The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Lararium by Ray Ball


This selection, chosen by Guest Curator Elizabeth Vignali, is from Lararium by Ray Ball, released by Variant Lit in 2020. 

Medusa

The unsuspecting bullsnake uncoils,
               suns itself on the dark asphalt
                              of a quiet county road at the edge

                              of the Panhandle. My father spots it,
               brakes sharply. He darts out the door –
a hook and an old faded pillowcase

in hand. A new specimen
               bagged by the herpetologist.
                              And I am made Medusa. Daughter

                              of a Gorgon. Snakes always my company,
               always in my head. Even now that I am all
leather and musk, I cannot shed their skins.


Ray Ball currently lives on the land of the Dena’ina, where she works as a history professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She is the author of two history books and two chapbooks of poetry, Tithe of Salt (Louisiana Literature, 2019) and Lararium (Variant Lit, 2020). Her poems and fiction have appeared in numerous journals, including GlassOrange Blossom Review, Split Rock Review, and X-R-A-Y. She has received multiple nominations for Pushcart and been a Best of the Net finalist. Ray is senior editor at Coffin Bell and assistant editor Juke JointYou can find her on Twitter: @ProfessorBall.  

Elizabeth Vignali is the author of the poetry collection House of the Silverfish (Unsolicited Press 2021) and three chapbooks, the most recent of which is Endangered [Animal] (Floating Bridge Press 2019). Her work has appeared in Willow Springs, Poetry Northwest, Cincinnati Review, Mid-American Review, Tinderbox, The Literary Review, and elsewhere. She lives in the Pacific Northwest on the land of the Noxwsʼáʔaq and Xwlemi peoples, where she works as an optician, produces the Bellingham Kitchen Session reading series, and serves as poetry editor of Sweet Tree Review.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Connotary by Ae Hee Lee


This selection, chosen by Guest Curator Elizabeth Vignali, is from Connotary by Ae Lee Hee, released by Bull City Press in 2021. 

Naturalization :: Migration

At a pottery sale,
I buy nothing, only
               consider: this

      turquoise-ribbed vase, baked
      into a gloss of rivers,
slightly slanted to the left.

So, so cheap—perhaps
a uniqueness mistaken
                for a mistake.

I’m convinced
       of its fragility,
               its ceramic pelvis.

                 The space
               it would take up
     in the immigration bag

     my parents passed down
to me: dark, foldable closet
                            I’ve dragged

from country to country.
When I was younger,
                 I orphaned many books;

now I just carry
this guilt,
     a longing

     for roots, a garland
of delicate hair seeping
             slowly into soil—

into vase.
             But I’m no perennial
         green. I have feet

         eager to get naked,
                moved by the seasons
 not here yet.

                               They ask me to chase
                their undulating
         animal dreams.


Born in South Korea, raised in Peru, Ae Hee Lee currently lives in the U.S. She is the author of the poetry chapbooks: Dear bear, (Platypus Press, 2021), Bedtime || Riverbed (Compound Press, 2017), and Connotary, which was selected as the winner for the 2021 Frost Place Chapbook Competition. Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming at Poetry Magazine, Poetry Northwest, The Georgia Review, New England Review, and Southern Review, among others.

Elizabeth Vignali is the author of the poetry collection House of the Silverfish (Unsolicited Press 2021) and three chapbooks, the most recent of which is Endangered [Animal] (Floating Bridge Press 2019). Her work has appeared in Willow Springs, Poetry Northwest, Cincinnati Review, Mid-American Review, Tinderbox, The Literary Review, and elsewhere. She lives in the Pacific Northwest on the land of the Noxwsʼáʔaq and Xwlemi peoples, where she works as an optician, produces the Bellingham Kitchen Session reading series, and serves as poetry editor of Sweet Tree Review.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Connotary by Ae Hee Lee


This selection, chosen by Guest Curator Elizabeth Vignali, is from Connotary by Ae Lee Hee, released by Bull City Press in 2021. 

