Three Debut Poets on Family, Love, and Race

Tommye Blount’s Fantasia for the Man in Blue orchestrates a chorus of distinct, unforgettable voices that speak to the experience of the black, queer body as a site of desire […]


Three Debut Poets on Family, Love, and Race

Authors:John King, Joy Priest , Ricardo Alberto Maldonado, Tommye Blount


Tommye Blount’s Fantasia for the Man in Blue orchestrates a chorus of distinct, unforgettable voices that speak to the experience of the black, queer body as a site of desire and violence. The speaker in Ricardo Alberto Maldonado’s The Life Assignment sorts through relationships, trying to discern what was healthy from what was exploitative, and asks: When tenderness is in short supply, how can one protect oneself? How can one find home? In Horsepower: Poems, Joy Priest explores the memories of her speaker – a mixed-race child being raised by her white supremacist grandfather in the shadow of Churchill Downs, Kentucky’s world-famous horseracing track – before arriving in a state of self-awareness to confront the personal and political landscape of a harshly segregated Louisville.

Moderated by John King, founder of The Drunken Odyssey: A Podcast About the Writing Life.

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John King

John King is the founder and host of The Drunken Odyssey, a podcast he started “as a forum to discuss all aspects of the writing process, in a variety of genres, in order to foster a greater sense of community among writers.” He wrote the novel Guy Psycho and the Ziggurat of Shame, and his work appears in the anthologies 15 Views of Orlando, Other Orlandos, and Condoms and Hot Tubs Don’t Mix as well as journals such as the South Florida Poetry Journal, Gargoyle, Painted Bride Quarterly, and The Newer York. He has also been a reviewer of books for The Literary Review and theatrical performances for Shakespeare Bulletin. 

Joy Priest

Joy Priest is a poet from Louisville, KY. Her work has appeared in the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day, APR, The Atlantic, Poetry Northwest, and Poets & Writers, among others. Her debut collection, Horsepower (University of Pittsburgh Press) , is a cinematic escape narrative that radically envisions a daughter’s waywardness as aspirational. Here we find the black-girl speaker in the midst of a self-imposed exile, going back in memory to explore her younger self—a mixed-race child being raised by her white supremacist grandfather in the shadow of Churchill Downs, in Kentucky—before confronting the personal and political landscape of a harshly segregated Louisville. Out of a space that is at once southern and urban, violent and beautiful, racially-charged and working-class, she attempts to transcend her social and economic circumstances in a non-linear narrative. Author Shane McCrae note that “Horsepower tells what it is to be a bridge in one’s family between racism and a love forged in defiance of racism; it tells what it is to need to both escape that role and embrace it. And, just as importantly, it tells the arrival of a powerful new poet.”

Ricardo Alberto Maldonado

Ricardo Alberto Maldonado was born and raised in Puerto Rico. He is the co-editor of Puerto Rico en mi corazón and serves as managing director at 92Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center in New York City. The speaker of the poems in The Life Assignment (Four Way Books) is reviewing his history. As if combing through a box of photographs, the speaker sorts through relationships, trying to discern what was healthy from what was exploitative. Concepts of love are turned over and over in these poems: romantic love, love of family, love of country, self-love (or lack thereof). Often the speaker finds that what at first appeared to be caring was insincere all along. When tenderness is in short supply, how can one protect oneself? How can one find home? In his debut collection, Maldonado bends poems through bilingual lyrics that present spartan observation as evidence for its exacting verdict, “We never leave when life is elsewhere. The clemency of men disappears / as does the light, tarring the roofs.” Publishers Weekly noted that “In this quietly furious bilingual debut, Maldonado challenges the entanglements of power, queer love, money, and language against the backdrop of a post-hurricane Puerto Rico and a life of daily labor in New York City.”

Tommye Blount

Tommye Blount is the author of What Are We Not For. He is a Cave Canem Foundation alumnus. In his debut collection Fantasia for the Man in Blue (Four Way Books), Blount orchestrates a chorus of distinct, unforgettable voices that speak to the experience of the black, queer body as a site of desire and violence. A black man’s late-night encounter with a police officer—the titular “man in blue”—becomes an extended meditation on a dangerous erotic fantasy. The late Luther Vandross, resurrected here in a suite of poems, addresses the contradiction between his public persona and a life spent largely in the closet: “It’s a calling, this hunger / to sing for a love I’m too ashamed to want for myself.” In “Aaron McKinney Cleans His Magnum,” the convicted killer imagines the barrel of the gun he used to bludgeon Matthew Shepard as an “infant’s small mouth” as well as the “sad calculator” that was “built to subtract from and divide a town.” In these poems, Blount viscerally captures the experience of the “other” and locates us squarely within these personae. Publishers Weekly observed that “[T]he searing debut from Tommye Blount is magnetic and controlled. Through charged words, masterful line breaks, and ekphrasis and persona pieces, these poems blur the line between intimacy and violence.”

 

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