Just a quick post to share about the release of a new anthology: Dear America: Letters of Hope, Habitat, Defiance, and Democracy edited by Simmons Buntin, Elizabeth Dodd, and Derek Sheffield and published by Trinity University Press. My own poem, “American Studies” is included along with work by Jericho Brown, Victoria Chang, Camille T. Dungy, Tarfia Faizullah, Blas Falconer, Kimiko Hahn, Brenda Hillman, Jane Hirshfield, Linda Hogan, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Naomi Shihab Nye, Elena Passarello, Gary Soto, Pete Souza, Arthur Sze, and Kim Stafford among others. I am grateful to the editors for the work put into not only this anthology, but also the work they have been doing through their editorship over at Terrain.org where some of these pieces were originally published.
More on this anthology:
“Dear America reflects the evolution of a moral panic that has emerged in the nation. More importantly, it is a timely congress of the personal and the political, a clarion call to find common ground and conflict resolution, all with a particular focus on the environment, social justice, and climate change. The diverse collection features personal essays, narrative journalism, poetry, and visual art from more than 130 contributors–many pieces never before published–all literary reactions to the times we live in, with a focus on civic action and social change as we approach future elections.”
To celebrate the release of this anthology, Terrain.org has organized a Dear America Virtual Town Hall event series—the first to be conducted on Earth Day. Find out more about this event here.
My poem “American Studies” (below) was written shortly after the 2016 election. I was living in Cincinnati, Ohio at the time, in my last year of a PhD. I would go on to defend my dissertation on Trump’s inauguration day and walk out of said defense to find a pro-Trump rally happening on the university campus, complete with “Build the Wall” signs and a man (not a student) walking around armed with semi-automatic weapons. I share these details to provide context for the charged air that the poem was created in. An air of fear and despair, an air of survival. As a person from a marginalized community, I’ve been in survival mode all of my life, so it wasn’t that any of what I felt was new. What was new and dismaying was how overt intolerance had become, on campus, across the country, and also how shocked non-marginalized people were at the time. My hope is that through works like this anthology we continue to give voice and archive what it is like to survive.
José Angel Araguz
November 22, 2016
My wife tells me of reading the Dear
America books as a child, those stories told
via the diaries of young women who lived
during difficult times in American history. In these
stories filled with suffering were the facts behind
the suffering. Her favorite involved the RMS Titanic,
the unsinkable ship that sank. I ask if
trying to imagine what it looked like was
what captivated, and she says no, says only
one book led to another, until she realized
she could never see it nor accept it.
After the election, my friend explains he feels
he could manage here, but not his children.
He explains he spoke to their school director,
who comforted by talking about police presence. But
if there’s police, he asks, before anything happens,
what will happen when something does? American algebra:
Everything is x until proven y. Dear America,
if x represents what my friend feels thinking
about the police, what language do you imagine
he worries his children speaking publicly, and what
language are we speaking now? Show your work.
Another friend writes: Here’s a verse I think
about a lot: And maybe the mirror of
the world will clear once again*. She shares
she’s been sick since the election, as I’ve
been. I imagine our voices trying to commiserate
between coughs. In physics, energy can neither be
created nor destroyed. What American physics happens here
as I read and hear her voice behind
the verse she sent? Are you, dear America,
afraid as I am that our faces will
no longer be there when the mirror clears?
* Faiz Ahmed Faiz
Copies of Dear America can be purchased here.