Back at the end of March as the reality of the pandemic began to set in, Erica Hunt wrote to me: “We seemed to have slipped through a portal-- from before to not quite after. I have been thinking about how to mark the present moment.” She wanted to think about the words being used to describe this moment in time, the non/particularity of phrasings: “for the time being” came to mind. As I write this, it’s just slightly before November and we’re still in this time being, despite the occasional slips I’ve heard in the street like, “back when COVID was happening” and “when we were in lockdown”—have these things ended? The year as a whole, in many ways, has felt sort of lost to time, or reoriented at mass scale to time’s nonlinearity, or maybe it’s that time as seemed to overflow itself—it’s often felt impossible to anticipate what will come even a moment later. And many of us have been grieving, our wounds and losses very exposed and now shared in the world. There are the pandemic, the ongoing and global assaults on Black life, the fires out west and intensified hurricanes, and precarity in so many other forms. Many of us were grieving before this year, many of us have been grieving for longer than memory holds. And many of those many's of us have in this year grown more committed to several tasks or thoughts, some of which come up in this issue of the newsletter, like the task of abolition, radical friendship, survival and survival spells, poetry’s offerings and limits in these realms and others.
In a roundtable on poetry and prison abolition, Justin Rovillo-Monson writes, “poetry can flesh out what prison often hides from the world. In doing that, a hidden corner is exposed and given an economy beyond the counting of bodies caged in some field in a rural town called Freeland.” Poetry can insist on presence and make a view of life’s incremental shifts, as Molly Schaeffer writes of Etel Adnan’s Shifting the Silence: “What’s happening here is an insistence to remain, even as the engine slows. ‘Happening’ is an action, movement through recognition, ‘tornadoes we barely notice’. If we know enough to know what’s not, that is. So long as we change, we’re here.”
With a critical edge, Fargo Thabki reviews Philip Metres’ Shrapnel Maps, illuminating its failures: “To resist this magic I resort to my own: the magic of violence, of bitterness and resentment, of rage; the magic of the twirling slingshot and the rocket and the too-loud; the magic of the weed un-pullable, the fence un-maintainable. I invoke the magic of queer slipperiness and Palestinian immovability, and I survive another day, to narrate my own self, to live my own life.”
In this issue you’ll find these and many other writings on works that push and point to new horizons and hold us in the not quite before and not quite after that we so often call the present. This attention to the present, to presence, I’m thinking, is one type of defense, in many senses, against structured attempts at obliterating life. From the same roundtable mentioned earlier in this note, Mercedes Eng says of certain poets and writers of the present: “It would be lovely not to need the beauty of their words as balm for the terror wrought by capital, but the terror is here and we need beauty.” With our wits about us and our critical capacities at hand, beauty might be, as Saidiya Hartman has written, an antidote to death.