Today, on a day when a militarized colonial police force is using violence against Native peoples, again, still, centuries after the first moments of violence against Native peoples by colonizers in this land; today, on a day when we are witnessing a normalized and public resurgence of the very worst of humanity in the form of white supremacy and Nazism; today, on a day towards the end of what to me has felt like one of the worst years in my millennial memory; today, on a day when we repeat again and again the names of the black men, women, and children murdered by the agents of white supremacy; today, on a day when it feels more and more like love and kindness and empathy are losing to fear and hatred; today. Today. Today, this is what I have to offer. The result of a year of hard, inspiring, dedicated, and largely uncompensated work from the amazing staff of Drunken Boat.
DB24 is our first post-transition issue. I took editorship of Drunken Boat around this time last year, agreeing to work to continue the legacy built by Ravi Shankar and so many others who worked to make our community what it is. And I believe so much in the work of the artists in this issue, and in mission of the journal, and in the work that we’re doing as an organization, that seeing this work come into the world seems like a bit of good at the end of a long tunnel. In DB24 we’re building on the legacy that countless others have worked to create, and expanding the mission of the journal in some unexpected ways.
When Nick Potter asked me a year ago if I had considered adding a comics section, I was surprised at myself that I hadn’t. After all, I’m an avid reader of independent comics in English, and translate graphic literature from Spanish. I wondered at first whether a space like Drunken Boat was needed in the comics world. Did we have anything to add to the space made for comic artists and writers? But looking at the phenomenal breadth of work and style Nick brought together in our inaugural comics section, I see clearly the necessity of a space for work pushes the boundaries and margins, figuratively and literally, as these artists do. Bianca Stone’s “Elegy with Clothes” for example is a surreal, dark, grief-filled work, equal parts art and poetry, that asks, poignently: “Can you see how it happens like that? / Something too violent is attached to something too living?”
The Eclipse folio, edited and conceived by Priya Sarukkai Chabria, is a multi-genre meditation on a phenomena essential to mythology all over the world. “In China, a celestial dragon eats the sun; in Vietnam, a frog; in Viking myth howling wolves; in Thailand, a Rahu clone does the same; in the sci-fi series The Transformers Unicron, a colossal sentient cyber-planet becomes a head that consumes other planets; the first video games featured rampaging gobbling heads. Eclipse is also a free open-source software which supports a rich selection of extensions including Android.” Through dance, photography and poetry, these artists meditate on “eclipse as tangle of light / shadow / darkness / unknowness / celebration / orrery and occultation / passage through inner and outer geographies or visions, as lifting of a veil or.” That “or” is an invitation to the reader, to bring your own ideas of eclipse to bear in reading these works.
In Lisa Ko’s first editor’s note as our Fiction co-editor with Sybil Baker, she reminds us that “for those of us who have been forbidden or discouraged from telling our stories, writing can be an act of survival and resistance. And so can publishing the stories of underrepresented writers…” I want to tattoo that in my heart, for the days to come when I lose sight of the why we keep doing this work. The eight authors in this section are telling important stories, showing us the strength and splendor in difference, and it is a great honor to build a space that brings them together.
Yuyutsu Sharma’s omnibus collection of Nepalese poets, interspersed with some beautiful visual art, is somewhat like a crash-course in Nepalese poetry. Many will recall the massive earthquakes last year that killed thousands, made millions homeless, and exacerbated political tensions and violence in the region. But as Yuyu says in his introduction: "Very little is known about this little nation to the world outside. Nepal is projected in clichés, even in neighboring India. ... In actual fact, Nepal is a nation born out the breath of poet/translators. For it was poet Bhanu Bhakta Acharya whose translation of the Hindu epic, The Ramayana, gave the Nepal nation its genuine language, face, and identity."
NonFiction Editor Lina Maria Ferreira Cabeza-Vanegas writes: "In moments of division and uncertainty it may serve us well to remember that every human moment is certain only of its own division and divided, primarily, by its own uncertainties. Creative nonfiction is likely the only genre that is defined by undefined borders." These pieces explore the undefined borders between truth and memory and literature, between empathy and hate and love and fear, and between life and art. "Amidst all this, nonfiction—at its best—can stand as a regulator. Uncomfortable and disconsolate, wiling to devour and unravel itself for our sakes. To confront the fact that the truth of it all is we are, every one of us, implicated in division, fear, rage and the beating heart of hate. It is written in our biology and none of us is free."
The twenty poets in Eunsong Kim's first section as Poetry Editor are also engaged with memory. In her words: "Memory building, memory labors, memory frames, memory vehicles memory circles memory gatherings tending to memories presented here." Poetry is irreducible to summary, and so you must go and read the poem itself and inhabit the poem and ask with the poet, as Samiya Bashir does, "What is thing of beauty / if not us? // Repeat."
DB24 ends with our fifth dedicated Translation section. As always, these works are "translation-forward" - engaged in the creation of texts that do not ignore the intervening presence of the translator but pay careful, meticulous attention to the movement of art between languages and those who conduct it. This section's guiding principle was, as editor Anna Rosenwong's introduction says, "edge play and hybridity—as our call puts it, 'work that knows translation is a conversation; important voices that have been marginalized; voices too contemporary, too rooted, or too resistant to have yet reached English-reading, um, ears.'" Notice that hesitating "um" - in this section the translators and authors work to undermine the illusion of smooth, easy literature; they challenge our expectation of access and complicate our assumptions.
Altogether, DB24 presents 104 artists and writers, who together in this space demand more of us as readers: more empathy, more love, more passion, more willingness for discomfort and growth. And as this year, this horrible year, draws to a close, we offer each other more, too: more voices in the night, speaking their truths against the silencing powers of fear and violence and hatred. We hold this space as a space for us to come together and find ways to continue, find ways to believe in ourselves and the work we're doing together.