Before I was a blogger, I was a poet.
Or I should say before I am a blogger, I am a poet.
The first creative thing I ever wrote was a poem, back in fourth grade.
In 2005, I started a project: I decided to turn one of my favorite poetry collections of all time–Sylvia Plath’s Ariel–into an original collection of centos.
[Centos are poems made out of other poems.]
I worked on this project for 10 years intermittently.
Between the death of my maternal grandmother, having a baby, suffering for PP for 22 months, dropping out of graduate school, among other things.
And finally I finished a full collection last year.
Which one of my good friends published in December.
The name of the book is Ariel in Black.
Here’s the explication of the project from the text:
The original text [Ariel] captured, for me, what it must have been like for Plath as an intelligent, ambitious, complicated, creative, and passionate woman in the mid-twentieth century that also happened to be white, middle, class and educated–and so privileged.
I thought it’d be interesting to take the pieces of these poems and use them to reimagine Plath’s project. To write a series of pieces that speak in the voice of an intelligent, ambitious, complicated, creative, and passionate woman in the early decades of the twenty-first century. That also happens to be black, middle class, and educated–uniquely balanced on the margin between privilege and privation.
The book opens with an essay that delves more into my love for Plath’s work and how I relate to it as a black woman–“Letter in November: My Black Girl Ode to Sylvia Plath.”
Then, there is the series of nine centos.
Then, there are other poems I wrote about Plath over the years.
This is one of my favorites–I worked really hard to incorporate imagery from Plath’s poetry into this metaphoric telling of her love story with Ted Hughes:
Ted and Sylvia
The soldier has fallen for the foe.
The blonde, long-waisted, bony.
He gauges her from his window,
The thin sun lighting her lampshade skin.
Once, her shawl drops in the mud.
He runs out to retrieve it;
Sneaks it to his face, sniffs.
Her stink stings his eyes. Blood-sweet.
She comes to him, gnashing,
He can have the shawl, ich,
For a night in his room.
She soaks in the tub,
Fingers the sheets,
Sleeps straight into morning.
He paces, hungry, a panther.
She comes again, for her pound—
Squashy flesh, imperial red.
She dances him through holocaust nights.
Lust ferments in his veins.
Each sunset, he sneaks to her barracks.
Watches her stoke the mother.
He wonders that they haven’t broken.
The pitiful Jews—burnt matches.
The mother glowers. She knows.
She begs the girl, blaybn.
Her mouth is a brick, obdurate.
But her eyes are filmed with fear.
The lovers act the same scene nightly.
He, hanging from a plinth.
She, covetous, disbelieving.
Girlish, faraway, fearsome.
He offers leftover soup, cakes of soap.
Pride and greed wrestle in her belly.
She asks if the others were given gifts.
He vows, nein, es gibt keine anderen.
She curls in his arms, an ill, wormy baby.
He strokes her mewling face.
Kisses her bang smash on her mouth.
Fat and wet, a fresh-picked poppy.
So close, he hears the rage buzzing in her,
Swarming to life as he lays her down.
She smells his cologne—ivy green.
Its luxury shames her.
She weeps—storms the room.
Topples the dinner tray. Shatters the lamp.
His papers go up, flame, black.
Blame, thick as ash, sticks in his chest.
Her screams catch in his silence,
Drip, gold, into its crags.
He extracts, hands over the opus.
She rocks shut, sleeps, a grave.
Killing, he has learned, is an art.
He has mastered it.
He plays snake charmer
To death’s barbed wire.
The morning after her gassing,
He goes to her emptied bed.
He rummages for the shawl,
A colossus lodged in his chest.
Here’s one of the centos in the Ariel in Black series–another favorite:
Cento No. 6
in the valley of your
they crap and puke
you were beautiful.
Untouched and untouchable.
have fallen a long way—
like a dark crime—
through the beautiful
Once you were beautiful.
It is love you
in its strangle of
marshals, admirals, generals
With excessive love.
flat pink roses—
Do not be ashamed.
Do not be ashamed.
the soul is a bride.
These are just a few of the 68 pages in the book. I’m extremely proud of it, and I just wanted to share it with you–readers–because it represents my first literary love and a huge part of my identity. It’s another way that I express my feminism as well as my creativity and passion for living.
If you want to buy the book, you can here: http://blackgirlpoet.wixsite.com/michellesmith/publications
It’s pretty to look at and read:
In addition to letting you know about it, I also want to thank everybody that follows the blog, reads, and shares the posts. I really appreciate it. I can’t tell you how much.
I carried so much anxiety around about my writing for so many years before finishing the book and starting this blog. Putting both things out into the world, and having people respond to them with such generosity and positivity, has been an amazing experience for me.
I finally feel like a bona fide writer after 30 years of practicing and honing my craft.
It feels wonderful.