30/30 Project

Welcome to the 30/30 Project, an extraordinary challenge and fundraiser for Tupelo Press, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) literary press. Each month, volunteer poets will run the equivalent of a “poetry marathon,” writing 30 poems in 30 days, while the rest of us “sponsor” and encourage them every step of the way.

To read more about the Tupelo Press 30/30 project, including a complete list of our wonderful volunteer poets and to read their poems, please click here.

The nine volunteers for September 2014 are Heather Bourbeau, Harmony Button, Sam Cha, Merie Kirby, Emily van Kley, Lisa Ludden, David Rawson, Leslie Contreras Schwartz, and Jessica Walsh. Read their full bios by clicking here.

Please follow their work (by clicking “Follow” on the bottom of the page), and feel free to acknowledge their generosity and creativity with a show of your admiration and support by donating on their behalf to Tupelo Press. (Click here to donate, scroll down to the form at the bottom, and put a contributor’s name in the “honor” field.) Just imagine what a challenge it is to write 30 new poems in 30 days!

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If you’d like to volunteer for a 30/30 Project month, please contact ksweet@tupelopress.org with your offer, a brief bio, and three sample poems and warm up your pen!


Day 1 / Poems 1


Along the Nile / by Heather Bourbeau

Ten years ago,
before the protests,
before the disguised military takeover,
I bought a used photo album
at a bouquiniste along the Nile

From the 40s, maybe earlier—
skirt lengths and propriety
said it could not later—
it had a puffed cover
with hand-tinted antique photo
of the banks of the great river,
and black and white images
tenderly held in place
with pasted corner stickers
of faded grey

Ex-pats—likely British—
posing with drinks in gardens,
on holiday at swimming holes,
in pressed suits and hand-sewn dresses,
in a Cairo unrecognizable,
before the coup, the Free Officers Movement,
before these men and women
—family or friends or comrades in exile—
chose to return
to the comfort of their culture,
or were forced to flee
and leave sentimentality behind.

I wanted to research,
to dive into their world
—foreign and familiar—
to glimpse more directly
into another time, same place,
another culture
within a culture,
to write their collective story
that seemed so unique—
so foolishly discarded

Two months after our mother died,
my brother and I sifted
through decades of albums, loose photos,
memories—some grand, some banal,
some unknown to us.

In one afternoon,
we divided the stacks between us—
our family captured in emulsion and paper,
tucked behind yellowing cellophane
from corner drugstores,
concerned only with our memories,
with what we wanted to pass
down to friends, children,
other relatives

Images of laughter, pride,
transitions from child to adult,
from house to house,
from young to old.
Snapshots of the goodness that was there,
that was overwhelmed
(after or in the moment)
by the pain and longing
dominating our family’s small narrative

We do not photograph the hardness,
the tension between son and father,
mother and self—
there is no need.
Just as we do not document waking
or brushing one’s teeth
or how your skin breathes.

Perhaps, when my British left,
they did not want a memory—
too painful, too beautiful—
of a life they did not really live,
a glorification of a world
that would never exist again.




Tornado warning / by Sam Cha

Tonight the air isn’t only air. How many
drops of water dot my clavicle.

What is the key of my body. What room
does it unlock. What lives there.

I sit under the umbrella and wait for thunder.
I am small and dense and mostly only

what I am. Still sometimes the world
speaks through me. The world is things

and the movement of things. Rattle truck
and subway sigh. Heft of brick and air

and rust. Here, where starlings huddle under
bare metal tables, pick at the remnants

of the day. Crackercrumbs, ash, acorns.
I should be the ponytail and beard scuttling

over the sidewalk singing a little bit stranger,
a little bit harder, voice angled against

the rain. But how strange to be anything
at all, a thing that knows the names of things.


Dear Vincent / by Merie Kirby

I came back three times to that corner
of the National Gallery in London,
to A Wheatfield, with Cypresses, 1889.

I was with my mother, who stood
similarly transfixed by the Monets.
Oh, we looked at everything that day,

but the room your paintings hung in –
your famous bedroom with chair,
the Two Crabs with their revelation

of blue-greens and red-oranges,
sharing space with the waterlilies,
the train station, and other works

from the last third of the 1800s,
that time when light and color
seemed to fracture,

glisten, pixellate, and surge before
the new century –
that room bristled and hummed.

And the wheat field was no exception,
meringue clouds being whipped in the sky,
the golden stalks about to crash like waves,

and the cypresses, deep fir-green lit with blues,
reaching up and up above everything else,
tumult and strength and effort

is what I felt, whether it came
from the painting or my viewing
or some arrangement between us.

I read your letters,
the ones you wrote to Theo
and to others. I read them for a class,

years ago. We sat around a table,
talking about you and your art
and the things you said.

I could have stood up, left the classroom,
the building, the campus, and walked,
my feet already bare,

and in 15 minutes been standing
at the ocean, smelling
of the eucalyptus trees

I walked through to get there,
soles bruised from the hard buttons
they throw on the ground,

hair blown, ears filled
with surf and gulls, and surely
it would have felt like this,

like standing in a field of ripe wheat
in 1889 watching a cypress
resist the wind.


