Poetry We Admire: Black Voices
In the archives again, February. When the state that sanctions the militarization of its police and the ongoing expansion of its prison system also sanctions the celebration and uplifting of Black history. It’s so many mouthfuls what has been relegated inside this phoneme of months, this history of triumph, that had to be triumphant if to be was to remain a choice at all.
And even writing the word, a true word, triumph, the mind can be tempted all too easily to place on a pedestal Black people who lived against, who continue to live in, the face of preventable anguish. To place a person, to place people, on a pedestal in this manner is to ignore those preventable preconditions that might tempt us to dehumanize anyone in such a hollowly benevolent manner in the first place.
Preconditions. Still here, the parts of history so ready to forget themselves. Or, one town over, so ready to insist they have been consigned to history.
In favor of remembering, our archives. Full to the brim with the work of the incredible poets we have had the great fortune to publish in the last few years. This Black history month, we wanted to return to a selection of these poems, to center them for our readers once more, and to celebrate the poets who wrote the poems.
Poets without whose work our journal would not be what it is today, I would not be who I am today, and this world most certainly would not become what it might still one day become.
Here, today, are some poems we have published that I love.
Say his sausage
to cock back the hammer, honey-mustard now stitched
into the grip-panel’s
from "Hypothetically Speaking"
by Taylor Byas
It wasn’t until reading this poem with my students that I learned its title doubles as a reference to a catchphrase of conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro’s. Ordinarily hypotheticals have little use: Agree, disagree, they’re mirrors that reflect what our foundational beliefs about the world are. Byas’ poem, however, is so much more. I don’t want to give too much away for those encountering the piece for the first time. I love most how this poem confronts desire, to fulfill the wishes of others, to become complicit in this fulfillment.
Taylor Byas is the author of the chapbook Bloodwarm (2021), available for purchase from Variant Lit.
what of us is not related through sublimation
–the phase matter enters when it grows
weary of holding
form? I am tired.
by Kyle Dargan
I love this poem so much, for its movement and its form, the two inextricably linked as it unravels on the page. The form of this piece corresponds so well to its subject matter, and the images that it uses seem, in kind, to disperse one into the next, “a dissolution / more ecstatic than decomposition, / to punctuate my clearing / sigh.” I think about this poem of Dargan’s all the time.
Kyle Dargan is the author of several collections of poetry, most recently Anagnorisis (2018), which can be purchased here.
I think about
The natural impulse
Men feel to just leave.
from "Your Girlfriend in 30 Parts"
by Camonghne Felix
When Felix’s Build Yourself a Boat was first published, I read nothing else for weeks. When I first stumbled upon this poem in our archive, I thought of Etheridge Knight’s Haiku, the two pieces sharing a sense of fragmented wholeness. Just as this poem may be read as a continuing narrative, each excerpt stands as well on its own, the fragments as readily independent from one another as they are able to coalesce to form a greater whole. It invites, I think, a multiplicity of readings, making the poem interactive in a way that expands what is possible. It makes the reader more possible.
Camonghne Felix is the author of Build Yourself a Boat (2019), available for purchase here.
then? That I am here. Still breathing, even if barely.
It means breathing in two countries. Is it betrayal
from "AFRICANAMERICAN'T SONNET"
by Ayokunle Falomo
I was unlucky, had not heard of Falomo’s work before we published this piece last year, and I am so happy now to know this poet and his poems. I adore formal subversion, and even this piece’s subversion is subversive, slight, constant, sure of itself. The poem begins by gesturing, to be read from bottom to top, a reading that displaces the sense of order we generally rely upon, calling into question whatever assumptions we may have about how, in our seeing, we interpret the world.
Ayokunle Falomo is the author of two self-published books as well as the chapbook African, American, available for purchase from New Delta Review.