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PoetrySnaps! Lynne Thompson: Seed of Mango, Seed of Maize

Courtesy Lynne Thompson

In this week's segment of KNAU's series PoetrySnaps!, we meet Lynne Thompson, a trained attorney-turned-poet, and a former Poet Laureate for the City of Los Angeles. The child of Caribbean immigrants, Thompson was introduced to poetry at an early age and has been writing ever since. Today, she shares her poem, Seed of Mango, Seed of Maize.

Lynne Thompson:

My parents were immigrants from the Caribbean, but I was born and raised here. I am the youngest of five and their only daughter…their only adopted daughter. My dad was a great lover of poetry and read poetry to me as a child. And I used to say, ‘oh I started writing in high school or college’, until my sister-in-law found a poem that I wrote when she married my brother when I was ten.

So clearly, I was always fascinated by language, I was a big reader as most writers start out. But then I went to law school - I'm a lawyer by training - and stopped writing altogether. And then one day, literally, woke up and said, ‘the thing that's wrong with your life is that you're not pursuing your interest in poetry’.

I think I started out just fascinated by the sound of it. I was interested in rhyme and assonance and alliteration long before I knew what those things were because it just felt good in my ear. And then, of course, as I began to read more and study more, then I was starting to understand what the poem could actually do on an emotional level; just listening to someone else read before I even got to where is this poem trying to take you? What is it trying to share with you? What world is it trying to bring you into?

Seed of Mango, Seed of Maize

I saw one of the grandmothers only once
in a photograph.
Short and sturdy she was, a black black Carib
with a forehead wide as the sea
that kisses Port Elizabeth
and a nose broad as the nostrum of Admiralty Bay.
Breathing deeply,
her breath was fume of coconut and allspice,
mango and frangipani,
blackbird and blue sky,
was the isle of Bequia.
She conjured a daughter,
then jinxed another,
and they bedeviled five daughters between them,
and I am one of those flying fish.

The other grandmother I composed from myth
and half-told stories.
She was a red red Cheyenne—
scored earth,
much chased—
sported a thick reed of braid
pulled off from her forehead
wide as Dakota
before it was north and south.
She hisses warnings across ten, then ten times
ten more years to a son
who reshapes them for me
in my dreams, sometimes in my waking.
As flute, blue maize, dance of the sun, she comes,
crow on the wing, singing up the ghosts,
and I am one of those—a ghost singing.

About the poet:

Lynne Thompson is a trained attorney-turned-poet based in Los Angeles. She is the author of several books and poetry collections and was named LA’s 2021 Poet Laureate. Thompson is a winner of the Tucson Festival of Books Literary Award for Poetry and the Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize. She is a recipient of an Individual Artist Award from the City of Los Angeles, and in 2022, Thompson received a fellowship from the Academy of American Poets Laureate.

About the host:

Steven Law is a poet, journalist and educator based in Page, Arizona. He is the author of a collection of poems called Polished.

About the music:

Original music by Flagstaff-based band Pilcrowe.

Steven Law was the co-producer of KNAU’s series PoetrySnaps!
Gillian Ferris was the News Director and Managing Editor for KNAU.