Mogyoktang :: Inside

From the entrance, the steam smells of pine leaf
and boiled eggs—I sink

into one of the hot tubs, quickly become raw skin,
conditioned timidity I can’t reason away, mauve heat

blush with a nervous eye on a towel, which assured me
it would conceal the soft folds of my stomach. I’m not

alone. There are others more accustomed to bareness,
close by. Today, we all wear the same teal

waters, every quivering droplet: together
we tread the tiled floor as moons

of milk fat, of dark budding nipples and creviced
thighs, of wide stony hips, of tender

skin, exfoliated from mineral sweat and grime—and I, pulse
and curve, feel lightheaded in the

warm water, or the beauty of something so ordinary
like the body. Inside this mogyoktang, I start

to believe I can hide away from eyes and words
that hunger. I lean back, drift

into a time long before shame
was something to dress for.


Born in South Korea, raised in Peru, Ae Hee Lee currently lives in the U.S. She is the author of the poetry chapbooks: Dear bear, (Platypus Press, 2021), Bedtime || Riverbed (Compound Press, 2017), and Connotary, which was selected as the winner for the 2021 Frost Place Chapbook Competition. Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming at Poetry Magazine, Poetry Northwest, The Georgia Review, New England Review, and Southern Review, among others.

Elizabeth Vignali is the author of the poetry collection House of the Silverfish (Unsolicited Press 2021) and three chapbooks, the most recent of which is Endangered [Animal] (Floating Bridge Press 2019). Her work has appeared in Willow Springs, Poetry Northwest, Cincinnati Review, Mid-American Review, Tinderbox, The Literary Review, and elsewhere. She lives in the Pacific Northwest on the land of the Noxwsʼáʔaq and Xwlemi peoples, where she works as an optician, produces the Bellingham Kitchen Session reading series, and serves as poetry editor of Sweet Tree Review.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Connotary by Ae Hee Lee


This selection, chosen by Guest Curator Elizabeth Vignali, is from Connotary by Ae Lee Hee, released by Bull City Press in 2021. 

Korea :: Things to Review Before Landing

My origin story:

My mother found me as a chestnut dangling from a tree.
When I fell onto her lap, she was eating
a copper pear with one hand, paging through
a book with the other. She carried out the burr
in the hollow of her arms; the spiny cupule made her bleed,
but she didn’t let go until I broke out from the shell.
Later, I sprouted needles anew, afraid
I was being nibbled away by the world.

My grandfather’s name:

I thought my grandfather’s name was Hal-abeoji,
only to find out it was the Korean word for grandfather.
He was the one who taught me and my sister to sail
a paper kite over a frozen river, to allow my index to flirt
with its mercurial tail.

An idiom:

When I was given a norigae to hang
under my first hanbok jacket, I foresaw
a pendulous love in my life. I alternated
between laughing and sobbing. Short horns
appeared on my back. From then on, a childlike
misfortune took the shape of a blank page
and muffled my steps in every new country I called
home. I didn’t want her at first, but eventually grew
fond of her, held her hand when she cried at night.

An road:

The one I took to school when I lived in Jang-yu
for that one year. I studied the occasional
bush of forsythias on the side
prodding yellow against an absolute autumn sky.


Born in South Korea, raised in Peru, Ae Hee Lee currently lives in the U.S. She is the author of the poetry chapbooks: Dear bear, (Platypus Press, 2021), Bedtime || Riverbed (Compound Press, 2017), and Connotary, which was selected as the winner for the 2021 Frost Place Chapbook Competition. Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming at Poetry Magazine, Poetry Northwest, The Georgia Review, New England Review, and Southern Review, among others.

Elizabeth Vignali is the author of the poetry collection House of the Silverfish (Unsolicited Press 2021) and three chapbooks, the most recent of which is Endangered [Animal] (Floating Bridge Press 2019). Her work has appeared in Willow Springs, Poetry Northwest, Cincinnati Review, Mid-American Review, Tinderbox, The Literary Review, and elsewhere. She lives in the Pacific Northwest on the land of the Noxwsʼáʔaq and Xwlemi peoples, where she works as an optician, produces the Bellingham Kitchen Session reading series, and serves as poetry editor of Sweet Tree Review.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Connotary by Ae Hee Lee


This selection, chosen by Guest Curator Elizabeth Vignali, is from Connotary by Ae Lee Hee, released by Bull City Press in 2021. 

