What Contemporary Poet You Should Read Based on Your Zodiac Sign

We all know that the alignment of the planet at the time of your birth determines the course of your career, romantic taste, and basically everything else. But what about your poetic moods?

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Aries (March 21 - April 19): Terrance Hayes

The sign of Aries, ruled by Mars and marked by the element of Fire, is known for being courageous and bold. In the current political climate, Aries is particularly suited to activism and speaking out for what they believe is right. No contemporary poet better represents the characteristic of the firey Aries than Terrance Hayes, who performed at the 2018 New York City Poetry Festival. Hayes’ 2018 poetry collection, American Sonnets for my Past and Future Assassin, examines Trump-era America not as an outlier, but as part of a long history of American inequality. True to its title, the collection is entirely comprised of sonnets. However, Hayes masterfully turns the traditional fourteen liners into a reversal of their strict conservatism, as he employs simple yet active language to address Trump, racism, and violence.

Taurus (April 20 - May 20): Robert Pinsky

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The reliable Taurus is grounded both in their thoughts and in their actions. At age 78, Robert Pinsky, who has written over nineteen books, is a clear representation of Taurus dedication. Pinsky may be the oldest poet on this list, but his energy and commitment is constantly renewing. He has served as United States Poet Laureate, and published countless works for which he has won numerous awards and accolades. Pinsky’s poetry often carries a steady Taurus tone, with punctuated sentence patterns and syncopated line breaks. These firm, continuing beats guide the reader through his messages from life, about life, for life. Pinsky was also a headliner at the 2019 New York City Poetry Festival.

Gemini (May 21 - June 20): Tina Chang

Geminis are known for their excellent ability to tune in with their different identities. In Brooklyn Poet Laureate Tina Chang’s 2019  collection, Hybrida, she explores the issue of mixed identities — hybrids — through both content and form. As an Asian-American mother to a black son, Chang delves into the push and pulls of race, sex, and motherhood. Her poems examine questions of voice quite literally, narrated by different voices and written in different styles. 

Cancer (June 21 - July 22): Ocean Vuong

Cancers are concerned with emotion, connection, and family. With their intuitive minds, Cancers will love Ocean Vuong’s deeply intimate and authentic works. Vuong’s highly acclaimed 2016 collection, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, examines love and self-love amidst displacement, and as the title suggests, the lasting trauma of exile. His 2019 stylized novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, a rumination on his language barriers with his mother, will tear at the heartstrings of every Cancer. No matter the subject matter, Vuoung’s voice remains emotionally perceptive, lyrically precise, and deeply poignant.

Leo (July 23 - August 22): Aracelis Girmay

Being royalty, Leos will love Aracelis Girmay’s Kingdom Animalia. Girmay’s grounded, deeply expressive work examines our place in the natural world. Creatives born under this sign will love Girmay’s imaginative works such as “Self-Portrait as the Snail,” “Self-Portrait as the Snake.” She not only turns herself into an animal, but brings to life inanimate objects and concepts, as well, expressing people and their motivations through the three principles that govern all animal needs: hunger/desire, and death. As “Elegy” puts it: “Listen to me. I am telling you/ a true thing. This is the only kingdom./ The kingdom of touching;/ the touches of the disappearing, things.” Leos will appreciate it as Girmay warmly leads us through the world in which lions are king. 

Virgo (August 23 - September 22): Natasha Tretheway 

Virgos are kind and hardworking, a combination that they channel into caretaking and nurturing. Former US Poet Laureate and Pulitzer-Prize winner Natasha Tretheway puts this care into her poetry and her celebration of others before her. Tretheway’s lines and stanzas reflect the organized nature of Virgos. She orders her poetry into distinct couplets or quatrains, creating a rhythmic and grounded atmosphere. Her 2018 collection, Monument, is a testament to centuries of unrecorded black history, unsung black heroes, and unmentioned black culture. Her collection becomes their monument, as she eulogizes past and present struggles of black Americans, though not without joy.

