I am bubbling with anticipation at the image of you reading through the varied poetic offerings contained in my first issue as guest editor. This achievement was unimaginable to me only months ago. In mid-March, my husband of twenty-seven years passed away after a short stay in the hospital. I was suddenly transported to a space that struck me inaudible, only capable of visceral groans. Tempestuous emotional swells struck me immobile with an urgent tug encapsulating my limbs in sinking sand.
This issue was only possible with the support, love, and brilliance of the magazine team: Lindsay, Fred, Holly, Angela, Sarah, Whitney, Noah, Jenna, and Naima. I don’t understate my gratitude for them and everyone at the Poetry Foundation organization who offered comfort to me.
I write this introduction from a mountain desert region in the American Southwest. It is a place scarred from political borders, from surface mining, from oil and natural gas drilling and fracking, from Indian wars and slavery, from rhetoric spewing privileged daggers of word arrows. This area in southwest Colorado is the northernmost area of Dinétah, homeland of the Navajo people. Although it is not recognized by the federal government as Navajoland, the landmarks within our stories—including our two boundary mountains in the north and east—designate our presence and connection to the land. It is from this concept that the writings of this issue come to you.
I write this introduction to offer you a glint of the diverse poetry I have read over the last few months. I have read and enjoyed all the types of poetry that come through our online submission system. I delighted and smiled and sat tenderly with the first-time submissions of poems from new writers whose work wobbles like a colt seeking a steadiness with its new home. I wondered at the authors’ writing habits, their favorite poets, their view of the world. I marveled at their courage to submit. In my early years, I strangled most thoughts of publication.
I am in solidarity with poems from healthcare workers who have used poetry to burden some of the repetitive heaviness they experience. I intentionally re-positioned my heart to align with the uneasiness of illness, death, and the dehumanizing systems expressed in these poems. I allowed myself to grieve, to soak in the mineral rich tepid pool, then gather all my strength to climb out and balm with solitude. I smile widely with poets whose social justice fervor manifests as a marble sculpture in progress. I envision them in mineral dust clouds laboring with bulky and heavy angle grinders carving out a shape, then tenaciously grappling with diamond blade hand tools to reveal their artistry. The tiring process refines patience of the soul and yearns for resolution, completion. My editorial process has been humbling and encouraging. I am humbled by the collective humanity who has plowed through a difficult season. I am encouraged by the power of words, uplifted by the lifeblood of poets.
The range of poetics and emotional thrall contained in this volume journeys into an invited pensiveness that goes deeper and becomes more mysterious with each reading. Of note is Ae Hee Lee’s “A Study through Homes” and Patricia Jabbeh Wesley’s “Black Woman Selling Her Home in America,” which both explore visceral concepts of home and a sense of belonging. They reveal a vein of fractured ground, a new landscape uncovered. Orlando White’s one-word poems and Jill Zheng’s “Like a Ping Pong Ball” bring a multilingual construct of language, tethering contortions of breath and tongue. A sequence emerges. Cardinal points, lived experiences, locale descriptors, and context combine like a flash flood. Quick torrents of snow melt come your way with the strength to uproot, displace, and reshape anything in its path. Emotional debris collected on the periphery should not be ignored so I invite you to join me in some writing activities. Meticulously inventory, record, and distill from it your testimony. Your proof of life.
Writing Activity 1:
- Write an inventory of the people you call home.
- Find an old photograph. Place yourself and one of your homes in it. Describe the process of adding yourself and your home in a foreign landscape.
- Craft a poem based on the previous steps and use these lines in your poem:
a. Sometimes I wish my home was not as as me.
b. I adjusted to the temperature of .
c. You, descendant of are as I could ever be, and as as I could never be.
- Handwrite your poem. Revise as needed. Keep handwritten revisions.
This volume also presents an orchestra of sound, gaits of rhythm striking an unfamiliar emotion, a quizzical apprehension, like a puppy adjusting to a leash and collar. These sound poets delight us with a new reorienting. A call-and-response pattern develops.
Writing Activity 2:
- Create a list of sounds—onomatopoeia that are familiar or that you hear daily. Try to have one-, two-, and three-syllable sounds in your list.
- Give emotion and context to each sound. Record your findings.
- Practice speaking the sounds out loud. Use emotion and context to assist with pronunciation.
- Write a few lines of meter using only your list of sounds.
Optional: Based on the emotion and context represented by each sound, write a poem.
Extra Credit: Write a visual poem with only the sounds.
Once again, reader, I think of you as I write from a hardback chair at my dining table placed near a south-facing window. This window is comforting to me, as is this table and chair. I have labored from this place, I have experienced joy from this place, and now I experience grief from it. The familiarity and safety of this space help me to propel toward the essential and recalibrate my center. That is my offering to you. May you align with a poem (or many) in this volume that propels you back to your center.
A Diné (Navajo) multimedia artist and writer, Esther Belin grew up in Los Angeles, California. She is a graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts and the University of California, Berkeley. Her first book of poetry, From the Belly of My Beauty (1999), won the American Book Award from...