Recently, I’ve made time again to write down what I think and feel on paper. Sometimes my life gets too busy to make time to do this, but if I don’t do it, I am unmoored. To understand myself and the world around me, I have to go to the page, work out my thoughts, and clarify them, no matter how they’re inspired. And if they’re inspired by an event in our culture, I have to be aware of the connections I’m making and what exactly it is I’m responding to.
In our culture it is very easy to make ourselves heard on social media through 120+ characters or a photo. It is easy to speak whatever we feel or think at the moment we think or feel it, and not give our words or their impact on others a second thought. As a writer, to speak with conviction is important to me, but it is also important that I review my words before I speak them.
The loss of respect for others in this country concerns me. Politicians attack one another with language, then members of political parties attack those in the opposite political party. If they can’t blame one another, they blame an outsider or a vulnerable group of people. Hatred fills language, and “violence becomes a language,” as so clearly spoken by Adrienne Rich in her book of essays What is Found There. Vulnerable people are at risk. Then someone acts on their violent words, and our country rings with another mass shooting.
Clarity of thought and respect for others takes practice, and practicing these skills takes time and consideration of our actions, but these are better ways of having a dialogue than violence. What every person says matters. Violent rhetoric cannot be excused. The language we use impacts other people all the time. This is about treating another person as a human. It is about remembering those we’ve lost to acts of violence. It is about listening to the language being broadcast across the nation and asking ourselves if this is the language we want to speak.
On to the November poetry column! Associate Poetry Editor Davon Loeb starts us off this month with three poems and a knockout interview with our lead poet, Sam Herschel Wein:
Sam Herschel Wein’s poems are seeds that are growing to tell a greater truth—not just for the individual, but for the collective, the whole of us—a societal narrative, where his stories and the stories of others have been untold for so long—have been muted and stifled—have been told to be forgotten, to be smothered—have been ordered to be ashamed; but Sam refused, and demands his voice to be heard, as should all of us.
Associate Poetry Editor Ösel Jessica Plante brings us two stunning poems from Glenn Freeman. About this work, she writes:
Glenn Freeman’s poetry has the cadence of a normal speaking voice, something akin to what Robert Frost called “the sound of sense.” In this voice, Freeman’s narrator is approachable, friendly, a story-teller who makes plain, honest statements like, “This is how the news of loss / comes to us,” when speaking about the passing of the poet Denis Johnson, or when dissecting the nature of loves he says, “I cannot / name it, not / the way / Burroughs / named his ultimate / addiction, lord.” The straightforward language of Freeman’s poems belies their depth.
“Recipe from My Grandmother for Self-Charity” hooked me from the first line: “After I’d singe my face a little, I’d wash my face with the ashes.” Written in the voice of a woman who has lived a long life, Hannah Baker Saltmarsh’s poem takes us through the death of two of the grandmother’s husbands, and taking time for oneself when raising children. “You can only listen to so much at once, like the urge to preserve / better days in small glass bottles so you can have the best tastes // anytime you want from all seasons but winter.” In an effort of self-love and self-care, the speaker learns what to store up when needed and what to hold dear, and by listening, so can we.
I have read Adam Chiles’ poem “Reading Edward Thomas to My Father” numerous times and see or hear something new with each visit. He combines the aging of a parent with reading aloud a poem by Thomas that contains a specific landscape, and in so doing, Chiles offers this landscape to us through sound and image. From generation to generation we are lulled and comforted by poetry. Chiles continues the details of landscape in “Reverie” where the speaker should be lulled by sounds and the darkness of night—“the calculus of rain, a dog / barking, that slow traffic / of wind”—but cannot sleep. Chiles merges the natural world with human experience in ways that are both familiar and surprising.
Ösel also brings us wonderful work by Wale Ayinla:
“I [give] you my body / take it… / as a crust / dipped in hyssop / like an embodied parable,” says Wale Ayinla in his poem “Acceptance in a Summary,” a poem that moves from beautiful image to beautiful image gathering fragments “of tangled oceans,” and “a wallpaper of night.” Ayinla’s poems are confident and airy and his words feel is if they’ve come from a place of wisdom beyond the poet’s years.
We close our poetry column with a beautiful poem by Diana Pinckney. In “Super Cuts, Six Months after My Daughter’s Death,” Pinckney relates the silence that accompanies the grief of losing a loved one when in conversation with another person about them. How do we talk about the person we loved and still love to someone who didn’t know them? How do we begin? After answering a question, the speaker states, “my voice / tight, clipped as the gray strands covering // the floor.” We move into memory, into what could have been said but has no verbal language. The final lines of the poem are filled with the power of moving from silence to speech and honoring memory through the poetic act of repetition, which fills the air of the poem with grace and depth.
Thank you for visiting our poetry column and listening to these poets! We hope their words brighten your winter, wherever you are.