What is the role of poetry in the world that was forged this past Tuesday? What is the function of art in a country that has turned against, cannibal-like, its other half?
On November 8, as I cooked my way through the day—having voting, waiting for the votes to come in—I listened to a full recording of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” and a special episode of Nate DiMeo’s Memory Palace; I stumbled upon it without thinking. (It was next in my podcast queue.) It was the best, or least bad, hour and 38 minutes of my day. Encyclopedic, democratic, overfull, it fit the contours of my searching, distracted, frenzied attention. “The past and present wilt—I have fill’d them, emptied them, / And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.”
Brooklyn Magazine published its first poem in our April 2015 print issue: Tyehimba Jess’s “Millie McKoy & Christine McKoy recall meeting Blind Tom, 1877.” Since then, we’ve published more, from Joey de Jesus, Khadijah Queen, José Olivarez, Wendy Xu, Metta Sáma, Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib, and Rae Leone Allen. Today, Brooklyn Magazine presents these poems for the first time online: free and accessible and more-or-less forever.
I revisit these poems and find the same kind of—not quite relief but—answer I found in Whitman. One poem, Allen’s “Beware of Poachers,” powerfully rebukes our present. (There, in pamphlet, the speaker warns of “homosapiens…PHENOTYPICALLY DEVOID of MELANIN” who are “CONVINCED & DANGEROUS.”) Another, Jess’s poem, reaches back to a time (the very end of the Reconstruction and very beginning of Jim Crow) that feels eerily like our own. He dramatizes a kind of circus-tent intersectionality: Blind Tom, a pianist born into slavery and held as a ward by various white profit-mongers until his death, meets the conjoined McKoy twins. “We are the lucky ones,” they say, referencing Tom’s legal status as well as their own physical bodies, “free of the worst bondage.” Inextricably bound to each other, they ask: “We’re the self-owned, / – I guess. Aren’t we?”
In between the mirrored then and now, we present poems about desire (the excerpt from Queen’s I’m So Fine, Olivarez’s “summer love”), about witness (Willis-Abdurraqib’s “Rapture,” Sáma’s “Witness”), about the act of artistic creation (de Jesus’s “materia III”) and inheritance (Xu’s “Poem for Fathers”).
We have so many more poems, poets, to come. For this, at least, I can look forward to the coming months.