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Poet Feature: April Hernandez

Poetry can be a broad categorization but also an incredibly limiting one, and no one knows that better than April Hernandez. Genre-bending and experimental style challenges the conventions of the form, and that has become her specialty and her goal as a poet and creative.

While she has completed professional literary work before, such as a personal essay in The Wire’s Dream Magazine, Hernandez’s first published piece of poetry appeared in Lucky Jefferson’s Introspection issue this fall.

“Dementia” explores the intersection between form and image while hypothesizing over this fear of losing one’s identity. The mental disintegration, the fading of memories and lives, is visually represented — as the poem progresses, the words lose potency, becoming lighter and lighter until they almost disappear. But the word “forget” is highlighted black — the only word that visually pervades the poem.

For Hernandez, “Dementia” has personal and layered meaning. Many of the specific anecdotes and detailed descriptions she shares are ones between her and her grandmother, who has dementia. Other reflections in the work are memories between her and her mother as well, which continues this cyclical questioning about forgetting and eventually losing more loved ones on a generational scale.

By depicting these serious scenes of reflection, Hernandez said tackling dementia is important given the illness’s absence from much of the writing community.

“Part of it was to pay homage to my grandma, but in a larger setting, I guess just bringing more attention to dementia,” Hernandez said. “It’s something we all hear about, but it isn’t something that I feel like is really reflected as much in literature or even just writing in general.”

The Introspection issue, Lucky Jefferson’s fourth edition, whose theme is authenticity and the often difficult search for meaning and understanding.

While scrolling through Submittable, Hernandez found LJ’s open call for poetry entries and decided to try poetry again. In high school, she had written for literary magazines, but ventured into other writing territories once she entered Portland State University, where she majored in Creative Writing — Nonfiction.

From there, her works became more “hybrid,” branching out from the conventions that poetry  — or even nonfiction — can place on writers. But by using personal memories and cultural significance, Hernandez finds her comfort zone.

While “Dementia” deals with her relationship with her grandma, Hernadez’s piece for The Wire’s Dream Magazine, titled “Speaking Spanish,” involves unboxing her late uncle’s belongings and the psychological connection she has to him without ever meeting him.

Her writing inspiration also stems from other authors and writers and timeliness of their stories — Hernandez recently read Elizabeth Acevedo’s “The Poet X” for Hispanic Heritage Month.

When she does seek out poetry, Hernandez said she gravitates towards local Portland authors, such as her former college professors Emily Kendal Frey and Justin Hocking.

But like everything she writes, Hernandez loves reading works that blend genre and play with the medium.

“What’s important to me is having an open mind when it comes to writing and reading,” Hernandez said. “Not everything has to fit in a specific definition or a specific genre, and I know for me personally, letting my mind expand and see poetry can be nonfiction, nonfiction can be poetry, poetry and fiction. There’s some really great examples out there and I just want to see more.”

Hernandez, in another exploration of genre and style, has also been collaborating on her boyfriend Greg’s screenplay for a film, which he said is a “psycho-anti-comea-dramaler.” In every aspect of Hernandez’s writing career, defying tradition is key.

She said she is easing back into writing, during a tumultuous year that has not given her “reprieve enough” to launch back into creating. Once she does, Hernandez said her foray into poetry in her adult life is far from over, and she hopes other publications prioritize “inclusivity” and are receptive and responsive to her work by offering “more opportunities for feedback.”

“Giving opportunities to newer writers, as well as people from different backgrounds,” Hernandez said in reference to Lucky Jefferson, “and I was like, ‘I mean, I’ve never published a poem before, so maybe I might have a chance.’”

Cameron Morsberger
Cameron Morsberger

Cameron Morsberger is a junior at Boston University studying journalism. She is currently the managing editor at the independent student newspaper, The Daily Free Press, and is also a local politics writer at the Boston Political Review. Besides writing, Cameron likes to collect records, explore Boston, and start arguments for fun.

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Violence and Healing: “Flintknapping” in Conversation with Aremu Adams Adebisi

Aremu Adams Adebisi challenges his readers to reimagine grief, conflict, and hardship in his poem “Flintknapping”. Inspired deeply by the vastness of the human experience, Arabic poetry, and the voices of his five older sisters, he inspires his readers to journey with him: “My writing style is not decided,” he states in our interview, “I say it is nomadic and unrestrained. It goes where the themes go, where the language goes.” In constant exploration, Adebisi unearths newfound lyric and meaning from his original ideas. This freedom is ever-present in “Flintknapping”. The haunting couplets and cryptic lowercase letters are constant throughout the piece. However, upon closer look, one senses a spontaneity to his writing style. “[L]oudly, loudly, ever so loudly” is both ruminative and sudden. It is a reference to flintknapping itself, the act of shaping a blade. 

