We move but our words stand
and this is verbal privilege.
Poet, sister: words—
whether we like it or not—
stand in a time of their own.
No use protesting I wrote that
(Adrienne Rich, North American Time )
George Floyd was murdered on May 25, 2020.
All of the poets in this section North American Time sent submissions from April to early June. The pandemic had moved round the world, frightening, isolating, restricting and killing hundreds of thousands of humans. This was the time of the pandemic, until George Floyd was murdered by a policeman in Minnesota. We now live in the time of outraged response to the audacity of white power over black. The white world is awake to its privilege. We will understand soon enough it isn’t white against black, but haves against have-nots; and will find our way to community. To fortify ourselves, we must read good poetry. The following are the poets from North America for the July 2020 issue.
Marguerite L Harrold’s poetry arrived just after May 25th and two of her poems went up online immediately, Detritus, and Urban Combat. She is a black poet, living in Chicago and both of her short poems spoke to the moment we were living through. From Detritus
I am the dark/moist/nasty little things/you track//onto white/linoleum. Some Songs likens the personal wounds to the empty factories and warehouses standing as if time stopped, left them there. Her memorial to her mother Letting Go is a full tribute in a few lines.
Eamonn Wall lives in St. Louis, Missouri, and is Smurfit-Stone Professor of Irish Studies and Professor of English at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Wexford born, he made his way into poetry and teaching. He is a well respected poet-professor. Two of his poems selected here are about Beat poet, Joanne Kyger, one a memorial and the second posing her as his Virgil, the hawk that sits on his shoulder as he works. He contributed an essay on Kyger which brings her name into our lexicon. Wall’s poem Light Vermeer is a stunner of an ekphrastic poem
Sandra Fees is a Unitarian minister and political activist, and Poet Laureate of Berks County, PA. Her poems are found in Undocumented: Great Lakes Poet Laureates on Social Justice. Her poems are quiet poems about openness and opportunity. Her work reminds me of Emily Dickinson, the poet who wrote so many poems at dawn and dusk, when the work was done. Please read Here aloud to catch the full artistry of her work.
Scott Waters lives in Oakland, California and is an emerging poet. The five poems presented here are short fresh lyrics, sometimes topical as in The Counting where he turns the mundane work of cleaning to avoid the virus into a myth of sacrifice. Traces is an ode to beauty and he is both maker and observer. On the Grade takes us from childhood to maturity on a trajectory from darkness to light.
Sandra Yannone hails from Olympia Washington, and is a Salmon poet with last year’s Boats for Women. Her three poems are from The Glass Studio, to come from Salmon in 2022. Her Evidence of the Preposterous Impossible is a love poem under the guise of a nature poem. The poem is offered as an invitation to love, and the layout of the poem being opposite to what is expected tells the story of the encounter going amiss. Cucumber Soup is all of the anticipation of desire soon to be fulfilled. The Imperfect Tense presents a woman watching the moon, weighing the risks of love. Grounded, imaginatively layered love poems.
Allen Johnston is an established poet with many awards and books to his name. He teaches in two colleges in Chicago. His poem Topanga Fossil Bed is several things at once: a walk into a favourite canyon expands into a discussion of geology and time. ‘Turritella,//spiral snail shells/seem magic dinosaur teeth/to the child, soft brown/and organe, a scent of canyons/caught in them’ is pure magic. Each poem here is a different adventure, a gift of his experience.
Laura Grace Weldon was appointed Ohio Poet of the Year 2019 on the strength of her collection Blackbird. Three of her poems are from that collection Why Bottles Litter Interstate Hillsides is a critique of modern life offering so little to young men looking for their way forward. Feral conveys the animal joy she feels when the coyotes call to one another. No Such Thing As Time is a zig zag time warp. A solid poet with a wide vision.
Tim Suermondt is an established poet living in Cambridge Mass. His poems show the ease of a poet with great experience who will err on the side of cheerfulness despite the ways the world. These poems are easy to love. Writing about love, or the craft of poetry, his poems declare, like Keats, these are things to be writing about. He prefers a city street to the orchard he declares in Inching Toward Loveliness, while the orchard may be gorgeous, the pizza pie at any establishment/ nqmed Luigi’s or a squadron of birds flying/smartly in the sun between the skyscrapers may well be equal to it! He makes mastery seem easy.
Kim Ports Parsons is a poet from the Shenandoah mountains of Virginia, an experienced poet returning to work. All three of her poems relate a promise of new growth, whether she is describing in lush detail the Golden Purslane she is planting or using March in Death in Spring as the month of the earth dying into life. Remarkable twists of thought. The best may be ‘Hope’ is the Thing with Feathers which takes its title from Emily Dickinson’s poem. Parsons’ version is an expansion of that which ends with a reclamation of her own voice.
Glen Sorestad is our lone Canadian contributor this issue, but his stature is such that having him here will represent Canada very well. The list of his books is over twenty and his work is found in over 40 anthologies and textbooks. Sorestad was the first Poet Laureate of Saskatchewan from 2000-2003. I brag because he did not. Corvid Hygiene is the actions of a poet cocooned by Covid-19 watching a crow drink from a fountain. It is a gentle play on the things we ourselves must do as poets now, pay attention to what we are seeing. Recording it is harder. The following two poems are memorial poems to parent and friend.
We are waking up to all of our privileges. To be a poet at this time is to become a part of this great and difficult dawn. I hope you will enjoy these poems from North America, whether you are in isolation or breaking out. Write to us from where you are, let us know in poetry and prose, how your world is metamorphosing into something perhaps better than we can imagine.