A curated literary guide

Week #40 / 2nd – 8th October, 2017

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Sunday Review: Electric Arches

a collection from Eve Ewing

[ Haymarket Books / 2017 / 94 pp ]

Welcome to the intersection of technology and (Black girl) magic. Eve’s book channels the futurism within daily struggles. What we can unlearn while reading Electric Arches is the notion that resistance is an agenda locked in the present. Eve illuminates the delicate continuum that we as Black people move through. “Arrival Day,” exemplifies this perfectly by beginning with an epigraph in Assata Shakur’s words, “Black revolutionaries do not drop from the moon. We are created by our conditions.” This poem expands the absurdity of revolutionary moon people into a full-blown magical realism narrative.

so they had no words for the moon people when they did come.
and the moon people could not be captured. camera lenses
looking on them turned to salt and cast white trails across the
eyelids of the looker. and the moon people were dressed in
every color, they wore saffron yellow and Kool cigarette green and
Georgia clay red and they wore violet, they wore violet. and they
were loud, as their hands worked, hammering the iron of the
jail cell doors into lovely wrought curls and bicycle chains,
smashing the fare boxes at the train stations into wind chimes
and bowing low to the passengers as they entered—some sashaying
through the turnstile, some dipping it low as they went underneath,
they sang.

Eve’s language is biblical and absolute enough to reverse the course of history, or at least our approach to it. In this myth, I see survival as interstellar import; Blackness crowning from among the cosmos.

In “to Stacey, as you were” Eve odes friendship. The vastness of Eve’s scope encapsulates such indiscriminate and complicated sweetnesses, that at times I feel as though I’m bending, not breaking, despite the bad, towards a tomorrow slick with ease.

you glow all funny, in the way something can be an unexpected beautiful,
like when someone leaves out a can of orange pop
and slowly, slowly emerges a wasp, soothing itself on sugar
reclining on aluminium in the sun as its legs dry.

There is an unmistakable gesture towards savor in Eve’s work. Even in writing about The Great Chicago Fire, there is time for relish. “fire kissed us and laughed,” Eve writes in “I come from the fire city.” The people in Electric Arches are as sensitive as they are indestructible, armed with the knowlege of their forbearers and the disregard of their oppressors. “why you cannot touch my hair” reclaims the imagination and autonomy Black girlhood deserves.

my hair is a technology from the future and will singe your fingertips, be careful.

I find Eve’s incantations stick to my tongue even as I enter a world built for whiteness and maleness. Electric Arches will arm and prepare you for the future(s) our ancestors could only dream of.

Visit Haymarket Books to purchase the book.

Reviewer / Xandria Phillips

Five Things with Andrew McMillan

1. The last thing that made you smile.

Sitting on the settee last night with my boyfriend and our dog, watching trash on TV, drinking the second glass of wine I probably shouldn’t have poured.

2. A secret.

I think The Carpenters are probably my favourite band.

3. The last thing you wrote.

Apart from the answers to these questions, a date in my diary for some work next week—not all writing is ‘art’.

4. Favourite city.

I wouldn’t live anywhere else but Manchester, though occasional trips to San Francisco would be nice.

5. What you’d place in a time capsule.

The feeling outside this morning, about 5am—the year is beginning to fall into Autumn and there’s a freshness and fizz in the air on mornings like that; I guess one of the symptoms of climate change will be losing our seasons, and it’d be nice for people to be able to remember them.

Andrew McMillan was born in South Yorkshire in 1988; his debut collection physical was the first ever poetry collection to win The Guardian First Book Award. The collection also won the Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize, a Somerset Maugham Award (2016), an Eric Gregory Award (2016) and a Northern Writers’ award (2014). It was shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize, the Costa Poetry Award, The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year 2016, the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, the Roehampton Poetry Prize and the Polari First Book Prize. It was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation for Autumn 2015. Most recently physical has been translated into Norwegian. He currently lectures in Creative Writing at MMU and lives in Manchester.

don’t forget to send me courage

a poem from Emily Corwin

                      have you ever needed a
phone call? I am so sorry for leaving

Described by the poet as a “text message poem”, Corwin’s impactful and short piece travels in the wide space between what’s said, what’s written, and ultimately what we don’t see. Each line weaves into the other like a fairy tale about doctors and orchards and cherries, and the deceptively simple enjambments emphasize how sudden and final a text can be. I keep returning to the last two lines, in awe at how Corwin kicks me in the gut with the question of being “in the world, in the big wound?” We are all leaving in some shape or form, and this small poem revels in the briefness of everything.

Visit Reservoir to read the poem.

Contributing Editor / Hannah Cohen


a poem from Patricia Jacaban Miranda​

I’m writing this review a day after the mass shootings in Las Vegas, Nevada. I haven’t imbibed on news, so while I may know nothing of the specifics I am gut-wrenchingly familiar with the rhetoric and online discourse. I feel enraged, and like times before, the comfort I seek is found in the written word; Patricia Jacaban Miranda’s ‘Ever’ is a poem I want to print graffiti-sized and shellac it on the square, grey, faceless buildings of every downtown. I want to grab people by the lapels and collars, pull them close and speak it right into their ears. Jacaban Miranda isn’t speaking specifically of the domestic terrorism of Las Vegas, she’s speaking of some of the things that make a tragedy like Las Vegas possible. Poetry—this poem—isn’t a panacea to racist, misogynistic, and violent problems of the United States, but it is the color of our banner. A flag we can hoist, for it to be known, when it comes to dismantling structures of power and politics, we aren’t sleeping, not now, not ever.