He begins and ends with ostensibly despondent questions that illustrate his willingness to sit with discomfort and uncertainty. He asks at the very beginning, “ever heard about the therapist who murdered the depressed?” At first glance, this could fill a reader with despair; however, the progression of the poem reveals the simple job of the therapist: to chisel away at the grief until one discovers its beauty. 

Adebisi enjoys how the poem “explores the different forms of healing and breakage to a fault”. “It’s like a dance, starting with the movement of the head, then the stretch of the arm, then the stamp of the feet, then all of these parts at once — like that, the poem reads procedural and I love every bit of its procedures.” His depiction of the blade and its many uses reveal this procedural nature. “I love blades,” he states tersely in the poem, “How they cut away from your body, make sure no body parts are in the cutting path or interfere with it. The subtlety of flesh-tearing, the grand opinion it holds, unfazed. A blade’s last urgency is not blood, but dust.” We watch the blade, from its first urgency to its last. 

The simplicity of the blade is striking. Adebisi’s use of these familiar symbols makes the poem all the more captivating and relevant. When asked to give advice to growing writers, he emphasized the importance of writing despite the writer’s constant inclination to search for new words before doing so. “I should also add that diction does not make poetry, but coherence,” he insists, “A poem with incoherent diction is nothing but a stone to a golden piece of simple coherent words.” 

Adebisi takes his own advice, emphasizing the symbol of the blade throughout the poem. He distinguishes between “blades” and “flowers,” indicating that there are varying degrees of violence that conflict and coincide. “Anything with teeth is a blade,” he declares, “Anything with fingers has pines or nettles or awls or saws.” At the poem’s end, he asks “what do we have to live for when the end is coming in with thistles?” The thistles are the blade’s soft counterpart: cutting and soft, much like death itself. We possess teeth and fingers alike, meaning that we are all subject to the violence of one another. We “nurture flowers with blade hands” regardless of what we intend. Even with our most delicate and treasured beings, we cut in a blade-like motion. This happens daily, as we live through “nights with claws, days shackled in teeth.” 

This does not leave Adebisi despondent, despite the unanswered question that he poses at the very end of “Flintknapping”. I believe Adebisi finds strength in recognizing this impact that our days, nights, and companions have on us. “[G]rief has never been the enemy,” he reflects in the poem. His love of the blade is a love for humanity, a love that can compel us to heal from grief.

Skye Tarshis
Skye Tarshis

Skye Tarshis is an eighteen-year-old first-year student studying at Northwestern University’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and Bienen School of Music. Her writing has been featured in high school publications such as BeaconInk and The Beacon Beat, as well as choral works written by composers André de Quadros and Pulitzer prize-winning Ellen Reid.

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Caleb Nichols, 22 Lunes

Quite often, western culture uses the moon as a symbol of love. Feelings associated with the moon include connectedness and stillness even if love is not reciprocated. 22 Lunes by Caleb Nichols is quite similar to the moon in that it illustrates a story of love—the intricacies described are both physical and emotional, and yet, this depiction of love offers moments of pause whether the collection is read as a full narrative or individual stanzas. Through his attention to form and the use of simple yet touching language, Nichols indulges his audience to embrace feelings that we might associate with the moon. 

The form of the lune (or the American Haiku) is identified in its physical shape and rhythm. With the 5-3-5 rhythm, the poems in this collection follow the pattern poet Robert Kelly originally assigned to the lune while also creating a crescent moon shape. Nichols explores the lunes’ conventional shape and diction that amplifies the moon’s gravity:

“Waves ebb as they push in, 

moon-pulled, 

break on shore, reform.”

Nichols emphasized that his choice to use the lune as a form for this collection of poetry was the result of a decision to reimagine poems that did not originally work in other forms but could be evolved into the lune. Nichols emphasized that it is the freedom in poetry that allowed him to “kill [his] darlings” to transform those darlings into a new story through a genre-bending form.

The language that Nichols used, which also added to the effectiveness of his chapbook, was simple enough to be accessible to multiple types of audiences but complex enough that new meanings would be revealed each time the lines are read. A beautiful example of the success of Nichols’ language: 

“possibility 

becoming 

probability.”

These lines (emphasized by Nichols as lines that encompass the full meaning of the poetic narrative) show how love can be beautiful in the “[possibilities]” of being “transformed into mist” because love is near and dear but the “probability” that results is a “possibility” that love will become a memory. 

Those possibilities and probabilities are also complemented with music in Nichols’ audio version of 22 Lunes. Each poem embraces unique sounds that reinforce feelings of being pulled by the moon. As a musician, Nichols has intertwined his love for poetry and music, allowing more chances for audiences to connect and understand his artistry. In doing so, Nichols believes that offering multiple modalities of poetry will only reinvigorate the reader/listener experience and encourage publishers to think about including audio alongside text and visual art. 

