The Operating System

POETRY MONTH 30/30/30: Inspiration, Community, Tradition: Day 11 :: Pamela Laskin on Samantha Reiser

I have been enormously inspired by the work of my daughter, the poet Samantha Reiser. This might seem like an odd choice, since I am her Mom, and usually it works the other way around. Samantha Reiser recently completed her degree at Harvard College, where she was an English Concentrator. TOMAS SIMON AND OTHER POEMS, her senior thesis, was a finalist for the Yale Younger Poetry Prize for 2012, and her work has been published in SIC, THE ONE THREE EIGHT, LYRE, LYRE and THE J JOURNAL. Her essay, “Namibian Shoes” is included in the anthology, IT’S ALL ABOUT SHOES. She has been a poetry judge for the NYC Poetry Festival for several years, and she volunteers her time as a rape crisis advocate.

World Teach School in Ondangwa, Namibia

Samantha has opened up the door for me to start thinking of poetry outside of the box of my immediate surroundings. Samantha’s poetry lives and breathes in the world, since her concerns are about humanity, social injustice, women’s rights, both on a national and international level. Two summers ago, Samantha was a teacher for World Teach and was stationed in Ondangwa, Namibia. She also had great joy here, including establishing a relationship with her Namibian mother, Meme, who is often mentioned in her writing. This experience has informed much of her passionate work, evident in these two poems:
Nongolo, Namibia
The baby fell into a boiling pot,
the man was drunk and crashed the car.
Up the road, the woman walks around with AIDS.
Anna walks around with weight in her eyes, in the mirror
A somber emulate of Kahlo. Meme tells me: so is life.
The memorial service is no more interesting
than the prayers sung the night before.
Ruth likes the gravestone with the most number of shapes.
A triangle whose top is eclipsed by a circle
for the date of death. Sorrow is normal,
take solace in intensity. We, too, can feel.
Ondangwa, Namibia
It stood in the leftmost
corner. We never gave it milk.
Behind the potato fields,
within the barn,
the dune field revealing unopened land.
Died, awoke.
Beside the house,
No one was surprised to find
the chicken and dogs in fight, the wood chopping,
fire raucous with moving houses.
The people gathered around sand
to discuss the fifty nine ways
to feel a loss.
To stand in front of these colors
is to trace their winter-
is to become wild.
Release and watch it unwilt.
A silent crawler.
I fear my own thievery, taking
this picture to awaken.
Samantha’s diction; her passion; the way in which she interjects “art” into her art (Rothko and Kahlo are both artists, whose names appear in her poetry on more than one occasion), have allowed me to expand the horizon’s of my own work, so that my future hope is to write more politically-inspired poetry.
This is my poem, which speaks volumes in terms of the way I have been challenged by my daughter’s daring diction:
to Samantha Rose, 21
I dig
for words
in dungeons of darkness-
murky oceans
where sentences swim
among barnacles
algae sponges
and anemones;
sometimes the water stinks
like sewers
from which I scrape the rust of my mother
Your seeds
grow abundantly
fermented in rich soils
begonias bloom,
pollinated in faraway landscapes:
Namibian nuances
Jerusalem juices
irises from Istanbul,
abundance of flowers
secret gardens
rare fragrances
reading you
writing me.
Pamela Laskin is the Director of The Poetry Outreach Center, a longstanding and well loved faculty member at CCNY/CUNY [25 years and counting!], and the published author of five books of poetry [Ed: not to mention her extensive production of children’s literature, fiction, and other forms, including 2011’s VISITATION RITES, from Diversion Press.] We are pleased to announce that TRIBES will be publishing DARING/DAUGHTERS/DEFIANT DREAMS later this Spring.
{Editor’s note: Pam is a delight to encounter in the dreary halls and offices that serve the always full to bursting CCNY’s English Department – those arteries of the riot-proof, airless “NAC”, or, North Academic  Center. Her energy is remarkable — she is tireless in her work with youth via the Poetry Outreach Center, and with undergraduates and graduates alike. Not to mention fellow faculty! Her morning gift of a bag of bagels is always a welcome brightener for many beleaguered adjuncts, and there’s no better representation of how Pam, busier than anyone you know, is somehow still always looking for ways to make it better for the community. She is a beacon of behavior, and we’re pleased as punch to have her here, sharing her genetic bounty with her entry on her daughter’s work, and some of her own. I’ll be reading alongside many from the poetry community at the 40th Annual Poetry Festival , the Outreach Center’s piece de resistance, and a true labor of love for Pam. Come support!}

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