Last weekend I participated in Bread Loaf’s Sunday Salon reading series. The reading took place at Jimmys 43 in New York City. A charming, intimate room under the bar. It felt incredibly good to read with such good company. Felt good to chat with the audience (I apologize for that one poem I read from my phone—thank you for sitting through that). Readings make me feel, you know, like a writer. Like things are moving, things are happening—hey look, my MFA is paying off.
Then the reading’s over. I eat plant-based pizza with friends, followed by a nap before my bus back to Boston. Heavy on my mind lately is all the writing I’ve not been doing. Writing is what makes us writers, no? Why is the admin work surrounding my forthcoming book starting to feel poetic?
Not writing brings me back to a poem I fell in love with last year: “In Tongues” by Tonya M. Foster. “Because you haven’t spoken / in so long, the tongue stumbles and stutters, / sticks to the roof and floor as if the mouth were just / a house in which it could stagger like a body unto itself.” This is what it feels like. Not writing. Not being able to speak. Not only is “In Tongues” a remembrance of music’s ability—it’s a reminder that we must be thankful for the ability to speak effortlessly. Though melancholic in its overall story on one not being able to speak, Tonya Foster’s poem gives it an exciting jazz element. The second section of the poem calls on music and continues with the alliteration of the first section. “What to say when one says, / “You’re sooo musical,” takes your stuttering for scatting, / takes your stagger for strutting, / takes your try and tried again for willful / playful deviation? / It makes you not wanna holla / silence to miss perception’s face.” The second stanza, again, encompasses a similar sound with stuttering, scatting, stagger, and strutting. Scatting gives us noise of a jazz scat. “It makes you not wanna holla” adds a dramatic lift to “takes your try and tried again,” painting a compelling image of the genuine attempts to make a sound, and the heartbreak in not wanting to try to communicate with those who make a mockery of the attempt.
“In Tongues” pushes me to pay attention to a voice outside of myself. The voice in this poem, as with the voice I am currently in search of, is working as struggle, as being taken away, being placed in and outside of the body. I am grateful for the opportunity to go back to my words at a reading. It’s an exercise in waiting.
“hang on/ keep your silence/ until the words/ ripen/ in you.” -Pablo Neruda
-Shauna Barbosa, 2017 Writers’ Room of Boston Fellow