Black lives matter.
I’m a lay reader of Poetry, the magazine founded in 1912 by Harriet Monroe. I’m reading backward through my current 102 issues.
“I — the telltale animal — rest my throat / against the snare of you, offer my howl / to the black-eyed Susan in free will, / one fistful of yellow stubbing the chin / of never-never land…” (1)
The poems I encounter leave me stunned, off balance, perplexed, angry, indifferent, sometimes wryly satisfied that I’ve cracked some code — mixed feelings.
“Today being outside is I’m worried of outsides. / To repeat what I said would ask spindle / of me. I should make a very poor form of spider. / A room is an interiority plenty to have windows and a cliff…” (2)
Some are so forgettable I can’t remember at their end how they started even after multiple readings.
“On the third shelf. An X to be prince of. The kind of X that razors sewn into / the duvet were stropped against. A second X for you to burn. / My next question was to be. *Who tastes as much slither as sugar. But the / dogs have given their voices to the warp of reproduction.” (3)
Certain poems blow through my faculties like wind through a breezeway. Or tracks in sand. Where did they go?
“Jamming was ok with whoop and smelly / projectiles in the special ops dinner jacket— / ‘Twas the night before we killed the lights / and plutonium yelped from the depths of yawp / And our grandpas stunk the place to high / stock options in bull market spectaculars— / Heaven, “where my bing-bongs at?” they scowl, closing out / the paygap with a wink, photoshopping lawsuit teeth!” (4)
Other poems repel oral reading so fiercely I give up and traverse them silently.
“witness i, _chievement g_p filler croon problem-deepening theses / on heuristic, heteroglossic verse, conference floor field holler / set to hyfrydol tune. codify this fuzzy discourse, question / every line of questioning…” (5)
Much of this poetry doesn’t move me, nor does it mean to. It’s more like fuck you. It wants to subvert my expectations in regard to syntax, diction, punctuation, typography — to heal me of wanting words going in a direction I can fathom. It wants to provoke me into doubting my own faculties, into feeling lost, unfeeling, illiterate, flown in the face of.
It works. That feels about right, worth leaning into. I’m game.
An article of faith for me is that the liberties poets take in their difficult texts come from craft and cunning, perhaps some reduct of their private psyches they’ve tunneled out of and modeled in hermetic speech, but not from trivial strutting or toying with the reader. Absent this faith I couldn’t hack it.
So. This manifestoid salutes Poetry magazine’s unsparing editors for reading ahead of their audience and championing exacting material for it.
(1) Alison C. Rollins, “At Least a Dozen Bluets,” Poetry, February 2020
(2) Bradley Trumpfheller, “Speculative Realism,” Poetry, June 2020
(3) Patrick Milian, “To Be Twice Plastic,” Poetry, April 2020
(4) John Kinsella & Thurston Moore, “Lightkick! 2,” Poetry, March 2020
(5) Kyle Carrero Lopez, “(slang)uage,” Poetry, May 2020
(c) 2020 JMN