Holly Bass

Two Poems

20th Anniversary Reflections

Holly Bass has been involved with the journal almost from its inception. She was first featured in Beltway Poetry Quarterly in Spring 2002, Volume 3:2, an early Portfolio Issue. Her work later appeared in four special themed issues: the Audio Issue (Fall 2008, Volume 9:4, guest edited by Katie Davis with Kim Roberts); the It’s Your Mug 15th Anniversary Issue (Summer 2009, Volume 10:3, guest edited by Toni Asante Lightfoot, and for which Bass also wrote the issue’s powerful introduction); the Langston Hughes Tribute Issue (Winter 2011, Volume 12:1, guest edited by Katy Richey with Kim Roberts); and the Sonnet Issue (Winter 2015, Volume 16:1, guest edited by Michael Gushue with Kim Roberts). Bass co-edited the Cave Canem 20thAnniversary Issue in Spring 2017 (Volume 18:2) with Joel Dias-Porter.

Bass writes, “Co-editing the Cave Canem issue with Joel Dias-Porter and working on the introduction for the It’s Your Mug issue reminded me of the incredible community of Black poets that DC has fostered and supported over many decades. Some of us went on to win Pulitzers and National Book Awards, others became teaching artists and community organizers, but before that we were fledgling writers posted up in tiny cafes, voraciously reading and fiercely critiquing each other. We were iron sharpening iron, simply for the love of words, spoken and written.”


Two Poems by Holly Bass

What’s Left

I remember her magnificent breasts,
proud, defined, always upright

the white support bras from Lomax’s ladies
department—solid, sturdy, cheap

no lace, no frills, no see-through mesh
not Victoria’s secret, not anyone’s secret

post-war, torpedo-point breasts
attentive, alert, secure

cash-keeping breasts, warm dollars
tucked between cleavage and seam

how did they dream, these bountiful breasts
what hope belied these full moons of flesh

what young boys, what married men
caressed that reckless, profligate breast

I lift what’s left

the sagging weight, gaping hospital gown,
and spy dried-apricot-sized knot of flesh

where once rose a righteous breast
now amnesia of flesh, now emptiness


Modern English

Why do lots of black people
say aks instead of ask?
“anonymous” on the web forum
wants to know

Theories abound but
the truth is rather complex:

How tongues shape sounds
hold centuries of hard habit
how it becomes comftable
even intergal to our being

No need to visit Colonial Williamsburg
and peer at white folk in knee breeches
the ‘hood has all the middle English
you could ever want

But why reverse the ‘s’ and ‘k’
anyway? when came the break?

Perhaps when slavery
metastasized into Jim Crow
eager to scrub the records clean
secret meetings of the New
American English Society decided
it was no longer revelant but relevant

Call in the calavry
the revolution is ‘bout to get
so ack like you know

And if you don’t know
you betta axe somebody


Holly Bass is a multidisciplinary performance and visual artist, writer and director. A Cave Canem fellow, she has published poems in numerous journals and anthologies, including Role Call, Full Moon on K Street: Poems About Washington, DC and The Ringing Ear, Black Poets Lean South. She studied modern dance (under Viola Farber) and creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College before earning her Master’s from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. She has received numerous grants from the DC Arts Commission and is a 2019 Red Bull Detroit artist-in-residence, a 2019 Dance/USA Artist Fellow and a 2019 Smithsonian Artist Research Fellow. A gifted and dedicated teaching artist, for four years she directed a year-round creative writing and performance program for adjudicated youth in DC’s Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services as well as facilitating workshops nationally and internationally. She is currently the national director for Turnaround Arts at the Kennedy Center, a program which uses the arts strategically to transform schools working to solve deep racial and economic inequities. To read more by this author: It's Your Mug Anniversary Issue, Vol. 10:2, Spring 2009 Introduction, It's Your Mug Anniversary Issue, Vol. 10:2, Spring 2009 Audio Issue, Vol. 9:4, Fall 2008 Five Poems, Vol. 3:2, Spring 2002