From the Archives: Emerging Poets on Poetry & the Body
One of Poets House’s objectives is to support new, diverse voices in the field of contemporary poetry, and its Emerging Poets Fellowship is central to this aim. New York City writers are accepted into the free program based on talent and need for the unique services that Poets House offers in the program. Fellows learn from distinguished faculty, have access to Poets House’s 70,000-volume library and wide-ranging programs, and have the chance to showcase their work to the public.
In the winter of 2018, six past Fellows took part in the Poetry Coalition’s second annual programming initiative, Where My Dreaming and My Loving Live: Poetry & the Body. The Poetry Coalition, a partnership of nearly 30 literary organizations from across the United States, promotes the contribution poetry makes to the everyday lives of people of all ages and backgrounds. Each year, the Coalition picks a theme that poetry organizations across the U.S. will present programs on; in March 2018, this theme was Poetry and the Body.
Poets House Fellows were asked to use the Poets House archival space and choose five items from the library that they associated with the body in some way. They were asked to write a prose paragraph about each item, as well as a single poem of their own. To launch the project, the poets read from and performed their work and discussed their period of research at an event at Poets House on March 3, 2018.
The Fellows’ chosen items ranged across a miscellany of archival material, from an audio recording of Anne Sexton to Kyoo Lee’s chapbook consisting half of drafts, half of writing prompts. Similarly, the Fellows’ responses ranged in form and feeling. They were daring and playful, not only in their poetic responses, but also in the exciting experimentation of their essays.
As Program Director Paolo Javier notes, “the essays vary from close readings of the poem and books of poetry, to personal reflection, and hybrid prose experimentation. They are earthy, playful, confessional, somber, ecstatic. They remember childhood experiences with the anxious body. They explore the ways in which the poem attempts to heal ‘some of the most nefarious ills in the world—domestic abuse; HIV/AIDS; racism; mass incarceration; nationalism’ [Ricardo Hernandez].” Alex Cuff’s responses read like associative, sometimes confessional prose poems, while Chia-Lun Chang offers enigmatic aphoristic statements. Sometimes it is the library spaces itself that come to the foreground of the writing. As Cuff says: “I sit on a couch-like chair at Poets House and recall my dreams….” Or, as Rico Frederick envisions, “May books be the vaccination to cure all intolerance. To articulate imagination is immunization of stagnant thought. What is ignorance if not an infection of joy? Joy, be it so every Poets House is a hospital of the healing stanza.”
The following essays and poems were published in the Los Angeles Review of Books in March 2018 in six installments:
- Ricardo Hernandez: Part I: “To Reimagine Healing”
- Adeeba Talukder: Part II: “The Body as Idol, Nation, and Revolution”
- Cynthia Manick: Part III: “Dreaming and Loving Through Poetry and the Body”
- Chia-Lun Chang: Part IV: “Private Time Machine”
- Alex Cuff: Part V
- Rico Frederick: Part VI: “Un-lonely-ing the Inner Self”