Brooklyn College English class visit 3.15

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Introduction by Professor Matthew J. Burgess during reading/visit to his class,
English 3304/5 Writing Poetry:

In times of sadness or distress, there are a few things that I can reliably turn to: Stonyfield Farm Minty Chocolate Chip, RuPaul’s Drag Race, and Sheila Maldonado’s one-bedroom solo. The anti-depressant effect of Sheila’s poetry is mysterious, but it has something to do with the voice in her poems: no bullshit, brilliant-yet-unpretentious, siempre abierta to the humor of everything yet unafraid of the darkness. Or if afraid, still willing to sit in it, as in “At the Meer in Harlem”: “It’s an early fake spring. It’s me with me in the dark park hoping no one will stab me. If it were to happen it would just be aesthetically inappropriate. That criminal would have done a disservice to his/her art.” In Sheila’s poems, you are as likely to encounter the Muse as you are a brown sugar cinnamon Pop Tart from a vending machine:

“It’s the best when I get a good
drop, the package tumbles
from the slot so clean, not one flake
flakes, the crust doesn’t crumble.

I get to break up that tart,
still intact, truly appreciate
the dextrose, the soy lecithin, the
sodium acid pyrophosphate.

That’s my shit right now, boy
I can’t be on the same shit
always, gotta diversify,
entertain the palate.”
(from “Baked Good”)

A poem this seemingly casual disguises its formal perfection—the enjambment of “good / drop”, the delicate play of consonant t-sounds in the description of the breaking of the tart, the just right balance between concision and conversation.

For me, Sheila is a Latina reincarnation of William Carlos Williams. Like the great poet-doctor, she walks around with her eyes open and shows us that so much depends upon “one grandmother push[ing] / a petite electric blue cart / lined with a woven plastic / plaid shopping bag.” And like “Danse Russe,” Williams’s meditation on dancing naked in front of the mirror while the rest of the family is asleep, Maldonado similarly rejects the fictions of maturity. To be grown-up is great not because you cease being a child, but because you can be a kid in your own damn space. In “Homebody,” she writes: “I got this place so I could be naked, / lotion up after a shower, no rush” and later, “I’m my own child here, dancing bare-ass nekkid, / don’t care if the neighbors see a rush of / skin from their window, my body taking off.” Ultimately, I read one-bedroom solo as a funny, sexy, anxious yet self-assured declaration of independence.

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