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Fred Joiner

About the Poet

Fred Joiner is a poet and curator living in Bamako, Mali.

His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Callaloo, Gargoyle, and Fledgling Rag, PLUCK! among other publications.

Joiner is a two-time winner of the Larry Neal Award for Poetry and recipient of an Artist Fellowship Winner from the D.C. Commission on the Arts & Humanities. As a curator, Joiner has worked with the American Poetry Museum, Belfast Exposed Gallery (Northern Ireland), Hillyer Artspace, Honfleur Gallery, Medina Galerie (Bamako, Mali), the Phillips Collection, Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art, and more.

He is the co-founder of The Center for Poetic Thought in the Brookland neighborhood of Washington, D.C.



Spring 2016 »

the sound of St. Mary’s City

for Dr. Michael Glaser, Sekou Sundiata and Lucille Clifton

What does my DC bop and sway
mean in the quiet rhythms
of this place?

the river swinging into it banks
the same way for the last billion years*

every tree standing
its ground, keeping time
like a slow walking bass

and what said the dark,
slim country road,
but a slow muted “So What
to my sidewalk swagger?

Here, the soundtrack
to my citified pomp
is swallowed by the song
of every blade of grass,
bending to the wind’s breath, all

my stone faced stillness
rippled away a like a pebble
kissing a pond in the wilderness

*from Sekou Sundiata’s Forsaken Sea



Speakin' in Tongues

Driving through Sterling’s part of town, I
always think about the tongue. Not the tongue
always speaking (and heard), but the tongue, under that tongue
which is under the heel of an empire of tongues. . The language
of the displaced is always folk talk. Creole. Gullah

From the car
I hear the spit and tack of nail guns securing
walls, pillars all things that divide, or I hear the grumble and roar
of the beast that moves brown soil like the flesh left behind
after the scrape and peel meeting
of brown skin and pale concrete.

I like to think I speak only one tongue,
a benevolent sound, perhaps this too is a delusion,
as if my tongue speaks from some Otherwhere,
as if I break step with empire. Maybe this lie
helps me believe that the sound of my tongue’s
talk doesn’t hammer to dust, the voice there before it,
the hope that my tongue doesn’t give voice to the tongue
that conquers.



“How do you keep your heart soft?”

the whole room squirms against the stillness,
the movement has moved us no closer to answering
that question, but I sit in certainty, knowing
that the heart is not a muscle,
..........but aches as if it were.
It came so easily, from the audience,
after we read poems after Botero’s brush,
steeped in the madness of Abu Ghraib.
..........but a thick silence unstills the air
over us, like blood trapped in a keloid,
remembering the whisper of the lash,
I dare not break the skin of this silence,
instead I remember that flesh feels,
but doesn’t always make memory,
& that the ear uses the whole body to listen.




If it were only that simple,
but the cut always leaves someone
on the block unwanted,
unworked. What language
fills the bottomless gut, the flesh that sells,
cut away from the bone of debt? The language
of cutting, a subtle lexicon, always
sounds kinder, gentler, than the trill blade
of an economy’s math.. . Soft, sayings
like human scale, like rightsizing,
like achieving efficiencies
hide the blade, hide the murder
that pen and protocol make, masked.



Fred Joiner ~


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