New “Poetry” issue grapples with monuments

According to the Poetry Foundation’s website, Poetry magazine is “the oldest monthly devoted to verse in the English-speaking world.” The magazine was founded in 1912 by American poet, editor, scholar and literary critic Harriet Monroe with the mission “to print the best contemporary poetry, of any style, genre, or approach.

Poetry magazine prides itself on receiving an annual average of 150,000 submissions from around the world. The magazine accepts poets without regard to their notoriety, resulting in literary giants being featured next to writers who have never been published before.

The theme of the September 2022 issue was monuments. Diné multimedia artist and writer Esther Belin served as a guest editor and wrote the issue’s introduction.

Belin defined a monument as “the process of harnessing collective moments into a physical manifestation, something representational of the essence that surges a person’s core.”

She highlighted how monuments often glorify past atrocities against people of color, particularly the “genocidal colonialism” experienced by Indigenous people. The recent trend of critically examining, removing and renaming monuments inspired this issue.

The September issue featured the work of multiple Indigenous poets, each gifted with a well-developed distinct voice. The poems by Amber McCrary and Martín Tonalmeyotl were some of my favorite takes on the theme of the living connections between culture and nature.

McCrary’s “Blue Corn Woman” was a concrete poem shaped like a mountain range. It referenced Tsoodził (Mount Taylor) and Dookʼoʼoosłííd (San Francisco Peaks), two of the six sacred mountains in Navajo culture. At the base of the mountain is the Navajo word for life, “iiná,” which, paired with the line “Nourish me / And I will give you life,” strengthens the message that people must work in harmony with nature to thrive.

Nestora Salgado” by Tonalmeyotl is named after a human rights activist and Indigenous leader who opposed political corruption in Guerrero and advocated for the right of Indigenous peoples to self-determination. The poem tells her story in the form of a legend, portraying her as a heroine with a “jaguar nahual,” which represents female energy and a protective spirit of Mother Earth in Mesoamerican folk religion. The diction is beautifully vivid, with lines such as “She planted, by hand, a valley of flowers for the butterflies / and with their wings clothed herself.”

The issue did not solely feature Indigenous poets, though. Writers from a variety of backgrounds had something unique to say about the theme.

Ohio poet Lucas Jorgensen wrote “Non-cento from the Bureau of the Library of Alexandria” to claim that writing about reality is a way of warping it. This free-form poem is a tapestry woven with references to writers throughout history, from Jack Gilbert to Terrance Hayes, and the ideas that bind them.

Processing Emmett Till (Uncanny Emmett Till #2)” by Keith S. Wilson defies categorization. Its structure and style are jarring yet effective at creating an atmosphere of metamorphosis. The syntax and spacing of each line are as chaotic as the emotions they convey. I cannot do it justice, only implore you to see it with your own eyes.

I highly encourage anyone with an interest in poetry to check out the Poetry Foundation and the associated magazine, particularly this issue. I will refrain from attaching a rating to this review out of respect for the subject matter, but I will say that I am looking forward to devouring the next issue just as ravenously as I consumed this one.

All issues of Poetry can be accessed through the online archive, no membership or account required. Physical copies are available for purchase.



Photo courtesy of Matt, Flickr.