A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.
This week felt possibly pivotal in American politics; time will tell. Some poetry bloggers did write about other things, but most of those posts sat uneasily with the uprising- and COVID-related content, and in the end I took them out. I do want to acknowledge two extraordinary texts emerging this week that are (sadly) not blog posts but Google docs: the Letter to the Poetry Foundation from Fellows + Programmatic Partners and, a few hours ago, Phillip B. Williams’ Letter of Apology from a Ruth Lilly Fellow. Both were sparked by the Poetry Foundation’s “A Message to Our Community & Contributors“—just the sort of vapid, substance-free message of support for #BlackLivesMatter that Maureen Doallas calls out below.
News broke as I was assembling this digest that a veto-proof majority of the Minneapolis City Council has pledged to disband its police department, just over a week after protesters burned down a precinct building there. So be careful before you join the mob… of comfortable liberals and conservatives whitesplaining protest tactics to the oppressed.
When people murmur in a mildly moralising way about peaceful protest, maybe they should stop and think about Emily Wilding Davison.
A militant suffragette, she was repeatedly arrested and imprisoned for breaking windows, setting fire to mail boxes, and on one occasion for attempting to horsewhip a clergyman who she mistook for Lloyd George.
She undertook repeated hunger strikes in prison, was forcibly fed 49 times, and attempted to kill herself in Holloway by leaping off a landing. She said after that she thought that her death might cause people to pay attention to the cause of women’s suffrage. On June 4 2013, Emily Wilding Davison travelled to Epsom, went to the racecourse on Derby Day, waited behind the railings at the bend to the final straight, and as the horses came round the bend, ducked under the rail, and walked in front of the king’s horse. On and off for 30 years I tried to find a way to write about it.
I think about images that have, one way or another, changed how we see the world, and maybe changed the world itself. The terrified villagers of My Lai in Vietnam, and the small girl stripped naked by napalm, her mouth a silent scream; a Buddhist monk in flames; a student holding up his arm against a tank. A white policeman kneeling on the neck of a black man until he dies.
I was staggered when I learned that the death of Emily Davison was filmed live by a Pathe news camera, and duly appeared in British cinemas. I had thought the stills I had seen were remarkably in-focus single camera shots. I could not understand their clarity.John Foggin, A grating roar
tomorrow my son is going to photograph a protest in Snohomish a small town no one had heard of until it became patient zero for the corona virus Snohomish where I attend the county fair every summer Snohomish where a handful of peaceful protesters were greeted by a sidewalk full of white american proudboys standing with spread legs holding automatic weapons snickering among themselves not only their stances but their faces threatening and ugly
the american president’s boys with a long tradition of hate
my son quoted Shakespeare to me this morning
The blood of the citizens of Verona makes the hands of the citizens both bloody and uncivilized; that is, not polite, and possibly murderous.
then he quoted some of the lyrics to Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit and he said that George Floyd was lynched I think so too deliberately horribly and in the open
my son believes we’re at the beginning of true worldwide revolution that the protests are not going to stop that they have just begun that the citizens of the world have been oppressed long enough they are rising up as one body to demand change and they will not stop until change is brought forth he tells me he sees children in the street some high school age young people finally finding their voices their rallying cryRebecca Loudon, What our sons say
What could be more dispiriting than a biological enemy, an invisible enemy, an enemy that has turned the morality schema upside down? Yesterday’s bad guys — alienation and isolation — are today’s heroes of good health. Those heroes of isolation are also conditions for authoritarianism, which makes them still count as bad guys. No wonder we’ve felt so lost and confused.
No wonder the police murder of George Floyd has changed the moral landscape. In its horror and shame, in its immorality, it prompted the massive outpouring of public grief and collective protest. It has a clear-cut narrative, with victims and perpetrators. The unequivocal police brutality has no moral ambiguity. It liberated us from our own cells. Our listless selves had been told that this narrow narcissistic world was heroic – perhaps with limited horizons, we didn’t trust it.
Walking on a summer afternoon to the RI State House, I refound my “we.” We were some 10,000. To hear the roar of thousands who respond in unity to the call of a leader – to feel the vibration in our bones, as my daughter said – began to restore a self in relation to others. Collective, actively scooping up a sense of purpose. Rebellious. Called to look into our selves where moral ambiguities will most obviously arise. That has to be part of the pact. We can still do that while dissenting injustice, abuse of cops and our homegrown tyrant crossing new red lines at every turn. This is not bad news wrapped in a protein.
