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Book Picks! Celebrating National Poetry Month with SDSU MFA Alumni Poets!

2021 marks the quadranscentennial of National Poetry Month. It has been on the calendar every April since 1996 and has grown into the world’s largest literary celebration. The American Academy of Poets initiated the annual observance and has been its primary mover. Their website states that it was created “to remind the public that poets have an integral role to play in our culture and that poetry matters.”

The SDSU library supports this pro-poetry proposition, and we’d like to join this year’s celebration by spotlighting some of the fabulous poets who have sharpened their skills here at San Diego State! And how could such budding wordsmiths not have benefitted from their time in SDSU’s Creative Writing Program, given the top-notch talents of the faculty? For example, only two books of poetry made it onto the American Library Association’s 2020 list of Notable Books, and poets who had taught at SDSU wrote both of them!

The SDSU MFA Program in Creative Writing is itself a bit older than National Poetry Month; it celebrated its 30th anniversary during the Fall 2019 semester. Nonetheless, the program’s great literary traditions continue to be strong, and the library appreciates the opportunity to honor and promote them. The following is a short list of some impressive poetry collections by SDSU MFA alumni. We hope that you will enjoy exploring the work of these writers and that you will think of this list as a starting place from which to explore more of their work as well as the work of other great writers who have honed their skills at SDSU.

Thank you for reading! We hope you enjoy National Poetry Month!

The Flayed City by Hari AlluriThe Flayed City by Hari Alluri (Kaya Press, 2017)

In addition to The Flayed City, Hari Alluri is the author of Carving Ashes (CiCAC, 2013) and the chapbook The Promise of Rust (Mouthfeel, 2016). His work has also been featured in Massachusetts Review, POETRY, and Wildness. He has received the Federico Moramarco Poetry International Teaching Prize, and he also co-founded Locked Horn Press. Writing in The Los Angeles Review of Books, Dr. Mark Young describes The Flayed City as “Hari Alluri’s multifaceted, multicultural rumination on the personal attachments and cultural memories of the modern city.” Marilyn Chin calls Hari Alluri “one of the best young poets writing today.” https://harialluri.com/

How to Pull Apart the Earth by Karla CorderoHow to Pull Apart the Earth by Karla Cordero (Not a Cult, 2018)

Karla Cordero is one of several MFA alums that have returned to campus to read for the Hugh C. Hyde Living Writers Series, but she is one of the few who also organized an SDSU library-hosted literary event before completing her MFA; working with her English 220 class as a teaching associate during the fall 2014 semester, Cordero led “Voice for Change,” which explored themes of social justice. In addition, she received SDSU’s 2015 Global Diversity Award and is the editor of the online SpitJournal. She has published widely in periodicals and also authored a chapbook, Grasshoppers Before Gods (Dancing Girl Press, 2016). O: The Oprah Magazine writes that “Cordero guides us to the collective memory found in her own personal history, reminding us that we are rooted in the same familial tenderness.” https://www.karlacordero.com/

From the Annals of Kraków by Piotr FlorczykFrom the Annals of Kraków by Piotr Florczyk (Lynx House Press, 2020).

Poet, critic, and translator of Polish poetry; these are some of the words that can be used to describe Piotr Florczyk. His work has appeared in a wide range of journals and other publications, including Harvard Review, The New Yorker, Poetry International, and Times Literary Supplement. Originally from Kraków, Poland, Florczyk has been a fellow at both the Czesław Miłosz Institute and the Polish Book Institute. From the Annals of Kraków is based on the testimonies of Holocaust survivors and those who aided them. Rachel F. Brenner, author of Polish Literature and the Holocaust: Eyewitness Testimonies, 1942-1947, calls it “a remarkable contribution to Holocaust literature.” http://www.piotrflorczyk.com/

Post Traumatic Hood Disorder by David Tomas MartinezPost Traumatic Hood Disorder by David Tomas Martinez (Sarabande Books, 2018)

San Diego native David Tomas Martinez has been a Pushcart Prize winner, an NEA recipient, and a CantoMundo fellow. He also won multiple book awards for his debut collection, Hustle (Sarabande Books, 2014). A starred review in Publisher’s Weekly describes the follow-up, Post Traumatic Hood Disorder, as “a series of lyrical riffs on American culture that juxtapose literary erudition and swaggering vernacular.” Martinez left San Diego to earn a doctorate at the University of Houston and served as an editor for Gulf Coast, but his academic achievements haven’t made him forget the challenges of his childhood. While that past informs Martinez’ work, the New York Times’ “New & Noteworthy” section notes that “he also includes tender love poems and searching personal reminiscences.” https://davidtomasmartinez.com/

Ceremonial by Carly Joy MillerCeremonial by Carly Joy Miller (Orison Books, 2018)

