The Most Popular Poetic Journalism of 2017
A look back on a tumultuous year, via the most-read poetry on Poets Reading the News, the world’s only newspaper written by poets.
Ode to Kneeling
By Caitlin McDonnell, published Nov. 2, 2017
In yoga, it’s called anjaneyasana.
named for a cloud spirit woman
who gave birth to Hanuman–
god of strength and devotion
who tried to eat the sun.
In 1892, Bellamy wrote the Pledge
for schools, to ease post-Civil-War
fear of immigrants, only in his version,
the hand was outstretched in salute.
The young voices praised my flag.Until 1923, when it was changed
to the flag. In 1942, they noted
the embarrassing echo of forced
patriotism overseas, brought
the hand down to the heart.
The heart, where we say what
we know is true, where we feel
our blood insisting: I’m here,
I pump, I breathe. Listen to your own
as you get down closer to the earth.
It is said that kneeling connects us
to the heavens. We kneel to worship,
to propose (from the Latin propositus,
to set forth.) Get down on your knees.
Black bodies left dying in streets
or fighting men’s fantasies in a field.
Leonard Cohen kneeled on his final tour,
dark green bowler hat over his heart
as he sang a million candles burning
for the help that never came.
I’m not the marrying kind,
but my ex did kneel when
he told me he had bedbugs and
asked me to love him anyway.
It is impossible to boast while kneeling,
all your cells break open in reverence
for something more. I’ve kneeled
in church pews in hope for something
more than the stuffy patriarchal room;
in hallways and driveways, begging
for my desires, for truth, to not
be abandoned. Looking for tiny,
precious things lost in indifferent tall
grasses. At 48, stubborn knees make
it harder to get back up, but
I hereby take a tired, boney knee
in allegiance to Kaepernick and all
who have followed suit. The heartbeats
are getting louder. The winds
are strong and the fires are spreading,
the waters are rising and we can
no longer close our eyes or ears.
Let the manbabies spit and spew,
all of creation kneels with you.
Translation Guide for Conversations After Another Trans Death
By torrin greathouse, published Oct. 1, 2017
in memory of Ally Steinfeld* / after Donte Collins
she’s dead : list of names lengthens like a shadow
she was so young : how old are you again?
the first reports called her a man : the body is never something we truly own
i couldn’t read the whole article : a needle hurts less if you don’t watch it make an entrance of you
be safe : isn’t this the worst way to end up on the news?
how are you holding up : i know what the suicide statistics look like for you
i just couldn’t read it : isn’t turning away from roadkill an act of mercy?
it’s all so gruesome : we expect you pretty, even in death
they won’t even call it a hate crime : they did the cops’ work for them
where did you want to move again : are you researching colleges or graveyards?
she was so young : how far was walking out of boyhood from a grave?
are you safe : already i imagine your body becoming a headline
say her name : we have learned to love you best as headlines
#SAYHERNAME : until another blooms fresher from a newspaper page
[her name] : another in a procession of mourners, the anonymity of black clothing
she’s dead : & 17 forever & 17 forever & 17 &
i’m so glad you’re safe : for now
she was so young : how have you survived this long?
say her name : but it won’t bring her back
you’re so brave : i know i will outlive you
are you afraid : you should be
& Mesha Caldwell & Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow & Jojo Striker &Tiara Richmond & Jaquarrius Holland & Chyna Doll Dupree & Ciara McElveen & Alphonza Watson & Chayviss Reed & Kenneth Bostick & Sherrell Faulkner & Kenne McFadden & Josie Berrios & Ava Le’Ray Barrin &Ebony Morgan & TeeTee Dangerfield & Gwynevere River Song & Kiwi Herring & Kashmire Redd & Scout Schultz & Derricka Banner &&
Jane Roe of ‘Roe vs. Wade’
By Alexandra Umlas, published Feb. 22, 2017
The name conjures fish eggs
alchemied in the ovaries, life suspended.
You were impoverished, unwed, a freak show
barker turned side show, your womb,
a plum, swelling too quickly for the ruling
to do you any good. I can imagine
the underbelly of your grief. The frustration
of anonymity, of being so many things:
champion, nymph, Sisyphus, sub-sister.
Your life was simple, you said, all you wanted
was to empty the O of your womb, to “lay down”
you whispered, instead opening your body
to the world, so that Roe was only case
and not contents. Norma McCorvey,
your alibi was an 8th grade education, or eyes
that were only beginning to shutter open. Clawing
your way to the center of causes, you always ended
up in the margins, waiting to be born.
I wonder at your choice of baptism, if an ocean
would have been too wild, a church too still.
There is the smell of chlorine as he dips you in the pool,
your eyes closing tight, the dilation of your pupils,
undeceived? Death is not always the end.
We bury you as Jane and Norma.
The rhythm of your heart beating
back into the universe. The sun of our wombs
burning with you; the moon of our wombs weeping.
Don’t Think of an Elephant
By Jackleen Holton Hookway, published July 18, 2017
So what are you thinking of? Perhaps a pachyderm-shaped
emptiness? Do you envision its huge absence not
trampling across a wide plain, not even a light
breeze riffling the savanna grasses?
Now don’t think of Africa. Don’t imagine
a white Range Rover rolling slowly,
the elephant stalkers leaning out, listening hard
in the silence. You won’t hear the rustle,
won’t see the rifles. And if you don’t imagine
that, maybe you won’t see the trophy hunter
brandishing the bloody tail of an elephant. Don’t think
about trophies, and then you’ll refrain from thinking
in gilded tones, perhaps you won’t picture golden drapes
and white walls. You won’t begin to imagine what’s not
being said in that unseen room. And you won’t
be reminded of Thanksgiving Day when you visited
your family. You won’t think November, or recall
the elephant that wasn’t there in the living
room as you dished up your mashed potatoes
and green bean casserole. You won’t think
of the mulled wine on offer, or how you rummaged
through the cabinets for something stronger,
came up with half a bottle of Русский Стандарт vodka.
Don’t think of vodka. Because then you might think of ice.
And if your mind goes to ice, you may have a hard time not
thinking of icebergs, or the tips thereof. Don’t think
about ships, or even a river frozen over.
Try not to think about the cold, the way a frigid wind
chills you, because then you might ponder the kind of cold
that can truly be felt in the bones. And if you don’t think
of that, you won’t recall the piles of bones in black
and white photographs. Don’t think History.
Because then you might wonder if there’s a body
of water, a patch of land anywhere without any skeletons.
So don’t think of an elephant. Imagine only its absence, the grass
unmoving. Be still. Don’t even think the slightest breeze.
By Rebekah Miron, published Dec. 12, 2017
And how can you deny the bones of them,
the sharp angle of pain across an iceless landscape.
Barren ground of mighty beast made spare and cadaverous,
the tundra shifts, an expanse of war and distance.
And how can we bear to be indifferent,
to see each quiet survival as anything but
a white orison from the wild to mankind.
Do you see freedom? The shape of our dreaming
arched, a crooked form shook by arctic wind,
we took what roared, was brilliant,
and laid it to waste. The earth grieves in high tide
and another polar bear is made body and still.