I’m not as good as Rachel Maddow in setting up an historical narrative to bring us to the current political situation, but I have been thinking a lot about what gets us through rough times in our lives, and this era in our political and social history is no exception. I haven’t been writing much, have you? I have been reading poetry and watching Stephen Colbert. I’ve been listening to music and watching a lot of comedy. I’ve kept up with the news, too much at times to be sure. Maybe I could stay away from the news cycle for a week, but not at this juncture in American history. More than any other time in my life, I need to know what’s going on around me.
It would be very easy for me to hole up in my house and shut the world out right now. I’m scared and angry most of the time, but I haven’t stopped going out, and I haven’t stopped talking to people. In my job, I have to talk to people everyday—I don’t have a choice. I can’t stand in front of the classroom and say nothing. I have to teach my students how to make logical arguments and back them up with credible evidence. My work as a teacher has never felt more political. Lessons I’ve taught for years could now set a room on fire.
In the past few months, I’ve realized that talking to my students keeps me alive. Some of them might agree with me politically, some not, but I know that we need to get out of our houses, or dorm rooms, or apartments and talk to one another. We need to express ourselves in such a way that shows respect for who has come before us and who is listening. Every one of my students needs to speak. We need to have conversations about word choice, tone, organization, and logic both in the classroom and individually. We need to learn how to do this work both together and on our own.
Because to be divided means that we’re alone. At the AWP conference I attended in February, I felt more love in panels, at readings, and at the book fair than I ever had before. I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. A few other writers told me they thought this conference felt different, and it dawned on me: we need each other. As writers, as readers, as editors, we need to hear from one another as those who love words but also who need to connect with other humans. But we don’t just need to connect with other writers. We need to connect with others in our communities, our schools, and our libraries. We need to connect with the person who stands in line behind us at the supermarket or at Target, and with the UPS man who brings us the book we’ve been waiting for. People are angry. People are hurt. Communities are being targeted with violence. Others need comfort from us. And we’re making it happen: Americans are coming together in airports, at marches, and at town halls to stand up for others because we haven’t forgotten what it’s like to be human.
I know this column doesn’t give much of an answer to the ongoing political crisis. I keep watching the narrative unfold as if it will never stop. Even if it doesn’t, I won’t stop talking to the person next to me. I won’t stop teaching, or talking, or making connections, because it’s what I have. It’s what I do.
In our poetry column this month, we have beautiful work from poets that remind us what it’s like to be human, who want to connect with us and ask to connect in return. Our featured poet this month is Jessica Lynn Suchon who shares the narrative of a trauma survivor through images that will leave you breathless. In an interview, Jessica and I discuss how trauma survivors navigate both the outside and interior worlds, and the identity of the body. This is an important interview that you don’t want to miss.
We also have stunning work from Jen Stein whose poems echo the yearning of a body to become one with the surrounding landscape. Stein’s poems are filled with vibrant lake stones and flora, and the body blooms in tandem, becoming. The natural world is a vehicle for the body that doesn’t always move as we want: “let me blossom, leg as root, // pelvis as stem, let starlings fly / from my unmuted mouth.” In these poems, the body is a landscape. The body is possibility.
Associate Poetry Editor Davon Loeb brings us three poems and an interview with Charleen Heidkamp. About her work, he writes:
Charleen Heidkamp’s poetry explores the definitions of home by juxtaposing life at sea versus life on land. Her writing uses place to expose the ways we search for love while experiencing loss in familiar and unfamiliar spaces. Her poem, “I’m just a deckhand.”, parallels to Pablo Neruda’s poem, “Leaning into the Afternoons,” whereas both poets find solace but also grief in the uneasy sea. She writes, “Who needs time and / who needs a home? / We have the whole world / to paint as our canvas / of sail.” And then Charleen proves how the quintessential hometown can be just as misguiding in her poem, “Growing Up.” This is Charleen’s first publication, and much deserving.
We also have two poems from Richard Krawiec this month. Attentiveness is the gift of these poems, calling back to us the childhood joy of making crowns of daffodils when peace is interrupted by an email or text message and we have to “l eave behind the carefully woven / and already wilting crown.” But we also can find this type of harmony in the everyday by watching what is around us in our daily lives, such as the young bulldog “who rushes / to dive into a boggy pool, paddles around then out, / and trots off.” I love these poems for the reminder of these beautiful moments filled with renewal.
We close our March column with poems from Lisa Dordal. Davon writes this about her work:
Lisa Dordal’s poems are relational explorations into the lives of the intimate and the distant—whereas readers sit and listen to the beats of a mother’s dying heart; and then, readers are on the wings of houseflies intruding the narrator’s home. And while a mother and houseflies seem incomparable, Lisa questions the fragile and fickle state of life by almost paralleling the two; she writes, “Even houseflies must have their angels.” So just like those flies beguiled by the wax paper, readers too, will be stuck to these poems.
Thank you for visiting our poetry column this month. Keep connecting with us. We need you.