I’ve been mulling over the Leonard Bernstein’s prescription for greatness - a plan, and not quite enough time. That there is not sanctioned time for poetry in the marketplace is a given. Poems exist as marginalia to “real” life, and writing is always haunted by whether, as the Times posed, poetry matters. While I find the rhetorical question a bit disingenuous, and patronizing, I would be a liar if I said that, listening to news of Iraq, Ferguson, Ebola, I am not gut-checked by the dissonance between conversations about art’s importance and the privilege such conversations imply. No plan. Too much time.
And yet. I read the dazzling array of submission to Drunken Boat, and I am not lulled into forgetting the realities of the world, but comforted, and yanked back into stubborn faith in poetry as matter, an umbilical cord, a bridge, a rope, an outstretched hand. The act of reading decimates my self-conscious impulse to perpetuate the poetry-life binary. Rather than airy suppositions on the medium’s relevance, these poems are the evidence of the bleed between being and doing, existing and reflecting. As Shadab Zeest Hashmi writes, “There is no one to rescue us/from our obsessions/ The world looks on from below—/a cat with its paw lifted/waiting for a wind/and an open door.”An endeavor where process trumps product strikes me as an act of care: small, perhaps, but since when is significance tantamount to scale?
Back to Bernstein. What constitutes a “plan” in a poem? And what about the old adages about overdetermination, an absence of generosity for the reader? In re-reading the poets of DB19, I’m struck by the way greatness is accomplished by a dedication to process - language, music, space - rather than plan. The poetic limit as enough, and, moreover, integral.”You dig entropy, but everything/resists,” writes Christa Romanosky. A trust in the poetic unit to propel the poem forward, that the plan is perpetually re-negotiated, and the poem’s ecstasy comes in the shift, the unexpected resistance between mind and line. Cynthia Cruz: “You said, You must sweep/And sweep the floor./But the world allured me, and/In an unguarded moment/I listened/To her temptress voice.” The act of erasing (sweeping) is catalyst to the speaker’s awareness of what’s beyond. Perhaps that’s another way to resist this binary: the internal, solitary practice of poetry not merely as reflection of the external, but a reminder to look up. “It is easier to continue, add on than to stop, exclude,” writes Karyna McGlynn, “Stop, do it slow. This is the worst work. It is also the only.” I invite you to heed McGlynn and read Alison D. Montcrief’s extraordinary long poem “Teratoma” and Ray Gonzalez’s kinetic “Church,” as well as many others.
Regarding process. We’re working hard to streamline the editorial process, transitioning to Submittable. We’re also thrilled to have Forrest Gander as judge for our first book contest. We’ll be putting out three issues a year, with folios that emphasize collaboration, translation, and the marriage of text and image. As ever, diversity - aesthetic and biographical - remains an organic part of DB’s mission. Many thanks to our poetry readers, assistant editor Nicholas YB Wong, the poets and, of course, you, the readers.
Michelle Chan Brown