Libra (September 23 - October 22): Claudia Rankine

Libras love balance and fairness, both in the small events of everyday life, and in larger issues concerning the world. Claudia Rankine exercises Libra grace in her brave, expressive writings about discrimination. Her 2014 book, Citizen: An American Lyric, a finalist for the National Book Award, examines black identity and race relations in America. In her work, she combines traditional poetry with art, heavy line breaks and unusual punctuation, as she balances the scales of text and blank space.

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Scorpio (October 23 - November 21): Jericho Brown

Scorpios are expressive and emotional, brave and assertive, and above all value honesty. Jericho Brown’s electrifying work is not afraid of confronting truths. His newest collection, The Tradition, examines both wide political issues and inner personal conflicts. Brown defies the titular tradition by circumventing it with his deeply honest, startling poetry. His innovative writing stems from mythical roots and other traditional imagery, which he employs both as history and parody. Jericho Brown headlined the 2016 New York City Poetry Festival and was also spotted out there in 2019 hanging out with Chen Chen (our recommendation below for all you Capricorns!).

Sagittarius (November 22 - December 21): Tracy K. Smith

The fearless explorers under Sagittarius will love traveling all the way off the planet in Tracy K. Smith’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Life on Mars. Tracy K. Smith is currently serving as the Poet Laureate of the United States. Smith’s work often mixes modernity and poetic traditions, science fiction and history, to underscore truths about human nature. 

Capricorn (December 22 - January 19): Chen Chen

Capricorns rely on structure and long-term planning, asking themselves from a young age what they want to be when they grow up. Chen Chen answers this question in his 2018 collection, When I Grow Up I Want to be a List of Further Possibilities. His lovely, open-ended discussions of love and self-actualization are sure to assuage Capricorn fears of narrow career paths to success. The extreme honesty with which Chen Chen tackles questions of self helps create deeply authentic, witty, moving, poignant, charming stories. Chen Chen was a headliner of the New York City Poetry Festival in 2019 and also a participant in the first even Milk Press Happening.

Aquarius (January 20 - February 18): Cathy Park Hong

The original Aquarius deserves some original writing. Many contemporary poets could produce this novelty, but one of the most unconventional poets is the whimsical Cathy Park Hong. Cathy Park Hong challenges literary foundations by playing with punctuation, words, and letters. The musical Aquarius will love her imaginative rhythms, slant rhymes, and exclamation marks. Check out “Ballad in A,” for an extreme example, where Cathy Park Hong uses the same dozen words to create an extensive poem. Despite — or because of — her witticisms, many of her pieces are deeply meaningful. Her works will cause mixtures of amusement and contemplation, as she uses humor and wordplay to reveal the cores of current issues.

Pisces (February 19 - March 20): Morgan Parker

Pisces are imaginative, artistic, and intuitive. With their natural creativity any Pisces would love the work of Morgan Parker. Parker often plays with the structure of lines on a page, creating visual art with her words, and her rhythmic patterns would have the musical Pisces speaking the words out along with her. Her 2017 collection, There are More Beautiful Things than Beyoncé, is both funny and wise. including a list poem titled “99 Problems” and a piece named “It’s Getting Hot in Here So Take Off All Your Clothes.” Her clever titles and unusual styles do not detract from her important message. Parker fiercely illuminates the experience of black women in America, her daring humor confronting what has no punchline: the unbelievable, the extreme, the all-too-real.

AN AUDIBLE SHAPE IN TIME: a Q&A with Robert Pinsky!

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Robert Pinsky, former Poet Laureate of the United States and 2019 headliner of the New York City Poetry Festival recently had a chat with PSNY intern and University of Leeds PhD candidate, Lucy Cheseldine.

LC: How does a poem start for you? Do certain lines appear first or does the shape come as a whole? 

RP: The Yeats phrase “I get a chune in my head” seems to apply. It's a matter of the sentence-sounds, the melody of it, maybe without much meaning. Like a conversation heard through a closed door, to use another famous way of saying it: the sound of a meaning before the meaning. An audible shape in time.

LC: Lots of your poetry records snippets of urbanity. How do you understand the relationship between poetry and the city? What role, if any, do observation and experience play here? 

