I am very pleased to announce that I am winning a 2019 Pushcart Prize fo the poem “Blue Coming” a collaboration with my Thing, his poem, “What You Can’t Know is that Poetry is Connected to the Body Again”
The prize winning poem: “Blue Coming”
(published in ABSTRACT MAGAZINE TV.COM)
(in response to “Poetry Is Connected to the Body Again” by Mr. Bob Holman)
Poetry is connected to the body,
part of my fingertips, just as blue as anything
that ever was or will be blue–
–blue that dye aspires to, true blue
denied to any sapphire, Logan sapphire included, even
if she wears some
on those blue fingers, blue spreads, consumes her
as if she hatched from an Araucana egg:
SHE IS BLUE, fingers, bluest hands ever, Tunisian blue. Djerban
blue hands, shoulders, breasts, every
nook and cranny blue, big bad wolf says: how blue you are!
The better to blue you….
She, so blue today, visits
Offices of the National Enquirer to report
on this surging of blue epidemic, blue
bottle fly bluer than any sound buzzing, fly buzzing
as blue as it can, making the Blues, making
The Blues mean something very different –such music from
beating of wings, some of what has spread blue
throughout her bluing body,
even layers of atmosphere: blue buzz: name
of a new Crayola crayon and marker, manufactured
from her fingertips
Blue Buzz Blood group
She bleeds an orgasmic paint set. She bleeds
a blue layer
her lover’s face becoming
blue she’s dreaming of again, blue as his face
That defines blue for
her blue orgasm, so much blue everywhere
blue for her –story of this massive bluing
–true story on the cover
of papers –turning blue once in her atmosphere
Blue –Code Blue–
coming together, what a mighty tincture,
–not exactly at the same time, but coming, connected
Her fingertips writing a
In response to a poem by Bob Holman
Th new poems all come from my new and unpublished collection, “Shawsheen Memorial Broom Society ” cover artwork and winter written by Selwyn Rodda
Every indicator says
there is occasion for poetry
everywhere we breathe.
Thylias Moss pours forth poetry from the very pores of her skin, without pause. From within, so without. Take it from the poet herself:
I awake in a downpour
But I can’t shake the feeling that it ever lets up, night or day. Perpetual downpour. In every work of hers I know, poetry is an art of exuberance and daring brought to bear on what really matters, never merely one of detachment or witty, arch commentary, of alighting on a bon mot, a choice phrase, the piquant image, the novel structure – although given her formidable intellect and poetic chops, there’s a river’s bounty of such in this book, and every other. And in this collection, assisted by a power of recall as sharp as 4K, each word and image is an attempt to bring into sharper relief the form of her beloved – and her poetry, blithely impatient with all limits, formal and aesthetic, warps, flexes and weaves in tracing the lineaments of memory and desire. Lines clench, relax, unfurl, luxuriate and linger at the behest of the emotional heft and urgency of utterance, although this is the polar opposite of prosodic mush, the “high ground” of poetry yielding to the floodwaters of sentiment. A complete mastery of the poetic toolkit, of tone and voice, and a panoptic, though never stultifying, control of the material is always in evidence. Image spawns image as thematic material, evolving and revolving in the rapids of her quicksilver mind. And though many poems here are forged in a crucible of hot love, smelted metal tangoing to its ecstatic highs and its terrible troughs, even the hottest are tempered with a smithies’ mastery of material too hot to handle. And of course, as with any poetry tempered to last, each poem here is exactly what it needs to be, like the others in being unlike them. The more inventive the poet, the more generalities miss the mark.
Refusing to yield to meltdown or despair, this is a sustained work of love and art of almost fierce intensity – impossible to untangle the twain. Sustained passages are positively dithyrambic (or shall we say “Mossian”?) in their punch-drunk precision, pitched at an almost incantatory rhetoric that summons and sustains a visionary yet almost palpable presence of love, the shimmer and shimmying of the thing we dare not do without.