Listen and reflect: softpeople.bandcamp.com/album/22-lunes

Morgan McGlone-Smith
Morgan McGlone-Smith

Morgan McGlone-Smith is a Rhetoric and Composition master’s student at Salisbury University. As a lover of all things writing, Morgan tutors writing in her university’s writing center.
When she is not teaching, learning, or writing, Morgan likes to go down research rabbit holes, dance in her kitchen, and care for her plants.

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Hannah CajanDig-Taylor, Romantic Portrait of Natural Disaster

Disasters seem to be on our collective minds lately. We are surrounded, it feels, by endings, fractures, faults, and failures. As fires blaze, storms rage, and a pandemic sweeps the globe, it feels only appropriate to contemplate the nature of catastrophe.

On its surface, Romantic Portrait of a Natural Disaster by Hannah Cajandig-Taylor does just this. Lines like “when a world dies/nobody is around to hear it” and “Everyday/ is the end of the world, each season/ braiding a noose” may give readers the impression that this work is a dirge or some celebration of despair, but upon closer inspection, it is so much more than that. 

Cajandig-Taylor weaves threads of environmental writing, meteorology, personal experience, and emotional vulnerability together with a depth, and resonance that left me stunned in the best of ways.

One of the most striking things about Cajandig-Taylor’s work is her masterful use of persistent images and themes. The lines never feel overburdened or weighty. Rather, visions of constellations and clouds fuse seamlessly with the earthy crunch of tectonic plates. Space and meteorology play a major role in Cajandig-Taylor’s poems, but earth, flora, and images of haunting and decay make consistent appearances as well. These elements blend together to complicate the line between human experience and the nonhuman world so that companionship is found in a stone and love takes on the energy and danger of a raging inferno. Each theme is masterfully sustained throughout the sequence, appearing for a moment, disappearing, then returning when you least expect it like elements of a well-orchestrated symphony.

The other striking element of Cajandig-Taylors craft is her surreal, often transgressive style. Romantic Portrait of a Natural Disaster, like some of the best poetry in my mind, is constructed of moments that feel deeply true without being precisely placeable. Each page is a tantalizing, illuminating web that asks as much from my own experience as it tells of hers. Cajandig-Taylor’s use of couplets and ever-shifting articles invites the reader into each poem. While it may not be the most approachable of poetry for those used to linear stricture, the lasting resonance Cajandig-Taylor achieves is more than worth the initial opacity.

Romantic Portrait of a Natural Disaster’s theme of fragmentation and brokenness extends to realms far beyond the merely physical. Elements of the book were influenced by the increase in natural disasters stemming from climate change, according to Cajandig-Taylor, but much of the final impact developed organically. Supernovas and wildfires condense into a vulnerable, deeply felt meditation on personal fragmentation. The world comes to reflect the body, the poet reflects the world, and all are in the process of crumbling, over and over. Cajandig-Taylor wrestles with the question of “Am I falling apart in the right way” throughout the book, and each line, each moment seems to be another attempt to make sense of endings. Strangely, though, the work is not bleak. There is melancholy, certainly. There is trauma and sadness and all the sharp, painful moments that reality seems to heap on us. Yet each disaster is followed by another moment, another experience of the world and often a recognition of the beauty that lies within even the small moments.

In one of my favorite poems of the collection, “Self-Destruction & Other Disasters to Think About”, Cajandig-Taylor rolls through a staccato litany of images and feelings which build until the narrator and the world collapses; “the collapsing/ of stars, a black hole born from oblivion. My body,/ with its slumped posture on the closet floor.” But just when it feels like the weight of the world will crush everything, there is a reprieve. “I think about paradise…about the desert/ writing songs with my name.”

These moments, along with the book’s overall construction, presents a complex and mature message. Yes, it is implied, there is destruction. The world is full of endings and catastrophes, but that is not all there is. After each catastrophe, there is something else, some room for joy or simply life. Cajandig-Taylor said that she hopes this book shows those experiencing trauma, anxiety, or those who just feel buried in the weight of disasters that they are not alone. That it is possible to take ownership of their experiences and, if not fix them, at least learn to live beyond them.

As I mentioned at the opening of this review, Romantic Portrait of a Natural Disaster feels both timeless and like just the book for the time we are living through. So much is happening in the world right now that I find myself struggling just to keep up with it all, much less process the maelstrom of emotions elicited by them. We as a people need space to mourn, to feel the weight of the world and the urgency of what faces us, but that cannot be all that we do. Cajandig-Taylor’s poems give that space and catharsis to begin the long journey of processing the many internal and external traumas that exist right now, but also ensures that they don’t become an eclipsing force. Yes, this book says, recognize the disasters. Look them in the face and make them part of yourself. Then, once the tears have fallen, continue on. What more can we do? And right now, what more do we need?

