2017 Printers Row Festival is LIT(erary)

Okay, I apologize for the terrible pun title, but if I have to take on the wrath of livid pun haters to spread the word about the Chicago Printer’s Row Literary festival this weekend, then so be it.

I’m always excited when the Printer’s Row festival rolls around each summer. So many brilliant writers from different genres and markets come together for panels, presentations, and talks appealing to any book lover attending. I found a vast and varied number of my own interests represented on this year’s guest list. Cory Doctorow, one of my favorite sci-fi writers who’s also dabbled in activism and column writing, will be there. Local poet Kevin Coval, who I’ve previously posted about, will be there, and even Gillian Flynn, the master thriller writer, has a panel too.

Printer’s Row doesn’t just feature guests appealing to hardcore book lovers though. They’ve got some big names that could draw in anyone. Kareem Abdul-Jabar will host a talk regarding his time as an NBA champion, which he wrote a book about. I will not pretend to know a whole lot about the professional sports ball here, but my more athletic friends are definitely excited about that one. Senator Al Franken will promote his own autobiography in one presentation, and TV’s Chopped judge Amanda Freitag will discuss her book The Chef Next Door. From my own experience, a Chopped judge on the guest list should draw moms and aunts from miles around. My mom loves reading anyway, but if you could see how many episodes of the show are currently clogging our DVR, you’d understand what a big deal this is for her.

Beyond all these appearances, there’s what’s perhaps my favorite part of the Festival, the vendors. Booksellers upon booksellers set up tents in the street offering books and paper goods old and new, antique and new release, handmade and mass produced. I’m drafting up my yearly bookshelf contingency plan for when I bring home, yet again, more books than I could ever read in the next year, or even make enough room for. It’s the Sunday sales that always get me. On Sunday, the last day of the festival, booksellers get increasingly desperate to offload their merch, offering  books, even brand new ones, as two-for one deals, and other ridiculously appealing sales meant to move as much books as possible. It just so happens I will be attending the festival this Sunday afternoon, so this could be another record-breaking year for my To Be Read pile. Wish me luck.

There’s a whole lot to draw anyone in the Chicago area to the Printer’s Rows festival this year. Hopefully I’ll see some of you there. If you’re trying to find me, I’ll be the woman hidden by a pile of books so tall it’ll tower over my head.

Wonder Woman in Print

Watching the reviews for the new Wonder Woman movie pour in, I’m equal parts relieved and overjoyed that people responded positively to the film. For me, this will be the first time I’ve ever seen Wonder Woman on the big screen, or any screen in a live action show. I’d fallen in love with her in print without ever seeing her in anything bigger than Saturday morning cartoons. Here’s hoping Wonder Woman’s success will make studio execs realize they need to bring to life some other heroines stuck only in print. Maybe Marvel might finally be cowed into giving Scarlett Johansson a Black Widow movie when they see their rival DC starting to climb out of the gloomy crater created by Man of Steel, Batman Vs. Superman and Suicide Squad failing so badly.

Until then, now what? If you liked the movie, maybe you want to see it a couple more times, get your Wonder Woman fix, but remember what I said about meeting Wonder Woman in her print domain first? If you liked the movie, let me help you out by showing you a couple different books to check so you can spend more time with your favorite Amazonian warrior princess.

First off, I recommend a book that isn’t even a Wonder Woman comic book. Crazy! The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore gives you a peek at the strange life of Wonder Woman’s creator, William Moulton Marston, and the circumstances surrounding Wonder Woman’s creation. Marston was a strange genius who is commonly noted for helping to invent the polygraph machine, the lie detector, and having a notable fixation on bondage, which definitely seeps into many of the early Wonder Woman comics. Yeah, Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth has a stranger origin than you probably imagined, and now you’ll never be able to see that thing on screen again without remembering Marston the weirdo scientist.

If that sort of interesting back story doesn’t repel you, definitely check out Lepore’s book for more. The story only gets more compelling from there. You can learn all about Marston’s mistress, and how Wonder Woman bears a striking visual resemblance to her. The historical emergence of the women’s suffrage movement and early feminism play a huge part in the story, on a wider ideological scale.