Coronavirus is still a threat, as we’ll always remark when we look at photos, in the future, of protesters in masks in photos. As a young friend said, “History looks back at the past. We’re in the middle of history. But we don’t know what it looks like — we’re living it.” He wasn’t comfortable with not knowing. He shrugged: he knows he doesn’t have a choice.Jill Pearlman, The Protests: Sprung from Moral Uncertainty
Since the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing protests, I have read and viewed countless news articles, op-eds, solidarity statements, video webinars, social media posts, tweets, and photo albums related to Black Lives Matter (BLM) in the Pacific Islands and our diaspora.
The first thing to note is that there is widespread support for BLM amongst Pacific Islanders (PI). There have been numerous solidarity events in Hawaiʻi (where I currently live), Aotearoa, Fiji, Samoa, Papua New Guinea, West Papua, Australia, the Marshall Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, and my homeland of Guåhan (Guam). There have also been Pacific-organized events in California, Washington, and Utah, and I have seen PI participate in protests from Kentucky to New York to where it all began: Minnesota. At least one PI was arrested/detained, and there are perhaps more. BLM solidarity in the Pacific is not new (many events that occurred in after the murders of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown) but it is definitely more expansive today. […]
The most wonderful part of all this is that so many PI have interpreted this history to mean that we have a “debt” to the Black community because of all they have done to empower us, directly and indirectly. In Pacific cultures, “debt” is not a capitalist phenomenon. It is much deeper and refers to ideas about gift-giving, social reciprocity, interdependence, kinship, obligation, support, and mutual aid. Chamorros call this “chenchule’” and it is one of our most cherished values and practices. […]
Within U.S. settler colonialism in Guam and Hawaiʻi, I have noticed that there are some politicians and individuals (who are White, Asian, or POC) who are vocal in their support of BLM and even for police abolition. However, I have seen these same people stand AGAINST Chamorro and Hawaiian sovereignty and self-determination. This to me points to how some settlers in the Pacific support liberal and progressive reforms, but they don’t support decolonization, which would completely unsettle their power here. This also speaks to a divide between civil rights and indigenous rights.Craig Santos Perez, Black Lives Matter in the Pacific, 2020
These days, I put an ear to America’s chest to make sure democracy’s heart is still beating.
I share my breath with others ‘cause the air is so choked with tear gas and political propaganda.
I rearrange our collective spirit into a beatbox offering solid, uplifting rhythms as we witness secret police wandering the streets, bashing bruise tattoos into the flesh of peaceful protestors.
In my higher conscience, I’ve started an Etsy store selling necklaces made from the words and songs of Gandhi, MLK, and Billie Holiday.
I’ve created see-through face masks where we can witness one another’s lips as we speak words like, “Peace,” “Love,” and “ Dream.”Rich Ferguson, Beating, Not Beating
Official Wear Orange Day was Friday, June 5. June 5 is also Breonna Taylor’s birthday. She was killed by guns in a terrible police mistake. But Wear Orange Day was created by friends of Hadiya Pendleton, dead at 15 by gun violence, back in 2013. My poem for that is hard, quick, and blunt. You understand why.
Today I Wear Orange
to honor the dead girl
killed by a gun. Orange
like a hunting vest,
meant to say:
I’m not prey.
Hadiya had just been in the parade for President Obama’s second inauguration and was dead a week later. […]
I don’t like to jump on any bandwagons, but I do wish to stand in solidarity with all our nonviolent protestors today. At a distance, masked, I attended our local NAACP/Not In My Town rally to see, feel, and be part of the local support. I came late and left early, not wanting to mingle with any crowds. Couldn’t hear or see the presenters, but felt the solidarity. My peripheral vision made me turn at the right time to see potential danger, a young white man wearing a bandana on his forehead riding a motorcycle on Front Street. My gut said, Trouble. Later, he drove through the crowd and injured people; he’s been arrested. I listen to my gut now, having ignored it sometimes in the past. After seeing him, I scanned the crowd, as well. I was looking at the young white guys, I have to confess. There’s my current bias and tendency to profile. I apologize for the past, the present, and the future. I’ll do what I can, which doesn’t seem like much, but I do vote and help get out the vote, via a tiny elected office.Kathleen Kirk, Wearing Orange
And my tiny poems will continue, at least through June. If I can remember what day it is. And who I am.
Small bamboo stakes with tiny flags on them were placed six feet apart, all along the north side of route two, from First Congregational Church to Thompson Memorial Chapel.
We gathered with our signs, each person or household to a flag. Most of the signs were homemade, made on posterboard or on cardboard recycled from boxes.
“Black Lives Matter.”
