Kwame Alexander

Kwame Alexander: Tenth Anniversary Issue

Tenth Anniversary Issue: A Tribute to Guest Editors
Volume 11:1, Winter 2010

Guest Editor, “The Science of Love,” Spring 2007


Kwame writes:
“1988: I attended a master writing class in Atlanta, taught by creative luminaries like Bill Duke, Cicely Tyson, Douglass Turner Ward, and Spike Lee. There were about 10 of us—college students—from around the country selected for the program. Several are now professional writers, some actors Off-Broadway, one even a television star. My most vivid memory of this awesome experience is me sharing a poem, about some trite concern, and proudly boasting that I was a Writer (capital W intentional), and the playwright Charles Fuller asking me had I written anything meaningful? More importantly, had I finished anything? Then me not feeling so awesome anymore.

1992: It’s Your Mug was a coffeehouse on P Street in Georgetown (DC) that turned into a poetry church on Wednesday Night. Many names, small and big, took communion at those teeming open mics. There was a kid, one Wednesday, who was halfway through a trite poem about…well, let’s just say this poem was foul-mouthed and simply looking for attention. It was offensive, abusive, and probably needed to be tried and jailed. While the faithful congregation sat appalled, and silent, I suddenly became the judge delivering a sermon. “Cut!” I yelled. He stopped. Everyone looked. Perplexed. At me. At him. “That’s enough,” I explained. Later, two poets told me that what I’d done wasn’t cool, and what was I thinking by disrespecting the mic. I thought of Charles Fuller. ‘Write a poem that cooks,’ I mumbled, which confused them even more.

2004: A poem came out of these experiences, which I read first at a poetry event in tribute to Langston Hughes at the then-City Museum of Washington, DC. The event was organized by Kim Roberts, literary chef of DC’s poetry gumbo. I include it here as a thank you, an acknowledgment, and a tribute to the dynamic opportunities that Roberts and Beltway Poetry have provided to poets like myself.”

From the Editor:
“Kwame Alexander is the only guest editor who asked me if he could edit an issue. I’m not sure if he would have been so anxious had he known how much work was involved! But since I had been thinking of tapping him anyway (unbeknownst to him), I was thrilled to hear of his interest. His terrific Science of Love Issue was published in Spring 2007. In addition, Kwame was a featured poet in 2001, and contributed an essay on Langston Hughes for the first literary history issue, Memory and Influence, in Fall 2003. Kwame, like so many of my guest editors, has distinguished himself as a publisher and an organizer of literary events, and I’ve relied on his fine advice innumerable times.



write a poem with tension…like some baptist church split…let it walk a tightrope…between congregation one…and congregation two…write a poem that finishes school…a magna cum laude poem…let it be momentous…learn something meaningful…share something significant…write a poem that looks good…not homely or swaybacked…give it posture, poise and profile…turn our heads when it walks by…stomp our feet when it smiles…on some superficial level…make us want to marry it or at least…remember its name the next morning…write a poem that works…write a poem that works…has a job and does it…promptly… follows rules and responsibilities… gets a raise or at least a head nod…and when it’s not feeling well…give it sense enough to call in sick…and not waste our time with unmet expectations…write a poem that has a family…not some single life of one-night stands…i mean your poem should be in a serious relationship…let it commit to something…move beyond soap opera sex…let it be passionate…about something…and if it gets excited…if it just has to get physical…let it be in the privacy of it’s own beautiful mind….cause we can watch cable at home…write a poem that travels…gets outside of your cramped apartment…leaves all that tired baggage…and catches a plane somewhere…takes us on a journey to an imagination… spawned not by television and film…but one that has been somewhere we haven’t…write a poem that reads…please… write…a…poem…that…reads…more than headlines and sitcom credits…a cultured poem…write a poem that knows how to talk…not some misbehaving foul-mouth looking for attention…an eloquent poem…write a poem that dances…wild and free…naked on the floor…a gutsy poem…write a poem that cooks…i mean it ain’t got to bake a cake…but at least know the ingredients…write a poem that exercises…i mean cycling is not required…but steps never hurt nobody…write a poem that runs for office…i mean it ain’t got to win…but at least campaign…get a clue poets…write a poem with an inkling of suspicion…i mean it ain’t got to solve a crime…but let it at least offer a tip…write a poem that is contagious…write a poem that is contagious…write a poem that is contagious…let it inspire…make us…want to write a poem…about how brilliant…and breathtaking…and tragic…and hopeful…life is.


Kathy Keler, "Seeing Through," 2008, acrylic and alkyd on canvas,  24" x 20"

Kathy Keler, “Seeing Through,” 2008, acrylic and alkyd on canvas, 24″ x 20″


the world is not so beautiful
the flowers waste water

the women can no longer find their song
the children refuse to play

there are no men to teach to love
the ground inside collapses

the coldest winter screams
the summer burns red

the sea is full of blues
and the sky opens up

At least I’ll have poetry
a gathering of words

a get-together of emotions
a font of ideas

hope with wings
poems that fly


for samaraca

If you were a ladder
I’d climb you

Way up to the top
and I’d find you

If you were a doorway
I’d enter you

If you were unhinged
I’d center you

If you were a secret
I’d uncover you

Then seek out your treasure
rediscover you

If you were in front
I’d behind you

Pour out some espresso
and grind you

Let’s say you’re a Bossa
I’d hum you

Play you on guitar
and then strum you

If you weren’t my wife
I’d wed you

Then pull out a quilt
and I’d bed you

But, since you’re my woman
I’ll just love you

And kiss that sweet halo
above you




Kwame Alexander is a poet, publisher, and an award-winning producer of literary programs. Dubbed a "phenom" in the poetry world by The Charleston (SC) City Paper, Alexander has written for television, the stage, and authored 13 books including the best-selling Do The Write Thing: 7 Steps to Publishing Success, And Then You Know: New & Selected Poems, and a young adult title, Crush: Love Poems. He speaks, and conducts writing/publishing workshops at schools and conferences throughout the country. Alexander resides in the Washington, DC area, where he produces the annual Capital BookFest, in Largo, MD, Charleston, SC, and Harrisburg, PA. He currently serves as Founding Director of Book-in-a-day, a literacy program that teaches high school students how to write poetry and publish a book—in one day. The Kwame Alexander Papers, a collection of his writings, correspondence, and other professional and personal documents is held at the George Washington University Gelman Library. To read more by this author: Kwame Alexander: Winter 2001 Kwame Alexander on Langston Hughes: Memorial Issue Kwame Alexander's Introduction to The Science of Love Issue, Spring 2007