Tag Archives: African American

Poetry Review: Douglas Kearney’s Black Automaton

Douglas Kearney is not a poet to be read causally. His most recent collection of poetry titled the Black Automaton is a wildebeest, a wild beast, horned, hooved, and heavy. Automaton is defined as a “moving mechanical device made in imitation of a human being,” in other words a robot. Black Automaton, I believe, is meant not to describe African-Americans as robots, but the ideal of the “Black” experience as a robotic or same reality experienced from the south to the “city.” “Tallahatchie Lullabye, Baby,” “The Black Automaton in Tag” and the FloodSong poems speak to the robotic reality.

Reading “Tallahatchie Lullabye, Baby” a second time, I noticed the words Emmett Till at the bottom of the page and that made the poem come together, like an open wound being stitched up. At the age of fourteen in 1955, at the height of violence in the early days of the struggle for civil rights, Emmett Till was murdered, after falsely being reported flirting with a white woman. The shocking photographs of his open-casket funeral were published in Jet Magazine and the story was later picked up by Look Magazine and raised the question of “approved murder due to race.” With that understanding, the poem takes on an emotional urgency to the last word to reach an unthinkable and known ending.

The alliterations work to move the poem:

cattatil casts tattles Till tale,
lowing low along the hollow
crickets chirrup and ribbits lick-up
what’s chucked the ‘hatchie swallow

The cattails, plants that grow in abundance along the Mississippi, become eyewitnesses to Till’s death and they tattle or talk amongst each other, spreading what they know along the river bank, until the crickets chirp and frogs ribbit, creating this melancholy song.

Till's mother insisted on an open casket. Imag...

The visual-ness of “The Black Automaton in Tag,” makes it capable of being read different ways and the play on the “n” is genius. The “n” word debate, is it a word of empowerment or fodder for fools, has polarized the African American community – either “Black” people love it or hate it. The “Black Automaton in Tag” takes a historical context and is an argument for blacks who love “it”:

 

it’s best not to err and ER the A
if one must air the n _ _ _ _ _.
The ER is a looming heir
of that gloomy era where
n _ _ _ _ _s were in the air
in the best knots

The poem ends with reminding the reader that “it” is still the same word that it originally meant no matter how it is pronounced, spelled, or understood as.

The Floodsong poems seem to be connected via a Southern tributary, dealing with public worship, calling out in the Black church, religious song, and life along a river and how the river shapes living, seen through the eyes of animals: “Flood Song 1” is through the eyes of a canal rat, “Flood Song 2” is through the eyes of a water moccasin, “Flood Song 3” is through the eyes of an alligator, “Flood Song 4” is through the eyes of a mosquito, “Flood Song 5” is through the eyes of a bullfrog, “Flood Song 6” is through the eyes of a seagull, “Flood Song 7” is through the eyes of a catfish, and “Flood Song 8” is through the eyes of a stray dog.

The collection as a whole is a threaded mediation on the black experience from the south to the “city,” pieced together through negro spirituals, rap lyrics, questions, and a visual experience that leaves the reader with the lines, “knocking its broken neck against the smoke” and takes them back to “Negro” in tag.

Kearney is best experienced in person above the page. I not only saw him perform pieces from Black Automaton at Otis College’s Visiting Writers Series with Nick Piombino but also I got the chance to talk to Kearney about his creative process. He uses Abode InDesign to create his poems and later asks readers to “score” his visual poems. However the pieces are scored, is how Kearney reads the pieces live.

Books to read by Kearney

1. The Black Automaton (National Poetry Series Books)

2. Fear, some

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Filed under Art, poetry, The Creative Spark

When does the editing process stop

Letter from Lady Helena Gleichen addressing th...

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I think getting rejected by literary agents has made me a better writer.

My first rejection came two years ago. I was waiting on my editor to send me his inked up thoughts on the last five chapters. I had the publishing bug. I couldn’t wait any longer. I wanted to be published no matter what my editor thought. I submitted a query letter to an agent at Writer’s House. I studied some website I googled on how to write a query letter and wrote what I thought was brilliant.

Hardcore rapper 50 Cent meets Zane and realizes he’s gay

Dear agent,

Xitonce (pronounced existence), my novel, is an urban story about a young African American male caught in a love triangle with a man who suffers from panic attacks and a politician on the down low (dl) running for public office. From their story, a gripping story unfolds from a love letter that catapults the reader through an unforgettable tale of Detroit’s Black upper class community, homophobia in Peru, faking a marriage to gain citizenship, and two detectives trying to find a sadistic killer.

Like all urban novels Xitonce includes personal reflection, sex, crime, and revenge. However it veers from other works such that five very different characters reveal through their own stories how there are no coincidences in life but a single line of events that connect people.

Xitonce is one of few down low fiction works that is literary first, where many down low books falter and written to appeal to the mainstream literary audience. The result is a roller coaster showing how emotions can lead people to the lower depths of society.

