Community Feedback: Cynthia Manick reads Briana Grace Hammerstrom


Community Feedback is our recurring column that provides an opportunity for our audience to get some quick, free & exceptional feedback on a new poem. Submit your poem here. This month’s guest editor is Cynthia Manick.


This month, we chose “Digital Memorial” by Briana Grace Hammerstrom. Thank you to all of our submitters.

Digital Memorial

The algorithm decided
to tag my dead Great Aunt Jo Ann
+++++in a Facebook post
++++++++++instead of J.Q.

+++++haven’t talked to her
+++++in years
++++++++++(Now will never get
+++++the chance to), but
this social media app
has other plans. Gently, it
+++++places the mere
++++++++++suggestion of her
+++++under my fingertips
+++++and with a click:
+++++she is, still receiving
birthday notifications
and game requests.

I’ve seen our digital walls
morph into
+++++memorials and altars
++++++++++all too often
+++++these days, yet I
+++++can’t help but think
this is the better way
+++++to build a cemetery. Easier to see ghosts
+++++in the machine gliding
++++++++++across the metadata, finding
++++++++++all the avenues
++++++++++which lead them
++++++++++back to us.
+++++Aft all, we
still take every chance we can
+++++to contact the dead- whether
++++++++++via oujia or circuit board
We still pass messages, knowing
+++++they will never be
++++++++++left on read,
+++++++++++++++returned to sender.

The group chat transmutes
+++++into support group. There
+++++is now a memory
+++++or meme
++++++++++you can’t share anymore, living
+++++in the fear laugher will
lead to your grief unstitching itself
+++++once again. You
++++++++++can’t stop
+++++the notifications
+++++on anniversaries from popping up-
++++++++++one-year-later // on this day
++++++++++shuffles the day your heart
++++++++++gained a vacancy
+++++to the top of your news feed. An allowance
of remembering- whether you want it
+++++or not.

This, the first thing you see, is
+++++the intimacy of loss, as if
++++++++++you could ever forget. As if
+++++++++++++++the calendar wasn’t mocking
++++++++++++++++++++you as is.

There is no change
+++++in how
we mourn these days. We still
+++++send floral arrangements, only now it’s
++++++++++More emojis.
++++++++++Less chlorophyll.
++++++++++Still symbol
+++++++++++++++of Love.

This new kind of petal just lasts longer.

The Evolution of Grief

There is a mystery when we write; every poem is asking a question. What does it mean to be human; to observe, feel, and react? In “Digital Memorial” we’re confronted with a new version of grief as algorithmic ghosts become a way of interacting with the dead. The narrative explores “digital walls/ morp[hed] into/ memorials and alters” as a social media app mistakenly tags the deceased great aunt Jo Ann. The stream-of-consciousness tone of the poem surprisingly moves like the stages of grief – shock at the emotion the tag invokes; bargaining and questioning the validity of modern day memorials; and finally acceptance that this is our unwitting version of Ouija boards:


she is, still receiving

birthday notifications

and game requests


this is the better way

                                                to build a cemetery


An allowance

of remembering- whether you want it

or not.


In a 2003 interview Chilean poet Raúl Zurita said “Poetry was born with the human, it is older than writing, older than the book, older than the internet, and it will continue taking on millions of new forms until it dies when the last man contemplates the last sunset.” As Zurita describes poetic evolution, the same reasoning can be applied to the grief amplified in this poem. One would think the subject matter automatically implies sadness and a whiff of macabre. While that is there in minute ways, the poet excels at making social media an anthropomorphic character “the social media app/ has other plans,” “the group chat transmutes/ into support group,”
and “on this day/ coding/ shuffles the day your heart.” The reader becomes acclimated to the new currency. The social media profiles and messages not read, moves beyond the immediate trauma it produces and becomes something else, almost healing. I’m reminded of the Japanese wind telephone in Tokyo that was installed after the 2011 tsumani, where people deal with grief by “talking” to the dead.


Command the Line

My favorite part of this poem occurs when there is command of the line, as if the poet has something crucial or wise to impart: “I’ve seen our digital walls,” “the first thing you see, is/ the intimacy of loss” and the fantastic ending that compares two symbols of mourning: flower arrangements and emoji’s. However, when reading poems I also look at line breaks and ask where do the breaths meet? Line breaks can be used to pause a thought, torque an enjambment, separate breath, and shape the narrative. The line breaks in this poem often feels disjointed. Instead of building something emotionally on the page, the unconventional line breaks seem to be without reason and it causes a start/stop motion that pulls me out of the experience:

                        on anniversaries from popping up-


                                                one-year-later // on this day

                                                shuffles the day your heart

                                                gained a vacancy

                        to the top of your news feed. An allowance

of remembering- whether you want it

            or not


The poet should also think about the economy of words. Keeping with the breath description, in poetry every word can represent breath, meaning every word serves a purpose. If every word or line has value, why say something in 5 words when you can say it effectively in 3? The poem is very reliant on and, the, your, all, yet, that, this, still which creates extra breath and slows down the storytelling. Instead of leading us tentatively with prepositions, the poet should aim to give lines the authority of their experience.


Put it on Bed Sheets

When I was in graduate school a fellow poet liked a line and said he wanted to put it on bed sheets. So when I think of favorite lines, I ask are they bed sheet worthy? These are lines that stood out with repeated viewing and they serve as launch pads:

  • “suggestion of her under my fingertips”
  • “this is the better way/ to build a cemetery”
  • “grief unstitching itself”
  • “the day your heart/ gained a vacancy”
  • “gliding/ across the metadata”
  • “this new kind of petal just lasts longer”



This is a great poem that surprised me in a lot of ways. It tackles the changing times of communication, grief, and the digital stamp that records it all. The poet has a fantastic grasp of subject matter and the poetics is there. In revision, the poet should determine where the line should break and why.


Cynthia Manick offers professional consultations and feedback through her site, here. She is the author of Blue Hallelujahs (Black Lawrence Press, 2016). A Pushcart Prize nominated poet with a MFA in Creative Writing from the New School; she has received fellowships from Cave Canem, Hedgebrook, the MacDowell Colony, and Poets House among others.  Winner of the 2016 Lascaux Prize in Collected Poetry and the 2018 Elizabeth Sloan Tyler Memorial Award, Manick was awarded Honorable Mention in the 2019 Furious Flower Poetry Prize. She is Founder and Curator of the reading series Soul Sister Revue; and her poem “Things I Carry Into the World” was made into a film by Motionpoems, a organization dedicated to video poetry, and has debuted on Tidal for National Poetry Month and Reel 13 Shorts. Manick’s work has appeared in the Academy of American Poets Poem-A-Day SeriesBone Bouquet, Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB), Muzzle Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, and elsewhereShe currently resides in Brooklyn, New York.
Briana Grace Hammerstrom is a queer poet from Flagstaff, AZ. She has participated at the Individual World Poetry Slam, National Poetry Slam, All Arizona State Slam, as well as several other features around California and the South West. Her current focus is on creating workshops and educating artistic enterprises on the importance of marketing and development. Her first chapbook “What Else Can Grow” is available online. If you heard she runs an international cabal of bisexual poets/assassins, you are not the first person to wonder about the truth of this sentiment.