Brandon McWilliams
Brandon McWilliams

Brandon McWilliams is a student at Seattle University, where he combines his passion for writing and the environment.
His work has appeared in Hidden Compass MagazineBay Nature, Fragments, and the Seattle Times. When not writing, he works as an environmental educator, climbs tall things, and cooks needlessly elaborate meals.

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A Portrait of Mike Jon

When opening Mike Jon’s portfolio, you are met with nearly one hundred faces looking back at you. These are Mike’s portraits, each of which, outside of being cast in black & white, captures the unedited truth of his subjects, whose expressions evoke sincerity and range. Some faces appear coy and flirtatious, while others emerge with more drama and sensuality.

Perhaps Mike’s most charming portraits are those that capture the bashfulness of his subjects. In one series, in particular, the same woman appears across five images, in which, behind both her glasses and the hands covering her face, she appears to be giggling, at once shy and hyper-aware of her being photographed. There is no forced, unanimous theatre expressed across Mike’s portraits, instead, each image emotes on its own – they are void of romantic augmentation and, instead, flush with irreplicable strokes of reality. 

This authenticity is by design. Within the first few minutes of my conversation with Mike, we’re on the topic of honesty. He tells me he does not “glamorize” nor is he “embarrassed by blemishes”. Instead, he prefers things “documentary-style […] raw, gritty” as to best “capture the truth of a person”. Naming those featured in the portraits – each of whose complex truth Mike is invested in capturing – subjects, fails to convey the artistic philosophy at play. Mike isn’t recruiting models, he’s bringing people together. When I asked about his studio, Mike explained “My space had become this church, and I was the reverend […] people came to congregate.” This community gave Mike a new idea for a series: much like you would at a local congregation, host and friends and family day, in which each member invites a nonmember. The product of this practice, as Mike puts simply, “My family just grew.” It is this family, new and old, that assembled to appear in the portraits. 

Outside of the members of his church, Mike aims to capture the breadth and depth of Baltimoreans. Mike describes two cities to me – there’s Charm City Baltimore, picturesque Federal Hill, cutsie, whitewashed tourism. And then, Mike explains, there’s the Baltimore he knows – Sandtown, a neighborhood whose history is marked by both prolific civil rights riots and widespread poverty. This Baltimore is where Mike doesn’t want to miss a shot, where he carries his DSLR, aiming its lens at the essence of the streets – “the culture, the people, the sensibilities”. Mike’s body of work is inextricably tied to this place, as he says best, “Sandtown is a part of me, and thus is ultimately a part of my art.” 

While Mike’s art has largely materialized in the medium of photography, at the core of Mike’s creative genius is filmmaking. Speaking to Mike about his navigation between the two mediums revealed to me another trope of his artistry – practice. Mike tells me that before November of 2019, he didn’t consider himself to be a photographer, someone who, in his mind, “dedicates a certain amount of time to studying, to practicing…” Additionally, Mike’s aspirations lied closer to filmmaking – he had originally thought he might go to film school, but decided against it after being unmoved by the senior thesis showcase. And thus, last fall there existed in Mike meticulous energy, a dedication to better himself and refine his “creative engine”. Video is 24 frames per second – “If you can take a single frame”, Mike reasons, “then you’re going to be a better filmmaker.” 

The success of Mike’s deliberate, patient work ethic is beautifully apparent in the trajectory of his portfolio. While Mike’s early portraits are captured through photography, today, he creates the same raw, intimate portraits in the form of short films, cinematic vignettes of a pastor, an athlete, a dancer, a homie. Mike works from the same vantage point of truth and honesty, he’s just expanded his threshold from 1 frame to 24 per second. 

Sophia Brill
Sophia Brill

Sophia Greco Brill is a rising junior at Pitzer College pursuing a major in History and a minor in English & World Literature.

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Bipolar Disorder & the Pursuit of Creativity

In the summer of 2018, I believed that learning how to spin my own yarn would be my next great conquest. A few days later, I had a wooden drop spindle and two handfuls of roving yarn at the ready. After a consecutive 9 hours—which is about 6 episodes of Homeland, a few dance parties, and at least two conversations with myself in varying accents— I proudly held up, in my dingy pajamas that smelled like wet sheep, a tiny imperfect ball of yarn like it was the holy grail. Honestly, the entire night is a manic blur of creative energy. 

And by manic, I don’t mean it in the ironic “Omg I’m SO bipolar!” type of way. I mean it in the clinical sense—I really am bipolar.