La Esperanza :: Poinciana Tree

In La Esperanza stands a barren poinciana tree.
We climb over it, scratching its callused bark
with our sandals. Breathless, our faces
are like berries, petite and round
flames. We place airy leaflets behind our ears
and chuckle. The neighbor doesn’t like us
on the tree, which extends its branches
toward her eaves, and so one day,
we come back to a nest of barbed wires
scrawled on the treetop. How sad…
we say to no one in particular,
How pitiful, our poinciana tree…
With the belief it would rather be
hurt by us, we leave it
to play house in a different garden.


Born in South Korea, raised in Peru, Ae Hee Lee currently lives in the U.S. She is the author of the poetry chapbooks: Dear bear, (Platypus Press, 2021), Bedtime || Riverbed (Compound Press, 2017), and Connotary, which was selected as the winner for the 2021 Frost Place Chapbook Competition. Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming at Poetry Magazine, Poetry Northwest, The Georgia Review, New England Review, and Southern Review, among others.

Elizabeth Vignali is the author of the poetry collection House of the Silverfish (Unsolicited Press 2021) and three chapbooks, the most recent of which is Endangered [Animal] (Floating Bridge Press 2019). Her work has appeared in Willow Springs, Poetry Northwest, Cincinnati Review, Mid-American Review, Tinderbox, The Literary Review, and elsewhere. She lives in the Pacific Northwest on the land of the Noxwsʼáʔaq and Xwlemi peoples, where she works as an optician, produces the Bellingham Kitchen Session reading series, and serves as poetry editor of Sweet Tree Review.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Connotary by Ae Hee Lee


This selection, chosen by Guest Curator Elizabeth Vignali, is from Connotary by Ae Lee Hee, released by Bull City Press in 2021. 

Kimchi :: In Trujillo

I.

My mother and her wooden cooking spoon. A pot filled with water
and an ambiguous amount of all-purpose flour
instead of rice flour. She stirs. The water turns milky. It turns
thicker, stickier—the smell of starch dissipates into the air.
It occurs to me that my mother’s arm is an orbiting moon, unable to escape
the gravity of a planet much larger than itself.

II.

My mother with salt on the palm of her hand, her arm extending
toward a ray of noon. She compares the Peruvian salt to another
memory. This unfamiliar salt in front of her eyes
is a thinner crystal. She licks her fingers. It’s slightly sour.
She asks me to come and have a taste, but I
have nothing to compare it with yet.

III.

My mother slicing onions, spring onions, radishes—
into whatever size she thinks would be “a pleasure to eat.”
My mother’s measuring tool: her intuition, her philosophy
that a fixation with perfection deters one from pouring jeong
into the food. Jeong, she teaches me, is love
that comes with time, similar to the process of fermentation,
similar to the slow dyeing of brined leaves.

IV.

My mother’s concave back as she squats over the blue rim
of a plastic tub in the laundry room. The Napa cabbages inside are
as wide as my childish hips—rare in Trujillo, rare like the Korean pepper flakes
my mother has been saving by mixing them with ají panca. The translucent
plastic gloves covering her hands are smeared with bright candy red
and the green of spring onions. She tells me to go sleep first. I dream of her
hands carefully running between the cabbage leaves, even today,
half a continent away, making sure no white spot is left untouched.


Born in South Korea, raised in Peru, Ae Hee Lee currently lives in the U.S. She is the author of the poetry chapbooks: Dear bear, (Platypus Press, 2021), Bedtime || Riverbed (Compound Press, 2017), and Connotary, which was selected as the winner for the 2021 Frost Place Chapbook Competition. Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming at Poetry Magazine, Poetry Northwest, The Georgia Review, New England Review, and Southern Review, among others.