As a young writer, I am looking for an experienced agent and I am thoroughly impressed with your agency.

The novel is 48,338 and fully complete. I am sending you the first five pages of Xitonce as stated in your submission guidelines.

I thank you for your time and consideration.

The agent responded less than five yours later.

Thanks, but I’m afraid this isn’t right for me.

By the way, the manuscript looks too short. Most novels should be closer to 70,000 words at least.

I was upset at first but relieved too. It wasn’t time for my book to be released.

I started sending out a new query letter two years after I sent my query to Writer’s House. I have received about five rejection letters. With each letter, I have thought over some of the dialogue and descriptive paragraphs that didn’t flow or fit well with the rest of the story. I have revised almost 20 chapters since I thought I was finished with the book.

Last week, I sent off an updated query letter to my editor. My last query letter was a little boring. I let my editor reader it. He said it wasn’t suspenseful enough. I rewrote it and rewrote it. The final current version is more suspenseful than the other versions have been.

I wanted to get my editor’s approval before sending off the new query letter to another agent. One agent I was interested in sending a query letter too requests that new writers send her the first 50 pages of their work. I reread chapter 3 (pages 30-49) and realized that I didn’t love the chapter.

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Gay Black Male Writer in Search of Literary Agent: A how-to story on query letters

“Thanks so much for your query.” The response came one hour after I sent it. This agent was a backup. I queried ten. Five who publish gay and lesbian fiction and five who publish new authors. “Unfortunately, though, I don’t believe I’d be the right agent for your work.” Polite. To the point. Unemotional. Still painful. It’s my third rejection for my novel. My first novel titled the Taste of Scars.

The day I finished my novel I created a vision board in my head. It’s not really a vision board if it’s in your head. I didn’t have time or the resources to go out and buy an actual board. In The Secret, the author suggests that the key to getting anything that you want is to imagine it, write it down, and have a visual representation of it. I thought if I imagined securing a literary agent I’d have a literary agent within a month.

The query process wasn’t what I expected it to be.

I queried a literary agent at Writer’s House a year ago. My best friend who is a writer and actor suggested I get a literary agent. I had planned to submit my book to a publisher. I didn’t know literary agents existed. I didn’t know how to go about getting a literary agent. I googled literary agent and found an article on how to write a query letter.

I absorbed and wrote a catchy attention grabber. Hardcore rapper 50 Cent meets Zane and realizes he’s gay.

Rapper 50 Cent in concert sporting Bling-Bling

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My full query letter:

Hardcore rapper 50 Cent meets Zane and realizes he’s gay

Xitonce (pronounced existence), my novel, is an urban story about a young African American male caught in a love triangle with a man who suffers from panic attacks and a politician on the down low running for public office. From their story, a gripping story unfolds from a love letter that catapults the reader through an unforgettable tale of Detroit’s Black upper class community, homophobia in Peru, faking a marriage to gain citizenship, and two detectives trying to find a sadistic killer.

Like all urban novels Xitonce includes personal reflection, sex, crime, and revenge. However it veers from other works such that five very different characters reveal through their own stories how there are no coincidences in life but a single line of events that connect people.

Xitonce is one of few down low fiction works that is literary first, where many down low books falter and written to appeal to the mainstream literary audience. The result is a roller coaster showing how emotions can lead people to the lower depths of society.

As a young writer, I am looking for an experienced agent and I am thoroughly impressed with your agency.

The novel is 48,338 and fully complete. I am sending you the first five pages of Xitonce as stated in your submission guidelines

I thank you for your time and consideration.

P.S. Xitonce is marketable to today’s gay African American audience, the African American audience that craves information on the down low (since the success of On the Down Low and Coming Up from the Down Low by J.L. King and Beyond the Down Low by Keith Boykin), and the non-African American gay audience.

E.N.D.

Writing it I felt like an excellent query letter. Like whoever read it would sign me immediately. I know see its faults now. The attention grabber wasn’t an attention grabber. The first sentence has “novel,” “urban story,” “young male,” and “caught in a love triangle.” Those words lack detail and the punch needed to get an agent’s attention. I wasn’t selling my product. And if I can’t sell my product how can an agent sell it.

I stared at my computer for about ten minutes. “Thanks. But I’m afraid this isn’t right for me. By the way, the manuscript looks too short. Most novels should be closer to 70,000 words at least.” The by the way was what killed me. It felt like he was telling me to rethink my novel and sign up for creative writing 101. It was the best advice. Honestly, I can say when I started writing my book I knew nothing about writing. The sample chapter that I sent him was not well written or thought out. It took me a week to figure that out. At the time, I had about fifteen chapters and 40,000 words. A year later I have forty chapters and close to 90,000 words.

This time around. My query was a lot more polished. With this rejection I feel more confident. I’m four more rejection letters from getting an agent.

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Filed under lgbt resources, The Written Word