Years ago during a workshop at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, Gregory Orr had us each map out our poetic lineage, our family trees. What he was asking really was a question about time. My tree truly started to grow in high school, spring all kinds of crazy blooms. A poet in those bursts was Olena Kalytiak Davis – here’s a poem of hers I’ve kept close, something that influenced me deeply when I found it in my senior year of high school:
The Panic of Birds
The moon is sick
of pulling at the river, and the river
fed up with swallowing the rain,
So, in my lukewarm coffee, in the bathroom
mirror, there’s a restlessness
as black as a raven.
Landing heavily on the quiet lines of this house.
Again, the sun takes cover
and the morning is dead
tired of itself, already, it’s pelting and windy
as I lean into the pane
that proves this world is a cold smooth place.
Wind against window—let the words fight it out—
as I try to remember: What is it
that’s so late in coming? What was it
I understood so well last night, so well it kissed me,
sweetly on the forehead?
Wind against window and my late flowering brain,
heavy, gone to seed. Pacing
from room to room and in each window
a different version of a framed woman
unable to rest, set against a sky
full of beating wings and abandoned
directions. Her five chambered heart
filling with the panic of birds, asking: What?
What if not this?
That poem appeared in an anthology called American Poetry, The Next Generation, and I dog-eared the hell out of that book. Underlines, marginalia, the works. Nobody pointed me to that poem, I just read, read and read voraciously. I think I read because I was lonely, and I wrote because I was stuck. Sometimes it is that simple, no matter how old you are. I was private with those poems for years, and that’s part of what makes me so astonished and so humbled to read submissions for Teen Sequins. Every teen who sends us their poem is brave, unquestionably. That’s part of why we give an honorable mention to all those who submit. I think as one turns into an older writer, the distinction of “honorable mention” can be sort of tossed off, in the the way that a silver medalist might be pissed and a bronze medalist might be elated. But when Robby and I give honorable mentions, it’s because we really see the action of sending out a poem into the world as honorable. We create a poetry world by sharing poetry, and by sharing their (your) poetry with us, these teens (you!) make our world better. There’s a ripple effect I think. And we don’t take it lightly either, the honor of reading what is sometimes a person’s (your) first submission, the first time a poem is sent to anyone outside of a classroom. We know that, and we’re terribly grateful to be trusted in such a way.
Isn’t it good and strange and difficult and wonderful to be in the world? What? / What if not this?
Teens, send us your work. If you submitted to us last year and you weren’t featured, submit again. We’ll hold your work in the best way we can, celebrate you to the fullest.
Sincerely and fondly and all that jazz,