Elizabeth Vignali is the author of the poetry collection House of the Silverfish (Unsolicited Press 2021) and three chapbooks, the most recent of which is Endangered [Animal] (Floating Bridge Press 2019). Her work has appeared in Willow Springs, Poetry Northwest, Cincinnati Review, Mid-American Review, Tinderbox, The Literary Review, and elsewhere. She lives in the Pacific Northwest on the land of the Noxwsʼáʔaq and Xwlemi peoples, where she works as an optician, produces the Bellingham Kitchen Session reading series, and serves as poetry editor of Sweet Tree Review.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Defacing the Monument by Susan Briante


This selection, chosen by Guest Curator Elizabeth Vignali, is from Defacing the Monument by Susan Briante, released by Noemi Press in 2020. 

39

We stand at the front of the chapel, next to the small altar. Our guide at the Juan Bosco Migrant Shelter in Nogales, Sonora thought we (two men and three women from a university an hour to the north) were going to ask questions of the migrants seated in rows of folding chairs before us. But we stand before them silent. A door in the room’s back wall remains open to the sidewalk; a fan vacillates near the altar. After a few awkward seconds, we ask the men and the women if they want to share anything with us. Most have either been deported or arrested on their journey, will be allowed to stay in the shelter until they can find work or another place to go. In the front row, two young girls flip through a blank notebook passing it back and forth between them.

And the men and women begin to call out from their folding chairs.

“The US officials take our documents and don’t give them back,” a woman says.

“They stick their hands in our mouth,” she continues.

“They treat us like criminals,” a man says.

And the men and women say “inhuman.” They say “respect.”

“Think of all the money they spend to pursue and prosecute us,” one man says, “when all we want to do is work.”

No one needs to prod them into speaking. They testify as we stand next to the altar, nodding and translating, holding our notebooks without remembering to write anything down.

And when they stop speaking, we thank them.

Before we leave, one of us pulls a pen out from her bag and hands it to the little girls, holding their own blank notebook in the first row of chapel.

But the story can’t end here.

The pen is not a metaphor for giving voice. The pen is not a metaphor for giving tools. A tool is the flag hung over the water barrel or the coordinates of the barrel written into the code and transmitted to the migrant’s phone or the poem that helps the migrant locate the north star.

Let us think, instead, about the blank notebook passed back and forth as promise, as the space to hear the vibrations of the relational web, to witness the wingflash, to resist the impulse to commodify a history of survival, to remember our place in relation and our potential to recognize

what haunts, what calls, what pecks at our awareness, what sings out or screams through the text of our present.

Let us think about the gift of the pen as a pledge to mark our silence before the stories that are not ours.

The pen is less important than what happens when we walk out of that room with the memory of those children.

To leave the page blank. To lay down. To see in the charged colors. To look directly into the camera. To be connected by more than flows of currencies. To turn our eyes towards the tangle: the webs of capitalism, antiblackness, white supremacy, narrative webs that constitute the veil of a military-prison-industrial-educational-kleptocracy we mistake for our democracy, the veil of silence and myth of voice, the commodity of story. To learn to recognize webs of need and responsibility, veil of the individual, the veil of racism, sexism, imperialism denying our humanity, our web of connections and differences, veils of deception and greed. To find the documents excluded from the archive, the stories in our cards and from our ancestors (what gets passed down or forgotten in the project of healing, who stares out the window and drinks themselves to rag), to remember that our stories do not take up equal space in the “marketplace” or the myth of the nation, that everyone has the right to their opacities, the beautiful eclipses

that both farmer and astrologer read.

Poems, documentaries, performances, (Soma)tics, rituals and divinatory readings can be a map or a code of coordinates. They might shine like guide-stars. And while they might not lead anyone to water, they might help them understand where they are and how they might change what surrounds them.

Our poems, documentaries, performances, (Soma)tics, rituals and divinatory readings might make a space like an empty notebook passed between sisters or friends

upon which they might leave their marks across a page or leave nothing but the space for someone else to write their story

a blank page, where anything is possible.