Publisher’s Weekly praised Carly Joy Miller’s Ceremonial, selected by Carl Phillips as the 2017 Orison Poetry Prize winner, for conjuring “powerful images of refusal to be confined by societal expectations of womanhood.” Miller had previously won the 2016 Rick Campbell Chapbook Prize for Like a Beast (Anhinga Press, 2017). Other publication credits include pieces in Adroit Journal, Boston Review, and Midwestern Gothic. When Paris Review made Ceremonial one of its staff picks, Lauren Kane commented “I found myself rereading phrases, sentences, and entire poems, eager to experience again how the words were strung together.” In his forward to the book, Ilya Kaminsky asserts that Miller is a “poet who knows the sensual art of speaking in tongues.” https://www.carlyjoymiller.com/

After the Tour by Jennifer Minniti-ShippeyAfter the Tour by Jennifer Minniti-Shippey (Calypso Editions, 2018)

Jennifer Minniti-Shippey stays busy these days as the Director of Development at the Contemporary Irish Arts Center Los Angeles, and that is on top of her literary career! Minniti-Shippey built an illustrious record during her time in San Diego. Her first chapbook, Done Dating DJs (Southword Editions, 2009), won the Fool for Poetry Chapbook competition, sponsored by the Munster Literature Centre of Cork, Ireland. A second chapbook, Earth’s Horses & Boys (Finishing Line Press, 2013), followed. She spent a decade as Managing Editor of Poetry International in addition to co-founding Poetic Youth and serving as its Director for six years. Ilya Kaminsky calls Minniti-Shippey’s San Diego Book Award finalist After the Tour “an astonishing collection.” https://jennyminnitishippey.com/

Swimming Home by Kayla RodneySwimming Home by Kayla Rodney (Unlikely Books, 2019)

New Orleans native Kayla Rodney spent the early part of her life in Louisiana before coming to SDSU for her MFA and then moving on to the University of Florida for her Ph.D. Currently on the faculty at Clayton State University in Morrow, GA, Rodney published her first book, Swimming Home, in late 2019. After being displaced by Hurricane Katrina and then moving around the United States pursuing her educational goals, Rodney felt compelled to write about her New Orleans home in her book-length literary debut. Rodney stated in an interview that she felt a need “to address all the people who were never able to go home after Katrina.” https://mfa.sdsu.edu/students_and_alumni/rodney.html

Miss Desert Inn by Ron SalisburyMiss Desert Inn by Ron Salisbury (Main Street Rag, 2015)

Ron Salisbury had the media spotlight shined on him in February 2020 when the City of San Diego named him its first-ever Poet Laureate. He is now in the midst of a two-year term to promote poetry and the literary arts in San Diego. In an interview with KPBS, Salisbury said, “Since the seventh grade, all I’ve ever wanted to be is a poet.” He was born in Maine and spent time in the Bay Area before finding his way to San Diego. He is active in the San Diego Writer’s Ink group and spends a lot of time teaching poetry to others. Miss Desert Inn was nominated for several awards, winning the 2015 Main Street Rag Poetry Award. http://www.ronsalisbury.com/438914120

The Night We Set the Dead Kid on Fire by Ephraim Scott SommersThe Night We Set the Dead Kid on Fire by Ephraim Scott Sommers (Tebot Bach Press, 2017)

After earning his MFA at SDSU, Ephraim Scott Sommers completed his Ph.D. at Western Michigan University and is currently an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, SC. He has authored a second poetry collection, Someone You Love is Still Alive (Jacar Press, 2019) and also performs as a singer-songwriter. The Night We Set the Kid on Fire was honored with the 2016 Patricia Bibby First Book Award. Many of the poems focus on his hometown of Atascadero, CA (“A-Town”). 2020 Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Jericho Brown says of the collection, “Ephraim Scott Sommers has written a book you should read to yourself and then read aloud to someone you love.” https://ephraimscottsommers.com/

The Art of Waking Up by Brenda TaulbeeThe Art of Waking Up by Brenda Taulbee (Reprobate/Gobq; Second Edition, 2020)

Brenda Taulbee completed a BA at the University of Montana before earning her MFA from SDSU. While at SDSU, Taulbee complemented her study of poetry with explorations in Digital Humanities; she discussed those interests in a February 2021 interview posted on SDSU’s Digital Humanities website, https://dhblog.sdsu.edu/dh-news/spotlight-interview-brenda-taulbee. In the interview, Taulbee discusses how she is utilizing word play and DH in her new position as Director of Content at Savy, a digital marketing agency. The Art of Waking Up premiered at the 2015 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, and a second edition was published in 2020. Lidia Yuknavitch says of the collection, “Brenda Taulbee’s poems give my spine reverb, like poetry is meant to, like only poetry that matters, can.” https://mfa.sdsu.edu/students_and_alumni/taulbee.html

More information on National Poetry Month

More information on SDSU's MFA Program

More information on the Hugh C. Hyde Living Writers Series

Submitted by Markel Tumlin
English & American Literature Librarian
mtumlin@sdsu.edu