the hope that stemmed from seeing hostas
break through after months of lying dormant
was quickly stemmed by three mornings of frost”
Ben Berman, “In the Same Brine”
God is dabbling
With us, no? I want to say more about God
But fear the pronouns. At least I can say
The traffic feels on purpose –
Sheera Talpaz, “What We Mean by Ambition”
It’s odd to call the poems of DB15 a spring offering, as many of these poets demur the easy optimism of new beginnings or awakenings – many, in fact, seem to wonder if rebirth will ever be possible. “Let’s hope our hearts/are quiet like a graveyard/and the world burns” concludes Yang Jian (tr. Fiona Sze-Lorrain) in “Ancient Mansion.” And yet the sense of suspension, doubt, and anxiety that proliferates these lines is, to my eye, a form of hope. We continue to live, to process, to ask questions, to sift the soil.
Many of these poems explore tensions between the unpredictable and the inevitable. They struggle to find vocabulary for outcomes without adequate means of articulating the problem. They query the adequacy of preparations, the controlling potential of language. How do we respond to danger, to the possibility of disaster? Should language provide solutions, advice, resignation, warning?
“The Goddamn Fire,” writes Michelle Whittaker in her eponymous poem, “is gnawing at a charred frame/and Where the hell were the beleaguers’ waters/or the gods in timely rain dance? Where are these men/of fire who can stint-quick with grace?”
Should poems render safety a fiction? “what is it that keeps us upwards:” asks Florencia Varela in “To Her Dreamscape.”
What is the more potent declaration – power or powerlessness? Do we place our trust in God, science, or the animal in us? “anything can be/two or more things at once, for example, both coherent and shattered, exploded/and unexploded, both alive and dead.” writes poet (and DB reader) Kristin Kostick in “The Gravity of Romance.”
Wit and wordplay – albeit mordant – find their way, too, in Amit Majmudar “Pandemic Ghazal,” where a virus is “infinitely versatile/…of guardrail, Ipod, turnstile” and in William Auten’s post-9/11 palindrome “Satan oscillate my metallic sonatas.”
Poetry can provide a closed system in which to interrogate what terrifies us, but also illuminates the fragility of the systems we construct in order to move forward.
It’s limiting to read these as catalogues of dread or options for survival, or “practicing extinction.” (Kyle McCord.) I invite you to view the poems here as a collective response, steps towards a making of a narrative arc, as yet untitled. In Wendy Xu’s “Ruptured Heart Theory,”
The story goes on without us,
can the story belong to us,
accomplished by us the story
Michelle Chan Brown
Michelle Chan Brown’s Double Agent was the winner of the 2011 Kore First Book Award, judged by Bhanu Kapil. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Cimarron Review, Linebreak, The Missouri Review, Quarterly West, Sycamore Review, Tampa Review, Witness, and others. Her chapbook, The Clever Decoys is available from LATR Editions. She earned her MFA at the University of Michigan and lives in Pomfret, Connecticut, where she is the Writer-in-Residence at Pomfret School.