The bullet holes on the water station sign and the legal threats hurled at the “Desert Survival Series” remind us when our poems counter state sanctioned violence they will be challenged, not made part of the installation at the point of entry.

We must not make the suffering of others a commodity.

We must not seek the approval of the state or its co-conspirators.

We do not need more poems at the port of entry any more than we need the concertina wire that now sparkles like tinsel through Nogales.

We need people to bring the wall down.

.


Susan Briante is the author most recently of Defacing the Monument, a series of essays on immigration, archives, aesthetics and the state, winner of the Poetry Foundation’s Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism in 2021. In a starred review, Publisher’s Weekly calls the collection “a superb examination of the ethical issues facing artists who tell others’ stories” and a “dazzlingly inventive and searching text.” Briante is also the author of three books of poetry:  Pioneers in the Study of Motion, Utopia Minus, and The Market Wonders.

Elizabeth Vignali is the author of the poetry collection House of the Silverfish (Unsolicited Press 2021) and three chapbooks, the most recent of which is Endangered [Animal] (Floating Bridge Press 2019). Her work has appeared in Willow Springs, Poetry Northwest, Cincinnati Review, Mid-American Review, Tinderbox, The Literary Review, and elsewhere. She lives in the Pacific Northwest on the land of the Noxwsʼáʔaq and Xwlemi peoples, where she works as an optician, produces the Bellingham Kitchen Session reading series, and serves as poetry editor of Sweet Tree Review.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Defacing the Monument by Susan Briante


This selection, chosen by Guest Curator Elizabeth Vignali, is from Defacing the Monument by Susan Briante, released by Noemi Press in 2020. 

22

In the fifth-floor apartment that serves as a migrant women and children’s shelter in Nogales, Sonora: an 18-year-old girl who wants to see her father, a woman from Central America who left under death threat, a mother who fled an abusive relationship and now needs to make more money to support her children and grandchildren, and an 80-year-old who wants to cross into Nogales, AZ, for the eighth time so she can sell paletas from a pushcart.

A nun prods them into telling their stories to us: four women and one man visiting from a creative writing program at a state university just an hour north of them through an initiative that aims to use literary and documentary arts to diversify the stories about and expand dialogue on issues related to the border.15

The eldest woman stands raising her hand as if testifying or praying. She says when the first President Bush came into office, he tried to make life hard for migrants. But we rose up, she explains, and stopped him. She says as soon as she can, she will go back to the popsicle factory, to her boss. She tells us her boss’s name and address, says her boss will give her a card to help her stay

as soon as she can get back.

And the woman who fled her country under death threat says: “We want peace.” Decades of US policies and interventions in Central America that favor business interests over the majority of the population, that export gang members and failed anti-gang policies, must feel like a long, dirty war.

“Do you feel better when you tell these stories?” one of us asks. And the woman does not answer, just keeps telling her story.

“We are teaching them to make earrings,” the nun explains as she brings us into another room and shows us beaded jewelry: row upon row, each piece a little memorial to every woman who has come through the shelter.

What did the nun tell them about our presence or what we might be able to do for them? Were they told we could help? Were they told we could help before the end of their two-week stay at the woman’s shelter after which they would have to find their way north or back from where they came? Were they told some faulty equation of voice and change, some scrawl of hope like the flight of sparrows, stalling and diving without knowing whose house they alight upon?

What did we think we could do? Every summer for the past three I have gone to Nogales, Mexico, with students from the University of Arizona’s MFA in Creative Writing Southwest Field Studies in Writing Program to witness and write about migration and environment issues unique to southern Arizona. And each summer, as we bear witness to conditions migrants face, we wonder: How can we amplify voices without turning other people’s stories into commodities, without re-affirming the faulty myth of “giving voice”? We do not want to reduce the struggles of the migrants we meet to mere human-interest stories. We know that writing will not be enough.

The change necessary to improve the migrant women’s lives feels utterly available and beyond any single transaction.

“We will work hard,” the women tell us. “Do you have bracelets?” we eventually ask.

