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Poems for Political Disaster: A Reading in Recap

The air of urgency came as little surprise. It read in the face of the woman who closed her parchment store early for a front row seat. It read in the wringing hands of the man who wore a Hillary campaign hat and a fixed scowl in upper left corner of the auditorium. It read in the feet of a pack of book-toting poetry students rushing over late from their Monday night workshop. The silence that sits before speech had never felt so fitting.

A poetry reading was held in the basement of the Cambridge Public Library this past Monday, the 30th of January, to premiere a deceptively small and unassuming chapbook of thirty-five different poets titled "Poems for Political Disaster." It was jointly hosted by the library staff and Boston Review, with Review poetry editor B.K. Fisher making the opening remarks. To be introduced on the panel to her side were Lucie Brock-Broido, Jorie Graham, Major Jackson, Ricardo Maldonado, Nathan Xavier Osorio, Monica Youn, and Peter Gizzi.

The chapbook posits itself as a reaction to Donald Trump's election, but the content and combated crises are world-spanning. The exercises in memory and resistance are equally universal. U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera writes in the foreword, "Guess what, America? Everyone in this rough-cut, deep-hearted chapbook loves you as much as they have fought with you and for you. Everyone here wants an American home, an American national house in a global neighborhood..."

Some of the poets read from their own featured work, while others opted to give voice to the chapbook's absent contributors. Brock-Broido, clad in all black and with impossibly long hair pooling onto the podium, delivered a chilling recitation of her poem “The American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act.” The others followed, often prefacing their pieces with a few more colloquial or bitter words about the state of world power. By the close of the hour, the audience had met with intense applause such titles as “Safe House” by Solmaz Sharif, “Ferguson” by Major Jackson, “America! America!” by Ricardo Maldonado, and “A Guide to Usage: Mine” by Monica Youn. The final poem of the night, and one fittingly near to the back cover of the chapbook itself, was Brenda Hillman’s deftly imagistic “Poem of Hope, Almost at Equinox.”

After the closing words, I caught up with Boston Review’s Stefania Heim. We agreed that it was clear that the success and solidarity of the night also demanded momentum. The audience’s respite in this emergency political response was evident—many met in the hall for minutes afterward to linger on striking lines and pressing ideas. The greater artistic community, it seemed, is embroiled in direct communication with international political order. This communication has turned to argument, but the contributors to “Poems for Political Disaster” uphold that there is no stronger fighting force than an uninhibited creative mind. The Boston Review editors appeared confident that many similar events will take place in the immediate future.