But maybe you don’t want to read about kinky scientists and world history. Maybe seeing comic book heroes getting into epic battles on screen made you want to see epic battles in print. Yeah, punching and Nazis and stuff! Wonder Woman started out in WWII, so yeah, punching Nazis and stuff was pretty much the soul focus of the earliest comics, beyond the bondage stuff.

Actually, for my next suggestion, I recommend you check out collections of the early Wonder Woman comics, like the Wonder Woman Chronicles. Vol. 1, for example, presents a collection of the many adventures Wonder Woman had in the 40’s. Reading those stories offers a really interesting contrast to the super dark, brooding and serious tone super hero movies, and even some comics have today.

There’s ridiculous b-movie plots like going back in time to fight dinosaurs, or the sinister plot make milk too expensive. For real, you guys. I couldn’t make this stuff up. These writers weren’t afraid to come up with wonky, outlandish stories, stories that contrast incredibly with the current comic landscape, where everything is taken so seriously. Reading these older comics reminds you of the lighter side these stories can have, and also all the incredibly intense casual racism. I mean, I get we were at war but Wonder Women was too happy to degrade “Jap” soldiers for modern audiences to just read through the early issues uncritically. Hmmm… maybe a more mature and modern Wonder Woman wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all.

If you’re looking for an introduction into Wonder Woman’s current comic world, I suggest trying out the New 52. Wonder Woman’s New 52 has a a genuinely great arc that turned me onto the talented Brian Azzarello, and it’s a part of DC’s franchise wide reboot. You can read these comics without having any prior knowledge of a million recurring secondary characters or villains, the part of trying out new superhero comics that’s always the most daunting for me.

Other writers and artists have done more with Wonder Women since, but if you’re just starting out, I say the New 52 is the ideal way to sample what today’s Wonder Woman comics have to offer. If you really like those, you can check out titles written by Gail Simone, Greg Rucka, and even Jodi Picoult, yes, that Jodi Picoult, for some reason.

Well, I hope these recommendations are enough to hold you over until Wonder Woman’s next appearance on screen. Maybe you’ll even find a favorite new book or series to enjoy. Let me know you’re favorite books, comics or otherwise, that feature Wonder Woman in the comments below.

Like Books? Bored? Possibly Psychic? Try Bibliomancy!

Bibliomancy is the art of divining the future through randomly selecting book passages. Due to my own bookish nature, I was playing this game long before I realized it was actually something like and arcane art. Pick up a book, pick a random part to read, think about what it means. Surprise! You are actually practicing real fortune telling. Technically, there’s a bit more to it than that, but if you have books and enough time on your hands, you’re already mostly there.

When I was younger, I would call this game, “talking to the books.” I’d flip to a page with my eyes closed and read the passage my finger landed on, usually out of it’s original context, and see if I could carry on a “conversation” with a book in that way. When one book got too nonsensical or seemed to stop working, I’d pick up another and start “talking” to them. It was a silly game for a silly, over imaginative girl that needed to go outside more, or else find some real, non-paperback friends. That’s what I always told myself anyway.

Then, once I stumbled across the concept of bibliomancy years later, I realized that silly game was most likely my subconscious training me to unlock my dormant psychic powers. Either that, or most fortune telling systems are simple game-like rule sets created by desperate and/or bored people to make sense of this crazy world. Probably I was secretly psychic though.

Since I have secretly trained myself for years in this art, I figure why not give my audience of fellow book-lovers some tips, a fun little game to try with your books, or possibly an ancient mystic art. Go ahead, try it! what’s the worst thing that could happen?

I looked up additional rules for bibliomancy online, just to make sure I was doing it right, and it turns the most common type of bibliomancy uses the bible, letting the book fall open to a random page and putting your finger on the passage. That’s been practiced since medieval ages apparently, but I found a several religious websites that had to remind a straying public that even if it does use the bible, bibliomancy is still a form of divination and therefore a sin. Beware!

