BY EMILY TIAN, POETRY READER
The trouble with beginnings is that there’s no such thing. You hit Enter and you’re also hitting Return. You wake up to a cold January morning, suddenly, awkwardly, remarkably thrust into the new decade, but there are still dirty dishes in the sink, a knot in your right shoulder, and everywhere the same old chant: I want, I want, I want.
It’s 2020, but we can’t completely turn the page, not yet. The world doesn’t let go so easily. The world is burning, and this is not a metaphor. (I repeat: This is not a metaphor.) One need not strain to imagine Dante’s Inferno when wildfires scorch millions of acres of land in Australia, in California, and the Amazon. But if this is so, if there are times when reality needs no poetic looking glass to terrify, what could be left for the writer or the artist?
I need not worry. As Issue Thirty-One reminds me, few things can keep up the pace quite like verse. I reach for Victoria Chang’s selections from OBIT, in which she makes poetry by slipping off its veil:
was nothing like death, just death.
Nothing like grief, just grief. How the
shadow of a chain link fence can look
like a fish’s scales but never be.”
Paul Guest’s “Late Stage Capitalism Blues” pulses with all the straight talk and dizzyingly fast lyric its title promises. Alex Perez begins “Freedom” with: “Let me tell you about the time my grandfather found the machete we’d been keeping from him…”, and I’m there in the kitchen with the speaker and his family on Christmas Eve, listening and believing.
Elsewhere in this issue, Gale Marie Thompson’s searing, unflinching poem, “Hand Me My Leather”, delivers the following lines: “If I am past mercy, it is only to show / that I can invent laws, too.” Nate Marshall’s “finna” similarly resists the temptation to fall back on convention: “that was how i let my life happen, / i let my mind tell me a million no’s that the world / had implanted in me before i even formed questions.” Natalie Eilbert takes this line of inquiry one step further with the question that opens “Symptoms of Self-Induced Vomiting”: “Isn’t it the mind wants answers to / The body?” Thompson, Marshall, and Eilbert offer us no silk-screens, no tromp l’oeils. In this world, we don’t need them.
These authors and artists are our fact-finders. They are our principal investigators. They do not take us away from the world, but rather are with us in—and through—the thick of it. If the world has crept up too close to the province of poetry and fiction, Issue Thirty-One pulls it closer and keeps it there.