So Much Things to Say: 100 Poets from the First Ten Years of the Calabash International Literary Festival, ed. Kwame Dawes & Colin Channer (Akashic Books) $16.95
Includes: Robert Pinsky, Derek Walcott, Elizabeth Alexander, Mochael Ondaatje, Amiri Baraka, Martín Espada, Terrance Hayes, Valzhyna Mort, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Saul Williams, and more.
From the Introduction: Like everything Calabash, this anthology is quixotic. As were the intentions of me and fellow Jamaican author Colin Channer, traveling together on trains through London some time in the late 1990s, singing every ’70s reggae tune that we knew and conspiring to create a literary festival that we would want to attend every year; this anthology comes from that same spirit. Here we have an anthology that true Calabash folks will want to read. Poetry, it is said, does not sell. To think that an anthology of poems might help to support the Calabash Festival is absurd. But everything about Calabash is at first glance absurd. And yet this madness has proven to be a lasting success…. So Much Things to Say is organized in the way that we imagine people often read anthologies of poetry. We imagine that people wake up in the morning and think, I could use a really short poem today. Or they might be walking home after work and say, Man, I feel like reading an epic when I get home tonight.
Notable: Arranged in chapters by size, Dawes and Channer have managed to capture some of the beautiful absurdity that is Calabash. This anthology collects many unpublished poems by a wide range of international poets, from Li-Young Lee’s childhood narrative—”Sister, quick. Change into a penny.”—to Gregory Pardlo’s extended musing on fatherhood and the body:
At thirteen I asked my father for a tattoo.
I might as well have asked for a bar mitzvah.
He said I had no right to alter the body
he gave me….
my father said, are like children: have one,
you’ll want another….
How can I beautify what I do not posses
and call it anything but graffiti? Chris Rock says
my first job is to keep my daughter
off the pole. Although I have expended
great energy arguing the autonomy of strippers,
I have to agree with him. As a father myself
I now see every mutinous claim of independence
as the first steps toward my sweat pea’s
falling in with a bad crowd. Richard Pryor
says we are bound to fuck up our kids
in one way or another. My father would
split the difference: I made you, he’s say,
I can unmake you, and make another one
just like you.
Like Calabash, the anthology is more diverse, more international than most of its counterparts. Bob Marley’s influence, evidenced by the book’s title, suggests its simultaneous playfulness and seriousness. In the Molossus interview contributor Chris Abani compares Marley to Rilke by describing his freshness, which also characterizes this anthology:
You gotta listen to Bob, mon. Everything you need to know about poetry, Bob Marley has it. But it’s like the way that Bob Marley would record a song in the seventies, and you hear it now, and it sounds like it could have been recorded last week. There’s a freshness to him, like his aesthetic is not fixed in time, like its something that’s beyond even what he is trying to make.
I most enjoy the short and medium poems, but the longer poems are technically proficient, too, perfect for the days you feel like reading an epic when you get home from work.