Illustration by Andy Hollingworth, a former Literary Illustrator Intern

When you’re sick, each day is the same, and yet every day has the potential to be different. I get out of bed after a night sedated, stumble to the bathroom and usually do something bone-headed. Just the other day I picked up my toothbrush and 120 seconds later found myself standing in front of the kitchen sink. That’s what medication does to you: it condenses into a thick fog that you have to dig yourself out of. I like to think that trudging through this fog has become a special skill in my repertoire: right alongside being able to swallow a large handful of pills in one go. 

There’s this romantic ideal of Bipolar Disorder that seems to dig its heels into everyone who’s ever seen Silver Linings Playbook: you’ll work hard, get a little therapy, get into a few fights, find love, and live happily ever after. Your disorder will lead you through your most creatively difficult times, leaving masterpieces and pure genius in its wake. That the disease is just a marketing ploy: you’re not crazy, you’re just creative. 

This is what they don’t tell you: the mania can be great, but very few people experience true euphoria. Most of us cycle between depressed and “agitated with a just sprinkle of happiness”. The energy that you feel isn’t always pleasant—sometimes it’s bouncing knees and pacing back and forth all while the static of the television in your head is dialed up to ten. And then the world feels like it’s ending, and the man standing in the corner is CIA and you are convinced he was sent to take you out.

And, like most people with a mind like mine, I spend the majority of my time treading water. I stop when I need to and I work when I can. It gets harder and harder to juice out the creativity from the hard skin that I’ve grown to protect me. So, I do things in steps, broken down into the tiniest components. 

I know, not very creative, but sometimes you need to take smaller bites so you don’t choke. 

But, then again, sometimes you have to unhinge your jaw like a snake and swallow the thing whole. These are the days that when my muscles are screaming, I push through the pain, because I have to: I have deadlines. So, I work. I plan and draw, I research and watch little pieces of my creativity come together into form. The entire time, there’s a voice in my head, soft but insistent, telling me I can’t, and yet I do. But when I don’t, when my illness wins, I’d like to say I don’t take it personally, but it’s difficult not to when it’s your own mind that’s against you. 

And then I remember that, like most artists, I am different. I have something new to offer, a different perspective. As a maker, a creator, I can change the world, even if that world is only one person. So, I put myself out there, share my story, and listen to others. My voice is important, just like everybody else’s—even when I feel that it’s not. 

There’s this wall that people put up, this facade of excellence, empty of struggle beyond how late you stayed up last night to finish that one assignment to make the deadline. What if we broke down that wall? Opened up that box? Wouldn’t we feel more connected, less alone, a part of something bigger? What if we shared our stories, without worrying about who reads it? What if we let go of the mask, stood up, and danced? A big hoorah, and put ourselves out there, and weren’t afraid of failing? 

And yes, I know it’s cliche, but you can’t really fail if you tried. Treading water is still swimming. 

During the hard times, I thank my mind for doing what it could. No more grinding: that’s for people with the privilege of health. So, instead I rest, feeling defeated, feeling less than myself. Maybe one day it will be different, but today, it’s just a battle I cannot win. 

But, there is always tomorrow.

Ally Landrum
Ally Landrum

Ally is a current senior studying graphic design in Washington D.C. Prior to moving, she lived in the Midwest and valued family, friends, and nature. Raised in a household with pets, a lot of her work centers around animal rights. As a woman with disabilities, she is also passionate about using design to better the health care experience for women.

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The Existentialism of Millennial Authors

In the weeks after I was sent home from college last Spring, I found myself staring into the mirror hanging on the ivory wall of my kid bedroom, searching for the answers to my childhood, my solitude, my future, my grief – compositions of my identity that could only be realized in an isolated retreat inward, a quarantine. 

Amidst the existentialism of the last six months—conclusions drawn from which oscillate between evolutions and crises—while I’ve often felt lonely, I haven’t been alone. In fact, much of my cohort is navigating a similar path to self-discovery as a result of being forced to surrender our yearnings for the places we’ll go and, instead, return to the places we’re from. In this new reality, I along with many young writers are using the page as a tool for reconciliation. 

One such young writer is Gabe Sherman, a peer who I met in an introductory creative writing course. As a person and a writer, Gabe is thoughtful and deeply sincere – when we were asked to write a piece of creative nonfiction, he wrote about his dad and the Blues. This Fall, Gabe is dedicated to writing – both for our college newspaper and as a music reviewer for The Arts Fuse. However, during this time Gabe is also reshaping his relationship with writing and its freedoms. 

Over the phone, Gabe explained to me that although he began to think of himself as “someone who liked to write” when he left for college, in the years since he’s continued to struggle with what he’s identified as a “self-confidence issue” one which results in equating prestige and audience with good writing. Sometimes, he even disallows himself from being inspired by a novel, remembering “I could never think of that […] I’m not a writing prodigy.” At times, this cycle is responsible for convincing Gabe he’s not a writer, rather just someone who might like to write. 

