Monday, March 28, 2011

It's Almost that Time - National Poetry Month Big Poetry Giveaway

Hurray for April; we're almost there! I don't know about anyone else, but for me, April tends to be a good deal more fun than my March. Of course this year, with a great trip to the University of Wisconsin - Madison to celebrate 50 Years of Africa and the Peace Corps - April is going to have to be outstanding!

To help the month get rolling, Kelli Russell Agodon, great poet and friend, is once again hosting the Big Poetry Giveaway at her blog, Book of Kells. I loved being part of this project last year and am signing up for a second time. Here's the deal: in the spirit of creativity and community, poets are giving away two books -- one of their own and one by a poet they love. All you need to do is leave a comment at the end of this post in order to be entered in the drawing.  The first giveaway is ejo - Poems Rwanda 1991-1994 by Derick Burleson. I have been an admirer of Derick's work for a long time and although we are Facebook friends and have one very dear friend in common, Madison was our first chance to spend time together.

If you've heard Derick read, you know he is charming, funny, and honest. He's also not too high falutin to get in the way back of a Subaru wagon when the situation calls for such measures. Derick read "Howdy" at the Orpheum Theater in Madison, WI and had the whole audience hanging on his every syllable - even the spaces in-between the syllables. In the morning Derick read "Remera Arrives" and told our audience the story of saving Remera's life - first with the gift of a rain jacket and eventually by helping him to get out of Rwanda to the United States. 

In case you haven't heard, there was a Rwandan Genocide in 1994 and these poems deal both with this as well as the years before this when Burleson was a Peace Corps Volunteer teaching English. There are several persona poems in the collection such as "Remera Arrives." This is a book you need to read - and although there are heartbreaking poems -- there is also much joy. 

Houston, 1997

Oh my God what I have done? 
The climate, it is very hot here. 
All people, where they are?
I hear four millions living here. 
But I see no persons walking. 
There are many cars. All people have one.
Inside the house it is so cold. 
They call that conditioning air. 
Mostly all people stay inside.
Derick is grown fat and ballhead. 
And me too, I am fat now. 
During the war, I almost starved to die.
But now I let grow my dreadlocks. 
You must to have papers here before anything. 
That is same for my country.
Food here is fake. Everythings puts in cans. 
Cheeseburger is not real food. 
The air smells like l'essence. Barbeque is O.K.
For Fourth July they explode bombs
over the city, like back home
in Kigali on Liberation Day.
Me, I am learning slowly English. 
Here all people say Howdy to mean greetings. 
They smile at all the times. That is fake too.


And then they were all staring at me.
So I shout: This is a typical American greeting.
C'est une salutation typiquement Am'ricaine.
Please understand, this is the first day of school
and the year before, there was no school
because of the war, une ann'e blanche, a white year,
a blank year, and school was supposed to start
in September and it's October already, the first day
of school a month late, just when we've all begun
to wonder if school would start this year or not.
123 unpronounceable names, every first-year
pre-med student in Rwanda gathered here in this room
to learn from me all the English they'd ever need:
If a bomb went off it would be really tragic.
They throw wads of notepaper, gyrate their hips,
sing Mama We! whistle, sprint up and down the aisles,
leap from seat to plastic seat. I stumble down
each concrete step to the auditorium's bowels
as if I were descending the icy rungs of hell,
and they shriek at me in a language I can't understand:
Umuzungu urashaka iki? Umuzungu subira iwanyu!
White man what do you want? White man go home!
The microphones stainless steel lung looks like
something with which to club them into submission.
So I rear back and holler Howdy, sheer horror
takin' me back to that Oklahoma twang I thought
I'd done gone and give up fer good. And when
they holler back: How-Dee, it's an amazing grace.
So I do it again and so do they. All semester I howl
English and they bellow it back, the future doctors
of Rwanda chanting in unison: shinbone connected
to the kneebone, kneebone connected to the hipbone.
And by December when I meet them between classes
under the blossoms of the campus poinsettia, I say
Muraho and they say How-dee. I say Amakuru and they ask
How're ya'll doin? I say Nimeza and they say Jes fine.

                       ---  Derick Burleson 

In the spirit of the Peace Corps experience, I will also be giving away my first book, The Cartographer's Tongue / Poems of the World. Although the book is my first, I think I have to admit is also my favorite -- perhaps because of the Peace Corps poems. 

And here's a poem from this collection; another Peace Corps poem.
Lost By Way of Tchin-Tabarden by Susan Rich  
                                                                            Republic of Niger
Nomads are said to know their way by an exact spot in the sky,
the touch of sand to their fingers, granules on the tongue.

But sometimes a system breaks down. I witness a shift of light,
study the irregular shadings of dunes. Why am I traveling

this road to Zinder, where really there is no road? No service station
at this check point, just one commercant hawking Fanta

in gangrene hues. C'est formidable! he gestures --- staring ahead
over a pyramid of foreign orange juice.