Okay then, so don’t use the bible. I don’t really want to cross the sort of people that would make those webpages in the first place. Wikipedia, a much chiller info source says that any book that “contains truth” should do fine, which really opens up our options, and means that what I was doing as a kid probably still counts as psychic powers training.

So, any book that holds truth? That’s basically any favorite book of yours, any one that spoke to you on a deep, emotional level. Suddenly, all my Mary Oliver books are both my favorite poetry books and divination tools. Go ahead and round up your favorite truth-telling books so we can get to this last part, telling the fortune itself.

Now, you can have a question in mind for the text or just come at it with an open mind. Methods to pick the passage vary. Some ancient people used dice or other random input to choose a page, which is kind of like gambling so that could be fun. Just letting the book fall open to a page seems like a bad idea to me, because it’ll just fall open to whatever page you read the most, if it’s thick enough to fall open by itself at all. We want real divination here people, not just random chance.

I personally like to pick up a book, eyes closed then randomly flip through the pages nice and quick, and jam my finger on a page to get my results. I did this with my Mary Oliver essay book Upstream, (a great read even when you’re not trying to tell the future,) and got the line, “What I mean by spirituality is not theology, but attitude.” Good line, right? I’m not sure what that means for my future exactly. I need to be more spiritual? I need to take up more of an attitude about religion, sass back at a priest, maybe? Taking lines from a poetry book or something similar means you’ll get a lot of these wise yet vague sage-like lines, which is why I like using them, but don’t be afraid to try your own favorites, maybe even the bible if you’re not afraid of upsetting some very concerned Christian internet people. Develop those psychic powers!

If you feel like trying this out, make sure you let me know how it turns out! Go ahead and post any fortunes in the comments below. After consulting my own texts, the powers that be tell me the best way to sign off this entry is with the line “Tempest gods send their clerics to inspire fear in the common folk,” whatever that means. I’m still practicing here guys, and I have a lot of fantasy books in my divination tools pile.

Stuff About Stuff I’ve Been Feeling by Alicia Cook

It takes ingenuity and creativity to even get published in the poetry industry. To stand out, it takes even more. I stumbled upon Alicia Cook’s Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately and found a poetry collection innovative enough to stand out as playful, fresh and earnest. I’d first heard mention of Cook’s book when it was nominated for the Goodreads Choice Award for Poetry in 2016. Cook’s book was beaten out by Amanda Lovelace’s The Princess Saves Herself in This One that year. Lovelace definitely deserved the win for her work, no doubt. Cook, though, also created something stand-out and special.

Her book, like the cassette tape drawn on the cover, has two sides. First there’s Side A, her poems, each accompanied by a footnote mentioning what song Cook listened to while creating the piece. Side B holds the “Remixes,” erasure poetry created out of her own work, and separate musical inspiration for that piece as well.

To clarify, erasure poetry is when someone creates a poem by blacking out or erasing all the other words in a pre-existing chunk of text, everything from other poetry to newspaper articles, and creating a new piece of art out of the words you choose to leave. Generally, this form creates a short poem with an air of the strictest essentials laid bare. Most times, the erasure poem’s message is something completely new or else not apparent in the original piece, but the careful selection of each word shows that essence was, in a way,  present the whole time.

There’s something really clever in creating erasure poems with one’s own work. Typically, a poet creates with found pieces, making something of someone else’s. Cook going over her work again does something interesting. It partially plays off the way music informs the structure of this cassette tape masquerading as a poetry collection, that remix element. These poems are songs on a playlist, someone’s favorites and all the remixes.

On another level, we have the writer always eager to continue fiddling with her work and what it says, an impulse that I and just about any writer ever is all too familiar with. It’s the marrying of these two artistic themes, the remixing and the urge to continually self-edit, say something different with the same words that form Stuff I’ve Been Feeling’s unique atmosphere and message. There’s always more to say, and sing, even over what’s already been put down to paper. Many facets of emotional power lay locked in the same set of words.

