Women and the global imagination: a preface to the portfolio.
I thought it would be good to open this portfolio with a poem that finds a ticket stub, train card, cash, and a "crushed bloom" in its pockets. The more I read Judith Vollmer's "In an Old Hotel," the more I appreciated how, seemingly casually, the poet brings together present and past, adventure and domesticity, ordinary consciousness and the elevated kind, and a garden that might be Eve's or the Garden of Love in William Blake. The poem is fun, and at the same time it is so full of life--it's irresistible.
I could say more, could speak about the poem's place in history, or myth, or politics. I could admire its good cheer. There is more to say. I feel that way about all the poems here. There is an amazing fullness of poetic imagination in these pages. The poets imagine their ancestors going back to "the first cave," as Venus Khoury-Ghata says, or to their immediate parents. They imagine freedom, and the struggle for freedom. They inventory the body and its appetites. They tell stories. They speak in the voices of invented or historical characters. Some of the poems here embody human pain so deep and age-old they would be intolerable to read except for the beauty and precision of their language. Some overflow with laughter.
There is no narrowly defined female aesthetic here. The poems are lyric, satiric, mythic, experimental, surreal, expansive, laconic, conversational, tender, angry, allegorical, oracular. "I'm curved, mixed, and broken, / I'm human," says Adelia Prado. Yet there is a sense of the visionary running through. Look at the girl ready to run in Diana Garcia's "On Leaving," the woman who saunters in Aliki Barnstone's "Saunter/Sans Terre," the slave in Katie Bickham's poem who says "After the rains, ... we gone," and his wife who knows she can't leave without her infant child. They are of a piece with Veronica Golos's complex sequence on John Brown and his wife Mary, poems carved from the human need for liberty. Or look at the cluster of poems on the cruelties of war and ethnic hatred, that stretch from heartbreaking descriptions of today's Israel and Palestine all the way back to the war recounted in Hindu scripture, the Mahabharata. "I would not give one hair of your head for any country," says a mother in Marilyn Krysl's "Stones and Oranges, Oranges and Stones." In Karthika Nai'r's "Uttaraa: Note to the Unborn Child," the teenage widow of a slain Pandava crown prince urges her son to reject the lure of "glory." The anguished fury of this poem speaks to the yearning of many women who, as Adrienne Rich once put it, want "to change the laws of history."
High energy is perhaps a defining feature of this portfolio. I chose two highly contrasting poems by the Zimbabwe-born performance poet Jaji because I could not bear to choose between them. One is a rant, one is a celebration, but both are exuberant. Yet another feature, ultimately, is a crazy conviction that the world as we know it is capable of change. Read the final three poems here to see how the imagination crosses all boundaries. One takes place in Havana, one defies the binding of "parceled / nations, states," one dreams of the moment when the gods spin the cosmos to begin again what they have destroyed. Or simply, as Khoury-Gata says, "You walk and your destinations print themselves on your feet."