Visit apt to read the poem.

Contributing Editor / Reneé Bibby

嫦娥 Explains Her Origin Story

a poem from Stephanie Cui & Jasmine Cui

Instead, I am telling a creation myth

                    in reverse. The boy-god sinks
                    into his mother

This week I have a poem by Jasmine Cui and Stephanie Cui on mythology, the moon, and Chang’o. Turning a classical myth on end, revealing the ways that time and history can warp a story and change its meaning. The context excised, Chang’o becomes a victim, the punishment external and enacted upon her. The conflict of choosing your own fate and resolving yourself to one defined fate, to abandoning someone you love. Sacrifice or selfishness, there is a nuance to her mythology that has been gradually stripped away over time.

                              Asks her bones
to unspool into atoms into light.
And exiles whatever is left.

Visit Glass: A Journal of Poetry to read the poem.

Contributing Editor / Joyce Chong

The Opposites Game

a poem from Brendan Constantine

It’s been difficult to muster the sort of energy and engagement needed to write about poetry. Yesterday saw the worst mass shooting in recent US history, with 59 people taken from their lives, and 527 injured. I say “recent” so as not to erase atrocities committed against indigenous peoples and slaves. An unmovable thread of American history is a history of such killings.

And so I’ve been gutted. I didn’t want to write about poetry today. But poetry found me, like it so often does, on Kaveh Akbar’s Twitter timeline. Sandwiched between a tweet pointing out the gross racism of newspaper headlines and something about the death of Tom Petty was the poem ‘The Opposites Game’ by Brendan Constantine.

Constantine’s poem centers children and a discussion of poetry that turns into a discussion of violence, and toward the end you find a line spread out like an uncrossable ocean:

The opposite of a gun is wherever you point it.

And so I found a new depth for the helplessness of the past 24 hours. I keep thinking about Las Vegas, about Orlando, about Newtown, about the innocent and the dead and the utter lack of compassion and urgency in large swaths of the American populace.

The opposite of a gun is wherever you point it.

The poem ends on an even more solemn note, if you can believe it. But I’m still meditating on that one line, letting it sink into me.

Visit The American Journal of Poetry to read the poem.

Contributing Editor / Andrew Sargus Klein

Conversations about home (at a deportation centre)

a poem from Warsan Shire

Warsan Shire is one of the best voices re: topics of immigration & diaspora, hands down. Her liquid, prose-like poems draw you into specific and timely realities, only to quickly turn a corner into gut-wrenching imagery that sticks with you long after you’ve finished. As the speaker here ruminates on the shame that always follows them, they highlight a pivotal moment in their immigration journey: “I tore up and ate my own passport in the airport hotel. I am bloated with language I can’t afford to forget.” This image is so striking, especially when you consider that having a Somali passport only grants you access to thirty countries/territories, so it was likely not stamp-filled. After the speaker devours many things that identify you as a person—name, gender, nationality, birth date, place of birth—I imagine them almost instantly becoming sick with the weight of it, their body unused to a swath of colored papers and ink. They later imply that they’ve become a living passport, by answering “can’t you see it on my body?” when officials ask how they arrived. They’ve now made themself harder to decipher or track, but the emotional cost of having to eviscerate yourself is steep. When they turn to others who have “the memory of ash on their faces,” I just hold my heart because the dirt has physically been scrubbed away but still lingers.

Ironically, the deportation centre is one of the clearer locales that the speaker gives us, given that they’ve spent a good portion of time un-situated: “I spent days and nights in the stomach of a truck… Sometimes it feels like someone else is wearing my body.” Constantly being caught in a liminal space for days, probably weeks on end, feels torturous. When the only consistency your body feels is motion, how can you react normally once there's finally a stop or a rest? Even a pause doesn't mean freedom; rather, you take in more detail of the space in which you’re enclosed until you know it intimately. Sometimes the rest is the more relentless of violence because you know the latch won’t open for you. The liminal space leaves so much room for dissociation that this speaker must have floated outside their body multiple times in response. The comedown for me usually feels like being dropped off the edge of a cliff, so imagine being skinned only to be put back in the same shell til you continually empty inside.

But we’re soon drawn back into the liminal space by watching the world play out across a screen: “I watch the news and my mouth becomes a sink of blood.” I felt this so viscerally because I often unconsciously find myself biting my tongue til it bleeds if the news is too overwhelming. It’s so easy to unwittingly silence yourself until your body pushes back against the pressure of your dissociation and reminds you that it exists and can be hurt. While the mouth is currently a sink, I don’t feel the drain is open. Rather, I see the blood bubbling to the brim with nowhere left to go once it's birthed. In these relentlessly honest moments, we recognize just how much trauma an immigrant goes through just to exist, to have a name, to become the living passport that everyone keeps checking for stamps.

Visit openDemocracy to read the poem.

Contributing Editor / Nix Thérèse