However, during the past six months – perhaps at his most vulnerable, navigating both a breakup and the death of a friend all from inside a house with his two parents, in a city wrecked by COVID-19 – Gabe has managed to write freely, independent from self-doubt and critique. On our call, he disclosed to me one of these moments: 

“I was feeling shitty and did a very coming of age teen drama thing. I got my drawstring bag and notebook and sat under a tree and just wrote, three or four pages full. I let my brain go […] It felt like the greatest release of uninhibited thought that I had ever had […] It felt nice to write something where I really didn’t care about being true to anything besides the exact moment.” 

It is this indulgence in the personal catharsis of writing during this time that most resonates with me. Gabe and I agree that, outside of escaping prisms of insecurity, reading literature that inspires you is likely the best primer for your own scribblings. At the beginning of quarantine, I read Sally Rooney for the first time, both of her novels, as well as a few of her short stories. Rooney’s world exists far from the fantastical – instead, it’s flush with real people (nuanced, autonomous, young, female characters, to be precise) who endure the feats and pains of their emotional worlds. This focus on the universal complexities of human feelings made me feel like I could be a writer – I too have the lived experience of being a young woman and have, at times – during this time – felt profound pain. There is quite a lot of catharsis in feeling like you can talk, and believing in what you have to say. 

It turns out that Gabe and I had read the same novel, and that he too saw himself reflected in the text, the protagonist’s inner dialogue mirroring that of his own “overactive brain.” I asked Gabe if he too felt the urge to create after reading, to which he replied, “releasing something personal and creative would signify really believing in my writing, and that would be really cool.”

Sophia Brill
Sophia Brill

Sophia Greco Brill is a rising junior at Pitzer College pursuing a major in History and a minor in English & World Literature.

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The ethics of advocacy journalism and disenfranchising the voice of the voiceless

Since the turn of the century, over 7,000 migrants have died on their journey from Mexico to the United States, and thousands more have attempted the crossing with varied success. As immigration becomes increasingly politicized and border control increases across the Southern states, by the president’s orders, many immigrants have stories to tell and lives worth documenting.

At the beginning of this year, novelist Jeanine Cummins published “American Dirt” — a fictional story surrounding a Mexican family who flees north to the United States to avoid the wrath of a drug cartel. But what intended to be a commentary on very real current political issues became an immense controversy. With a plethora of real life experiences, from countless people, past and present, crossing into the country, the novel was deemed untimely, inappropriate, and unrepresentative.

Journalism is about people, it is always human-driven and human-minded. Thinking about politics and human rights — the many lives at risk because of geographic border policies — it’s only right for journalists to share immigrants’ stories, conveying a real truth. Cummins sought to fictionalize an experience without lending readers the power of authenticity that a migrant could share.

Let’s discuss trauma porn and its implications in journalism and advocacy. “American Dirt” reviews accused Cummins of exploiting immigration and inaccurately portraying what illegal immigration looks like — what began as a quest to further her narrative and support Mexican migrants became a breeding ground for misinformation, a disenfranchisement of those she was attempting to uplift.

In terms of social injustice, journalism has a long-standing tradition of advocating for equality. Look at Ida Wells, Jacob Riis, Upton Sinclair, Nellie Bly, and the “muckrakers” who were emboldened by harsh, glaring societal ills, motivated to write and lead audiences to truth. Their work patched holes in the cracks of the political United States, and gave voice to the voiceless.

Journalism, in this case, is always advocacy, because there is always a spotlight on the victim and an unending connection with truth, and that’s powerful. Wells informed readers of rampanent lynchings in the South during Reconstruction. Riis photographed New York City tenement dwellers and their deplorable conditions. Sinclair published a gruesome account of the meat-packing industry in cities across the country and its dangerous policies. And Bly courageously institutionalized herself in a mental hospital to unearth the painful, questionable treatment of patients there.

First-hand accounts are sincere, and many journalists seek to experience these events themselves and live to tell the talel. But what would a journalist do in Cummins’ place? What could change when the subject of the story is in the hands of a stranger, a journalist with the authority to pillage for personal accounts and steal them for a byline? Could that happen?

Cummins committed an act of trauma porn — a phrase becoming more common in the last decade. People become encapsulated by scenes of violence or brutality, and the news media pushes those stories on viewers constantly. This consumption is harmful and addictive. We seek out videos of protests and insurrection, with photos displayed on our social media feed now more than ever.
“American Dirt” proves to us that journalism requires commitment and vigor, and that the world itself requires journalists — why fictionalize a traumatic experience when there are thousands who lived it, thousands who will live and die with their stories without a platform to pass it to. Journalists are responsible for propping up survivors and sharing their stories exactly how those individuals want to be heard. It’s a conversation about honesty and life, not about the violence itself. It’s about people, not trauma.

