Three Yaddo Poets Defy the Violence of Injustice

June 4, 2020

A moment of stillness, a zing of recognition, a window opened on the soul— these are among the rewards of poetry, each of them sorely needed right now. Join us here for an occasional Yaddo series, curated by Soren Stockman.

Elizabeth Alexander Photo: Stan Godlewski, The Washington Post

“Ars Poetica #1,002: A Rally” by Elizabeth Alexander

From Crave Radiance: New and Selected Poems 1990-2010 (Graywolf Press, 2010). Copyright © 2010 by Elizabeth Alexander. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Graywolf Press.

Alexander weaves a dreamscape in which the sister realms of poetry and protest crystallize into their natural symbiosis by virtue of the human voice. “I dreamed a pronouncement / about poetry and peace,” she writes, in which her father declares “‘’The true intellectual / speaks truth to power.” Justice is the renunciation of violence that does not respect life. For both individuals and communities who are victims of violence, peace is indivisible from justice. Should justice require the destruction of oppressive systems to build replacements, “Rally // all your strength . . . erecting, destroying.” — SS

“Two Elizas”: Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

After Another Death” by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Copyright © 2019 Connotation Press, Issue VI, Volume X: July 2019.

Noting “something outside was / being hunted,” Griffiths identifies the perpetrator, stating “The father / has been dead a long time. Shadow / at your throat.” Griffiths stages the ominous, inescapable fact of a corrupt legacy of leadership in the quiet of midnight, which she imbues with the suffering it muffles. “We learned / to cry without breathing, the way / some wounds bleed without / our understanding pain.” An inability to protect oneself and one’s community with peaceful protest is beyond comprehension. No chokehold or baton has ever stopped a person from weeping. — SS

Safiya Sinclair Photo: Willy Somma

“Center of the World” by Safiya Sinclair

Source: Poetry (December 2015).

“The meek inherit nothing,” Sinclair begins, her speaker emboldened enough to reprimand “God in his tattered coat,” whose weakness she has seen and felt all too vividly. No more shall authority be self-justified: “I have milked / the stout beast of what you call America; / and wear your men across my chest / like furs.” If there is no virtue in authority, there can be no meekness in tearing that authority down. Where there once was someone subject to absolute power, now “a towering sphinx roams the garden, / her wet dawn devouring.” — SS