Aurora / by Emily van Kley

The road demanded focus—
blacktop gnawed by snow & thaw,

nonsensical seams of bedrock,
eruptions of maple root

so sudden they could launch
a station wagon, wreck its rims.

It was always dark. We always
sped. So the lights were a problem

when they came—snaked the sky
alien green, sharpened

the torn-paper pines black
at the edges, pulsed with mottled

violet if at the hest
of a technician’s knob.

I watched as if I was leaving.
I was always leaving.

So I craned the windshield,
swerved & neglected

to swerve. I let the road
rattle my jaw until my tongue

bled. Leave long enough
& you may no longer

be from anywhere.
Some people like to watch

the dark flare behind
their eyelids. That is one way.


Continuation / by Lisa Ludden

In the intimate mind of morning, the distance between you and the task isn’t far,
nor the heaviness of reality. Pressing, constant pressing.

A lean shift between asleep and awake, what begins as a slight translucent glow
overwhelms, unfurling the sky.

In the stillness, the quiet isn’t silence. The brain is always talking.
A halt in the breath, a lull in words, perhaps, but the brain is talking.

It isn’t easy to sit and believe in your thoughts. Wariness often undoes your strength.

The question of comfort, and the luxury of time is really the task of acknowledging
what is present and must be spoken of.

The world is brutal and beautiful and has always been the will of mankind.
Still, albeit in the safety of observation, something must be said.


28 / by David Rawson

In this state, your license is good until 2051.
In 2051, you will be 65, handing a girl in cut-offs a picture of a young man
who could be your grandson. In 2051, you will be Bizarro Dorian Gray,
which is to say in 2051, you will be nothing but yourself.
In this state, bars can demand your license instead of a passport.
In this state, bars can demand your license be the new license,
some vertical thing, you gather from the bartender who says she’ll let it slide
this one time.

In this state, 100 dollar bills are blue, with long vertical strips running parallel
to Benjamin Franklin’s face. In this state, Benjamin Franklin’s smile is up to something.
In this state, you and your girlfriend trace hearts on each other’s bodies while you both
try to remember who is on the 10. In this state, all the Alexander Hamiltons have been folded,
each with one long crease along the bill, masking Hamilton’s mouth.

Someone on the street should shout, Money should not have mouths.
This to you seems like the kind of thing someone on the street should say.
A list is circulating your newsfeed about books to read in your 20s.
In 2 years, you will be one Andrew Jackson and one Alexander Hamilton. In 2 years,
there will be a new list of new books. There will be so many new Buzzfeed tests to take.

You have stopped correcting people who ask your major. When people ask
how your summer was, you respond as if this is a normal thing to ask.
While the students were gone, everything closed by 8. Now you can stay out til 2.
Remember when you contemplated China with a fire in your brain?
Remember when you refused to call this city a city? By this time next year,
there will be 5 more pizza places in this city. You will never go without pizza.

Remember that culture means pizza, that culture means tattoo shops and a bar
for every mood. Remember that you are a killjoy, that you made the same complaints
about the last city, that you could spend the next Hamilton unfolding maps and tracing creases.
Snap out of it. Someone on the street should say, Snap out of it.

In this state, you’ll never enjoy this city. Remember when you were just 25 cents?
Remember when you could balance on edge, perfectly vertical, like a cactus in some hot desert?
Someone on the street should say, Keep the change. I liked things the way they were.
Someone on the street is a liar with a folded picture in his pocket. Someone just won’t learn.


Sent For / by Leslie Contreras Schwartz

In the bed of trucks under cartons,
In the back of eighteen-wheelers
rattling teeth and dark
heat, no water but sweat
laying on top of

laying under other
bodies and hoping that

they are somebodies bodies
who don’t slit
her throat when she crawls

out into the giant window of sun

Afraid to close her eyes
to the dark – it blooms

as the road lengthens

If they close, she might
give it
Up. Never for herself –

to stay in a house made of sticks.
There is her son who she sent
ahead, already the sunken eyes,

soil pouring out of his
mouth, even before the 5,000
dollars she spent to save him, the
ashen, soil scattered with bone chips
and tar. It will eat everyone’s teeth

like honey, gold as the sun she steps
out into, those eyes she keeps open
Lakes of darkness
sticks skimming the surface

As she walks, she is swimming
beneath a skein of other bodies
mouth, every part open
she cannot but help taste
sweetness of surviving


The Tantalus Asterisk / by Jessica Walsh

The punishment of Tantalus is
the limit of his reach. Pity him:
working odds, drilling fast twitch
muscles, squatting and stretching,
choosing the cream or the clear
with no calendar handy,
believing he can beat
whatever strange machine
the gods have crafted.
He practices to become
the first different one.
The punishment of Tantalus
is the hope he brought with him.




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