BY LISA HITON, POETRY EDITOR
We have been conditioned in an increasingly digital age to think of anxiety as the appropriate response to overload. While this Jew knows that catastrophizing and ethnogenetic neurosis have a role in survival—especially when surviving requires enduring large structures and institutions where the truth might not out—the volume of such angst has overtaken our ability to hear and see alternatives to our reality, namely, in the form of imagination.
What the writers and artists of this issue stand to teach us is that we need imagination for more than escape. In the words of Shira Erlichman’s poem, “Ars Poetica with a Pick in your Hand,” whether we are cooking beans or making poems, “we glow with the purpose / of ordinary things.” These days, ordinary things can include the weather, but also chatter of pandemic and protest. Of toilet paper and contact tracing. And so, it’s hard not to feel as Kyle Dargan’s speaker does in “The Weatherman gets to Curse in Chicago”:
Aren’t you tired of hearing about Chicago
and its taloned wind, its L rails set aflame
to stem frostbite in the track switches’ toes,
wings, and noses? Let’s take a poll. Raise
your middle finger if lately you’ve lifted
an expletive to the sky […]
Dargan knows that we all have done this, despite “our intemperate suffering.” It’s not to say there isn’t real suffering—in these works of literature or in our realities. But our attitude towards our own suffering and that of others seems to be so rampant and usual that we can’t break from our numbness to it.
Our experience of art is increasingly dwindling. Our homes have become our libraries, galleries, museums, movie houses, and theaters. And the only space where it’s not possible to disperse our attention between our handheld media and whatever is before us is in reading. The call between the speaker and the reader may be the last intimacy left in this dire time. And that is why the complexity of pain in these pages can stand for so much more than the suffering itself. In Jenny Molberg’s poems, she “make[s] imaginary places where real things happen.” It means “Occam’s Razor” can account for a dichotomy—of excess in the number of women who’ve fallen victim to the hand of the same abuser, and the cutting away done by the poet of any detail or fact that isn’t true. This violence talks to works across the issue, such as C. Russell Price’s “This Must be the Place”, Lynn Melnick’s “Glasnost Bowl”, and others.
These works stand to remind us that imagination is not a diversion or erasure. Rather, it can serve as an extension of how we solve problems—first in the mind, then in the literature. Which can, most importantly, help readers change our cultural rhetoric—our only chance at a paradigm shift somewhere in the future.
In Charlie Blodnieks’ “Ars Poetica for the End of the World,” the speaker tells us one such way they imagine a post-apocalyptic climate:
in the new world, I hope we all get bodies we feel safe in.
get to un-inform the world of how to kill us best.
While the poem is from the predicament of transness, the sentiment can be applied to all of our hopes and bodies. And further, the true balm we have for ourselves and our readers is in the gesture of ars poetica—of thinking about what we make and how we make it. The works in our latest issue take our current predicaments and measure them against our imaginative capacities.
Let’s take them at their word.
Lisa Hiton is a writer and filmmaker from Deerfield, Illinois. Her first book of poems, Afterfeast, was selected by Mary Jo Bang to win the Dorset Prize and is forthcoming from Tupelo Press (October 2021). She holds an M.F.A. in poetry from Boston University and an M.Ed. in Arts in Education from Harvard University. Her poems have been published in or are forthcoming from The Adroit Journal, Lambda Literary, New South, The Paris-American, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Hobart, and Denver Quarterly, among others. She has received the AWP Kurt Brown Prize, the Esther B. Kahn Scholarship from 24Pearl Street at the Fine Arts Work Center, and two nominations for the Pushcart Prize. She is the author of the chapbook Variation on Testimony (CutBank). She is the poetry editor of the Adroit Journal.
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