K.T. Landon’s poem “How to Rescue the Stunned Bird” concludes: “let it fly up into / darkness, leaving you // to wonder always / if you got it right.” I don’t think the poem (published* in Tupelo Quarterly in August 2022) is intended as an ars poetica, but it certainly could be.
Isn’t getting it right what we’re after as poets/writers/artists? Isn’t it our persistent worry when we’re revising and sending our little darlings out into the world?
Did we get it right?
As we try to capture and clarify the significance of narratives that matter to us, the pursuit is quite personal. But we may also ask “did we get it right?” as an interrogation of literary publishing and how those platforms shape — or reshape — the “the literary canon” to include historically marginalized communities and writers.
For its part, Tupelo Quarterly (TQ) states in its mission, “We hold the gate open, not closed.” And a new anthology from the lit mag showcases what it means when it makes that pledge.
Celebrating more than a decade of digital publishing, TQ has released what may be considered its greatest hits, as seen through this lens: stirring up power dynamics right there on the page as a means to “document a larger dialogue about artistic risk, freedom in language and what a literary text can be.”
In the intro for the book — The Best of Tupelo Quarterly: An Anthology of Multi-Disciplinary Texts in Conversation (set for release this month) — Kristina Marie Darling describes this work as an attempt to “expand what is possible within received forms of writing” and to consider “questions of genre and medium” which are “inherently questions of power.” Specifically, writes Darling in the anthology’s introduction, “Beliefs about what texts are legible, what texts are considered legitimate, reflect larger structures of authority in the literary community and in the academy.”
And so when we ask “are we getting it right?” this anthology is a snapshot of one lit mag’s ongoing efforts. Here’s more from Darling’s intro:
“For me, the act of writing — and importantly, the act of selecting writing or the act of championing another writer’s work — has always been linked to social justice, and relatedly, the politics of language. … By changing or expanding our sense of what is possible in language, one ultimately challenges the rules of society itself. … Part of this necessary work — the work of fostering social justice through innovation in language — consists of offering the tools needed to engage with innovative texts or unfamiliar forms.”TQ Editor Kristina Marie Darling’s intro to The Best of TQ: An Anthology of Multi-Disciplinary Texts
Heavy and beautiful.
That’s my 3-word review of the anthology.
It’s a thick volume — over 350 pages of gorgeous work, including poetry, literary criticism, prose, collaborative and cross-disciplinary texts, literature in translation and visual art (some printed in full-color). And I suppose “heavy and beautiful” also works for the challenges and themes the anthology aims to tackle — getting it right, expanding what’s possible, challenging the rules of society with new beliefs about what texts are legitimate.
I agree with Darling that this is “necessary work,” and while much of it does fall to gatekeepers, it also falls to individual readers (and reviewers) like myself. There’s always room to do better, but I try to read and champion work from diverse authors and to challenge my own ideas of the kinds of texts that “work.” (I recently confessed, for example, that I’m new to embracing different types of poetry.)
As I noted in a blog post on inventive poetry forms, unconventional work often presents topics that should challenge the reader, and there are some poems and voices to which editors should give special attention by creating spaces where they can be celebrated. TQ, as showcased in this new anthology, appears to be such a space.
The Best of Tupelo Quarterly is organized into six sections: poetry, literary criticism, prose, collaborative and cross-disciplinary texts, literature in translation and visual art. Here are a some quotes/excerpts (from some of those sections) that I personally found “heavy and beautiful.”
- “beauty was a distraction I invented once // in a moment of boredom” (Julia B. Levine)
- “i’m just camera. i’m shutter, closed, i’m protected / from light, i’m just telling a story / to which i’ll never know an end” (Raena Shirali)
- “… in the woolen light of the winter afternoon. The river outside my window was taut along a horizon that clung to the fuzzy nap of sky. In that sky, the sun had begun to burn a hole, so that the atmosphere seemed to be fraying” (Yerra Sugarman)
- “the hands / I had back then / fetch the white bowl from the kitchen” (Sally Rosen Kindred)
- “I wear a smallness furnished me / by carefully arranged / disappointments” (Vera Kroms)
- “My collage pedagogy asks literature students to theorize–through hands-on making– the ruptures and sites of solidarity in contempoarary narratives of postcolonialism, xenophobia, border politics. By creating points of difference (cuts, tears, excision) and transformation (repair, assemblage, unity), students become more attentive to the power structures at work in multicultural fictions” (Amy Elkins).
- “I have tried my hand at many art forms, but I have always (it feels like) made collage. There are so many things to love about the process. There’s always material, you don’t need much to work with and it’s very mobile. Leaving such material largely unaltered, the viewer is able to guess at the life it once had, while examining it in this new relationship. … There’s a humility to collage; it is the sum of its parts, which may include an old newspaper or a receipt from Target. I like that the collages are somewhat self-possessed. I haven’t taken away the material’s thingness, rather I see my role as helping its voice come through in a different way … What remains of an image implicates the parts that have been cut away or hidden by another layer. So, life is like this, with parts we choose to show and parts we keep for ourselves, but they are nonetheless both there, always, in relation to each other” (Ashley Lamb).
- “A child perhaps in fits and starts gains a selfhood–so much more lurching for a girl in particular toward what she is in contrast to what she should be” (Lesley Jenike).
- “When babies are born, people say they are perfect, that they are beautiful. But birth is awesome and disgusting; whether pushed or cut out, babies are marked by the experience–made red by it, squashed, angry, hurt, maybe even terrified; in this way, they are in communion with the woman who gives birth to them” (Lesley Jenike).
- “Someone called me up. Someone made me into this woman, stuck me in a cocktail dress and heels, and made me walk through a cornfield” (Lesley Jenike).
- “poets–being outcase and exiled by the present (time)–have more in common with the timeless substance of history than with the people with whom they, however superficially, live” (Brandon Shimoda).
- “I would burn every acre in America” (Jose Felipe Alvergue)
- “There was a time when I was upright. The music I made was an approachable hum. I was way beyond a white picket fence. There was nothing I had done so I decided to make something up. A crime. A disaster. All around me” (Sarah Veghlan).
- “I was my son’s past, his present, his future. I had grown his teeth and eyelashes and fingernails and wrist bones in my body, with the material of my body. Someplace, cells of his still floated in me. He had made me a chimera. His cells were in my body. His cells were in my brain” (Hala Alyan).
COLLABORATIVE AND CROSS-DISCIPLINARY TEXTS
- “Who can be a good mother amidst all this hum, the summer house thick with hives. The lives you’ve given up to get there. Every tiny shoe, every tiny spoon slick with honey. Who can be a good mother to child made of wax, even now softening in the sun” (Kristy Bowen; visit the live version here to see the collages that accompany this text).
- Click here to see the live version of selections from “American Stanzas,” photographs by Rachel Eliza Griffiths, including a stunning self portrait after Frida Kahlo’s “The Two Fridas”
The title of this blog post is a phrase from the web page for this anthology. Here’s the full quote: “Since its inception in 2011, Tupelo Quarterly has demonstrated a commitment to innovative work that questions the boundaries of genres and mediums, publishing hybrid texts by notable multimedia practitioners alongside electrifying experiments by emerging artists.”
This installment of Reading Notes is made possible by an advance reader’s copy of The Best of Tupelo Quarterly: An Anthology of Multi-Disciplinary Texts in Conversation. Tupelo Press provided the complimentary ARC but made no requests about the content of this post.
By way of further disclosure, back in 2015, I was published in TQ (“On not shielding young minds from the dark“) and hope to submit again in the future.
*This poem is not included in the anthology but spoke to me as I considered the work it’s trying to do.