15 Since the summer of 2017, I have codirected the University of Arizona’s MFA in Creative Writing Southwest Field Studies in Writing Program. The program sends MFA students to write and research in residency for two weeks on the US-Mexico border. As part of the program, the students also offer creative writing workshops to marginalized youth and partner with community based social justice and environmental organizations. As of this writing, the program is on hiatus because of a lack of funding.


Susan Briante is the author most recently of Defacing the Monument, a series of essays on immigration, archives, aesthetics and the state, winner of the Poetry Foundation’s Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism in 2021. In a starred review, Publisher’s Weekly calls the collection “a superb examination of the ethical issues facing artists who tell others’ stories” and a “dazzlingly inventive and searching text.” Briante is also the author of three books of poetry:  Pioneers in the Study of Motion, Utopia Minus, and The Market Wonders.

Elizabeth Vignali is the author of the poetry collection House of the Silverfish (Unsolicited Press 2021) and three chapbooks, the most recent of which is Endangered [Animal] (Floating Bridge Press 2019). Her work has appeared in Willow Springs, Poetry Northwest, Cincinnati Review, Mid-American Review, Tinderbox, The Literary Review, and elsewhere. She lives in the Pacific Northwest on the land of the Noxwsʼáʔaq and Xwlemi peoples, where she works as an optician, produces the Bellingham Kitchen Session reading series, and serves as poetry editor of Sweet Tree Review.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Defacing the Monument by Susan Briante


This selection, chosen by Guest Curator Elizabeth Vignali, is from Defacing the Monument by Susan Briante, released by Noemi Press in 2020. 

18

In a safe in our bedroom closet in our bank owned house, 72 miles from the US-Mexico border, on traditional lands of the Tohono O’odham Nation, my husband, Farid, keeps his naturalization certificate, a newspaper clipping of his naturalization ceremony, and a letter from then President Bill Clinton.

“I want to congratulate you on reaching the impressive milestone of becoming a citizen of our great nation…” President Clinton writes. “You now share in a great experiment: a nation dedicated to the ideal that all of us are created equal, a nation with profound respect for individual rights.”

Not a “milestone,” Farid calls his naturalization a “defensive measure” at a moment of heightened anti-immigration rhetoric from politicians such as Newt Gingrich, former Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Pete Wilson, former governor of California where Farid and his family were living at the time.

The nation was founded on stolen lands. An ideal is an abstract contract. In an experiment, there is no certainty.

On my laptop, I open a scan of my great-grandmother’s enemy alien identification card, issued in 1942, when she had been living in the United States for 37 years. The US government required the card be carried by Italian-born immigrants (classified as “enemy aliens”) during World War II as part of a series of measures that included travel restrictions, the seizure of personal property, and internment. My great-grandmother signs her name on the card with an “X” beneath which are written the words “her mark,” then “witnessed by” and the name and address of her son. Because of her illiteracy and the war with fascist Italy, she could be deported under the current president’s immigration policy.

But she was not.

And although I live on occupied lands, nobody asks for my papers.

From my great-grandmother’s illiteracy to my place in the middle class might seem a story of American opportunity, where generations appear like steppingstones toward some goal of a mortgage and a 401k. But the documents do not make evident the structures of white supremacy and limited economic expansion that made “progress” possible, what rights my ancestors’ luck, effort, and assimilation have afforded me.

Metaphors make circles of our histories: a Venn diagram of contrast and resemblance.

I do not want my family’s story to be a frame, bent to resemble a human cage.


Susan Briante is the author most recently of Defacing the Monument, a series of essays on immigration, archives, aesthetics and the state, winner of the Poetry Foundation’s Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism in 2021. In a starred review, Publisher’s Weekly calls the collection “a superb examination of the ethical issues facing artists who tell others’ stories” and a “dazzlingly inventive and searching text.” Briante is also the author of three books of poetry:  Pioneers in the Study of Motion, Utopia Minus, and The Market Wonders.