Cook pieces together this lesson on artistic repetition with a homey, almost handmade air. The poem “tracks” relay intimate personal content, and then that content and it’s remixes create a sort of mix tape bound into print, a small gift that gives you a  truly stand-out poetic work to enjoy.

A Post for my Mother

Mother’s Day is coming up this weekend. I wouldn’t be the special kind of book nerd I am today without my mom. Whenever I say that my mom’s a librarian, people give me a kind of “ahhh…” look, as in, “oh, that explains this nerd’s deal.” Yes, I was indoctrinated from birth to love books, or it was in my DNA, sure. It’s more than that though. Thinking about it like “Welp, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” simplifies what was a warm, loving relationship that featured a slow yet joyful cultivation of a shared passion, something that continues to make my life richer.

The very simple start of it all was my mother reading to me as much as she could, as early as she could. First she’d read as many different picture books to my sister and I as possible, with some recurring favorites like Goodnight Gorilla and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom holding fixed positions in our story time queue. Then, as I got older, I was the one that would have to read to her and my sister, developing and stretching my own reading skills. Eventually, bedtime stories were replaced by me reading to myself every night, which did have it’s perks. Mom always insisted on an end to story time, but alone, I could hide under the covers with a flash light and keep the tales going all night long. New and improved story time did not end the essential roll my mother played in feeding my reading habit though. Things just got even bigger when I got older and she took a job on at the local library.

It was very useful to have a librarian in my pocket growing up. You better believe I never had to worry about late fees. I still don’t. The privilege is real. I’m not sure I can even admit to this next part legally, but My mother sometimes let me peek at some of the hottest books before the release date, before they would even be allowed to go on the shelves. Yeah, pretty sure I definitely wasn’t supposed to mention that. Sorry mom, you’re getting arrested by the publishing police for Mother’s Day.

My mom never liked to take me to the library, funnily enough, because she would basically be walking into work on her off hours. Still, I always managed to get plenty of books out of that place to feed the reading appetite of a growing girl. Having that sort of access to whatever books I wanted to try, coupled with an official librarian’s encouragement and assistance, even when she was off duty, definitely helped grow the bookworm in my heart.

Still today, books are a reason to stay connected to my mom as I start to live away from home. We always have recommendations for each other. We’re their to support each other through tragically bad film adaptations of books we loved. We stick together through all those highs and lows of loving books.

Just recently, I saw my local bookstore, (Anderson’s) announcing Graeme Simsion’s visit to promote his new book, The Best of Adam Sharp. Simsion is currently my mother’s most favorite author of all time thanks to his previous two books, the Rosie Project and Rosie Effect, so, as long a shot as it was, I knew I’d be the worst daughter ever if I didn’t call up my mom and tell her the news. Despite the very short notice, and the event being on a weeknight, she managed to show up, my dad in tow, and we all got to hear Simsion talk about his new book, and got the book signed afterward too.

Looking at the history of my relationship with my mother is by default looking at my history with books, and looking at both helps reveal why I’ve always thought of books as warm, welcoming environments. I’m dedicating this post to my mom today because she’s why I care enough about books to create a book blog in the first place. Mom, all this, including this post for you, only happened because of you and everything you did to help my little book-loving brain grow. Happy Mother’s Day.

23 Book Salute

Hey guys, I recently celebrated my tiny human body living through yet another rotation of the earth around the sun. In other words, I turned twenty-three this week, and for my birthday I definitely got plenty of books, more than my already stuffed full bookshelves are telling me I should be getting, but birthday books must be welcomed onto the shelf. It’s a pretty strict clause in my book collection bylaws. I have a lot of strict bylaws that require I always allow myself to buy more books, even when I have too many already, now that I think about it.

If I’m a bit of a book glutton, it’s only because I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am today without books. They’ve been comforts, opportunities for growth, windows into worlds I’d never seen before. As such, I’d like to use this time to give something of an award acceptance speech, a chance to thank all the books that brought me here today. I could mention humans too I suppose, but mostly I’d just be thanking them for giving me books, so let’s just cut out the middle man here.