In the desert life is distilled to an angle of wind, camel droppings,
salted food. How long has this man been here, how long

can I stay contemplating a route home?
It's so easy to get lost and disappear, die of thirst and longing

as the Sultan's three wives did last year. Found in their Mercedes,
the chauffeur at the wheel, how did they fail to return home

to Ágadez, retrace a landscape they'd always believed?
No cross-streets, no broken yellow lines; I feel relief at the abandonment

of my own geography. I know there's no surveyor but want to imagine
the aerial map that will send me above flame trees, snaking

through knots of basalt. I'll mark the exact site for a lean-to
where the wind and dust travel easily along my skin,

and I'm no longer satiated by the scent of gasoline. I'll arrive there
out of balance, untaught; ready for something called home.
Just leave a comment below and you will be entered in the Big Poetry Giveaway. Check out  Kelli's Book of Kells to see what other poets are participating! Maybe you will join in, too?


  1. Oh Susan, let me post the first comment. These are both lovely choices. Please enter me, and check out what I'm giving away on my blog.

  2. Oh, thanks for these wonderful sample poems from the books and the chance to support poetry and the Peace Corps here! Thank you for both kinds of work.

  3. Wonderful give-aways, Susan. Thank you for participating.

  4. Great choices! Please throw my name in...

  5. These look like great books. Please enter me in your fabulous drawing -- and thank you.

  6. Mi!/profile.php?id=640920678chael WelshMarch 29, 2011 at 3:53 PM

    Hello Susan:

    Please enter me into your poetry giveaway for The Cartographer's Tongue.

    Because Derrick B. is my good friend, mentor (and committee chair) I've read, and have been thoroughly moved by, ejo. So if I "win" (after reading your poem "Lost By Way of Tchin-Tabarden" I already feel like I have won)you can pass on Derrick's book to another worthy.

    Thank you for your generosity...
    Michael Welsh

  7. i'd love to win!

    emerson0811 AT gmail DOT com

  8. I'd love to win your selections. Put me in!

  9. Hi! Please sign me up!




  10. Wow, what very powerful writing! I love it. Thank you so much for offering this opportunity to win these books. That's very kind of you. A very happy Spring to you. x

  11. Sounds great! Thank you.

  12. Hi Susan... Please add my name to the drawing. Thank you!

  13. Hi, Susan. I already have The Cartographer's Tongue (and love it!), but I'd like to be in the running for ejo.

  14. wonderful,
    I have finished not so long ago my university course in genocide and democide and find that Rwanda book extremely interesting.
    would be grateful to have my name in your hat.


  15. Great books! Enter me too, please : D


  16. Please add me to your contest. You can contact me by posting on or entering my contest on my blog:
    You can contact me on Facebook: Opw Fredericks

  17. I'd love to win these books! Please enter me in the drawing. My addy is ritamaeDOTreeseATgmailDOTcom

  18. Hi Susan- Please add my name to your list for the giveaway. (I am giving away, too)...

  19. I'd love to enter for a chance to win Cartographer's Tongue and ejo. My email is ritamaeDOTreeseATgmailDOTcom. Thanks!

  20. Thanks for doing this again! Please count me in (eldritch1313 at yahoo dot com). Every time I open The Alchemist's Kitchen, there's always something new to catch the heart.

  21. Would love to be a part of this drawing! I've got a giveaway going at my blog, too!

  22. Love your blog's title picture...please throw my name in the hat!

  23. Hi Susan, I'd love to be entered in the drawing!

    Marie-Elizabeth Mali

    And please enter my drawing, if you like!

  24. Please count me in--and stop by my blog if you want to check out my giveaway, too.

    Love, love love that photo header!

  25. I'd love to get in on the giveaway - my name is Mary Virginia Cooley and my email address is mcooley(at)! Happy National Poetry Month!

  26. Count me in as well! Thanks much.

  27. Thanks so much for entering my name and for your generosity!

  28. I am hoping that I will win. I think this will be fun. Those poems were very good writing; inspirational.

  29. I feel such a draw to both of these books -- I hope I win one. Thanks for sharing.
    Valphia at aol dot com

  30. Happy Poetry Month, Susan!

    Enjoyed the samples you shared :).

  31. Would love to own these beautiful books. Thanks for participating - and please sign me up!

  32. Please enter me as well. And feel free to swing by my blog and there my contest as well!

  33. is my poetry and performance blog.

    I want to be a winner!

    russell.evatt (at) gmail (dot) com

  34. Please include me.

    These look like wonderful books!

  35. want to participate in the Poetry Giveaway

  36. Good stuff here--consider this my entry!

  37. Add me to the drawing, please.

  38. Hi, Susan! Please add me to your list -- I'm a huge fan of The Cartographer's Tongue and would love to have another copy to give to a friend. (Thanks for participating at my blog too - I appreciate it!)

  39. And so it was that on the final day of Poetry Month, he realized that he'd pushed his procrastination abilities to the max and it was now time to sign up for the Big Poetry Giveaway if he ever hoped to be introduced to poets he might otherwise never discover.

    Please sign me up / throw my name in the hat / assign me a # for a random # generator.

  40. Please put my name in the hat, and many thanks for your ever-inspriring blog!