For her final contribution to her June Poet in Residency here at Easy Street, Cynthia Manick answers our age-old question: Why does poetry matter? —Cami Griep

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I’ve tried to imagine a world without poetry, just dates and facts in monotone with no interpretation. But then I thought, what are dates? History of births and deaths written by victors, habitats created, scientific discoveries, and those voiced to exile. Poetry and art reflect the spectrum of emotion. Actions don’t matter unless we know how they make people feel. And once you know how people feel, how do you make them feel differently?

I’m currently a fellow at the Poets House where I was privileged to hear a talk by Natalie Diaz. She asked us to think of an apple and what that means, i.e. the Big Apple, Adam and Eve, teacher’s pet, red, and the phrase “an apple a day.” So everyone knows the idea of apple, but as a poet I need you to know my apple. What makes it special? We’re surrounded by things that are familiar. Every day we walk to work and pass the same street. But poetry teaches us about the people on that street so that we “see” them differently. It teaches us to wonder and ask questions. What colors do people like? What do they dream? Who likes rap and who likes Bollywood?

Poetry challenges what is comfortable and makes it new again. No one can experience everything, but poetry leads to empathy and imagination, and that gets us close. I recently had to write a poetry manifesto, so I’ll end this essay with that.

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why i deliver beasts aka write poetry

to feel rivers and a moving sun
so scars fold in on itself
my skin is too dark to blush
because even knee caps are sexy
to offer you a plate
there’s a hole in the world
legally i’m not allowed to watch autopsies
i don’t know how to love
i love too much
i eat watermelons in secret
something is always trying to kill me
i know how to be hungry
i want you to know fear
the terrain under my breast is rough
there’s not enough space for ashes
the terrain under my breast is smooth
there’s whiskey in my piss
so I don’t snap necks
to see a name and know it’s mine
a noose is on our breath
i love washing beans on a Sunday

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Blue Hallelujahs from the Hand
—after Carrie Mae Weems’s Kitchen Table Series

In the right light I’m beautiful.

Covered in flour and paprika
balled cubes of meat,
you can still see patterns
fault lines in the palm center;

the first throw of jacks
and rocks when I was six,
golden frogs that bleed
and bleep so high;

a body twirl in Sunday’s best
colored swan lake
smoothed gloves in church peach;

the steam of the hot comb
the weight of it
cause nappy heads can’t hold
cherry barrettes or the sound
of light-skinned caramel boys;

grandmothers words—
you have to pull flesh
from the throat not the belly,
you are two kins away

from pulled cotton,
don’t waste any part of the pig
stir hog soup when cold comes;

the cool wash of river
on stiff limbs when death came, settled
her like a nesting doll;

all was changed with corn whiskey
out of fruit jars, and fingers
trailing the land of bodies
twice-licked;

Christ is amazed
with taffy babies
those shriveled sweet things—
with vein-rich palms of their own.

In the kitchen I’m beautiful.

Garlic and onion shines brown
in the light, and fistfuls of mackerel
cover nails at the seams—

it tempers a woman
cause the muscle knows
how to wield a knife
and hold close salted migrations.

“Blue Hallelujahs from the Hand” originally appeared in Blackberry: A Magazine.

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Cynthia Manick is the author of Blue Hallelujahs, forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press. A Pushcart Prize nominated poet with a MFA in Creative Writing from the New School, she has received fellowships from Cave Canem, The Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts & Sciences, the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, Hedgebrook, Poets House, and the Vermont Studio Center. Her work has appeared in African American Review, Bone Bouquet, Callaloo, DMQ Review, Kweli Journal, Muzzle Magazine, Sou’wester, Pedestal Magazine, Passages North, Tidal Basin, and elsewhere. She currently curates Soul Sister Revue and resides in Brooklyn, New York.