“Stop systemic racism.”
“Covid + racism = mourning in America.”
“Lord have mercy.”
“Black lives matter.”
“We stand with you.”
The church bells tolled. When they were done, a bagpiper stood on the steps of First Congregational and played somber songs.
As cars drove by, from one side or the other, we turned so our signs would face them, like sunflowers moving with the sun.
Most cars honked in support as they drove by. A few big rigs drove by and honked as they passed us. One bicyclist pedaled slowly by, reading each sign in turn.
A light rain fell. We stood in quiet solidarity with the victims of SARS-CoV-2 and the victims of systemic racism around our nation. When the clock tower rang for 5:30, we quietly went home with our grief.Rachel Barenblat, Vigil
I marched at the parade with my daughter, surrounded by people her age. I thought about the world I thought I was bringing her into–what I thought I was giving her–and I wondered what the parents of all the others there had thought they were giving their children. I want to tell you how it broke my heart a little, to see these people taking action to try to make the world be more like the one I (wrongly) thought we once had, to see their anger and frustration and courage and hope. But my broken heart is not the important thing here, and my tiny heartbreak is nothing in comparison to those of the parents who have lost their children at the hands (or knees or bullets) of police, or those who worry that they will.
Last week a journalist claimed that America is a tinderbox. Last night, in a peaceful protest in a town known for its liberalism, I could feel it–people brittle as leaves and sticks on the forest floor after a summer of drought. Our youth–all of our youth, not just those privileged by social class and race–need real hope for something like the kind of future I took for granted when I was their age, and they need it in the form of action, not empty words and gestures without substance. They need more than police taking a knee one minute and then rising up to throw teargas and shoot rubber bullets the next. They need relief from corrupt leaders, inept government, gross income inequality, a trashed economy, crushing debt, racist systems, and a dying planet.
We all need that for them, too. As activist Lilla Watson once said,
“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
A lit fire can be hard to contain, and people who feel they have little or nothing to lose are going to be quick to reach for matches.
We all have more to lose than we realize, I think.Rita Ott Ramstad, No justice, no peace
June—not even rounding the cusp of summer; yet heat
pours out as if from a cauldron on every surface.
And the heat of bodies building as a fire
in every city, refusing to be staunched.
These last few months, we raised our windows
at sundown to salute those among us whose work
takes them closest to the edge of the fire.
Each night we hear the distant sound of choppers
circling overhead, and see the arcs thrown by
their beams. Only in the fitful pause of sleep
does the day’s sadness distill into a sort of quietLuisa A. Igloria, Domus
blue egg. Every wing in it, every breakable bone.
It’s been a week. You can tell because a giant Russian oil spill and asteroid hurtling towards earth didn’t even make the top five news headlines. Coronavirus, levels of which are still rising in the US, has been knocked out of people’s minds by gigantic protests and riots across the country – and even across the world – about police violence against unarmed, innocent African Americans. Police violence isn’t a new problem in the US, and it’s been remarkably persistent, so we need to think about how reform can makes things better, from sending in social workers and therapists to de-escalate with domestic violence and mental illness and wellness checks instead of police to eliminating the budget for police altogether. It’s clear that what we’ve done before hasn’t gotten rid of police corruption, racism, and abuse, so we need to look at new ways to address the issue.
This is a really important time to register to vote, because not only do we vote (hopefully, out) our president in November – which seems crucial to fixing some of America’s problems – but local elections like sheriffs and mayors are coming up. We the people have more power in voting than we think, and I hope we use it.Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Turmoil, A Poem and Photo in 805 Lit + Art, and reading at the St. Martin Bookfair Saturday Night
My email has filled and refilled with messages from various publications, nonprofits, and other organizations and companies, all stating, in white type against black background, that they stand with protesters to demand justice and are donating money, sometimes huge sums of money, to various race-related causes or foundations because #Black Lives Matter.Maureen Doallas, Musings in a Time of Crisis XXVI
Although these actions can be regarded as good things to do, are they meaningful? Because I want to ask, What else? […]
What does the word “justice” mean to you? “Freedom”? How do you define “fair treatment” and “equal opportunity”? Or are those just sound-good words for your public relations announcements?
What specific actions do you pledge to take when your white CEO commits an EEO violation? Or your HR director turns a cheek to managers’ failure to meet diversity objectives?
What are you going to do in the communities where you’re based to ensure the history we teach our children includes the true stories of our crimes and African Americans’ many accomplishments? Will you send your children to the same public schools that black children attend?
