HomeAboutMastheadJoin POW ListserveDonateArchive
Sean Singer


Sean Singer
Embers of Smoldering Homes

It is a major war from
a manufacturing plant
near Ciudad Juárez, a concrete
dust smell from the maquiladoras
cools. There is a pool
of liquid forming
on the stone floor.
When Érika Gándara, the only
cop in Guadalupe Distrito Bravos
was killed the buzzards
were fucking in the wind.
See the brown ribs poking
through the side
of the hound, behind
the broken refrigerator.
The dog is looking for a guaco
leaf, or Saint Teresa.
She has not been seen
since two days before
Christmas. A painting
of the black Mary is wrapped
in plastic wrap, next to the rifle.
Who else is wrapped
in plastic, like drug baggies
or a piece of flesh: Praxédis, Leticia,
Esperanza, Hermila, Felicitas,
Lourdes, Elvira, Gabriela, Elsa Luz...
The body has been in the desert
for at least nine days.
A wire chicken coop,
a plaster wall, she vests herself
and waits for you like a hand
stripped of a moving world.
A hand stripped of a moving
world waits for you.
It snaps its fingers
on 2 and 4, a "black snap"
or a sponginess encased
in desire. The fleshy leaves
of the agave bend a white
feather on a girl's brow.
The goatskin deflates
by the opening where,
lashed to itself, she pulls
back her flat breath,
her brittle and meager
clavicle unscrew the pain.
A niña's rose black edge
stumps the coroner
who says something is striking
me, my chrome raindrop,
my jacaranda, pouch of bone.
In Dublin, Ohio,
a sortie of jackals
split the scissors behind the mask
mouth and "cut loose"
for a long needle-devouring night
into the rawhide axis
of dawn, of dung and ashes.
If the word Mexico means
"Place at the Center of the Moon"
then these fabric fireflies
and jutting hips are perfumed
honeyed vibrato moans
and the manic cartels
slice their own heads,
cancer-eaten, like a faceless jaw
snapping the desert moon.
We didn't meet in Mexico's
dark carbon, stretching palpitations
in black armor but a wooden
column of the archangel
who witnesses casually
the teporochos who eat genitals
and fuck watermelons.
When you take the last bus
to Piedras Negras a bullet
has struck the remaining tissue
not of livestock or bodyguard
but the moon's own leather aorta.

Put On All the Lights

Three of the R&B singers took refuge in the darkest plush of Bamako nightclub. A sound erupted between them. Here the velveteen memory grows weak, so I don't know if it was a fight or a wakeup call. But I can still see one of the women they had abandoned, standing by the bar, with its ochre padding and brass pins, yelping like a ragga, her hair thrust out like a pool, fighting for supremacy. Her ping-like crystal yells proclaimed above the fizzling light...Was she a victim? I have no idea. The gods of noise--her sisters--had condemned her to the backwoods of AM; but the chandelier above her head, hailed its beams like dust upon her head.

Ancestors Who Came to New York Harbor From An Extinguished Past

Ellis Island is a little ochre stone
at the bottom of a cloud.

I'm not furrier staring at the fox-colored
sunset. I'm not a women's shoe salesman

going from happiness to unhappiness
and then from unhappiness back to happiness.

Clothed in black wool like black castles
sparks flew off their lapels in a blossoming town.

Think of Jews envying chocolates and cheeses,
their eyes speaking piles of lady's-shoe-heelism

then become worms in an absent city floating
in the inky tea and a silver evening.

On Kazimierz street there's a bar called Singer.
Its sofa pillows, leafy wallpaper, and velvets

remind us that we constantly peer
into fathoms of unfathomednesses.

A slender girl in mulberry stockings
has proven that the dead have a homeland

among the arcades. She's a clairvoyant
of human vapor, the grey spine of a penciled world.


       -from Honey and Smoke (Eyewear Publishing 2015), selected by Guest Editor, T.R. Hummer


In Sean Singer's "Embers of Smoldering Homes," Singer examines violence bird's-eye-view. Though his images and language conjure emotions in the reader, the speaker him/her/itself is strikingly dispassionate. This dichotomoy between speaker and subject arouses an even more unsettling sensation in the reader than, perhaps, might be otherwise. 

Compose a poem that generates a similar dichotomy between the subject and the way the speaker describes the subject. You can do this with voice, image, metaphor, whatever works. 


