SF poet erica lewis takes cue from Stevie Wonder songs

San Francisco poet erica lewis isn’t promoting her new collection “mary wants to be a superwoman” with a lot of local appearances.

“I’ve been on the road, doing mini-tours, the past six months, and I’ve put a moratorium on San Francisco readings. I need my home to kind of be a sanctuary,” says the writer, who’s making an exception next week at City Lights in an event presented by her publisher Third Man Books (established by Jack White of the White Stripes) with San Francisco short-story writer Rita Bullwinkel.

The book, her second in a trilogy that began with “daryl hall is my boyfriend,” she says, “is a personal history of racism and race relations and my family’s history. It’s physical proof that history keeps repeating itself,” mentioning that she recently read an article about how trauma may be genetic, passed down through black women.

She adds, “I’m not hiding behind a veil, this is literally my life — all of the pain, that’s real.”

Her poems, which have been called part of the new confessionalism movement, are drawn from stories she was told growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the “Mary” of the title is her mother — the only relative in the book who’s still living.

Lewis, who got a master’s degree in creative writing at Mills College, says she was surprised when her mom told her that “Superwoman” was her favorite song by Stevie Wonder, whose music – which lewis listened to a lot as a child and teen — provides the backdrop for the book.

Using the same format as she did with the trilogy’s first book, which featured lines from Daryl Hall and John Oates’ songs, in this volume, the title of each poem is a line from a Stevie Wonder tune. (The direct reference stops there, keeping her free from legal issues.)

The poem “Living in the pastime” is featured in a cool video trailer for the book, a short film starring the poet, shot by Camen Hodges in The City one late night, South of Market Street. Lewis says, “The idea is that it’s a live version of the cover of the book, with a raw, late 1970s dirty disco after-party kind of vibe.”

Although lewis hasn’t been very comfortable reading these poems for people connected to the stories that inspired them, she may promote the new book in Ohio at a house party at her mother’s place: “I want that intimacy; that book is her, a tribute to her and how she raised me.”

In the meantime, she’s working on the final volume of the series, which she says will be more about “letting go” than the dreamy nostalgia of “daryl” or the hard-hitting intensity of “mary.” Called “mahogany,” it starts with lines from Diana Ross songs.

erica lewis and Rita Bullwinkel
Where: City Lights Booksellers, 261 Columbus Ave., S.F.
When: 5 p.m. April 23
Admission: Free
Contact: (415) 362-8193, www.citylights.com

mary wants to be a superwoman
Written by: erica lewis
Published by: Third Man Books
Pages: 142
Price: $17.95

Leslie Katz

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