to be radical / to be experimental / fundamentally positions a kind of marginality to mainstream practices / a correlation to the systematic marginalization poets of color live experientially / lived experience and experimentation emerging consciousness / bounded by words internalized from languages intersecting at borders / as always bound by these linguistic interactions between and through languages / conflicts and congruencies of languages / dynamically pushing back against the power to marginalize / to make for innovative poetry
Steven Alvarez is the author of The Codex Mojaodicus, winner of the 2016 Fence Modern Poets Prize. His work has appeared in the Best Experimental Writing (BAX), Berkeley Poetry Review, Fence, Huizache, The Offing, and Waxwing. Follow Steven on Instagram @stevenpaulalvarez and Twitter @chastitellez.
These poems were written in California and New York. “Versus” reconciles the differences between two towns in Southern California, Fontana and Bloomington, one incorporated and the other not. Each line contrasts elements and characteristics of each. Each line blends. Every “vs.” is a line-break that is not a line-break. I think that this poem shows that while we belong to our hometown, we exist and depend on others. “XXXO FM” is what my friends, visual artists, call “box poems,” and it contains fragments that are assembled in a way that generates poetry. Or, these fragments create a poem from materials that were not meant to be poetic. I feel that this aesthetic speaks to my identity and upbringing. I am gay, chicano, and from San Bernardino, California.
Coyote’s neighborhood vs. Imp’s. Fontana vs. Bloomington.
More taxes, sidewalks, street lights vs. parties and gangs.
Mechanized Fontana P.D. vs. Highway Patrol in khakis and wanna-be sombreros.
Parking in the yard vs. the garage.
Fire hydrants vs. roads ending in sky.
Murky dawn vs. the salivating song of the Ice Cream Man.
(The loudest thing) Imp playing Call of Duty vs. Chevy Impala playing
Sirens, hoots, howling wind vs. growling, purrs, toilet flushes.
Gas stations vs. liquor stores.
Feathers vs. chasm.
Chasm vs. feathers.
Hills vs. fields.
Fans vs. air-conditioning.
Blur vs. Atmosphere.
A clogged sink vs. potholes in the road.
Kids blocking the driveway vs. Fernando leaving the fridge open.
A power box vs. poles and wire.
Afternoons of machines idling, humming vs. mornings smelling of dirt.
In both eggs, used cars and blankets sold on the side of the road.
Go outside to talk on the phone
in the cascade of the freeway
houses never buildings
DJ Ashtrae (Joshua Escobar) was the Dean’s Fellow in Writing at the MFA Program at Bard College (Class of 2017). He was a Merit Fellow at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley (Class of 2016). He is a CantoMundo Fellow. Caljforkya Voltage, his first chapbook, was published by No, Dear/Small Anchor Press last fall.
I began “Portrait of a Lady of a Certain Age” a couple of years ago and didn’t finish it. Back then, I thought there was no room for an anti-capitalist, genre-bending poem. Feeling rather anti-capitalist, I needed to return to the poem after November, 2016. I worked on the form, not wanting it to look like anything normal because I didn’t feel like anything was normal anymore, and extended it quite a bit. I wanted the poem to be a dreamscape that is not quite nightmare, then a waking where life still is surreal somehow. And I wanted the woman to be straddling the world of consumerism and disgust, I wanted her to be obviously black without calling her black. Lastly, I wanted it to look like prose, but not necessarily make sense as a prose form—not an essay, not quite fiction, and too long for a prose poem.
Portrait of Lady of a Certain Age
I’m in a department store in the women’s accessory section. Elevator music is playing, though I don’t think I’ve ever heard elevator music in a department store (or in an elevator) or anywhere and I’m looking at pairs of pantyhose, or tights, or Lycra or Spandex, and nothing is quite my size. Almost my size—too small or too large. I take folds of Nylon or Lycra or Spandex between my index finger and the tall finger and run my fingers along the smooth, tiny bumps. They won’t fit.
Someone is feeding me something sweet and they ask, “Do you taste the honey?” And I’ll answer, “Yes, yes, I taste the honey.” “Do you taste the brown sugar? It’s rich. It’s organic.” And I’ll say, “Yes, I do taste the brown sugar.” “And do you taste the vanilla?” “Yes, I do taste it. I taste the vanilla.”
My hair itches, but I won’t scratch. I hit my head swiftly with my flattened hand to disturb the scalp—the closest I’ll come to scratching. I either cannot mess my hair up because I’m going somewhere or because I am getting a relaxer.
I am breathing both silently and heavily. I am crying into my pillow. I shake lightly. I don’t want to disturb the person I am in bed with. I am not married. I do not know if there is someone in bed with me. I cry more because I do not want to die alone.
I wake up. I go to the department store and circulate through the men’s accessory section. I say to a clerk, “I want to buy a wallet, but I don’t want it to be leather.”
DeMisty D. Bellinger’s writing has appeared in many places, including WhiskeyPaper, The Rumpus, and Blue Fifth Review. She is a contributor to Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse, edited by Grace Bauer and Julie Kane. Her chapbook, Rubbing Elbows, is available from Finishing Line Press. DeMisty teaches creative writing and lives in Massachusetts with her twin daughters and husband.