Sean Singer (born 1974 in Guadalajara, Mexico) is an American poet. His second book, Honey & Smoke, was released by Eyewear Publishing in 2015, and his first book, Discography, won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition and the Norma Farber First Book Award in 2001. He lives in New York City.


From: Mis-Writing Race Is a Failure of the Imagination by Sean Singer, first published at The Rumpus


I did not attend AWP this year; nonetheless, I feel compelled to respond to the debate.

Poems are about celebrating and confronting their subject matter and their attitude toward the world. In my opinion, a writer should show affection for the universe in a piece of writing.

All societies have their psychopathic elements, and America is psychopathological about race. I think it is irresponsible to ignore race in a piece of writing either in terms of content, form, psychological space, point-of-view, theme, or historical perspective. In both my creative and academic work I write about race frequently, either as a triumphant view of jazz culture, or as a critique of, for example, the immense problems facing the black metropolis of Newark, New Jersey.

The advantages of writing about race are plentiful: you stake a claim against the national psychosis, you put your facility with language to work for social justice, and, if you’re white, you remove the cobwebs of white privilege from your eyes. I don’t think a writer should ignore the question.

Everyone has a right to his or her opinion, but those who are informed have more of a right. For someone to claim that almost all poems about race come from a person of color’s point-of-view is patently absurd. If anything, the exact opposite is true. The default speaker of many poems from Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams to John Ashbery and Billy Collins is that of the egocentric, androcentric white male sitting in the living room and gazing out the window and marveling—all the while being subtly superior—at the world. To pretend that race is a force majeure and beyond the scope of such poems that on the surface have no racial element is historically inaccurate. Such poems are at best acts of bullying; that is trying to control the reader’s feelings without revealing his own. At worst they are part of the ludicrous racial psychopathology that responsible writers must try to overturn.

Besides being a poet, I am a scholar working in American Studies, and therefore am interested in historical facts. It is facile to assume that the speaker in the poem is the same as the poet, but from the time we begin to read as children and continuing to the time beyond when we have our precious MFA degrees and are taking part in the ridiculous literary marketplace, we do not pause to question the vicious and relentless invisibility of race in what we read and write. 
Poetry Spotlight: Contributor Sean Singer by Nomi Stone, first published at Memorious
Tell me about the relationship between color and sound in your poems.

I never thought about their relationship before, but someone said that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” They’re conflicting streams of data. And you can’t really evoke music through language, which is static and inert. In fact, song lyrics work because their other half is the music pushing it forward. The other half of the language in a poem isn’t sound at all… it’s silence. It works by giving shape and meaning to the silence, the white part of the page. That’s what the reader has to contend with. Maybe one way I’ve tried to suggest sound is through color. Black, for example, can connect various threads of unrelated poems since they exist in related emotional spaces. My book begins with a black eyelid and ends with a black wolf exterior. There may be ways to address questions I don’t know by using color.

You summon Kafka, Camus, Freud, Bruno Schultz, Scott Joplin, Hank Mobley Ken Burns, and other intellectuals and artists into your collection. How do these particular individuals’ processes of making and thinking relate to your own?

My subject is often the meaning of creativity, or the process of making a piece of writing, or a piece of art. The figures you mention are sometimes characters through whom I can talk about the project of writing, the project of making poems, and the questions of being a writer or an artist. I resist the first person singular and would like to make a poem where there almost is no speaker at all, or a minimal one. Perhaps these figures are masks or voices through which I can let the speaker come through.

I’m interested in how bodily frailty manifests in the book — whether through illness or defect. Talk about the role of the body in this collection.

Again, you’ve touched on something I never considered. Being stuck inside a body is awful, and it inevitably breaks down. I can’t pretend at 40 that I’m the same, physically, as I was 20 years ago. I used to drink all night, stay up all night working. Now, after one or two I want to collapse. If you paid me a million dollars and gave me six months to practice I couldn’t touch my toes. Forget it. Maybe one of the reasons for a poem to exist is to try to get some permanence to what could otherwise be impermanent. On the other hand, life is almost too long for most people. Right now there are elderly people complaining about buffet tables and playing shuffleboard on cruise ships. They’re waiting out the clock. I never want to talk about myself in a poem, but Kafka, for instance, was a perfect subject through which to address it.

To continue reading, please click here:  https://memoriousmag.wordpress.com/2015/10/13/poetry-spotlight-contributor-sean-singer/

                   Click here for an interview
                  Click here for a reading

Click here to buy Singer's books

Sean Singer

Enter supporting content here