RP: Back to sound, I guess: in the city, compared to the country or the suburbs, there’s more speech per square inch, more music per square mile, probably even more bird-song per square foot. Truth is, I grew up in an ocean-side resort town, so “snippets” may be exactly how I first encountered the city.

LC: You’ve spent time as the Poet Laureate of the United States. Does a poet have a civic duty? And to what extent might this be bound up with memory?  

RP: The poet’s duty is to make poems. The “Laureate” title has that silly, anglo-phile cachet—“Consultant in Poetry” has more soul and dignity— but it’s true that laurel stays green, the bay leaf in the food of memory.

LC: In Democracy, Culture and the Voice, you call poetry “a vocal imagining”. Do you ever talk out loud when you are writing? How do you distinguish reading your poems aloud in front of an audience from the internal vocalisations of reading poetry? 

RP: I always talk out loud when I am composing, or at least mumble out loud. Can’t do it any other way. In that sense “writing” is a kind of misnomer for what I do. The writing part, the pen or computer or Selectric is just for notation, like putting notes on the stave. The music itself is vocal.

LC: Do you think being a critic of poetry has helped your creative practice? 

RP: “The highest form of criticism is actual composition.” The word “critic” comes from krinos, to choose, I think I have read. So the poet must be a critic every moment, in composition. Many so-called critics don't do much actual choosing, or are bad at it.

LC: You take “poetry as breath”. Do you have a poem or poet that you continue to return to when your own sources need replenishing? 

RP: Emily Dickinson, William Butler Yeats, Fulke Greville, William Carlos Williams, Robert Hayden, Elizabeth Bishop, Ben Jonson, Allen Ginsberg, John Keats, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, Gwendolyn Brooks, George Gascoigne, Michael Drayton, Stevie Smith . . . among many others . . . 

LC: How would you define ‘poetry’ to someone who is afraid to read it?

RP: It’s a kind of art based on the sounds of words, partway between talking and singing. After saying that, I’d beg that person to watch a couple of the brief videos at the Favorite Poem Project.

 
 

Top 5 Reasons Personalized Poems Are the Ultimate Party Favor

1. Poetry sticks around. For a long, long time. 

Check out this quote from Sappho:

 
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That quote is over 2600 years old—she was right! Also, traditional party favors are overrated. I have received way too many cookies and pastries that taste like sand from the moon. The pens are a slight upgrade, but to be honest, who needs another pen (yes, even when it doubles as a stylus!), when we have smartphones and (hopefully) finger-tips? 

The best party favor, by far, is personalized poetry. Even when the physical paper containing the poem is gone, the memory of the poem will stay with the guest for a lifetime (at least).

A final plus? You won’t offend any low-carb, keto, no-sugar, paleo folks. 


2. Convenience 

No need to spend days wrapping individual grocery store cookies that won’t be eaten, or ordering and designing custom pens that will be thrown away! All you have to do is contact PSNY to hire a Typewriter Poet! We are simply at your fingertips.


3. Pre-written cards are cliché

You can only write or receive “Roses are red” so many times before it just gets old for everybody. Our poets simply write better.

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4. You can ditch the creepy clown!

Hey, guess what? Our Typewriter Poets take care of the gift and also double as entertainment, offering a performance for your guests. Think of it like hiring a clown who knows how to make cool animals and swords with balloons but less creepy and more meaningful! And for those of you who really love clowns, we do know quite a few poets who are basically circus people. Also, this:

Clown

BY CHELSEY MINNIS

It seems like I'm growing more and more like a clown. First of all, I'm always sad. Secondly, all my knives are made out of rubber. Thirdly, it's like my house is on fire.

No, I'm definitely becoming more like a clown. I have a tendency to want to put on clown clothes. As soon as I put the clown clothes on I feel faintly happier...

Another sign is that I constantly feel like I'm alone in a dressing room. Most of the time I feel amused. Anyway, the only thing good about the circus is the tigers.

Read the full poem here.

5. People get to see vintage typewriters!

Yes, each poet will be wielding a vintage typewriter. How cool is that? Some of the younger guests may have never even seen one before and might react with totally adorable bewilderment: “Is that a phone???”

Enough said.