Hello everyone, I’m just so honored to win the award of somehow being allowed to continue my life for another year, despite many instances of gross incompetence on my part. I couldn’t have made it through my 22nd year without so many books, and I’ll try to thanks them all before the band starts playing me off. I’d like to thank:

  1. Mary Oliver’s Upstream, for introducing me to some of the best essays I’ve ever read, written by the best poet I’ve ever read.
  2. Thanks to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for giving me the answer to life, the universe and everything.
  3. Thank you Saga, a beautifully written and illustrated sci-fi graphic novel series for showing me more alien genitalia than I ever really thought I’d need to see. Lot’s of variety there.
  4. Thanks to the Game of Thrones series, for jump starting the trend of killing off characters with abandon. Truly, none of my favorite protagonists are safe anymore, thanks to you. (This may be a partially sarcastic thank you.)
  5. Thank you Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instrument series, for addressing the serious dearth of quality gay warlock characters in my life and the genre at large, and surviving far too many attempts to be made into a a film, TV series, etc. Stay strong.
  6. Thank you to Lumberjanes for creating touching, realistic friendships in an outlandish setting that almost made me wish my parents had sent me to summer camp.
  7. Thanks The Rosie Project for being one of the funniest books I read in a while and having a character on the autism spectrum depicted tenderly and without gimmicks.
  8. Thank you Pretty Deadly, for proving that Fantasy and Western are indeed compatible genres and making something truly strange and beautiful.
  9. Thank you R.H. Sin’s Whiskey, Words and a Shovel I-III for proving the best strategy is to find the perfect title and stick with it.
  10. Thank you to that one battered copy of Paul Coelho’s The Alchemist for finally making it into my hands during a Christmas Party White Elephant gift exchange this year, so I could at last read this classic.
  11. Thank you Hamilton: The Revolution, for allowing me to be an even more insufferable Hamilton snob than ever before.
  12. Thanks, A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab, for concluding a series I love without breaking my heart, except for that special way that any a writer with power over characters you truly love can, which is mostly good in a strange way.
  13. Thank you a Study in Charlotte, for coming at the “Sherlock Holmes revamped” concept in a fresh way that didn’t have me breaking my eye-rolling muscle, like I did when someone tried to make me watch Elementary.
  14.  Thank you Jen Wilde’s Queens of Geek for your fun and nerdy premise. It was the perfect excuse to cuddle in bed and keep reading during that streak of terrible weather.
  15. Thank you Ross Gay’s Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, for finding a way to make over a poem which includes an in depth description of a tree’s biological anatomy.
  16. Thank you original Harry Potter series, for remaining a solid rock in my book life, for staying solid and true, even with each subsequent amusement park and frivolous movie adaptation trying exploit
  17. Thanks, Dragons Love Tacos, for restoring my faith in the future of children’s picture books and fine literature with that title alone.
  18. Thank you Wonder by Emma Donoghue, for proving that a book about a quaint Irish farm village can be the farthest thing from a cozy Celtic romance or mystery, if the woman who wrote Room also writes it.
  19. Thank you Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey for tricking the general public into caring about poetry by getting on the New York Times Bestseller list.
  20. Thanks books about Pokemon for existing, so I had something for the large number of younger male cousins with birthday parties I don’t remember getting invited to. Thanks, also, for letting me peek inside you to see what a Litten is so I could kind of understand what they kept going on about.
  21. John Lewis’s March, for inspiring me to travel to the Women’s March on Washington and take part in history.
  22. Thanks so much The Wicked + The Divine for being yet another reason I need to get the Image Comics logo tattooed on my forehead.
  23.  Finally, thank you that one “cozy mystery” book Above the Paw. I still have not read you, nor do I plan to, but every time I see that cover of a dog in a police uniform, looking ready to deal out some justice, along with that title, still sitting there on that shelf at my local bookstore, my day always gets a little bit better.

I’ve had a lot of books make my year better in a lot of different ways. Truly, I can feel so many of the books I read impacting me, changing the person I’m every day, usually for the better. Thanks to each and every one, and here’s to even more books make this coming year better too.

Final National Poetry Month Shout Out: The Great R.H. Sin!

