— Ena Alvarado, a former assistant editor
“Stone” by Brynn Saito
One day above me / men with bony shoulders came and built the barracks, Brynn Saito writes in “Stone,” a poem that bears witness to Japanese internment from the perspective of a rock. Saito often explores Japanese American history through a personal lens, but here, she uses an inanimate object to help readers access the pain—and resilience—of those interned. This year, I’ve felt that the country has started to reckon more fully with its legacy of racism toward Asian Americans. Like the stone in this poem, I hope that more people will see themselves not as a bystander, but as a listener and an empath.
— Morgan Ome, assistant editor
“Praise Song for the Day” by Elizabeth Alexander
Last week, Amanda Gorman published her spell-binding inaugural poem, and it had me thinking about the tradition of inaugural poems that her’s is a part of. One that came to mind in particular was Elizabeth Alexander’s “Praise Song for the Day.” Alexander is one of my favorite writers, and this poem, written as Barack Obama took office in January 2009, captures the dynamics of that moment in ways that remain resonant. Say it plain: that many have died for this day. / Sing the names of the dead who brought us here. I think of these lines often, and they have been on my mind again recently as we begin to emerge from a year wrought with tragedy and casualties.
— Clint Smith, staff writer and author of the poetry collection Counting Descent
“Draft of a Modern Love Poem” by Tadeusz Różewicz, translated by Magnus J. Krynski and Robert A. Maguire
It’s a weird spring. Our freedom depends on our restraint. Until I’m vaccinated, I keep my family and friends safe by staying apart: Lack hunger / absence / of flesh / is a description of love... The Polish Nobel laureate Czesław Miłosz called Różewicz “a poet of chaos with a nostalgia for order”—perfect for a paradoxical April, suspended between a vanished “normal” and the bright unknown.
— Jen Adams, associate director of production
“Facsimile A821/821a” by Emily Dickinson
A great poem tells the truth in a way that is unlike all other kinds of writing. Recently I became aware of The Gorgeous Nothings, a marvelous collection of Emily Dickinson’s back-of-envelope scribblings. I love this book because it is a reminder of the tangibility of poetry, and the making of it. Besides, to see Dickinson’s ideas in her own jotted-down handwriting is a thrill not afforded by most collections. I’ve always been drawn to Dickinson’s interest in nothingness—and her subversions of the concept of nothing—including in one lovely fragment from The Gorgeous Nothings that I’ve been rereading all week. It appears across three triangles of paper: Clogged / only with / Music, like / the Wheels of / Birds / their high / Appoint / ment / of / Afternoon and / the West and / the gorgeous / nothings / which / compose / the / sunset / keep.