Poetry feels like an artform ill-suited for our current era. As we untangle the threads of multiple #MeToo investigations or seek reason from the people in power, we grasp at direct communication. But that’s also why we need poetry more than ever: We need it to calm our rattled nerves with shocks of beauty and cold frissons of truth. We need to look at some experiences through the multi-layered meanings of a poem.
That’s precisely what poets Anastacia-Reneé, jamie mortara, and Emily Sieu Liebowitz provide. All three will read at Powell’s on Sunday, September 30; in their recent books, these writers thrillingly reflect the now, with work that shuffles gallows humor, magical realism, and a postmodernist typographic break-down of the English language.
That last element is evident within Anastacia-Reneé’s 2017 collection (V.). The book is stuffed with stanzas—arranged neatly in a column, scattered and crossed out, italicized or bolded for emphasis. Nothing feels out of place. Every choice feels necessary to encapsulate Anastacia-Reneé’s experience as an African American queer woman.
The book is equal parts bitter and sweet. Gritted teeth moments like “I Just Love Her So Much”—a poem which reflects her frustration from listening to two white women heap praise upon Michelle Obama and realizing “you are not the kind of woman of color who will hang on any white person’s wall (with thumbtacks)”—sit near cute interludes like the small font confession that “when no one watches/i moonwalk on my wooden floors/& do a little watch me now turn.”
If the deluge of language is exhausting to read in one sitting, that’s the point. (V.) puts you into Anastacia-Reneé’s fevered and sapped mind as she goes through days feeling like “there are people using 8 dollar words to talk about race &/race relations & you think that’s great/all that you can hold in your mouth today is this: no.”
Emily Sieu Liebowitz’s debut collection National Park is fractured and unconcerned with instant connection or coherence. Most of the poems start in medias res and fall through a jumble of images and fragments as you read them. It feels like a lucid reflection of the digital age: a seemingly endless stream of status updates and keywords. “People and their big music,/people like their big government.,” she writes in “Of This Act.” “Washed gates breaking down/summer sport waiting:/margins glass historians,/New Yorker cartoons/of witty citizens show me/naturalization is a specified child.”
Good Morning America I Am Hungry and On Fire, the new collection from jamie mortara, aims for direct expressions in its pages. Their work is youthful in tone, suffused with pop culture references (“i think i have always been more Fugazi than Minor Threat and i have learned to be okay with that”) and ironic humor. That those qualities tend to dilute the impact of certain poems is only noticeable because others land with such force, like the brutal “I Now Understand What It Means to Survive,” a portrait of someone who has suffered an unnamed assault. “[T]he abuse,” they write, “of a survivor/of abuse/to know it...we all have this blood at the back of our throats/and it wants to sing again/to someone else.” It’s a vital message that needs to be heard.