Cameron Morsberger
Cameron Morsberger

Cameron Morsberger is a junior at Boston University studying journalism. She is currently the managing editor at the independent student newspaper, The Daily Free Press, and is also a local politics writer at the Boston Political Review. Besides writing, Cameron likes to collect records, explore Boston, and start arguments for fun.

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Using Poetry To Evaluate the Connection Between Geography and Identity

Illustration by Katie Michael, a former Literary Illustrator Intern

Art is a manifestation of identity. This is understood in the themes and styles that writers express and readers recognize. Race, culture, gender, desires, ability, geography, and language are all aspects of identity that people gravitate towards when analyzing the communication between writer and reader through the text. This post will analyze four poems in the 365 Collection, and highlight themes that are common among poets living in the South and the Midwest. These poems were randomly selected by looking at the commonplaces in the poets’ biographies before reading the poems. 

Midwest: 

  1. Train Town” by Michael Hill

“Train Town” shares the narrator’s delight in listening to the sounds of the trains traveling because they produce a sense of home. A major theme in this poem is movement; this is expressed through imagery of a train moving through a town and the sounds that it makes. This is interesting because the poem seems to describe the 19th-century movement of westward expansion—an expansion that allowed technological advancements in transportation. It was once important for goods but was later essential for community-building, another theme in this poem. Community is expressed through the description of the people in the town and people who traveled through it. The images of community solidify the interpretation of the Midwest that emphasizes togetherness in order to reach progress. 

  1. Where the Next Meal is” by M. Nasorri Pavone

The narrator in this poem recalls their encounter with an insect that fascinates and frightens them. An important theme of this work dissects humanity and connections to nature. The insect invades the narrator’s space, creating a unity between the human and their environment. Anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss would view that unity as an expression of the human being both a biological being and a cultural being. This connection of identities delineates the ecology of the world including the human even if the human creates spaces to separate themselves from the outside world. The bug that entered the narrator’s space, subsequently touching the narrator’s belongings, bridges this gap between humans and their environment. Another principal theme, similar to the one in “Train Town,” is movement. The bug’s movement through the narrator’s space mirrors the same westward expansion that was evident in the Hill’s poem. 

After observingwork written by authors in the Midwest, common themes of exploration and movement in mid-western poetry are even clearer. Movement may be an influence for these writers because of the historical context behind it or perhaps there is another motivator for writing about movement that has not been explored. 

South: 

  1. Battlefield” by C.L. Butler

The narrator in “Battlefield” uses nature and a critical lens of community to convey their feelings in a war. Nature was addressed in the description of the temperature and the landscape. What this does for the reader is it shows us what a narrator draws attention to in their observations. Their descriptions of the climate seem to oppose the climate of a southern climate. These observations also connect with the secondary theme of community because it affected the way that the narrator viewed community. Their view seems to be empathetic and sorrowful because the members of their community and extended community are in despair. That expression of emotion mirrors the description of the climate. 

  1. This Way or That” by Dan Mallette 

“This Way or That” focuses on a chilling character outside of the narrator who starts a fire. The fire not only sets the scene, but it also used to convey the theme of curiosity. The character outside of the narrator is curious about the movement of the fire, but the narrator is curious of the intentions and actions of the character. This connects to “Battlefield” because it also touches on empathy as the narrator places themselves in a position to share a curiosity with the figure they are not connected to.

What the reader could gather from these poems is that there is a common theme of empathy. That empathy supports the positive stereotypes of people in the south as being hospitable

 It is important to consider the multitude of identities that writers bring to art. The consideration of identities helps define what motivates writers to choose themes because their decisions affect the understanding and affectability of art. While the exploration of themes in this post were limited in the number of poems that were analyzed, it is a starting point in understanding the author perspective and its impact on art. 

Morgan McGlone-Smith
Morgan McGlone-Smith

Morgan McGlone-Smith is a Rhetoric and Composition master’s student at Salisbury University. As a lover of all things writing, Morgan tutors writing in her university’s writing center.
When she is not teaching, learning, or writing, Morgan likes to go down research rabbit holes, dance in her kitchen, and care for her plants.

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Pop Culture in Poetry: The Obviation of Timelessness

Illustration by Jordyn Flood and Dahlia Theriault, former Literary Illustrator Interns

On the first day of my senior year English class, my teacher handed each of us an anthology he compiled of poetry written by both classic and living poets; piquing my interest instantaneously was Morgan Parker’s “Slouching Towards Beyoncé”—a reference to both the pop-cultural icon Beyoncé and the essay collection Slouching Towards Bethlehem written by Joan Didion—and “Untitled While Listening to Drake,” which would later become one of my favorite pieces. As I recognized these musical artists, I knew I would be able to apply my understanding of their work to the text in front of me. Recognizing how these references contributed to the pieces made the process of reading these profound works even more enriching. 

