Tuesday, December 15, 2015

5th Annual White Elephant Contemporary Poetry Exchange

We recently had our 5th Annual White Elephant Contemporary Poetry Exchange.

In cooperation with the GCC Creative Writing Department, I select a handful of books to introduce and giveaway each December. People are welcome to bring any book they would like to share or exchange and there are opportunities to "steal" ones that catch your attention throughout the evening.

Hopefully, everybody walks away with a few new poets and/or books to watch out for and hopefully even order. Here are the books I selected this year:

Bunkong Tuon’s new book Gruel (from NYQBooks). These poems retrace Tuon’s escape from Pol Pot’s 1979 Cambodia to his mother’s death of starvation in a Thailand refugee camp to becoming a drop-out janitor in California whose life changed course after finding a Bukowski book in a public library. A captivating debut collection of mourning and redemption.


First Snow

~from this issue of Misfit Magazine

We huddled
behind the back door
of our sponsor’s house.
My uncle, the bravest
because he spoke a little English,
went out.

My grandmother, aunts,
and I watched him
through the kitchen window.

He bent down, reached for
the whiteness of this new world,
and put some in his mouth.

He looked back at us and smiled, 
“We can make snow cone with this!”

America, the miraculous, our savior,
you were the land of dreams then.

 Julianna Baggott's Lizzie Borden in Love
 A highly researched collection of poems written in the voices of historic women including Helen Keller, Katherine Hepburn, Marie Curie, and Camille Claudel. Poem titles like "Monica Lewinski Thinks of Bill Clinton While Standing Naked in Front of a Hotel Mirror" (which Ta-Nehisi Coates posted over at The Alantic) and "Mary Todd on Her Deathbed" give you an idea of what to expect.
“Julianna Baggott amazes with the scope of her imagination. Part biographer, part ventriloquist, part genius, she inhabits characters we thought we knew … Baggott’s talent is almost spooky. Lizzie Borden in Love is a dangerous and elegant collection from one of America’s finest young poets.”  – Beth Ann Fennelly

Lori Schappell, a Conjoined Twin, Addresses the Kmart Cashier Who Eyes Her with Too Much Sympathy

 ~from VQR online

You don’t know the forest
of two minds bound by weeds
grown from one to the other,
the synapses like bees
our honeyed brain.
When my sister sings,
the bones of my skull are her resonance.

Your mind is a yeast packet,
unbroken, unrisen. Today
how often will you think: Price Check
and each time the thought will stall
with lonesomeness.

Yet you think my sister is a bulky hat
stitched to my head.

You, untethered, drift through life.
And we pity

        you and the other self
you hide in your throat. 

Erin Belieu's Slant 6
"From poem to poem in the smart, savvy Slant Six, Belieu channels an updated American idiom, one of stubborn in-betweenhood. Like the plain-spoken poetry that plumbed the depths of American consciousness in the 20th century, Belieu trawls the shallows of today’s America and finds just as much caught in its oily reflections as in its murkier subcurrents. It’s '[b]etter,' she suggests, 'to forget perfection.'" —The Boston Globe

When At a Certain Party In NYC

~from 32 Poems

Wherever you’re from sucks,
and wherever you grew up sucks,
and everyone here lives in a converted
chocolate factory or deconsecrated church
without an ugly lamp or souvenir coffee cup
in sight, but only carefully edited objets like
the Lacanian soap dispenser in the kitchen
that looks like an industrial age dildo, and
when you rifle through the bathroom
cabinet looking for a spare tampon, you discover
that even their toothpaste is somehow more
desirable than yours. And later you go
with a world famous critic to eat a plate
of sushi prepared by a world famous chef from
Sweden and the roll is conceived to look like
“a strand of pearls around a white throat,” and is
so confusingly beautiful that it makes itself
impossible to eat. And your friend back home—
who says the pioneers who first settled
the great asphalt parking lot of our
middle, were not in fact heroic, but really
the chubby ones, who lacked the imagination
to go all the way to California—it could be that
she’s on to something. Because, admit it,
when you look at the people on these streets,
the razor-blade women with their strategic bones
and the men wearing Amish pants with
interesting zippers, it’s pretty clear that you
will never cut it anywhere that constitutes
a where, that even ordering a pint of tuna salad
in a deli is an illustrative exercise in self-doubt.
So when you see the dogs on the high-rise elevators
practically tweaking, panting all the way down
from the 19th floor to the 1st, dying to get on
with their long planned business of snuffling
garbage or peeing on something to which all day
they’ve been looking forward, what you want is
to be on the fastest Conestoga home, where the other
losers live and where the tasteless azaleas are,
as we speak, halfheartedly exploding.

I also included Asymmetries -a bilingual anthology of Peruvian Poetry from local publisher Cardboard House Press who I hope to bring to Glendale Community College for a visit in early 2016.

Contemporary Peruvian poetry, and particularly the period of the founders (José María Eguren, César Vallejo, César Moro, Emilio Adolfo Westphalen, Martín Adán, Carlos Oquendo de Amat), is recognized canonically; later come various stages that the specialized critic has divided by generations: the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. However, our approach omits the category of “generation” and proposes, in a sequential manner, a reading of its fluxes, variables, and constants. From another perspective, Antonio Cornejo Polar prefers to call Peruvian literature a polysystem composed of literature “illustrated” in Spanish, the popular literature in Spanish, and indigenous literature (Cornejo Polar: 1989).
We have chosen the period of the 40s as a starting point to guide our timeframe. That is, we consider the post-vanguardist period the lapse that goes from the 40s onward. Moreover, not assuming the category of “generation” permits us to give more weight to the systems of Peruvian contemporary poetry: 1) the system of lyricism, language of irrational and surrealist images; 2) the system of poetry written in indigenous languages; 3) the colloquial system; 4) the system of concretism and post-concretism and 5) the Neo-Baroque system. (Excerpt from Lights over Peru.  Prologue by Paul Guillén. ASYMMETRIES. Anthology of Peruvian Poetry).


  1. Wow, those are knockout poems! I'm adding Tuon's and Belieu's books to my must-read list. Thanks Shawnte. I really like this exchange idea. What fun!

  2. Glad to know that it piqued your curiosity, Drew! That's a pretty good measure of success.