Well guys, here it is, my last poetry post of national poetry month. I’ve had loads of fun doing these, and I came up with enough material, that I really feel I could start up a whole blog on poetry. Hmmm… a project to consider, perhaps. For now though, I want to close out my National Poetry Month round of posts by promoting another poet that I just stumbled into and grew very fond of; R.H. Sin.

R.H. Sin is another poet who was able to find success first through building a fan base online. Like most other Instagram and social media poets, the medium allowed him to also present a visual side to his art, specifically his work as a photographer. It can be  easyto think of work being shared on social media as amateur. Isn’t everyone a photographer on Instagram? Can’t anyone just post poetry online? Well, yeah. That’s what’s so great about this whole medium. Personalities like Sin, like Rupi Kaur, like Michael Faudet and others can rise to prominence on the strength of their vision, speaking to a wide range of people, touching them with a voice and vision that’s in touch with it’s audience because there’s a real intimacy between followers and creators online. I felt that intimacy just reading Sin’s work.

I picked up R.H. Sin’s Whiskey, Words and a Shovel II mostly for the title, I’ll admit. It’s a very compelling title, and the “II” suggested that he had used it before (he did, there are now three WW&S’s out,) realized that he could never come up with a cooler title for a poetry collection than that, and decided to keep it. Yeah, he probably had other, more legitimate reasons regarding artistic vision and all that that made him choose the title, but that’s what stuck in my head when I first saw it, and I have no regrets admitting it. Really though, I should probably get into the meat of his work. This far in and talking about the titles of his books is probably taking things too slow.

Reading Sin is a gentle, reassuring experience. If Rupi Kaur’s writing is a cry for healing, Sin is more of a gentle murmur. He’s constantly reassuring his reader, or perhaps some other person that exists beyond the poem as we experience it, that it’s okay to want better things for yourself, that you have worth, are a survivor, and deserve to be happy. That actually made it a really great read for me after a long day, when I needed some sort of pick me up.

It’s really easy for poetry to be spit-fire agitating, or else flowery and romantic, but Sin’s work isn’t quite either all the way. These loving poems aren’t outpouring odes of devotion, but rather calm and spare reassurances. They are not diatribes about overcoming toxic, unhealthy relationships, but reminders that you deserve to and are able to overcome these tough times. I definitely don’t want to knock down either style I just compared Sin’s work to, but I felt like his work did something just a bit different from so many other poets that’s I’ve read, and it’s something I didn’t know I needed until I found his voice.

So I’ll be going back to more standard prose and so forth book reviews next week, next month already. I’m glad I had such a great final recommendation to finish off this month with. I encourage you to continue to seek out poetry beyond this month, and beyond what I’ve suggested here. Yeah, most poetry sections in bookstores are deplorably under-stocked, but I think you’ve noticed by now that a huge wealth of modern day poets are setting up shop online. Go ahead, check out sites like Instagram, Tumblr, Wattpad, etc. and see if you can find a voice that speaks to you in ways you didn’t know you needed to be spoken to, find something that moves and fulfills you in the best possible. That’s what poetry can do, and I hope you get to bring more of that into your life.

Rupi Kaur, Milk and Honey and Poetry’s Modern Landscape

When I first tried to describe Rupi Kaur’s book Milk and Honey to someone, there was a bit of a misunderstanding.

“So she’s a poet. Her book was a New York Times best seller.”

“Wait, so it’s not a poetry book?”

“What? No, of course it’s a poetry book! It’s a poetry book and a New York Times bestseller.”

“What?”

Yes, it’s almost an oxymoron. A poetry book that is a huge, massive commercial success. So how did Kaur do it? I was surprised as anyone when I saw one book of poetry move from the small shelf hidden in back of bookstores that’s usually reserved for poetry to the front of the store, with the James Patterson, John Grisham and other best seller books. I was happy, but I wanted to know, how did this woman do it? If I figured out what lead to her success, could I figure out what kind of future poetry had? I’m sure many publishers were looking at the same numbers and trying to make their own, greedy calculations about the very same thing, but I’m looking for more than money here. I’m looking for a future where something I love is less irrelevant.

