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Poetry Moment: Yona Harvey and 'The Dream District / January'

Poet Yona Harvey
Poet Yona Harvey

Poetry Moment on WPSU is a program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Host Shara McCallum is this year’s Penn State Laureate.

Today’s poem is “The Dream District / January” by Yona Harvey.

Yona Harvey is the author of two prize-winning collections, Hemming the Water and her most recent book, You Don’t Have to Go to Mars for Love, from which today’s poem is drawn. Harvey lives in Pittsburgh, where she teaches in the University of Pittsburgh Writing Program. She also holds the distinction of being among the first Black women to write for Marvel Comics.

“The Dream District / January” is a poem marked by playfulness. To start, it showcases incredible wordplay, with pun after pun and even an allusion to Robert Frost’s famous wintry poem. The descriptions also conjure a dream-like, nearly surreal state. Adding to these, the tone is at turns irreverent and downright funny. Humor is frequently a way to mask pain and a tool writers use to disarm a reader and mount social critique. On both counts, Harvey’s poem is incisive. Listen carefully to all the chords the poet plays when addressing January. Hear not just the absurdity but the weariness she feels when facing the month’s literal and figurative grays, the troubled histories of industry, environment, race, and gender bearing down on her.

Here’s—

The Dream District / January

January, I’m lost inside your industrial gray, my
rig at the ready, my truck trucking, its ginormous

tires flat-ironing the road. Vivica Fox’s mantra
on the CB radio, Black Mambo, Black Mambo. 

More white static & fade. No word from the ladies
out there. They know & don’t know. They say &

don’t say. Don’t say, January. I’m driving past
your peculiar highway sign painted: PASADENA.

January, you know I'm nowhere near. Pennsylvania’s no
California. & getting lost exhausts me. January, I pull the air

horn on your fog, pull over at a coffee house that looks
like a house I know. But where are the woods, the village

& the goddamn snow? All my guilt & shame on the mount
of books & poems I ought to know. Now, Honey, read this, 

the Tina Turner lookalike owner says, hands me her copy
of an anti-fracking manifesto derived from ancient tea-

brewing rituals. & by the way, that’s all we serve. No coffee
at this coffee house. Our specialty is green, Tina says, grown local 

by the community. All those Ts & Es should put me at ease,
but my bearings are lost. Where am I? Pasadena, Pennsylvania?

Well, make it black & steep it long, I say,
the day is wearing down on me.

That was “The Dream District / January” by Yona Harvey.

Thank you for sharing this moment of poetry with me today.

Shara McCallum was the 2021-22 host of "Poetry Moment" on WPSU.
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