position, and I’m proud of my city that we have such a thing and that we make good choices. 

And paradise sitting to my left, Charles Bernstein, who’s paradisal all the time, has Pitch of Poetry, just out, and it is a wonderful thing, and one-third of the essays in that book are collaborative, which really speaks to the spirit of this generous person, this poet who cares about emerging poets. 

And Patricia Spears Jones, by the time you’re listening to this PoemTalk, will have had a reading recorded at the Kelly Writers House in April of 2016. And that will be uploaded to her PennSound page, and I highly recommend that you listen to that in conjunction with this discussion, because there might be some kind of good harmony between what we’ve talked about today and what you will hear in that recording. 

Well, that’s all the “miniature men painted / in combat green” we have time for on PoemTalk today.

This is Al Filreis, and I hope you’ll join us for that, or another episode of PoemTalk.