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Sealey Challenge Week 1
let's get into it!!!
For those unfamiliar, the Sealey Challenge was started by poet Nicole Sealey (whose incredible collection Ordinary Beast I read during my first challenge in 2021). The rules are pretty simple— read a book or chapbook of poetry each day in August. I’ve never actually been able to complete it because I was an overworked grad student for three years, and also August is my Dead Dad-iversary. So, not a great month to try to do that.
This year, however. This might be the year! I asked my partner to participate with me and they agreed! So we’ve had a really nice ritual for the last week. Whenever we’re off work, we sit in our room and read together. And then the next day, we read the same book the other read the day prior.
Okay I see how confusing that sounds. Let me try again.
On the odd day of the month, ie August 1st, 3rd, etc, we each choose a book. If it’s a work heavy day we choose chapbooks. Then, on the even day, we read each other’s choice. Then we have mini book club about them. This is now my favorite way to read poetry :’)
We started by compiling a big stack of books that either we hadn’t read or some favorites my partner hasn’t read yet.I also like to approach the Sealey Challenge as a sampler plate of poetry. As in, I try my best to diversify topics, genre, forms, eras, length, etc.
Not all are pictured, and we obviously won’t go through all of them this month, but I love this new tradition we birthed. Plus, it’s been a lot easier to do the challenge with someone else!
And now, without further ado, my first seven books:
Day 1: The Abyss is Staring Back by nat raum
A heartfelt poetry collection about love, loss, queerness, and mental health with a sharp millennial, internet-age voice. I had been distancing myself from poetry for a while, and this book really brought me back in. For that I am grateful! Highly recommend this read from an incredible poet and person.
Day 2: Beast Meridian by Vanessa Angélica Villarreal
Y’all. I am so upset I hadn’t read this sooner. I just keep thinking about how important queer Latinx voices are especially in poetry, and about how I didn’t know of the incredible canon that exists until I was about to graduate college.Anywaysss. Read this book. Villarreal’s work with form is unmatched. I definitely will reread this after August so I can spend more time with it. This collection made me think about the possibilities of poetry, and how to disrupt form and language. Shout out to Half Price Books for keeping me well-read on a budget.
Day 3: BODYELECTRONIC by Aerik Francis
As the title suggests, this chapbook combines the body with the… electronic. I am so enthralled with this work. The poems were so embodied, so visceral yet so in the world of our growing dependence on and existence in the Internet et al. One of my favorite pieces was published in HAD.
So my partner also picked this one because of the title, if you’re seeing a theme here. This chapbook is tender! I first read it in 2020 for a book club and my feelings stayed mostly the same. (Side note: my copy of Family Lore will be here soon and I can’t waitttt to read Acevedo’s adult fiction debut)
Day 5: Paring by Travis Chi Wing Lau
This chapbook had been on my TBR for a while. I feel like collections like this are exactly why chapbooks exist (and are so great, tbh!) Each poem adds another piece to the mosaic that is Paring. And I am always a sucker for a love poem at the end of a book.
Day 6: blac·ademic by Aris Kian Brown
If the current Houston Poet Laureate is not on your radar, she should be. I got a copy of blac·ademic back in 2021, but you can (and should!) access the visual EP here. These poems are expansive and the poet’s introspection is sharp. I always appreciate poetry that contends with what it means to be a part of the world.
Day 7: The End of the Alphabet by Claudia Rankine
So perhaps I shouldn’t have put this on the stack of books, because after just one section, I knew this wasn’t a “read in one day” kind of book. But ultimately I am glad I read it! I’m looking forward to my partner’s thoughts on it later today.
I have read Citizen quite a few times, and I read Don’t Let Me Be Lonely at the start of the year, so I was interested in seeing what Rankine’s more formally “traditional” work was like. Of course, I was wrong, and the form of this collection is also hybrid in a way. There were parts that I definitely needed to spend more time with. Overall, though, the arc was incredibly written. Even if I didn’t quite comprehend everything, I felt the pleasure, the heartbreak, the joy, the wonder.
My Sealey Challenge takeaways so far:
I’m clearing out my TBR that built up during thesis time
Poetry is becoming (even more?) a daily part of my relationship
I am writing poems again!!
Rereads of poetry are so magic— poems have a way of showing you different things each time you read
Difficult books are fine— so long as I make note to return to them after the challenge!
It’s okay, and actually good, to admit when you don’t know or understand something!
Some other things I’m up to:
fifth wheel press published a piece very near and dear to me. It’s a personal essay blended with a review of three of Samantha Irby’s books. Content warnings for parental death, suicide, and pandemic talks. Here’s “Reading Samantha Irby, Laughing til I Cry”
I wrote about 10 trans poetry collections I love for Chicago Review of Books
I’m teaching a workshop, Writing Queer and Trans Joy, with Abode Press! Full description here.
Suits Corner: Season 5 should be called Suits: this time, with even more misogyny!
What are y’all reading? Do our lists have overlap? Is there something from that massive stack I should bump up to next week?
Time for me to hit send without checking for typos!!!!
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I’m sure they don’t mind me saying he is not the biggest reader of poetry collections. (We had the same high school english teacher and boy do I get it)
I’m going to stop here to avoid getting into stuff I should save for my therapist
back to how poetry is taught— it’s a disservice to hammer in what a poem is about rather than what it expresses or how the reader feels (in my humble opinion of course)
I say this to combat 7 years of academic poetry brain wiring