No love poetry of bland, reassuring endearments this, but an amorous saga as somatically savory, as tangy and salty (as “umami”, if I may), as it is sweet. Thylias Moss relishes the sensible world with an intoxicating avidity. Its endless riches inflame her imagination, and she gives back as good as she gets (and lucky us who travel with her: what sights, sounds, smells, tastes!), a veritable welter of pungent and astringent verbal associations, rife with spice, with pop culture pizazz – her “Thing” reminding her of the priest’s first scene in “The Exorcist”, sonic screwdrivers, pop lyrics – and cosmic splendor and strife, things and forces shaped at will. And we are engulfed as we read the balm of her blistering words. Blistering for her, and us, for poetry of and about love, specially erotic, must acknowledge its eclipses, partial or whole, its devastations along with its consummations, its fraught liberation and its willing bondage,
I walk constantly with these birds
Roped to my heart.
and this love is made difficult by distance and goodness knows what else (the details, the story of this love, is in the book, laid out with a poet’s and a storyteller’s eye, no point in detaining you with it here)
of my life
(also the lowest lows)
Furthermore, Thylias Moss, being a poet of the real – that unstable, multi-tiered fiction where raw feelings matter most, and where they color our entire observable universe – can plunge us giddily into different emotional dimensions, from the cosmic splendor of:
bright path of your steps, of course I remember
How you walk, that day you walked to me, fireball out
Of a personal sky,
flame tree outside this window
Matchstick in the dark
A poet of startlingly real feeling, and so of necessity one of great bravery, for love hurls curveballs as well:
Block nothing, worth the pain because from it, such splendid love
Time to place value on this dark surface
to unfathomable depth
Yet the poles of joy and pain will recur, as happens with a poetry predicated on truth, memory and love :
that note of how very much
I Love you, and then my
father’s casket was closed.
The sung “note” in this poem, quite apart from honoring a remarkable biographical incident, serves to mark both the genuine originality of the poet herself – reaching new heights in this book – and how every genuine affair of the heart seems unsurpassable, yet echoes our primal first experience of love. And with the closing of the casket, she acknowledges how new love can offer a degree of closure of past loss, a healing long sought. Yet being the final line, it also affirms how closure is never erasure.
So a gathering of poems of love and pain, loss and gain, heaven and hell. And no matter how frightful or grim, few great poets (or their readers) can resist the unreconstituted images gifted from the deep.
black eyes of the sea
where the depths empty what can be seen
onto the surface
So from the astonishing SHAWSHEEN DEVONIAN CONVERSION, one of the most memorable poems in a book full of such things:
- wounded trees on their bended knees slashed
with their own branches bloody from praying
An imaginative and rhetorical sing-song savagery to thrill the shade of Dante (throughout this passage internal rhyme rises wickedly, delightfully, to infernal rhyme); a gleefully diabolical theatre of memory worthy of Bruno Shultz and an intensity fully worthy of the great black preacher cum storyteller tradition of which she is the poetic heir apparent (she has all the fire without the brimstone and the smokescreen), and a thrilling paean to her father, keeper of sensual hot-pepper mysteries that her shame-riddled mother couldn’t scrub away. These people, real, shadowy, tragic, legendary, libidinal and comical by turn, adored or mocked, not only embody some of the history of black America, its divisions, its tragedy, its triumphs despite everything and its genius, but engender the poet’s self, with her magnificent refusal to countenance oppression, political and personal
Mama knows best, kicking and screaming my way
Out of her petrifying belly
– culminating with her choosing and being chosen by love above all, and the love of a man, collaborator and muse, whose stupendous presence animates and gives rise to much of the invention in this volume.
It’s true: I have never read love poems remotely like these. And I rather fancy you haven’t either (need convincing? Try “Shawsheen Standard Equipment Fuses”, “Shawsheen Dream Baby Nemo” and the magnificent “Required Walking in Shawsheen” – and a quick shout out to her brilliantly unexpected titles). So I’m going to assert that this book stands the possibilities of contemporary love poetry on its head, or flings them into starlight-drenched space – does this seem hedged? Only due to my not knowing the field extensively – there are far too many banal and frankly bad love poems to wade through. Yet given the epic yet vividly intimate scope of this collection, such claims seem entirely reasonable, although I simply balk at attempting to convey the sassy, sexy, spirited, sly, wholly openhearted and wholly enraptured tone Thylias achieves: its energized ebullience and effervescence! To say nothing of her sense of drama, her superb delivery and her wry comic gift:
You told me, “of course I feel amused; of course I feel privileged” —as you should, for I am still trying to amuse you; I am still privileging you
every way I can!
—as for your shenanigans, you just haven’t outgrown them yet; why
do you think I keep writing bad Poetry to you?
And this (not about her “Thing”):
and it is said that all black men have rhythm, well, he had none, not even rhythm method of birth control his infertility made unnecessary.