The thing is, it’s silly to talk about Kaur’s path to success like it’s some secret to crack. While she first started writing for her own private needs to heal from a traumatic experience, one you can witness yourself in Milk and Honey. She writes very earnestly about healing after a sexual assault, and people found her words and accompanying line drawings really spoke to them.

You can see her work, and the many people discussing how it speaks to them, on her various social media accounts, though Instagram is probably the platform where she became the most famous, as a part of a movement of poets using visual elements in presenting their work on line. Lang Leav and Tyler Knott Gregson, among others, have also found success, including their own book deals through this route. Their widespread success shows that the power of a vast, quickly created network through social media definitely shows the first step to success in a modern poetry landscape. Rupi Kaur’s book, though, has gone beyond the popularity of that realm even,with just this month marking a million of her books being sold. What other factors, then, are making her work excel?

We live in a fiery age for identity politics. I’m talking about the politics surrounding someone’s race, gender, orientation, that sort of thing. As a woman of color herself, and one that writes to capture a traumatic experience that and reclaim her identity as a woman who can have relationships, sexual and romantic, without fear. This book speaks to people because of how well she captures an experience that has touched far too many lonely lives, yes, but also because she is speaking about things that people are finally ready and  willing to bring out into the open; intersectional feminism, misogyny and sexuality. When I see such honest work like Kaur’s, it makes me pretty glad that we do live in this age.

Milk and Honey is only Rupi Kaur’s first book, and with her popularity, I doubt we’ve heard the last of her. I hope poetry continues to capture readers’ imagination and grow in popularity. With Milk and Honey very likely being an essential piece in that process, I’d be silly not to honor it on National Poetry Month.

Kevin Coval, Chicago & the Poet-Rapper Connection

For this first poet profile of National Poetry Month, I’ll be boosting awareness of someone close to home, Kevin Coval and his latest poetry book, A People’s History of Chicago. Coval is a Chicago area poet and community builder, going out and teaching people the power of expression through poetry. In walking the beat, so to speak, for his work, he’s learned the feeling of Chicago inside and out, which made him capable of producing quite a comprehensive history in his book.

Coval turns out pieces on every notable Chicago figure from the city’s founder, Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable to Kanye West to the Daley dynasty, looking at the history of corruption, the African American culture of the city resisting erasure and the moments of the city that are beautiful for horrible and/or wonderful reasons. The printed words on the paper seem to be spat out with poetry slam energy, a very contagious passion. This energy explains why the book has a forward from Chance the Rapper, a Chicago native himself, for those of you who don’t know. Coval’s work, especially in this exploration of urban Chicago life is an excellent example of the many ways poetry and rap can be kindred spirits.

I sometimes joke that poetry and rap are nothing alike because you can actually make money as a rapper. Fans of rap are always quick to correct me, to declare that rap and poetry are close siblings in the world of words. Well, if you’re stubborn and financially irresponsible enough to want to call yourself a poet, then you’ve really fulfilled the most important part of actually being a poet, caring more about your words and message than practical things like money and your parents being proud of you. So yes, by my personal estimation, rappers are poets, but it becomes even more apparent in practice.

Substantive rappers such as Chance himself, who says Coval taught him “what it meant to be a poet,” create work I couldn’t readily separate from the modern, quick on it’s linguistic foot work poets like Coval make. Often, on further ends of the spectrum, people see rappers only going on about pouring champagne onto stripper booties and poets who only dole out  dreamy spaced-out, cryptic phrases that no one understands. Those polar opposite stereotypes make it seem like the genres should be totally opposed, and yes some types of poetry and rap are very dissimilar, but Coval and artists like Chance the Rapper are artists who use the force of what their medium does to their words to create images and stories what they’ve seen and put some power into their frank, open discussion about issues inherent in their critically undervalued environment and experience.