Subversion is an intrinsic value inherited in order to survive. Growing up in adverse, violent, impoverished, transitory environments is to be a ‘deviant,’ which manifests into linguistic lawlessness. Tribulation affords me the ability to experience the jabberwockish, neologistic logic of the world. My diction ranges from fever-pitched vulgarities and bombastic colloquialisms to the stoic and academically austere: a lingual promiscuity. Chasms between socio-economic environments create an auditorium of aesthetics, textured dissonance, hiccupping cognition and lexical contortion. Institutionalized language is euthanized language; I tread nimbly. Language is a system to be deconstructed to decimate conventional history and recalibrate time—time into a velocitous verticality as opposed to plodding, horizontal progression. I twiddle with syntax to resuscitate. To think of a single letter as an organ, a word as an airway, the sentence as a respiratory system. To seal my saliva, my mouth against every stroke and blow convulsive rescue breaths until Lingua Franca gasps into re-existence.
Close your town. Lock the poem away in a chifforobe till quarantine’s end. It’s contaminated with the plague. It begins bubonic. The key? Hide it. Abandonment sharpens objectivity. Even if the poem’s population is 215 in boonie, backsticks Ozarks. Even if you’ve just got a guinea, billy, donkey or rusted claw foot filled with radish and skunk nest. No one enters. No one exits. Outside, Canonic critics in Cadillacs carry canteens, binoculars, sawed offs. Gatekeepers shoot your heifer, noose your darlings. This all in the name of refinement, homogeny, de-clunking. You’ll try secretly hoisting rhubarb and limas to prepositions by basket and pulley. Don’t. Contagion is a risk. Let two months pass.
Open town. Unlock the chifforobe. The poem: partition pages into hoods placed under authority of a syndic. Some stanzas are so dicey you don’t drive through after 7 p.m. and couplets are ply wooded windows. Lock doors at every enjambment. Silverfish infested couches are fire lit next to dumpsters that possums sex in. Your sestina smells homeless. Draft one is rough. Begin marginalization.
Create a newly segregated word document titled “Section 8.” This is a form for the unformed. This is humanity’s orphanage. Better manslaughter in one’s own hands the neck of lexicons most loved. Duct tape mouths of dangling modifiers. Hogtie kicking and pulling adjectives, highlight them. Paste them into termite infested studios. Open new document after new document tabbed “Lower income,” “rehabilitation,” “alternately abled,” “mentally disordered.” There’s infinite megabits and white space for the oppressed to stagnate in.
Construct as many literary penal colonies as needed. Alphabetic asylums where forced sterilization is performed on Lingua Franca. Rehabilitate lower cases. Douse them in ice baths after electromagnetic cognitive therapy. Machete limbs of metaphors that gangrene ate. There’s poetic images $1,340.00 past due in rent. Build payday loans on top of every comma. There’ll be barbequed squirrel and broken family reunions when you log out because these words do not doze: the mauled verbs that hobble on crutches, amphetamine addicted clichés, triolets riddled with head lice. Similes in perpetual states of existential crises.
Take Draft Two to Salvation Army’s food pantry. Caucasian writer lore is anemic, severely iron deficient. File scribbled epiphanies in moleskin notebooks under “Juvenile Delinquent Detention Center.” Evict meth huffin’, country bumpkins from the sonnet. Too heavy, they bust convention’s bed springs. The mad, the vagabonds, the criminals, the beggars, the off-colored, lines that stumble drunkenly, the alliterated poverty. These literary influenzas epidemic elitist white pickets. Upload them to me. I’ll breastfeed neologisms. Somewhere, inside one of these decrepit homes, a little girl dressed in a fleece My Little Pony onesie wears brass knuckles to bed. Delete this documentation.
Do I enact to language what life has dealt me? What to my body, I to the paragraph? I too slaughterhouse Britannica’s physique—just as he did, coming in at 4 a.m., rubbing a slippery cursor on my lips. Fragmented on a mattress, I scramble syntax outside these edits. It’s not experimental. It’s survival.
Danielle Lea Buchanan’s poetry, hybridities, collaborative art, fiction, book reviews, interviews, teaching guides and oddities have appeared or are forthcoming in McSweeney’s, Mid-American Review, Anomaly’s Radical: Avant Garde Poets of Color, New Orleans, Puerto del Sol, New Delta Review, Noemi Press, Psychopomp, Hobart, New York, and other elsewheres. She was shortlisted for the Master Review’s 2016 Fall Fiction contest judged by Kelly Link, and winner of Passages North’s 2017 Ray Ventre Nonfiction prize selected by Jenny Boully.
M. NourbeSe Philip writes in Zong!: “we differ / are we mad /or merely men without maps / in an age where truth is rare”. This quote has been circling my mind for months. Although Philip’s book is about the murder of Africans aboard a slave ship in 1781, this particular moment leapt across centuries and asked me to consider what it could mean in 2017 in the United States. More than ever now, we need voices that speak rare truths, that force the reader to stare uncomfortably into this mapless place, and create a small path into the liminal space that myself and many other poets and people of color inhabit. These pieces for Anomaly’s Radical: Avant Garde Poets of Color were inspired by Philip’s quote, and written into the silence between language, languages, and truth.
BONE DRY I SAID
Aya Satoh was born in Nagoya, Japan and raised in Massachusetts. She is currently pursuing her MFA at the University of Montana, where she is a poetry editor for CutBank Literary Magazine. This is her first publication.