What I can’t begin to convey, for even her own book strains to encompass her, is for me her largest achievement: herself. As she moves through these poems of love, revelation and longing like the deep current of Shawsheen, as she relates her past and present, as she toys with and triumphs over words, time and contingency, it becomes apparent that her self, as character and as confluence of energies, is one of contemporary literature’s great creations (“presences” or “spirits” are perhaps closer to what I mean). I do not mean to suggest that her projected self is merely a fiction (nor to denigrate the achieved truth of hard-won fictions). Not at all. Her integrity, authenticity, curiosity, intelligence and imaginative fecundity are the ground from which her voice swells. They permeate this book, and from them issue all the glories poetry has at its disposal: rhythm, rhyme, lyricism, irony, satire, sarcasm, personification, a dazzling eruption of metaphors, memorable lines and the other these-days-not-so usual suspects.
And nothing is too inert, too mundane, too inane, to escape being swept up by her transmogrifying eye (plastic flamingos with their “liquid raptures”), her astonishing ability to locate the luster of love, with its sensual, alchemical and metaphorical possibilities, where it might be thought to least likely lurk. To find original ways to frame, embellish and convey the 3 words that love loves to hear and say, to make of love’s declaration something new, startling, convincing, this is something that might defeat even a supremely resourceful poet. Yet she does this as if it were no big thing – that is the miracle she performs, with a bevy of others. What the Metaphysical poets did with garlands of metaphors and outrageously suggestive arguments to deliciously inflame sexual desire and the promise of its fulfillment, she does with love (erotic and deep): as a source of poetic reinvention, as praise, as pleasure, sustaining its intensity despite everything that would defeat it (herself included). To sing love’s praise, and the lover’s praise, is to tend and fan the flame, stoke the fire. These poems are not just about love, they are themselves engines of love!
Poetry is of course a form of will; the word-intoxicated will to the love of truth and the truth of love (given life’s brevity, why read a poet who would subscribe to any lesser calling?), and then the even harder task of living with the consequences. One thing great poetry does is teach us that living well, like reading well, is difficult but absolutely rewarding. And with this dangerous knowledge in place, the question of meaning inevitably raises its phrenologically vexing head. We know that wealth, power and material excess do not fill the void (they make it larger, so the drive to have more increases), and also how frequently the disempowered and the lovelorn turn to extreme forms of religion or authoritarianism to fill the same. It is a huge part of Thylias’s wisdom to turn instead to her own life. Not in naval-gazing solicitude, or the look-ma-no-guilt tones of fuck-and-tell-all insta-poetry, but with a mythopoetic vitalism that generates meaning by the gathering and connecting of dots, points, vectors and sectors (like her brother-in-word Walt). Love, that bridging, quickening, healing and annealing force, thrums and flows through her life, her past (wrongs against her are fully divulged, and righteous anger felt, but never rancor. She is far too capacious to succumb to such poison) and her projected future. It is the force that drives the melding of tributaries into the self beyond ourselves.
How not to avoid turning the searching intelligence and candor of these poems on oneself? How not to at least attempt to rise to their implicit challenge? They have sent their shafts of light, delight and their depth chargers into me, a painter who usually settles for the mute mysteries of image, finding out corners of my soul too often unexamined. What do I mean when I tell someone I love them? What does it mean to say my love is durable, this time for real? Do I dare disturb my complacency, my self-absorption, and risk real love? – This applies to art as well, for once set in motion, such questions do not stop, but ripple outwards and spiral inwards. And in unqualified, awestruck answer, I admit I want to love (and make art) with the intensity, bravery, chutzpah, smarts and openness of the poems in this extraordinary book.
Love may be the lodestar, but these are also profoundly poems of formative experience: deep, aching, memory-and-shadow-thronged, questioning and questing. Poems of childhood and its losses and lessons, that lessen yet still have the power to control us, sustain us, hurt us, salve us. And poems of her father, a paragon of love and wonder, tutelary spirit – yet how she can flick a switch and plunge us into recollected pain or longing the years can barely diminish – “a mountain over his heart just stays there” and “thunder pulls my heart into my father’s eyes”.
Yet all is not lost. See how she can regain paradise, how banality, pain and the shadow of death are no barriers but the necessary, because real, conditions –
we eat the shadows.
two of which
are my father’s
yet I float on clouds
into such a clean, pure kingdom
that nothing else matters
just a banana which I eat the moment I arrive.
