“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” — Nelson Mandela
“Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.” — Thich Nhat Hanh
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.” — Rachel Carson
Following the the intense struggles of the Civil Rights Movement (which gave birth to the anti-war protests during the war in Vietnam), and the subsequent Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1960s, came the timely and hard-won achievements of Black History Month, held each February, and Women’s History Month, held each March, in the 1970s and 1980s. Similarly National Poetry Month, held each April, was created in 1996 as a month-long celebration of poetry. As we came to understand the collective sense of human solidarity and endurance that was so urgently called upon in the days, weeks, and months leading to the inauguration of Donald J. Trump on January 20, 2017, this prompted our mothers, sisters, and daughters from all walks of life, along with their family members, friends, and colleagues, the very next day to stage the historic Women’s March as a worldwide protest, and the largest single-day protest in U.S. history. How can we forget among other political and social unrests, the national and worldwide protest against racial injustice and systemic racism following the violent murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, coinciding with the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic and amidst the 2020 presidential election? Due to our coming-to-terms with what we’ve learned about ourselves as caring participants of this ever-fragile experiment called democracy, we must inevitably ask ourselves once again, “how have we become so complacent, moving about our lives ever-so comfortably within our small, insular niches, with knowledge of the lurking forces of evil-doing, led by ambitious opportunists whose thirst for power is matched by an amazing aptitude of human energy and drive, who have proven again and again in history, as in the last presidency, that they lie right below our thin skin, and are always ready to poke through unexpectedly, especially when we’re falling asleep?” What separates truth from falsehood is a line as thin as a tiny strand of hair.
While autocratic personalities have exploited “speed” so effectively in our distant and recent past, we have once again undertaken the historic humanist tradition of “slowness,” as is in our DNA as artists, in order to heal. In doing so, we’ve come to recognize with great pain the importance of the collective “coming together” on all fronts, at all costs for the restoration of language. Be it spoken, written, or sung, the use of words have tremendous consequences in either nurturing or destroying what we’ve built our culture with, and the maintenance of the necessary balance between our manmade environment and the natural world. As we recognize that all languages may be easily irregular hence metaphysical, or readily manipulated in the promotion of “good” against “evil,” and vice versa, one truth we all come to hold dear to our hearts is that poetry has always been the most honest, the most penetrating and truthful revelation of our greatest vulnerability, of our most intense fear, or of our most inexplicably deep human emotion that cannot be expressed in mere description through the domains of prose, prose fiction, journalistic writing, or any other kind of writing otherwise. That is to say, while music, art, architecture, and other human creative endeavors have their own significant contributions to our lives, none has the same direct and indirect mediation with language in the way that poetry can. At this very moment, Poetry seems to be “essential” to how we mobilize the richness of language instead of the politicized, simplistic deployment of language that erodes our ability to communicate to each other with full complexity.
How can we turn our failures into a productive utility that can be materialized as endless resourceful arsenals against greed, hate, disdainfulness, indifference, and other human vices? How can we step outside of ourselves, our personal interests, our survival mindset of self-protection, and care for our fellow human beings who are less privileged than us? How can we generate the required mindfulness necessary to combat what can collapse under our feet when we only tend to our personal needs, and not to other’s needs, and so on? Can we simply move along with the conventional tide that has, for several decades now (at least since the end of the Cold War in 1991) swept us along with the bureaucratic machine that dictates how we behave, how we compete against one another on the basis of a culture that only thrives and feeds on conformity and compliance? Have we been blind to the differences between personal process and social process that have always served as a mediation for larger universality of the well-being of humanity as a whole, let alone within the United States of America? Have we come to realize the arrival of “The Tower of Babel” is imminent, as our “self-destruct” impulse is more real than we realized?
As we contemplate the fate of humanity, including the much-needed process to heal our souls, while Mother Nature is healing her body, we’re at once reminded that we cannot separate National Poetry Month from April’s celebration of Earth Day on the 22nd. We have also come to appreciate the notion of beauty and aesthetics, or what happens in our minds when we’re alert to all forms of experience, be it visual art, music, poetry, theater, or taking a walk in nature, and so on, as opposed to anesthetic, where we’re completely numb, our “so-called” survival instinct is absent from our capacity to be “touched” by powerful forces. Even before we get to heal everything that has been broken by the world’s notorious opportunists, such as Trump and those who associated with him, we must acknowledge such social and political calamities had roots in how language was being deployed, and how language itself has deeper roots in our education system, which for far too long has been corporatized as a business entity, based on ideas of conformity, compliance, and competition as a group, instead of individually encouraging personal responsiveness to different situations with critical and dissenting views, while cultivating the spirit of inclusiveness and collaboration.
We’re grateful to our friend the poet, writer, curator extraordinaire, and executive director of Bowery Poetry Club Mahogany L. Browne, who as the Guest Critic has swiftly organized a remarkable ensemble of fellow poets, including Hala Alyan, Camryn Bruno, Joel L. Daniels, Cathy Linh Che, Tongo Eisen-Martin, Adam Falkner, Rico Frederick, Caroline Rothstein, Jon Sands, and Suzi Q. Smith, to celebrate the importance of poetry as a perpetual awakening and nourishment to our imagination, which otherwise lies dormant below the realm of our conscious mind. Likewise, we are grateful to the poets in this month’s Poetry Section, including Daniel Borzutzky, Elaine Equi, James Fujinami Moore, Nada Gordon, Joyelle McSweeney, Garrett Caples, Michael McClure, and John Yau. Poetry is one of our most effective methods of resistance against cultural and political amnesia, as we move forward to reunify our fellow human beings from various communities together, especially those who have been socially and racially marginalized. Our future relies on all of us moving ahead, singing in unison indeed.
In solidarity, with love and courage,
Phong H. Bui
P.S. This issue is dedicated to our two friends, first, Daniel Wolf (1955–2021), an exceptional art collector and lover of photography, whose commitment to the medium’s alchemy of humanism has elevated its value and popularity we’ve never seen before. Second, to Martina Batan (1958–2021), the former director of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, whose relationships with endless artists, collectors, and art lovers was a true loving reflection of how she had lived her life. We’re sending our immense sympathies and deep condolences to Daniel’s partner and wife the great artist, also our friend Maya Lin, and their two daughters, India, Rachel; Martina’s sister and brother Christi Saporito, Timothy Batan, and their extended members of both families, friends, admirers, and colleagues. We’d like to thank Emily Dean for her remarkable contribution both as a production assistant and our MC for our NSE’s Radical Poetry Reading series this past year. We’d also like to welcome our two friends Olga Viso and Dore Bowen to the Rail’s family of mind as a consulting editor and an editor-at-large respectively. Lastly, we’d like to send our roaring birthday greetings to our beloved mentor and friend Jack Flam, the preeminent scholar of Henri Matisse, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Dedalus Foundation, whose friendship and guidance has endlessly given us strength and endurance to the collective growth of our “living organism.”