“Inside me, the way elsewhere”: Poetry NOW

Writing to Maggie Nelson in thanks for The Argonauts, I find myself wondering about the prefix in “overjoyed,” if it is possible to feel joyed, and how the latter might differ from the former’s implied excess. Overjoyed isn’t quite feeling too much of something so much as being aware of it in the first place: as though feeling (or, more simply, being) joyed were so underlying a thrum that one might not recognize it at all until in the humdrum its fever spiked, calling one’s attention to itself, one’s self. A few nights ago, discussing the excitement of The Offing’s Uprising issue, I was asked by a poet friend how “uprising” wasn’t prefixially redundant. I didn’t have an answer then, but I’m inclined as I type to say that “uprising” works like “overjoyed.” The rising happens — the rising and the falling, the falling, the rising, chronic and molecular — but uprising describes a moment when that movement (painful, exhilarating, exhausting, the subliminal thrum of surviving itself) demands, which is to say becomes, attention.

The history of the word, “uprising,” suggests that this event of awareness is intrinsic to it; uprising, the dictionaries tell us, is — or is that was — a rising from the dead. The dictionaries tell that this meaning is rare, not obsolete; even as the swarm of uprising occurs in the urgent and necessary difference between the two. Meanings might fall out of use but they survive in the word’s surviving. (Whitman: Lies the seed unreck’d for centuries in the ground? lo, to God’s due occasion, / Uprising in the night, it sprouts, blooms, / And fills the earth with use and beauty.) Words are dangerous in part because they unlike us are unendangerable. How could it surprise anyone that danger’s secret, surviving root denotes the power of a lord or master? How could it not? As a white man fortunate to be writing this introduction, I’m the first to recognize that feeling endangered is a kind of privilege. That one is endangered doesn’t always come with the luxury of the breath with which it might be articulated or imagined (let alone reimagined). That thinking about uprising is a privilege doesn’t mean we can afford not to do it with all the vision and rigor we can muster, not least because it’s unclear in advance when thinking about uprising and uprising will be one and the same.

To say that for many years I didn’t quite believe in political poetry is to say that for too long I misunderstood the epithet as compromising the noun. For many years I found myself in the position of not wanting (which is only sometimes different from not needing) to believe that a political poem, per se, was entirely possible. I’m grateful for our poets and editorial team for giving our readers such brilliant examples of a political poetry that is not only possible but indispensable. These poems are proof that the epithet doesn’t compromise the noun so much as bring it about, refract it, illuminate. They remind me of lines by Aimé Césaire which I first encountered in Claudia Rankine’s epigraph to Don’t Let Me Be Lonely:

And I would say to it:

“My mouth shall be the mouth of misfortunes which have no mouth, my voice the freedom of those which break down in the prison cell of despair.”

And, coming, I would say to myself:

“Beware, my body and soul, beware above all of crossing your arms and assuming the sterile attitude of the spectator, because life is not a spectacle, because a sea of sorrows is not a proscenium, because a man who cries out is not a dancing bear.”

Today in The Offing: two poems by Nina Puro, “They Speak of the Body and One Sits Up Straight” by Justin Phillip Reed, “Story Arc” by Sam Sax, two poems by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib, “[I can’t bear anymore what happens to the body]” by Victoria Lynne McCoy, two poems by Matt Broaddus, “Thing is an Amen” by Rachael Katz, and eight poems from “Lost Privilege Company” by the Blunt Research Group.

The title borrows a line from Fanny Howe.

Thing is an Amen

“I am trying to make / a poem that listens / some space.”

On Rising

“We know that so many have named it mere anger, when in fact it is the resuscitation of hope.”