Coval’s work shows he feels rapper musicians and straight up poets are equally deserving of praise and a part in his People’s History, including both Chief Keef and Gwendolyn Brooks. Where other people might think to raise one of these characters above the other, view them as distinct, different, Coval honors them both in his poetry, showing how they all are playing a part in the same game, a part in keeping the African American community in Chicago alive.

For National Poetry Month, I really hope you guys will check out a seriously talented poet who knows how to write about a city that’s near to my heart. Reading Coval will teach you about the city of Chicago and the power of poetic style in confronting a gritty, urban life, and you get to simply enjoy reading some truly engaging poetry.

How to Celebrate National Poetry Month

Hey everybody, happy April! As you may or may not know, April is National Poetry month, a month to celebrate an art that is far to invisible in this modern world, if you ask me. Naturally, then, I’m a huge fan of April, not just for the weather that’s finally turning decent, but for the valid excuse to encourage everyone to read more poetry, discover more poets (ones who haven’t been dead for centuries would be best,) and maybe even help you find a new favorite in this underappreciated genre.

National Poetry Month isn’t like Hanukkah or Christmas though; there’s no set of traditions that we all know and love to properly celebrate this sort of season. People who aren’t that familiar with poetry might not even know where to start. That’s why I’ve picked a couple good ways to start out your Poetry Month celebration.

Pick a Poet Who’s Still Alive and Read Their Stuff

One major problem with how a great deal of people understand poetry comes from where they might’ve last read it; school. Beyond the occasional Hallmark card, most people rarely read any poetry outside of what they were forced to read in school. I feel that academic resentment, but just leaving behind a genre after high school means you miss out on a medium that’s evolved immensely since the centuries old Whitman or Byron you read in Honors  English.

Sometimes I even see aspiring poets, (myself included at one point) make the mistake of assuming everything about poetry froze in the 19th century, because educational coverage of poetry after that is spotty at best. Sure, poetry was generally overtaken by the novel in that century, but poetry has also quietly grown and changed with the rest of the world as well. Our educational system just doesn’t like to to honor poets that haven’t been dead for a few centuries. Use this month of increased visibility for poetry to check out some contemporary poets, who have voices you’ll have a much better time reading and relating to, as they’re written in your own language and dialect.

I’ll be writing more about my favorite poets this month, but to start you off, some cool contemporary poets who were still alive last time I checked include Billy Collins, Mary Oliver, Rupi Kaur, and Lang Leav.

Look for Poetry Resources Online

I follow the Poetry Foundation online. They’re a pretty old and venerable organization that publishes a well known poetry journal. Online, they do a lot to reach out to people. You could check out their podcasts, or subscribe to get a newsletter and a poem a day in your email, which is a cut above the spam that normally gets blasted into my  inbox by other organizations. If you live in or near Chicago, their headquarters, you can use the newsletter to learn about events they are holding and attend them.

You also have sites like Poetry Out Loud, which focuses on poetry that’s recited or performed. It’s got a good mixture of old and new works on display, and tips for people reciting poetry themselves. This showcases the dynamic community that’s formed around making poetry live by performing it. They also have teaching resources and information about their poetry performance contests as well.

There are also sites like poets.org or poemhunter.com, which help you find any specific poem you might be looking for. poetry.org is great for looking up poetry by the poet, while poemhunter.com allows you to explore poems according to themes or forms. Each one is dedicated to sharing poetry in it’s own special way.

Poem in Your Pocket Day

This is where we start to get Inception like, with a holiday within a holiday. On April 27th, choose a poem to carry around on a piece of paper folded up inside your pocket, taking it out and sharing it with people whenever you can. It’s a cute idea of a holiday created by the Academy of American Poets to increase awareness of National Poetry Month. There’s a number of posts and sites dedicated to creating cute little templates and layouts. With all the poets and poems you found thanks to the previous two steps, you should have no problem finding a poem to share.

Those are just a few ideas that will hopefully help you start your National Poetry Month off right. I hope you will use this April as an excuse to explore poetry, find new things you like, and share them with people that could use a little poetry in their lives. You’ll be hearing more from me about poetry this month, so keep an eye out for more poetry recommendations and reviews.