The bewitching writers of EDITION ELEVEN, and the spells they cast
Editor’s note by Robert Whitehead
The most used word in this edition of NightBlock is “say.”
When Erin and I sat down to determine what would make it into Edition 11, our only consideration was the writing should say something about where we are right now. Mostly because, I think, we are both so stumped about where we are right now, and what a future born out of this present moment could possibly look like. Social upheaval is a useful tool in the arsenal of progress, and the lived experience of this political moment is certainly worth it when measured against the greater cause of resistance. But to be a thinking, feeling human being right now is a tough freakin’ job.
Art has always been a space to process the work of living, and the incredible artists in this issue of NightBlock have each blown the lid off of this moment and exposed it as something odder, queerer, more dangerous, and more powerful than we could have ever imagined on our own. Thank goddess we are not on our own. Thank goddess for artists keeping their eyes open. Thank goddess for the communities making platforms for this work. We are so thankful that NightBlock can be one of these spaces, and we are recommitting to this work on the horizon of a new year, at the edge of a world order on the brink of collapse. It is our hope that, together, we can make clear the work it will take to build it all back up once it falls.
Our hope is that we can continue to live up to the faith our contributors place in us, showcasing the kind of work that makes living through this moment a little less lonesome, a little more magical.
Take Maria Flaccavento’s poem “RIP Nicole,” for example. This tender-yet-unsentimental writing is a document of the marginalization and brutalization of sex workers and capitalism’s imperative to bulldoze those histories which go uncelebrated and build “[n]ice rowhomes with the stainless-steel appliances” on top of them. Flaccavento’s work speaks sideways to Ines Pujos, who writes a litany of anxieties in “The Body Stands No Chance” which are distinctly human, and particularly feminine. Whether in public or private, women and femmes are forced to internalize the lesson that “it’s important to be alert/ around strangers,” as Pujos writes, because they might have “an agenda to break in & strangle me.” Tara Boswell-Ramirez adds another layer of complexity to the feminine experience in her unflinching writing about the postpartum experience, where she is alternately the “good witch/bad witch,” who must “sing cartoon villain songs to remember I have power.” There is no way to comprehend the predicament of our current moment without prioritizing the voices of women. Let me say that again. There is no way to comprehend the predicament of our current moment without prioritizing the voices of women.
This makes me recall the words of Christine Blasey Ford, testifying at the Senate Judiciary Committee in the confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh: “I was calculating daily the risk/benefit for me of coming forward, and wondering whether I would just be jumping in front of a train that was headed to where it was headed anyway and that I would just be personally annihilated.” In fact, that’s exactly what happened to her, and to many women before and after her. But we will always have her bravery, we will always have this record that it was otherwise, that the official story ran right over a woman in service to patriarchy. (Dear Brett Kavanaugh, please resign.)
Patriarchy certainly can fall with only women pulling it down brick-by-brick, but it’s nice to know, too, that there are some men willing to go rogue and commit treason against their gender. Consider, for example, Shane Kowalski’s story “I Was Thinking of the Movie Carrie,” where the image of an all-powerful Carrie is a reference point for the sexualization of male passivity in a story where a man “had no say.” His work charts a queer, surreal power dynamic in a world which looks increasingly like a Stephen King novel, and where letting women take the reigns is not only necessary, but pleasurable.
These are not “tight” poems, not compact measures of a discrete moment; rather, they are expansive, atmospheric, plumbing the depths of a mind so compellingly interesting and so deliciously overstimulated by his own visionary imagination.
Being free means everyone must be free, but being Black in America is learning how to make that freedom yourself, as Joshua Aiken knows. In “Timetable for My Freedom,” Aiken is aware that his liberation, “[d]epends on the time that I make from/ the time on which they ask me to rely.” America was built on denying the basic human rights of Black people. It’s at the rotted center of our country’s way of life, which is, in the hands of Aiken, deftly exposed as a false promise. In “The drought is still coming even if the drought has always been,” Aiken considers an American soil which speaks ‘[w]ords he never felt like he had heard, even though/ they’d been plenty said.” So who has the privilege of being spoken to? Not Aiken, who is subject to “[a]ll the designs severing infants from their roots,” an assimilationist policy of American culture which uses performative whiteness as the bar from which the standard of acceptable or unacceptable behavior is set. Aiken tears down that bar without ceremony and installs his “right to have a body” in its place, taking to heart the words of Nina Simone’s protest anthem “Mississippi Goddamn,” when she says America’s way of doing “things gradually” only “brings more tragedy.” Freedom now, freedom now, freedom now.
And what exactly does freedom feel like? At least in a poem, I think perhaps there is no better experience of freedom than a Nathaniel Rosenthalis poem, of which there are six stunners in this NightBlock edition to choose from. These are not “tight” poems, not compact measures of a discrete moment; rather, they are expansive, atmospheric, plumbing the depths of a mind so compellingly interesting and so deliciously overstimulated by his own visionary imagination. If I were to find a central subject in these poems, it would be the notion of “time,” particularly as it relates to his considerations of queerness. It’s like Rosenthalis is the fairy bard Dr. Who—exceedingly smart, incredibly precocious, and unstuck to any sense of a strict, linear chronology. Time is not a fixed dimension in Rosenthalis’ hands; instead it is a lived, felt, examined experience of seeing and being seen, of looking so deeply into a thing that it merges with his vision of it.
Consider, for example, this passage from the poem “Passer,” (which I have very nearly memorized I love it so much): “People said, look// and I did. Stay/ still to do so. Done.// The rest is here:/ a blank pink complex// the sun hides behind./ A hotel corner// comes around. Nowhere/ I don’t go, I said.// As if I’d know/ the spit of my man// anywhere.” I won’t possibly be able to say anything about this poem that isn’t said more beautifully in the poem itself. But look at how inside his own mind Rosenthalis is, how aware of his thinking, how highly evolved his methods for making what he sees into language! In the poem, the speaker is “still,” looking, observing, almost monk-like in his devotion to capture a moment and emotion that is constantly fleeting. Very little is happening, there is no plot or conceit or exposition. And yet, everything is happening. The cityscape is flaring in a pink sunset and Rosenthalis, as an omnipotent speaker, knows there is “nowhere I don’t go.” He is the sun, Dionysian and all-seeing.
The poets in this issue say what needs to be said. That’s why we chose them. But just as important is the fact that these poets chose NightBlock, they submitted their work to us for some reason or another, which is a humbling honor. Our hope is that we can continue to live up to the faith our contributors place in us, showcasing the kind of work that makes living through this moment a little less lonesome, a little more magical.
Robert Whitehead is the Managing Editor for NightBlock.