Which of you in fact will “stand with” Black Americans and link arms and march the next time a black man out for a run is stalked, beaten up, or killed by white supremacists? What are you going to do to help ensure every Black American has the right to vote? Or prevent a political party from killing legislation to right our wrongs against? Or help rid this nation of food and housing insecurity? Are you going to stop supporting political campaigns that keep in office white men and women who take an oath to uphold our Constitution but are owned by lobbyists and do their bidding, no matter that bidding wrongly discriminates?
Will you invite your African American neighbors to dinner, or allow your child to have a playdate with his or her black peers?
Whose story are you willing to listen to and defend if one is black and the other white?
Will you support and engage in a national, state, or local race-reconciliation initiative to acknowledge publicly our racism so that all of together can begin to heal and transform our society and culture?
–Yesterday, my niece, who goes to grad school in South Florida, asked if any of us had any information about protests or marches. I was a bit abashed to realize that I didn’t. In grad school, I was connected to all sorts of peace and justice groups, both local and national. I was much more plugged in, even though we didn’t have e-mail or social media, or we had a different kind of social media.
But I did know some folks who knew some information, so that’s a plus.
–I have become the kind of person I despised when I was 19, the middle aged person who does support work of social justice by writing out a check. But let me remember the pastor of the inner city Lutheran church in Washington D.C. who educated me by telling me that suburban people and their checkbooks were what made the inner city ministry possible. He did it in the kindest way possible, and I will be forever grateful to know that the work of social justice takes many forms.
–I have always assumed that I was the kind of person who would be the first shipped to the radioactive Colonies in an Atwood dystopia. But I’m thinking I may have flattered myself.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Marching and Writing Checks for Justice
So much has happened since you wrote to me. There are little fires burning everywhere. I don’t think any of us were made to take in all this hurt. I feel the edge of apathy tempting me like a daemon hovering off the edge of a cliff, while beasts and bleeding bodies are rushing toward me in a nightmare. Well, not toward me, but toward us all. I am coincidental.
Are all individuals coincidental?
What can I do but sit on the ground where I am, and breathe? I am irrelevant in the bigger picture of things. And yet integral to all of it.
I am not on the front lines of anything, as you say. I’m not tending to the ill, not protesting in the streets of my homeland. I don’t speak for the suffering, or the dead.
There has to be a way to accept the fact of one’s own helplessness- or uselessness -and not give into likegyldighet. I’m drawn toward the word in my second language because the unfamiliarity seems to put the word’s meaning in relief. The literal translation of the word: the same-validity. Two equally legitimate realities. Facts. It is not a matter of “alternate facts”, but conflicting facts. True phenomenon that coexist necessarily in a state of conflict.
Facts. Disconnected from desires. Desires are interpretations, and there is nothing solid about them.
The fact is we are human. The fact is humans desire. The fact is little good comes from automatic writing.
You are on a font line, Richard. Your day job. It is tending to the vulnerable. It is working towards a kind of justice.Ren Powell, The Front Line
In the time of COVID we washed our hands with the spittle in the air and prayed for death. We touched our eyes and waited for death or a ventilator, whichever came first. We counted the number of deaths but not the names of those who died.
The names of the dead were written somewhere with invisible ink, but no one knows where. If someone does have that knowledge, they have never admitted to it, and who could read invisible ink anyway?
In truth, a few people prayed for life, but we also failed to record their names, and there was no god to answer such prayers. Death was everywhere.
In the time of COVID the televisions worked just fine, and computers streamed concerts and videos. You could get anything delivered to your home except cheer. We ate pizza and cut our own hair and stared at social media until it invaded our dreams.
Many of us now distrust social media as much as we distrust the spittle for its infection, as much as we distrust the fools who lead us. Indeed, is there any leader worthy of trust? Spit for me and I will wash my hands again.
In the time of COVID we shaved off our body hair and covered ourselves with oil. Naked, we rubbed against each other until we screamed and our house pets screamed along with us, not understanding.
Or perhaps I am wrong, and house pets understand more than they let on. Perhaps they find the sounds of human orgasm to be funny.
In the time of COVID the police continued to murder Blacks until riots overtook our cities and dumpster fires lit the night, the sound of police sirens was a symphony of horror, a symphony of fear.
