Translator: Andrea McDonough
Reviewer: Bedirhan Cinar Miss Gayle’s 5 Steps to Slam Poetry, a lesson of transformation. Step 1: Write it all down. “Take one memory, explore it like a new land,” the visiting poet tells the class. “Don’t leave anything out.” Tyler sits in this high school workshop, dizzy with where to start. Memories wander in and out of his heart like vagrants searching for home. He bends to his desk, he writes, “The snow goes black when the moon turns its eyes away, all paper is yellow, all letters spell eviction note, Mama’s lies are footsteps too many to count. Making excuses on black snow. ‘I paid the rent, this is your room forever, baby. I love you.’ But, she wouldn’t even look at me.” Step 2: Read out loud. As he writes, his lips try on words then toss them out like bad tenants. He pushes his desk back, stands. “Aunt Jocelyn’s rice pudding was sweet, but that’s not what I want to write. Have you ever been so cold your hair becomes an icicle? Your little sister’s fear of the dark freezes on her lips like she’s kissed the ice tray? How hungry have you been?” Step 3: Cut the fat. Abandon extra words. His pen becomes a machete, slashing ands, thens, becauses. Step 4: Read out loud, again. The 11th grade boy makes sure Step 3’s cuts weren’t too deep. Step 5: Add flava. Juice, power, movement, emotion. “Vanilla flavoring is the secret to my aunt’s pudding. I kick out a few raisins but leave one or two. Life needs some bitter to man up the sweet.” His hands reach out like shells to hold our disbelief. Is this Tyler speaking? The one who keeps his eyes on the floor like they’re carrying something heavy? Voice rattles windows. “I am free now.” Body quivers with the pulse of each word. “The sun’s joy melts snow.” Fingers trace the curve of his jaw. “My aunt’s face was warm as a water heater when she let us in that night.” Our boy is done, his transformation complete. Step 1: Write it all down. Step 2: Read out loud. Step 3: Cut the fat. Step 4: Read out loud. Step 5: Add flava. Tyler’s first poem takes residence in his heart. He flings his arms wide like an open door. Welcome home!