SWWIM publishes, celebrates, & promotes women, women-identifying & Femme-presenting writers through a Miami-based reading series & the online poetry journal SWWIM Every Day.

To Answer Verlaine by Allison Joseph

"What mad Negro, or tone-deaf child

            created this penny jewel, this crime,

            that rings hollow, false under the file?"

                                    “Ars Poetica,” Paul Verlaine

 

 

This mad negro has skills 

you and all those pasty symbolists 

better recognize, music in my 

 

very walk, my laughter like Langston’s. 

I have my gaudy jewels: 

shiny dimestore pendants, 

 

cubic zirconia rings, 

my sold-on-late-night-television 

phony diamond earrings, 

 

and I make them look good— 

strutting without a stutter, 

striding in my own glistening skin. 

 

My only crime was to be born 

in this subtle and shaded hue, 

born to marvel at curious things 

 

until I had to write them down 

ringing with the very sound of verse, 

a kind of molten dignity 

 

even a mad negro could recognize, 

even on the edge of sanity— 

knife slice of all that enmity, 

 

all those ugly scratches history 

etched onto my eyeballs. 

Far from false, but still in your files— 

 

a literary suspect, accessible wreck, 

baby girl not fit for the Captain’s table. 

Riddle me this, Verlaine: 

 

how many poets does it take 

to stop a war, to broker a peace, 

to cut off a piece of any 

 

reader’s heart, swallow it whole, 

and live? I don’t know if you know 

how it truly feels to be mad, 

 

angered under the surface 

of myriad subtleties while another 

campus rages, and a city blisters with gunfire.


Allison Joseph lives in Carbondale, Illinois, where she directs the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Southern Illinois University.  She serves as editor of Crab Orchard Review, moderator of the Creative Writers Opportunities List, and director of Writers in Common, a writers conference for writers of all ages. Joseph is the author of sixteen poetry collections, most recently Multitudes (Word Poetry), The Purpose of Hands (Glass Lyre Press), and Double Identity (Singing Bone Press). Her collection, Confessions of a Barefaced Woman, is forthcoming from Red Hen Press in 2018. 

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