Morgan Parker’s collection There are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé explores Black womanhood, performance, and sexuality using Beyoncé as a poignant metaphor and vessel; however, Parker has been both criticized for and interrogated about her incorporation of the popular musician in her work. In an interview with New York Magazine, Parker pointedly defends her poetic choice: “It’s racist that people think that because I’m invoking a particular pop culture [reference] that it’s kind of new or different. Poets throughout time have included visual art and music and just the stuff of their world — but that stuff was like, the room at the Met that I skipped. We think of that as high art. It’s really just white art. That’s not art that I’m looking at; that’s not art that my friends are making. If I’m going to write poetry, it has to reflect who I am and the things that are making up my world and the things that I’m consumed by.” Parker critiques the culture by which she is surrounded in her poetry in a manner that is relevant for her and her contemporaries. While some view references to popular culture in poetry as cheap, they are truly ekphrastic; directly or indirectly, the poet has produced both a commentary on the artists and a vivid portrait of their associations with them. This is not so different from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, a work historically regarded with high esteem. 

Additionally, Morgan Parker’s highlight of the prejudicial criticism is crucial to understanding the significance of this discourse, as she is not the only poet who has experienced this exclusion. Poet David Tomas Martinez discusses the challenges he faced in his own literary communities in an interview with the literary journal 32Poems: “I have my memories of cultural, racial, class divides in [the] workshop where I felt excluded because I am not the traditional creative writing student. My parents were working-class and not college-educated, so my milieu was not filled with fine art, but pop art, if any art at all. That being said, I’m very proud of my upbringing. I wouldn’t change anything in my life.” Criticism of the inclusion of pop culture in

poetry often comes from a place of prejudice, as if the only valuable references in a piece of art are those belonging to “high-brow culture,” a term that in and of itself invalidates pop culture. Martinez’s upbringing is reflective of a large population of poets, and to exclude these brilliant 

writers by dismissing their work as cheap is disgraceful to poets and to the art form itself. The inclusion of one’s surroundings in one’s work is both primal and sophisticated. The array of poets using well-known imagery goes beyond those who are living. Ocean Vuong, another acclaimed poet, and novelist, discusses the natural inclusion of popular culture in all forms of art in an interview with Houstonia Magazine: “This goes back to me being a poet. I’m a poet, so I’m informed a lot by poets. It also goes back to William Carlos Williams’ credo of ‘no ideas but in things.’ He’s speaking of the modernist and imagist movement. His belief was that, particularly as it relates to American identity, that these icons and objects and the zeitgeist are what date and amplifies a lived life. We think of Andy Warhol being obsessed with Coca-Cola. He saw it as a democratic ideal. Whether you’re the King of Spain or somebody down the block, Coca-Cola tastes exactly the same for everybody.” These images are not mere pieces of linguistic kitsch. They are signifiers of time and space, unifying reader and poet. This instills empathy within the reader, strengthening both their relation to and understanding of the poet. A common critique of pop culture references in poetry is that it eliminates the possibility of timelessness; however, the works of these living poets suggest a greater human need for planting ourselves in time with a snapshot rather than recycling vague descriptions. We must ask ourselves why we value timelessness over immediacy, especially in a country with a sociopolitical climate that feels consistently tumultuous. Morgan Parker herself expresses her thoughts on timelessness in an interview with The Creative Independent: “Folks think of poetry as this timeless something that’s in a vacuum of beauty…I guess in our current American climate there’s such a need for urgent art, and poetry has a way of getting to the point. A lot of poets are able to say more and say it more honestly. A lot of people are just ready for it. They’re ready to hear something real. I think a lot of poetry is doing that. Also, poetry is scary to people because it isn’t always about logic or understanding.” The incorporation of references to pop culture is one example of poetry at its best: a meaningful collection of thoughts and ideas about one’s surroundings. It is of utmost importance that we encourage contemporary poets to continue to critique their surroundings and express their truths using whatever vessels they desire. When poets examine some of the most pertinent cultural issues while drawing from both our reference pool and theirs, we must thank them for being a driving force for our collective reckoning with our surroundings, however beautiful or frightening they may be.

Skye Tarshis
Skye Tarshis

Skye Tarshis is an eighteen-year-old first-year student studying at Northwestern University’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and Bienen School of Music. Her writing has been featured in high school publications such as BeaconInk and The Beacon Beat, as well as choral works written by composers André de Quadros and Pulitzer prize-winning Ellen Reid.