Into the Abyss
An Introduction to Poems for Political Disaster
Jan 19, 2017
3 Min read time
In times of crisis, we summon up our strength.
thirty-five howls, can you hear them, America?
In the last year a new language rose up into a fuller and more public voice, America, I hope I am not being too formal—a language of denials, forced terms of reversal, re-classifications, as Jorie Graham graphs in her poem, that is, what once was you and me and what made us the people and nurtured multiple and prismatic colors, life meanings and ways of being the people, is being reassessed and recast. “Diversity”—although not the best term, since it lacks the analyses of power and culture—now is to be advertised as “Forced Race Mixing.” How does that sound to you, America? Is the “whole tone wrong” as Maureen N. McLane says in her poem? Are you all of a sudden “Fake News” as Craig Santos Perez writes? Yes? No? The answers do not come easy. Why, America? Believe it or not, because we are talking about life and death—through the fiery lens and pen of these American poets, yes, still “American.” That’s good, huh, America?
These American vision makers have work to do: to make way through the infamous “Wall” that has been propped up as one of the key symbols of and for the new you—America. What is this wall made of?
Have you ever imagined being thrown into the abyss and yet filled with the inky jelly of love for all, in the twilight?
This new proposed American wall is one made of “dread” as Lynn Melnick writes. All of a sudden, the sense of moving “forward,” progressing with the hard-won rights for all, has hit your curb with a sign flashing “Stop!” We are exiles now, America—yet without having been cast out, still standing in your terrains, empty—Peter Gizzi’s poem speaks out, “When will I return to my country?” Calvin Bedient’s poem conjures Auschwitz. The dread is phantasmagoric but real. Does this “tone” alarm you? America, are you listening? When freedom is in danger, when you are asked, in one faked way or another, a shabby admonition, to leave your own humanity which includes the humanity of all, the alarm is extraordinary, America. Don’t you think so? You must respond, America. You must speak out, you must write. “Let me not abandon myself ” Brenda Hillman’s words implore, to themselves? To you too, America.
We do not want to be abandoned, America. All of us. Really. What will you be without America? Guess what, America? Everyone in this rough-cut, deep-hearted chapbook loves you as much as they have fought with you and for you. Everyone here wants an American home, an American national house in a global neighborhood “without children who make bulletproof vests out of cardboard.” Can you hear Carolyn Forché read this line out loud to you? I am getting carried away, America, right?
Guess I am—because all of these poets have been at this all of their lives, writing for you, America. Calling out for you, America—in cafés, nonprofit bookstores and community centers, women’s shelters, prisons and juvenile halls, bilingual classrooms, islands, archipelagos, universities, LGBTQ+ readings, 9/11 memorials, addiction centers, women’s clinics, senior centers, the recent massacres, America—listen to me, the recent massacres, writing, scribbling supersonic speed—for you! Hear me? We do not want the luxurious “Wall” America—wall of denial, misinformation, uncivil rights. What do you want? Are you asking me, America?
Guess what, America. We want you! There is always a way through the “Wall.” Ask me, I am a Mexican. Listen: You are being ripped away from us. It is the other way around. We are floating here, America. Have you ever imagined being thrown into the abyss and yet filled with the inky jelly of love for all, in the twilight? Can you hear Geoffrey G. O’Brien’s poem? Listen: “It’s like twilight to be alive now.”
America, we are crazy and worried about you
America, we are allergic to disaster
America what would you do
without poets. 35 of them, for starters.
January 19, 2017
3 Min read time