I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.
~Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
On the first of each month,
a guest writer
how he or she spends the day.
April 1, 2022: Michael Kleber-Diggs
Michael Kleber-Diggs was born in 1968, just days after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. He and his twin brother Martin were named for the slain civil rights leader, who was born Michael and became Martin after his father visited Hitler’s Germany in 1934 and changed his own and his son’s name. Michael’s origin story as a writer is one I’m familiar with. He started writing in 1999. His first book was published in 2021. Writers, don’t give up.
Michael’s debut book, Worldly Things, with its beautiful cover, won the Max Ritvo Poetry Prize, the 2022 Hefner Heitz Kansas Book Award in Poetry, and is a finalist for the 2022 Minnesota Book Award in Poetry. I want to tell you about these poems.
It feels a little like magic, the ways poets can use language to focus our attention. Take a look at how powerful one word can be when Michael places it at the beginning of a line and follows it by a period. From “End of Class,”
I pat her arm, start the car, and then we drive
away. Our hardy home is not that far from here.
From “Source of My Confidence,”
I open every window I have
wide. Spring air races through the rooms…
When Michael was eight, his father was killed at his dental office by someone looking for drugs. Many of these poems reverberate out from that moment of devastation and grief. From “After You Left,”
Father, the loss of you is a planet
orbiting what might have been.
From “Superman And My Brother, Spiderman And Me,”
Lost for months in our bedroom, our desperate island,
we began to confront a loss that reveals itself still…
The poem “Seismic Activities,” feels like two poems coming together to form a third, as rivers often do–the roman river and the italics river creating a rich, seismic river, all existing at the same time. Maybe it’s the past and the present creating the future or the past and the future creating the present. The poem feels fluid.
The poem “Coniferous Fathers,” begins, “Let’s fashion gentle fathers…” And let this line from “Confluence” stay with you for a minute.
Mist gathered just above the water made me think of marriage.
We learn from the Notes at the back of the book that Micheal wrote the poem “Another Black Man Killed in Police Custody Dies After Coma,” which is so powerful, by imagining newspaper articles (based on his research) that were written and then edited by deleting using strikethrough and adding to using bold text.
Michael brings the details of the world around him and the world within him to the page. The last poem in the collection, “Every Mourning,” will make your heart hurt with its truth. We are right there as the narrator’s fellow traveler crosses the street. Right there.
But the image I keep thinking about comes from the opening lines of “Ars Poetica,” which mention worldly things,
In a recent dream, I wanted something ordinary—eggs
or a hammer, a thing like that. So, I sought out a neighbor
but not a real neighbor. I rang an unfamiliar bell.
Behind a hollow door, a man yelled, I called the police.
Last November, Michael was featured in Poets & Writers annual “5 Over 50.” Since 2016, he has been an instructor with the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop. He also teaches Creative Writing in Augsburg University’s low-res MFA program and at Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists. He has taught at in the MFA program at Hamline University and at Metropolitan State University. Michael is also an attorney. He was born and raised in Kansas and now lives with his wife Karen, a tropical horticulturist and orchid specialist, in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
Come back on APRIL 1st to read how MICHAEL KLEBER-DIGGS spends his days.