Elizabeth Vignali is the author of the poetry collection House of the Silverfish (Unsolicited Press 2021) and three chapbooks, the most recent of which is Endangered [Animal] (Floating Bridge Press 2019). Her work has appeared in Willow Springs, Poetry Northwest, Cincinnati Review, Mid-American Review, Tinderbox, The Literary Review, and elsewhere. She lives in the Pacific Northwest on the land of the Noxwsʼáʔaq and Xwlemi peoples, where she works as an optician, produces the Bellingham Kitchen Session reading series, and serves as poetry editor of Sweet Tree Review.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Defacing the Monument by Susan Briante


This selection, chosen by Guest Curator Elizabeth Vignali, is from Defacing the Monument by Susan Briante, released by Noemi Press in 2020. 

14

In the final row of the courtroom, with a legal pad and a draft copy of the calendar, I can only glimpse the migrants’ faces when they enter or exit. I lose track of which defendant speaks, can’t hear what their lawyers say.

About Operation Streamline, the poet Brandon Shimoda observes: “It is easy, in a space designed to bleed people of their stories, for the imagination to go dark and stay dark.”8

The court reporter’s face is lit by a screen. The marshal in the back row rubs his eyes, checks his phone. Whatever I show you is a representation, filtered and partial.

“If poetry is an archive, then so too is a poem—or any text—and the writer is a kind of archivist…” writes poet and critic Joseph Harrington. “This issue [is] an especially important one for those who would include documents in poetry. Which documents? And why not include them all?”9

Just as the document elides and erases, so does the poem and the poet.

As witnesses, as researchers, as those who possess an “imagination enlarged by compassion,” (to rewrite Shelley) we need to understand our documents as well as ourselves within the web of power and processes that produce them.

Sometimes it helps to sit inside a building and feverishly recreate what’s beyond its walls, in order discern one’s orientation.

As the poet Kristin Prevallet reminds us: “If poetry (or prose) for that matter is ‘relational[,]’ it is not because it appropriates sources as conquered territories, forcing them into the logic of the new text or subordinating them to some notion of perfection or ‘totality.’”10 Here she references Édouard Glissant’s theories of relational poetics and continues: “Rather, Relational poetics looks at texts as being themselves in a constant state of motion, dispersion, and permeability that is inseparable not only from the shifting social and political context, but from the cycles of the earth and the diversity of nature.”

We cannot use the documents to serve the “logic” of our poems or our world views, but we can use the poem to expand our view of the world. The reading or writing of a poem can help us to reflect on our place within the spheres of power and powerlessness that constitute our world.

Behind each name on each document: a face, a story, an opportunity for complication /connection. That will not be static; that can’t be dependable.

8 Brandon Shimoda, “Operation Streamline,” The New Inquiry, (May 3, 2017): web.
9 Joseph Harrington,“Docupoetry and Archive Desire,” Jacket2, (October 27, 2011): web.
10 Kristin Prevallet, “Writing is Never by Itself Alone: Six Mini-Essays on Relational Investigative Poetics,” Fence, (Spring 2003): 20.


Susan Briante is the author most recently of Defacing the Monument, a series of essays on immigration, archives, aesthetics and the state, winner of the Poetry Foundation’s Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism in 2021. In a starred review, Publisher’s Weekly calls the collection “a superb examination of the ethical issues facing artists who tell others’ stories” and a “dazzlingly inventive and searching text.” Briante is also the author of three books of poetry:  Pioneers in the Study of Motion, Utopia Minus, and The Market Wonders.

Elizabeth Vignali is the author of the poetry collection House of the Silverfish (Unsolicited Press 2021) and three chapbooks, the most recent of which is Endangered [Animal] (Floating Bridge Press 2019). Her work has appeared in Willow Springs, Poetry Northwest, Cincinnati Review, Mid-American Review, Tinderbox, The Literary Review, and elsewhere. She lives in the Pacific Northwest on the land of the Noxwsʼáʔaq and Xwlemi peoples, where she works as an optician, produces the Bellingham Kitchen Session reading series, and serves as poetry editor of Sweet Tree Review.