Fred Joiner

“How do you keep your heart soft?” 

the whole room squirms against the stillness,
the movement has moved us no closer to answering
that question, but I sit in certainty, knowing
that the heart is not a muscle,
           but aches as if it were.
It came so easily, from the audience,
after we read poems after Botero’s brush,
steeped in the madness of Abu Ghraib.
           but a thick silence unstills the air
over us, like blood trapped in a keloid,
remembering the whisper of the lash,
I dare not break the skin of this silence,
instead I remember that flesh feels,
but doesn’t always make memory,
& that the ear uses the whole body to listen.


First appeared in Delaware Poetry Review


the sound of St. Mary’s City by Fred Joiner

          for Dr. Michael Glaser, Sekou Sundiata and Lucille Clifton

What does my DC bop and sway
mean in the quiet rhythms
of this place?

the river swinging into it banks
the same way for the last billion years*
every tree standing
its ground, keeping time
like a slow walking bass

and what said the dark,
slim country road,
but a slow muted “So What
to my sidewalk swagger?

Here, the soundtrack
to my citified pomp
is swallowed by the song
of every blade of grass,
bending to the wind’s breath, all
my stone faced stillness
rippled away a like a pebble
kissing a pond in the wilderness

*from Sekou Sundiata’s Forsaken Sea   


Fred Joiner is a poet and curator living in Bamako, Mali. His work has appeared in Callaloo, Gargoyle, and Fledgling Rag, among other publications. Fred has read his work nationally and internationally. Joiner is a two-time winner of the Larry Neal Award for Poetry and a 2014 Artist Fellowship Winner as awarded by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Most recently, one of Joiner’s poems was selected by curator and critic A.M. Weaver as part of her 5 x 5 public art project, Ceremonies of Dark Men. Another one of Joiner’s poems recently won the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art’s Divine Comedy Poetry Contest, in response to  Abdoulaye Konate’s textile work.

As a curator of literary and visual arts programming, Joiner has worked with the American Poetry Museum, Belfast Exposed Gallery (Northern Ireland), Hillyer Artspace, Honfleur Gallery, Medina Galerie (Bamako, Mali), the Phillips Collection, the Prince Georges African American Museum and Cultural Center, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum and more.  He is the co-founder of The Center for Poetic Thought at the Monroe Street Market in the Brookland neighborhood of Washington, D.C