Tuesday, April 23, 2019

30 Great Poems for April, Day 23: “There Are Birds Here” by Jamaal May

Read “There Are Birds Here” on the Poetry Foundation site here.

A couple of years ago, I was in a workshop group that had a great holiday tradition: For our December meeting, rather than workshop each other’s poems as usual, we each brought a stack of poems by other people that we’d read during the past year, poems that had made a great impression on us*. One of the poems I brought was this one by Jamaal May.

Reading it out loud to that roomful of people, I realized that one of the great strengths of this poem is that each line ends at a spot where you’d pause or
take a breath. This poem talks, like the poet is sitting next to you in a café and relating this story. And the way he tells it, it’s one remembered assertion after another, just as you’d say it to someone: “No, / I don’t mean the bread is torn like cotton, / I said confetti, and no / not like the confetti / a tank can make of a building.”

Every time I read this poem, I think about how many conversations we have like this on a national scale, in our jobs, and in our personal lives. How many white people are going around saying they know how things are and how to fix them, when they don’t know the reality at all? And how often are misinformed people trying, and succeeding, to control the narrative when they don’t know what they’re talking about? Whitesplaining (as in this poem), mansplaining, a whole lot of other splaining. When really, what they should be internalizing is “Shut up and let someone else do the talking while you listen.” This poem says that, beautifully. What a gift.

[All through April, I’m featuring a favorite poem every day, along with a link where you can read it. Some are classics, some are newer, but each one is the kind of poem that I read, love, and immediately want to tell all my friends about. What better to time to share them than National Poetry Month?]

* I think every workshop group should do this**. And honestly, I get tired of workshopping, and sometimes I’d rather be in a poetry group that did only this, this celebration of other poets and other poems. What a great way to be introduced to poets you may not have read before.

** I also think all workshop groups should serve wine. None of mine ever do. Maybe that’s why I’m tired of workshopping.

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