WHAT DO JIM MORRISON, ARTHUR RIMBAUD, AND THE 2019 THE NEW YORK CITY POETRY FESTIVAL HAVE IN COMMON?

Happening: The action of happen v.; occurrence (of an event), the fact of taking place.

The very fact of taking place is something to celebrate. To exceed existence or being, but only marginally. To dwell in our edges and crevices: the fold of a page, the frame of a canvas. Here, things happen. They happen because they begin to take on a strange, distinct life of their own, unplanned and voluptuous births seeping forth to make the shape of art. 

We come to happen in various ways, one of which poet Arthur Rimbaud described as a ‘dereglement de tous les sens’. Those moments of total abstraction, of a detachment that verges on the sublime, where sensory distortion leads directly to new ways of seeing reality. For Rimbaud, the temptation of Dionysus’s lusty wine was a path towards his ambitions as a ‘seer’ and fuelled his surreal poetic happenings on the page. 

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Years later, another seer of the art world, Jim Morrison, took Rimbaud’s obsession with creating a disjointed present even further. For Morrison, the possibility of the present as occurrence spurred his vision of a bizarre scene in which chemicals would be filtered into a room of people through air vents, turning those people into the essential ‘artist-showman’ that lies latent in all of us. Not only would this scenario produce a show for spectators, but each participant would be a witness to their own capacity for performance: ordinary people become both artist and audience in a spectacular moment of absolute poetic fulfilment. 

Exactly what this looks like, Morrison has to leave to our imagination because his oddly simple plan never quite comes off. If there were such a drug… But its end is clear; he wants to find a substance that will possess us spiritually—all of us— to create the pure experience of art. In his notorious performances with The Doors, Morrison himself would strip naked, posing as a shaman against a myriad of audio effects, whispering lyric as if they had just appeared to him like ghosts that very same instant. Particularly, for me, it was his eerie omission of the final syllable of words that gets closest to reaching inside the potential of a Happening. His sudden exits from a lyric point towards a recognition that words are autonomous, that they are ceaselessly entangled with atmosphere, sound, and the air we collect in, the air that we live off, the air that makes us happen.

Poetry makes things happen. When I interviewed headliner poet Lynn Melnick for the poetry festival, she told me that she writes about '“ancient history”. This fascinating comment spurred my own poetic happening which I hope says something about the kind of place we might try to reach in our artistic experiments:

I write about ancient history. Meaning a childhood of cakes and cameras, of uncles waiting in the wings. And blurred vision, incommunicable hunger and confusion, and the absolute impossibility of choice. Meaning awful teenage years of pathetically flowered wallpaper, and scratched CDs that skip right at the part where the song diffuses into untouchable sounds which radiate around bedrooms and heads and the slender wandering limbs of secret visitors. And the afterglow of youth, the vulnerable-making ambition, the coffee and the car rides home with strangers stronger than you. 

These things are important. These things happened. Our bodies were taken by others and the time has come to recover them. 

But always I can’t help letting the present burst in 

Because it’s so present to me 

Is way beyond experience and atmosphere

It’s an actual body sitting right inside the contours of

Mine and pressing, sometimes bulging, against nerves

And veins and skin and getting right inside all the important organs

Naming them again, re-introducing them to one another

Wanting nothing but giving this well-worded blood, imprinting

It in their invisible, obscure systems, and pushing it

Out of my fingers and mouth: all the incredible, silent, potential of now.

At the New York City Poetry Festival this July 27th and 28th on Governors Island, we’ll be exchanging our opium for a glass of thick, white milk in the Milk Press Gallery for Milk Press’s inaugural Milk Press Happening. Lush and pure, mysterious and natural, artists, including Donna Masini, Joanna Valente, Gregg Emery, and more will be making art in real-time, pushing their way towards another consciousness.

Join us for a moment of poetic reverie.  As Matthew Zapruder writes in Why Poetry, the state of reverie is poetry, and reverie is ‘just beneath the surface of our moment-to-moment existence’ if only we could find its gate. A happening is always underlying the contours of a laid table, a stuffed sofa, the made lives we make for ourselves; the potential is in their undoing.