Even now we can hear the music starting all over again. Even now it is the time of COVID.James Lee Jobe, In the time of COVID we washed our hands with the spittle in the air
I’ve spent a good portion of the weekend watching the Epstein docuseries on Netflix (of which I think the web of corruption is only the very tip of the iceberg among powerful men) , and last night & finishing later, the Hunger Games movies, of which I have only seen the first two. (I love the books, but I just never have gotten the chance to get to the two final ones.) They are a strangely appropriate thing to be watching at this very moment and I was hoping they didn’t just spike my anxiety higher, but so far I think I’m okay. I am back to focusing no further than the end of the day. Especially as my anxieties & fear about going back to work are beginning to creep up on me. There is so much we don’t know and so much I feel people are paying attention to (notably that we are not expecting a second wave, and only that the first wave is still very much still happening, only that the news, understandably, is focusing on other things. ) I feel no safer out there than I did in late March. I feel esp. helpless about the decreased seriousness of people out there who seem to either be misinformed or just defiant that they need to wear masks and be careful. I actually feel like the mass protests actually look pretty safe and masked up, but the people in bars and on beaches not so much.Kristy Bowen, notes & things : June 7, 2020
Inside, I am better able to focus on writing-related things than I was a few weeks ago. I have a new book, after all, and want to figure out ways to celebrate and promote it as much as I can. There are also a couple new series–one devoted to Weekly World News headlines and another that just might tangentially be about the virus, but also about intimacy and connection. Also just the notion of “viral” and things hi-jacking the body from a scientific standpoint. I feel like I need to tread carefully…I’m not particularly keen on most current events type writing since I think it tends to fall into cliche and hyperbole very easily. The lit journals are filled with mediocre coronapoems right now. I think I, myself, need a little more distance.
there’s massive evil going on
and I study the grasses
oh god I’ve retired
I lit a fireAma Bolton, ABCD: June 2020
it was like putting down a pet
This intense week, I’m featuring a new collection by activist-editor-poet Sonia Greenfield (check out Rise Up Review sometime, too, for brilliant poems of resistance).
Letdown consists of 64 numbered prose poems about pregnancy, birth, raising a special needs child, miscarriage, grief, and recovery. No poems can be assembled into tidy chronologies–they slip and blur, associate and meditate–but the book has a strong emotional arc, through an underworld of pain, to emergence into love and compassion. I love that the book ends in empathy for other parents, but that’s enabled by Greenfield’s own difficult rebirth: “Though I am better now, sometimes I can feel a kite string tied inside cut through me when what I want yanks.”
Maggie Smith gets it right, too, when she calls Greenfield “a master of the prose poem.” Each has a boiled-down lyric intensity. Many investigate the meanings of words, putting the lie to the literary-critical truism that pain short-circuits expression. Poems about diagnostic language, the tone-deaf consolations and blame friends offer, and her sons words are very powerful. Her son is on the autism spectrum and the recurrent description of his “weird energy” could describe the book, too. This collection channels a strong charge of loss and love. As she says, “It takes a while to strip expectations away, to peel off the layers until we’re holding our child’s happiness in the palm of our hand, as pure as the simplest silicate mineral, and say it is enough.” This is a testament to celebrate.Lesley Wheeler, Virtual Salon #13 with Sonia Greenfield
“The apocalypse…is not when the world ends; it’s when one single person is killed. The entire universe becomes deformed when one single person is tortured.”
—Raúl Zurita, trans. Borzutzky
“The death toll is always one, plus one, plus one. The death toll is always one” —Teju Cole
…we are each other’s
we are each other’s
business: we are each other’s
magnitude and bond.
Beauty will be here for us, but this time, this time. We have to be here for it. We have to end this. Because one unnecessary death is intolerable. Evil is intolerable. Racism is intolerable. Inequality is intolerable. Hatred is intolerable. The disparities are intolerable. Violence against Black people, and Indigenous people and all BIPOC is intolerable.
I’m honestly just a gutted horrible mess over this. I haven’t cried over Covid-19. I’ve cried over this. I read Twitter most of the day, various news sites. And then we had a family Zoom call and that was lovely. What a privilege to know that all your loved ones are safe. And then a big cocktail while listening to Jason Isbell’s song, Be Afraid, repeatedly. Most of us don’t even know what real fear is. I know I don’t.
The line by Teju Cole just keeps repeating in my head, the death toll is always one. It guts me.Shawna Lemay, Try to Say Something; Also: Shut-Up
Imagine as fully as possible that a crowd of desperate people are at your door. Their eyes and lungs are burning, they are afraid, angry, out of options. You have seconds to decide. Imagine you open the door and now your home is filled with these strangers, every available space taken up. They need food, water, aid. Can you do it?
Now imagine this. You are on the other side of a stranger’s door. You’re the one in pain, afraid and desperate. Will the door open for you?Laura Grace Weldon, Hospitality To Strangers