This “just” is no insouciance, just as “nothing else matters” isn’t solipsism, nor defensive posturing, but a moment of needful, everyday transcendence. In the same poem her father’s scalded skin runs “down the drain”, domestic premonition of mortality, and then the banana’s peeled skin becomes a strangely and sublimely linked opportunity of the internalized possibility of love and inner bliss, her father’s gift to her, and the wisdom of getting under the skin of things, to the pith and pulp, the artful consummation of (imaginary) transubstantiation, of the mundane origins of sublimity – anything “just” at hand: the sun-conjured banana obliterates the shadows. Also, “Diseased lungs” to “clouds”. Ethereal transubstantiation. Vaporization of pain. Yes, Thylias Moss is a poet: Ovidian, Orphic (Hippocratic!) and the rest. The given world and words are not only never taken for granted, they may also be taken for a wild ride: inverted, converted, subverted, cavorted with, poles may be vaulted and flipped, and what can’t be bent into and out of shape, what dread or dross not made divine? The poet makes it so.
“As for politics?” I hear myself murmur. In substantial part, earlier collections addressed/resisted racism, white cultural hegemony or the horrors of slavery, always with a fully immersive imaginative power, never relenting in an equally, and absolutely justifiable, anger (whiplash irony and tar-black humour too, though she has never been in any sense a reductive poet – beholden to no single cause and no one, indeed, not even to her “Thing”). And appallingly, the trauma of white abuse and its devastating penetration into its victims lives is still unacceptably with us:
That need to cover up what she had naturally.
of being that darkest girl out of a dozen children, all
6 girls born first, my mother the darkest, nappiest
Oh the stigma of being the ugly child,
the one furthest from European
standards –as if no black women are European–
silky and blowing in the wind, just the gentlest touch,
not even the wind
from a mouth able to start that movement:
that is their strength: movement
reaction to any other movement; they pick it up
and run with it, bend with it, groove with it….
The poetic insistence on resistance, reinvention, self-determination and self-interpretation, is wonderfully unchanged, yet the focus of many of these new poems is radically different, even more personal and revealing in their frankness and fearlessness: the celebration (and calibration) of love and being in love: love as healing, love as an offering and fulfillment of the self, love as a transformative power, love as a temporal paradise (thoughts of expulsion a shadowy presence), love as a weeping wonder-wound that will not heal, love despite all the blandishments to be superficial and selfish, to spurn the meaning and satisfaction love gives, so that our emptiness may instead be filled, foiled and fed with tinfoil trinkets of no worth. Love as the one real thing. No fake love here, folks, and you can keep your fake news too. How’s that for politics? And being a diehard romantic myself, the so very fine conviction with which Thylias loves her “Thing” feels to me, in a culture where instant gratification is promoted as the highest good, the ultimate attainment, the last word in human progress, distinctly radical. Not a program for revolution, no, but something that’s not for sale, not disposable, built to last (also like a bridge, to span distance and defy gravity). The politics of poetry has always been its heady (threatening to some) proximity to the unimpeachable verities: no more magnificent testimony to that than the love suffusing the book you hold in your hands.
I image it’s apparent how inadequate I feel it would be to respond to these poems with a certain critical detachment. Possible? Of course, but even given the pleasure and profit of spot-the-allusion, astute prosodic and semantic analysis and then the “sober” passing of Judgment, certain poems demand to be read a certain way –
We are measuring our distance from the poem by measuring the poem
– certainly ones like these do, ones that cast spells and thunderbolts. More accurately, such poems read me, lodge in me and find me out. Such poems are galvanic, seismic, volcanic, meteoric and their technical daring is never merely clever, a twinkle-eyed tweaking of rhyme or meter, but an exemplary counterpoint to deadening and evasive habits of mind, of hooded thoughts and throttled feelings. And any pearls of wisdom they may yield come embedded in the whole damn, living, quivering, oozing, fantastic bivalve. They go down whole: tissue, web and sinew of living matter. Anyway, I thought I could get through without saying what should be clear to anyone familiar with the scene, but dang I want to anyway: Thylias Moss is a past master whose time hasn’t come. Attempting to place her in the history of American poetry, just where she lies on the great Whitman-Dickinson divide – (she straddles both, or effortlessly executes a grand jeté from inclusive expansiveness to cryptic compression and back again: accordion prosodic pyrotechnics – although expansion and flow, like the great Shawsheen river itself, overwhelmingly govern the ungovernable forces at play here) – or what her contribution to Black and mixed race culture is (surely nothing less than essential), to poetry and culture in general, is liable to leave you by the wayside – she has already danced around the corner or disappeared in a cloud of her own knowing. Yes, delight is instruction. And not to indulge in these poems, to not assent to them –
still wading when
you have invitations to plunge
– would be to miss their wisdom
a leap into centerlessness
at the same time a rising in it
– and their myriad pleasures, their carnally cosmic passion and transformative vitality. Also the tonic of their occasionally bracing sardonic wit, their remarkable tonal range, their inexhaustible inventiveness and exuberance and their insistence on a life lived at a visionary pitch, where emotions are not dulled by opt-in opiates. Because poems like these are for readers who yearn for more than self-congratulation and mild, urbane pleasure – poems artfully construed to yield their secrets with all the humdrum satisfaction of solving a crossword puzzle, the politesse of the “well-made poem”. These are poems on fire, whose white heat illuminates the almost daily assailed truth that love is not optional, and they present that truth with an uncompromising strength and honesty that is as moving as it is inspiring. In that way, perhaps above all others, this is a necessary book.
