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New England Literary News

Posthumously published poems from Malcolm Miller in ‘No!’; Hussain Ahmed’s ‘Soliloquy with the Ghosts in Nile’; and more.

Late poet Malcolm Miller, who lived in Salem, has a new collection of poems.Rod Kessler

Posthumous work of Salem poet published in new chapbook “No!”

When Malcolm Miller died in Salem in 2014 at age 87, he didn’t leave behind much in his public housing apartment with the exception of a stash of cash and over 3,500 poems. Rod Kessler, professor emeritus at Salem State, has been sifting through Miller’s poetry trove; the first collection of his posthumous work, “What I Am Always Waiting For,” came out in 2020. Now, a new press in Salem called Derby Wharf Light Box has released a chapbook of more of Miller’s work called “No!” Derby Wharf Light Box was founded in 2020 by Javy Awan, publishing poetry chapbooks focusing on the North Shore in a booklet design inspired by the iconic City Lights Pocket Poets Series published by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. So far, they’ve published work by Claire Keyes, James Scrimgeour, and Awan. “No!” gathers more of Miller’s exuberant, humorous, and hugely wise work. These are lines from someone who took big joy from the world, its mysteries, its simple everyday pleasures: coffee, an orange, a seagull. “The philosophy/ department of/ tulsa oklahoma/ university believes/ sincerely life/ does/ have meaning/ all 16 members/ of the department/ back this,” he writes. Miller lived on the margins, and was able to get a sweeping, insightful perspective from there. “Most people cannot/ admit they have/ heard a dark language/ come out of/ the earth and wind/ to save them/ they turn/ on/ the television.”

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Nigerian poet and environmentalist captures grief and silence in new collection

In his new collection of poetry “Soliloquy with the Ghosts in Nile,” from the local press Black Ocean, Nigerian poet Hussain Ahmed gets at the incomprehensible permanence and permeability of death: “I scribbled the names of all my dead aunties on the wall. I listed their/ favorite fruits/ beside their names, with the thought that nothing would ever change/ about them.” The narrator of these poems moves through a world of war, of bullet holes and disruption, a world “revolving anticlockwise” — not backward, but outside time altogether. He attends to the mute and muted silence of grief. What is it to lose your tongue? Ahmed, also a translator and environmentalist, was the recipient of the Barry and Susan Hannah Award in 2021, and won last year’s Orison Poetry Prize. Amid the violence and the loss, Ahmed reveals reverence for certain silences, for the specific language spoken there. After all, “It takes silence/ to fathom what could be made into song.” Birds, flight, feathers; scars and fear, the black holes of bullet wounds; waters that soothe, transport, and drown; maps made, borders crossed and crossed back again: “Soliloquy” moves us through a landscape — inner, outer — of memory, beauty, and the dead, and asks, “How do you differentiate/ ghosts from shadows?”

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826 Boston calls for submissions from young Boston writers

The Youth Literary Advisory Board (YLAB) at writing and literacy organization 826 Boston is looking for work from Boston students in grades 7-12 to be included in a new book they’re creating. The project asks students to explore the mysteries of their own minds: What’s there? What thoughts fill your brain? What concerns, fears, joys, dreams, desires? How would your mind look if it was a bedroom? Is your mind changing as you shift from teenager to adult? How do you think about the expectations society places on you? What occupies the space between your ears as you move about your days? YLAB is looking for poems, narratives, essays, and original artwork on the theme “Inside the teenage mind: What exists in your head?” Submissions are due on Feb. 3, and members of YLAB — a nine-member group of Boston students who receive paid stipends for their work writing, editing, and peer advising — will select the pieces to be included in the book. For more information, visit 826boston.org/ylab.

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Coming out

“Collected Works” by Lydia Sandgren, translated from the Swedish by Agnes Broomé (Astra House)

“Call and Response” by Gothataone Moeng (Viking)

“Central Places” by Delia Cai (Ballantine)


Pick of the week

Jesse Hassinger at Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley recommends “Alive at the End of the World” by Saeed Jones (Coffee House): “Saeed Jones calls upon his experiences of life in the modern era as a queer Black man navigating internal and external threats, historic as well as futuristic, in an attempt to place himself within the confines of the social structure. Whether writing about “Saturday Night Live” or Little Richard’s exploitation within the record industry, Jones finds humor in pain and grace in loneliness, resulting in moments of love and exaltation that rise up without warning.”