Perhaps one of the greatest joys associated with editing a journal is, besides sharing a writer's excitement over a publication, being able to double down and tell a writer their submission either has also won a prize or will be submitted by your journal to a national contest, such as the Pushcart.
This year, we nominated the five writers below: Amy Baskin, Cynthia Cruz, Caroline Hagood, Kabel Mishka Ligot, Louise Mathias and Eric Pankey. Such a diversity of voices; such talent. While it would be easy to explain why we love their writing, we thought you might want to spend some time with them so as to know them—and their processes, inspirations and challenges—all the better.
"Unseated" stemmed from what had initially seemed like a fender bender but led to years of medical treatment. It turns out that a brain can be damaged without a direct hit; just one swift snap of the neck will do. One challenge with traumatic brain injury can be its invisibility. I looked fine on the outside, but withdrew from friends when I started to stutter or forgot everyday words like “bread.” With a concussion-related visual impairment, I shied from light like a vampire and was often incapacitated by noises. My family would talk and I couldn't follow the train of their sounds into meaning. The novel I had been working on for a decade had spilled out from my skull and scattered on the pavement that day, but through my first love, poetry, I could work to create new containers in my brain. My brain, which needed to lie down for 18-hour stretches, started to play the “What If” game. What if my brain could not hold a chapter? Fine. What if my brain could not handle screen time? Fine. What if I stretched myself one handwritten poem at a time? Fine. I started with haiku which hurt my head less than some forms. Pen to paper, I performed neural calisthenics. With help from a crack medical team, dedicated therapists, and my journal, I learned that healing is not linear. It’s wondrously cyclical, much like my writing process, which, with patience, spirals higher and higher even when it appears to be headed in the wrong direction.
I wrote this poem during the summer of 2016. My aim , with this poem and the others from this collection (Hotel Belgrade), was to construct a poem as an archive. In other words, to make a poem from what was literally before me (in the room I was in at the time) as well as what was in my mind: what I was researching, reading, and thinking about. At the same time, the poems are a series of Self Portraits—attempts at getting nearer to who I am. Hence, the reference to films. These poems and this one in particular is my desperate attempt to convey who I am through the act of gesture )I am so and so in such and such film, for example). Finally, of course, these gestures are my desperate attempt which is to say the poems become the only means through which to convey—having been reduced to silence, to a state of muteness—I am able only to "speak" through the collaging of images and it is through this act—presenting one image next to another, creating a dialectic, that i am, finally, able to "speak."
The work that was nominated was an excerpt from my book-length lyric essay, Ways of Looking at a Woman. Whenever I told someone I was working on a lyric essay, they (understandably) looked a bit puzzled. As I explain to the brave students who take my lyric essay creative writing course at Barnard, it's an essay that brings together the worlds of memoir, poetry, essay, and criticism/theory. This merger would not excite all writers, but it's super exciting to dweebs like me. The origin story of the book is that I was trying to finish a dissertation called Women Who Like to Watch, about women poets writing on (and thereby re-filming/re-writing) the work of male filmmakers. I was having a hard time finishing the dissertation, so I opened a Word document and started working on Ways of Looking at a Woman at the same time—so that I didn't lose my freaking mind. I was also pregnant with my second child as I wrote (and having toys thrown at my head by my cute but mischievous first child), so you could say I had kids on the mind. Ways of Looking at a Woman ended up being my bizarre version of a detective novel—except the detective was just me, sitting in my pajamas, at my computer, eating Doritos, and trying to answer the questions of what a woman, writer, or mother even is. I don't know if that origin story is appealing or one I should share, but I have made a career out of sharing what I'm not sure I should share, so ... enjoy?
Kabel Mishka Ligot:
i wrote "juan dela cruz" after discovering the poetry written by the eponymous spanish mystic—saint john of the cross (1542-1591). i was surprised to find out that there was no connection between this poet and the name "juan dela cruz", which is essentially the national personification of the philippines in popular culture. it's also used as a default name in many contexts. in a way, it does the work of both "uncle sam" and "john doe" in american contexts. i was also very surprised that "juan dela cruz"—a caricature so easily ingrained in the filipino psyche (however one defines it)—was coined by a westerner. "juan dela cruz" was my attempt of exploring ideas of nationhood and personhood through tropes and stereotypes (and the historical contexts behind those concepts), and how those slippery notions shift so easily through time and space.
Like a lot of my recent work, The Violets Have a Back-up Plan makes references to botanical mysteries, in this case, the title refers to the way some violets can reproduce through a process called cleistogamy, where, in addition to the blooming flowers we typically associate with violets, additional flowers grow underground and release their seeds directly into the soil without the need for a pollinator. This self sufficiency compelled me, as the poem also explores the emotional terrain and grappling of the aftermath of a volatile and destructive relationship, as well as the concept of what constitutes “forgiveness” which either happens or does not happen, on deeply individualistic terms.
Both of these poems are part of longer ongoing sequence of lyric poems call "The Landscape in Theory: A Meditation," that I have been working on for the last five years considering the "landscape" as both a space one moves within daily as well as a convention of art, in particular in painting. The individual poems have begun to appear in journals and while I hope each is its own poem that the sequence will seem fugue-like, with a weave of themes and variations.