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The second in our series of reading lists to celebrate National Poetry Month 2021.
Editor’s Note: This is the second collection in Boston Review’s series of poetry reading lists for National Poetry Month 2021. You can read the others on belonging, womanhood, and award-winning poets.
“We broke ourselves screaming, but there was no sound,” writes Kemi Alabi in their poem “Undelivered Message to the Sky: November 9, 2016.” Even with the Biden administration now in office, the election of Donald Trump in 2016 heralded a new era of thoughtlessness, violence, and isolation which still echoes today. The poets in this collection grapple with that isolation—the result of gendered and racialized violence—and the simultaneous and conflicting desire to reach out to the world.
In a collage of lines and lives, Nikki Wallschlaeger questions “American happiness,” and elsewhere Boston Review 2019 Poetry Contest finalist Hazem Fahmy listens to “the chorus of memory” and laments that which cannot be conveyed across distance.
The poets in this collection examine the imperfections of language and translation, exploring the many valences of empathy—where it succeeds and where it cannot.
by Meredith Stricker
We were talking about the difference between “kin” and “kindred” —
blood relation vs. connection not strictly defined by family. Kin can
narrow to claustrophobic ritual and feuds, while kinship intermingles
and crosses blood lines. How large is “family” or “kinship”?
• • •
by Tess Liem
Fix me to your idea of midnight. Meaning,
I’m here if you need me. Tomorrow let’s spill
water and let our socks sop it up
as we dance. Other things will be true
by then too. Cutting onions with our eyes closed,
humming to the fridge humming: these are the ways
we will exercise faith.
• • •
from ‘mass extinction’
by Sarah Vap
Someone we could have and love, then later
we could eat it, or build our homes out of it,
or just ruin it because it’s what our genome suggests to us.
Fetal . . . almost anything I pull into this poem about the fetus fits.
• • •
Poem for the Guy Down the Street
by Valencia Robin
Wherever he is,
may he catch a break,
in this life and the next,
if the world is just a hologram,
a mass daydream we’re all having,
may we reimagine him as, say, an English major
indignant over his A minus
• • •
by Nikki Wallschlaeger
Women are not supposed to
be bigger than a cluster of pet dander.
Whatever moxie we’ve collected
goes to brushing the cinders off our jackets.
• • •
Undelivered Message to the Sky: November 9, 2016
by Kemi Alabi
I felt it. A twitching in my teeth.
The rumble of a nearby rapture. I opened the blinds
and a pack of white women were wailing down Maple,
crying into potholes, writhing in the street
• • •
My cat paints her fur on with her tongue
by Craig Sullender
Brother when I die
my ashes go to your house.
Confusion where to scatter
is all I’ll leave.
We are here
because our mother was here.
• • •
Abdel Halim Performs a Private Concert for My Mother
by Hazem Fahmy
He smiles and asks me: for what?
We are here now, habibi.
Then for old time’s sake, I plead,
for chorus of memory,
percussion as cool as dew.
• • •
by Jacques J. Rancourt
Not all forms of love
are made to last. Take the mayfly
that lives the hour required
to mate. Take these city lights,
prismatic and star-stoned, that honeycomb
across your beaded windshield.
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