January 30, 2023

Save the Net Books

Blogazine on Books, Arts, and Music

Ours by Charif Shanahan | Poetry Foundation

We are excited to welcome Charif Shanahan as our next guest editor. He is editing the summer 2023 issues of Poetry with the magazine’s editorial team.

The poet Marie Howe often says, “Poetry is ours.” I understand the statement mainly as a response to the alienation that so many students and potential readers of poetry seem to feel from the genre – a reminder that poetry does have parts of our collective and individual subjectivity, but so do we. It is a resource, a source, a mirror, a conversation, a question asked, an answer to an unspoken question, a call to action or a call to thought, a record, a testimony, a polemic, a revelation, an affirmation, a you are not alone, a you are alone, an idea, an indescribable discovery and so on. Whatever a poem does or touches, it is ours.

When I hear the statement, I also hear an emphasis on “us,” an “us” that’s expansive and as inclusive as possible—not in a performative way that flattens us into equality, or is more about optics than spirit care, and not even in such a way that a door is left open and everyone in the room has a seat at the table or tries to enter the room. But in a way that recognizes that space is all earth, and we’ve all built doors and walls. Our differences, so the cliche goes, are beautiful; they are also our collective strength on which our survival depends. we need each other; we are each other If poetry is the human voice, as it is called, there is a tradition in a way, although of course we understand that there are and have been countless.

Certainly I don’t neglect the integrity of various poetic lines or the value of celebrating any of them, which I will do myself in this role; I affirm that each tradition is equally human, inherently valuable, all relevant, important and central, an indispensable part of the whole. Poetry reminds me daily of the simultaneous singularity and plurality of human experience: for all our differences, for the way we give meaning to those differences, hate each other for them, and then structure and codify that hate around them, we are effectively – or arise from – a single source. So poetry belongs to all of us. “And,” asks Elizabeth Alexander in an early poem, “don’t we care about each other?”

As a guest editor, I am interested in poetry from any tradition, in any form, on any subject, by ’emerging’ or ‘established’ poets alike. Poems that bring us back to ourselves and to each other, no matter how politically charged, regardless of cultural or social context. Poems that demonstrate the truth of our connectedness, not necessarily as objects in their own right, but together, through the diversity of aesthetic approaches and thematic range that collectively constitute them. Poems that together reflect the diverse richness of the human voice – or, given the limitations of physical space in the editions, much of that richness. Poems that testify that we are here. We all.

In May, I want my first issue to include a special folio of poetry in translation and short meditations on the challenges, joys, and necessities of literary translation. In addition to poems submitted for review by the magazine, the issue will also include a folio dedicated to Assotto Saint, whose Sacred Spells: Collected Works will be published by Nightboat Books in June. Saint—along with contemporaries Melvin Dixon, Essex Hemphill, and Marlon Riggs—was instrumental in increasing the visibility of Black queerness in literature, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to highlight his work in the magazine.

Our June issue focuses on queer poetic lines and the LGBTQIA+ literary giants on whose shoulders we all stand, regardless of your identity. The issue will feature only the poems of self-identified LGBTQIA+ poets, in addition to short prose statements from poets of all identities about the influence of queer predecessors on their work. The edition will also include a special folio dedicated to June Jordan, a poet whose work was never included in poetry during her lifetime, and will be curated by Solmaz Sharif. It’s going to be an exciting topic – historical and contemporary at the same time – and I can’t wait to share it with you.

An official call for our June issue is forthcoming, as are details on our July/August issue, which will include a second folio on translations, along with other new content currently in development. Thank you for reading and for being part of our conversation about this art that we all appreciate and share. I am honored to be able to participate in this conversation in this way and I look forward to meeting many of you through your poetry in the coming period!

Visit our Submittable page for our translation call, which is currently live! Future calls for proposals will be published on Submittable in the coming weeks.