In a country inundated with political and social ugliness, a nationally curated poetry anthology forefronts the beautiful.
For poet, critic, and editor Lomax, a poem can be many things. This anthology features entries from poets from every state and, pointedly, the United States’ inhabited territories and commonwealths. Each contributor provides a “found poem” that conveys what they find beautiful. In short, Lomax asked each writer to engage in “witnessing, not creating.” A couple of poets chose work by others, but several chose photographs, news articles, and social media screenshots. Each work includes the rationale for its submission. Many revered poets participate, including Eileen Myles, Jericho Brown, and Dorothea Lasky, but there are several lesser-known writers hailing from as far as Cameroon and South Korea. The location and text appear on the left and the image on the right; this is a welcome layout concept since more abstract images require context for readers to effectively see what the poet is seeing. The anthology’s theme, Lomax writes, is partially in response to the Trump presidency and its lingering assault on our ability to connect with the beauty around us; through beauty we can “heal the wrongdoing at hand.” Some works reflect on a memory that addresses multiple issues, like race, identity, and ingenuity; for example, Brown’s entry for the state of Georgia is short but affecting. He provides the phone number of a figure known as “Hustle Man” whose numerous professions make him “an example of the everything black folk will do to survive.” Tiphanie Yanique of the U.S. Virgin Islands chose a screenshot that celebrates the YA novel Hurricane Child (2018) by fellow Virgin Islands writer Kheryn Callender that explores queerness, climate change, and the legacy of colonization without resting on tropes. This is an untraditional offering, and entries range widely in type and scope; the collective effect is both peripatetic and profound.
An optimistic, wise collection that offers the pleasures of discovery.