Elizabeth Acevedo Reads “Iron”

April 9, 2018

Don Share: This is The Poetry Magazine Podcast for the week of April 9th, 2018. I’m Don Share, editor of Poetry Magazine.


Christina Pugh: I’m Christina Pugh, consulting editor for the magazine.


Lindsay Garbutt: And I’m Lindsay Garbutt, associate editor for the magazine. In The Poetry Magazine Podcast, we listen to a poem or two in the current issue.


Don Share: Elizabeth Acevedo is a national slam champion. She’s delivered several Ted Talks and she’s the author of the chapbook Beast Girl and Other Origin Myths. Her first novel The Poet X has just been published.


Lindsay Garbutt: Acevedo is the daughter of Dominican immigrants. She told us that while she grew up in a house that celebrated Dominican culture, she had a hard time feeling at home in the color of her skin. She wondered whether or not to consider herself a black woman.


Elizabeth Acevedo: I think I was trying to figure out where I fit. When I’d ask my parents what we were, they’d say we’re brown, or we’re Dominican. They didn’t have language. I grew up not knowing what to call myself, it took a long time to figure out what was the name I could use when asking myself that question. Not even for other people, just to know who am I from.


Don Share: Her poem in the April issue is called “Iron”. She said she wrote it in response to the videos and pictures of black people dying violently in the US. She was struggling with what it means to live in fear and yet to love at the same time.


Elizabeth Acevedo: We can still fall in love and joke and drink wine and play spades and hang out, those things are still allowed even if we’re also carrying fear and grief.


Don Share: Here’s the poem.


Elizabeth Acevedo:

And although I am a poet, I am not the bullet;

I will not heat-search the soft points.


I am not the coroner who will graze her hand

over naked knees. Who will swish her fingers


in the mouth. Who will flip the body over, her eye a hook

fishing for government-issued lead.


I am not the sidewalk, which is unsurprised

as another cheek scrapes harsh against it.


             Although I too enjoy soft palms on me;

enjoy when he rests on my body with a hard breath;

                                                                                 I have clasped

this man inside me and released him again and again,

listening to him die thousands of little deaths.


What is a good metaphor for a woman who loves in a time like this?


I am no scalpel or high thread count sheet. Not a gavel, or hand-painted teacup.

I am neither           nor romanced by the streetlamp nor candlelight;

my hands are not an iron, but look, they’re hot, look

how I place them           in love           on his skin

and am still able to unwrinkle his spine.


Don Share: The poet is explaining in her introduction that things like love and joke and wine and playing and hanging out are still allowed even in an atmosphere internalized of fear and love and grief. This poem is a lovely love poem in a time of violence and fear and love and grief. Also that she talked about not knowing how to answer questions about who she is, she finds a means to answer in the poem by saying “I’m not”.


Elizabeth Acevedo: I am not the coroner who will graze her hand

over naked knees


Don Share: She is a poet and she is a lover. I’ve never quite experienced a poem that draws all those things so elegantly together, and yet at the same time doesn’t foresake what we know to be the reality outside the room where there might be moments of intimacy.


Lindsay Garbutt: I think it’s so interesting that this poem is about trying to answer the central question what is a good metaphor for a woman who loves in a time like this? That no metaphor really suffices, so she has to keep saying what she’s not, yet she dwells for quite a while on these images of what she’s not. So for example, the coroner —


Elizabeth Acevedo:

who will graze her hand

over naked knees. Who will swish her fingers


in the mouth. Who will flip the body over, her eye a hook

fishing for government-issued lead.


Lindsay Garbutt: These are all very intimate and loving gestures, and by saying she’s not doing this and yet still describing what this action is, there’s a really. interesting tension and connection that’s drawn together there. I think this happens with the title of the poem too, because she ends with saying my hands are not an iron, but the title of the poem is “Iron”. You start thinking about all these things an iron suggests. Not only is it something that removes wrinkles from clothing, or in this example she’s able to unwrinkled a person’s spine, but an iron is also a weapon. It’s a way of branding, it’s a way of carrying things within our own blood. All these images are tied together from the very beginning of the poem with it’s title.


Christina Pugh: I like the interesting way some of these negations are done as you were saying Lindsay as well.


Elizabeth Acevedo:

I am not the sidewalk, which is unsurprised

as another cheek scrapes harsh against it.


Christina Pugh: It seems to me by saying I am not the sidewalk, it’s like saying I am not going to make the sidewalk a metaphor, or I’m not going to personify the sidewalk. But then when the “I” is taken out of it, we’re told the sidewalk is unsurprised. So the sidewalk is reacting as an entity the way perhaps the “I” would. The “I” is also sadly unsurprised. It seems like there’s a complex letting be of a certain kind of figurative language or poetic language at the same time that is being confused. I like the notion that there’s a kind of personified entity in the world even as it’s being refused. This poem also makes me think about how … not to be too self help about it, but when you’re going through grief there’s this moment in which you find yourself enjoying something. The first thing you might feel is guilt and horror that you’re enjoying something in life. In this case, it’s a kind of collective grief that’s happening. I think it really shows how fully these losses have been experienced. That collective grief has been internalized so much by the speaker that that moment of liking life is the moment of the poem. I think that’s moving, and I think it’s also a really interesting moment to inhabit.


Don Share: You can read “Iron” by Elizabeth Acevedo in the April 2018 issue of Poetry Magazine, or online at


Lindsay Garbutt: We’ll have another episode for you next week, or you can get all four April episodes all at once on the full length episode on Soundcloud.


Christina Pugh: Let us know what you thought about this program. Email us at [email protected], and please link to the podcast on social media.


Don Share: The Poetry Magazine Podcast is recorded by Ed Herman and produced by Curtis Fox and Catherine Fenelosa.


Lindsay Garbutt: The theme music for this poem comes from the Claudia Quintet. I’m Lindsay Garbutt.


Christina Pugh: I’m Christina Pugh.


Don Share: And I’m Don Share. Thanks for listening.

The editors discuss Elizabeth Acevedo’s poem “Iron” from the April 2018 issue of Poetry.

Appeared in Poetry Magazine This Appears In
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