Illustration by Tyler Varsell
This folio, which includes work by Christian, Jewish, and Muslim poets, represents a wide array of stances toward the divine. The poems summon up, bear witness to, and stage encounters with the profane and the hallowed, prophecy and duende, superstition and specter, miracle and worm. Together, they argue that poetry can be a form of prayer: a gesture toward something other, something beyond the great boundary of the signifiable. For these poets, writing in this way is a “covenant” they must “re-make” again and again, as Lisa Russ Spaar suggests in “God Hunger: Chiastic.” In other words, to read or write devotional poetry is also to engage in a recurring rite.
Each poem in this folio engages in a process of worldmaking, offering a tiny cosmology from which we cannot wrest ourselves until the line ends and the “door closes,” per Leila Chatti’s incantatory “Equinox.” That idea—of a sacred, transgressible barrier on the other side of which is poetry—is also central to Kazim Ali’s “My Sixth Life.” From an afterlife filled with doors, Ali laments his inability to “fare well” in at least two senses: on the one hand, to do a good job; on the other, to say goodbye. Kathleen Radigan and Gilad Jaffe also try to find ways to say goodbye as their poems’ speakers repeatedly cleave and transmute. Tarfia Faizullah, in “Two Days in a Row in November I Died Twice,” likewise imagines herself into another state of being: that of knowing, or even dictating, the circumstances of her own death. Will Brewbaker’s and Khadijah Queen’s poems build chapels into which they usher their readers, facilitating site-specific encounters with the divine on the page. For John Murillo, translating Rafael Alberti, the lyric is a window on the other side of which is an angel crying, Get up!
When we cry out, to whom are we calling? When we write, to what are we responding? Each of the poets in this folio answers a call—and, in answering, calls anew.
—Talin Tahajian, Assistant Editor