While we have the presence of mind to say “this is not the worst”, the possibility remains, through the alchemy and agency of imagination and love, to make of our life what we all, avowedly or not, want: a thing of wonder and joy. And a strong, unrepentant, unbowed imagination –
will not go down without fighting, will not drown without fighting, and that is the actual beauty:
– is the right stuff, the very stuff needed to transform ourselves and with it, perhaps, the world. For these qualities are, like poetry and love, to live and die for. And Thylias Moss, without a skerrick of pedantry or ideology, through rare conviction and delight, delivers an object lesson in (forget “positive”) ecstatic thinking and feeling, of choosing paradise – be it “just” a banana, a lover and their text messages, a river, a son, a son’s car, Laytial the stuffed mammoth, the whole wide world and beyond, no matter, all matter – over resignation, banality and the mountains “that just stay there”. And so I invite you to “take the plunge”, for these poems have the power to move and lift hearts as well as mountains.
Again I read from this book at the Strand bookstore 828 Broadway, New York, New York, on 16 November 7:00 pm
From my new Collection, Shawsheen Memorial Broom Sociery.
A little info about how the title was chosen:
Shawsheen is where “ocean” acquired meaning, ceased being just a word, but now also had power. Atlantic before me, Shawsheen is convergence, where this tributary of mighty Merrimack, this Great Spring brought Tewksbury, Billerica, and Andover together: trinity. This is where I learned to love Atlantic Ocean, a flow that connected me to the rest of the world Shawsheen Transport of what Shawsheen instantly became. Water even gurgled sometimes. I was where I belong.
Reflections of clouds danced on the surface —just for me it seemed, but really for anyone. Seemed to me that stars made earthly visits to this planet by sharing the luminous power with the river. I stood by Shawsheen and learned my connections. I like the stars sharing, I loved their visitation. I like the promises of “more” more than anything. Stars sparkled as they fell, and the splashes so cool around my feet; such buoyant ankles
Some things we should never forget, Shawsheen is one of them.
That power to clean up, to move things, even dust, fine particles of matter. Stardust, that power if you will, fugitive dust in particular. Particles descending and decorating my Shawsheen, landing on the surface, bobbing there like the most colorful cups of glitter, and the brooms sweep this away, handles like baseball bats sometimes, and this dust rises into air, respiration cycle, enters my lungs and emerges unsinkable, bejeweled Shawsheen so happy to lick my ankles, and when the broom pushes particles they rise and rise, so beautiful and vast, these cosmic particles replace stars, Shawsheen bubbling with this goodness that particles, these cosmic buses, happily share
Group effort. Belongs to all participants even bystanders afraid for whatever reason to believe that Shawsheen really is for them also; afraid of getting their feet wet. But it’s true: Shawsheen is for all of you.
copyright © by Thylias Moss. Published by arrangement with the author. All rights reserved.
More than anything, I am pleased to have written the Shawsheen poems mostly in text messages to my Thing. Every day I would write a poem to him, often combining his words and my own He is my ideal collaborator in so much. I would not be standing beside anyone else. Not in this life.
and these links might help you understand:
Come to the Strand and hear and these poems! 16 November 7:00n pm. 8282 Broadway, New York, New York 10003