Sunday, March 5, 2017



Nevertheless, #She Persisted edited by Barbara Jane Reyes
(Moria Books’ Locofo Chaps, 2017)


RESIST MUCH / OBEY LITTLE: Inaugural Poems to the Resistance edited by Michael Boughn, John Bradley, Brenda Cárdenas, Lynne DeSilva-Johnson, Kass Fleisher, Roberto Harrison, Kent Johnson, Andrew Levy, Nathaniel Mackey, Rubén Medina, Philip Metres, Nita Noveno, Julie Patton, Margaret Randall, Michael Rothenberg, Chris Stroffolino,
 Anne Waldman, Marjorie Welish, Tyrone Williams
(Dispatches Editions / Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2017)

I share two conversations during the new Administration’s first 100 days. The first was from a friend and businesswoman describing a meeting with other businesswomen, mostly in their forties, in shock at who won the election. My friend, older than the others and with political activism in her background, said about her business acquaintances (who may have been largely insulated from society’s ills by their class, race and/or economic privilege), “Good that they are shocked. They need to understand that they need to become involved if they wish the world to operate the way they prefer”—an assessment also captured in Annie Finch’s poem “The Women Are Moving At Last” (in RESIST MUCH OBEY LITTLE).   The other conversation is with a friend (a longtime and active political activist) who mocked some newly-politicized poets “suddenly writing political poems for the first time.”

See, I don’t criticize anyone for writing “for the first time” a political/protest poem. I think, actually, that what should be criticized is if poets remain silent—including continue to be silent after their historical neutrality or apathy—in light of the ascendancy of a Donald Trump to the White House.  When I say “a Donald Trump” I refer not just to him but those who are/would be like him—among other things, someone using the rhetoric of contempt and diminishment to get to his goal. There are far worse things than lousy language, of course, but poets should be among the first to rail against the linguistic degradation perpetrated by himself with the orange hair: WTF is it with “alternative fact”—are we no longer capable of actually articulating “lie”? Is this how the word “lie” becomes old school? O pathetic dictionary ending with a whimper…

I pause to remember Jay Besemer’s “Defection” (in RESIST MUCH OBEY LITTLE) which begins:

spoken things become shelter, clothing.

as well as the epigraph in Denise Duhamel’s untitled poem (also in RESIST MUCH OBEY LITTLE)

“It’s Just Words, Folks. It is Just Words.”
– Donald Trump, October 9, 2016

Just Words?  Not.

These are among the thoughts going through my mind as I consider two recent publications by poets protesting the current administration: Nevertheless, #She Persisted edited by Barbara Jane Reyes and RESIST MUCH OBEY LITTLE edited by Michael Boughn, John Bradley, Brenda Cárdenas, Lynne DeSilva-Johnson, Kass Fleisher, Roberto Harrison, Kent Johnson, Andrew Levy, Nathaniel Mackey, Rubén Medina, Philip Metres, Nita Noveno, Julie Patton, Margaret Randall, Michael Rothenberg, Chris Stroffolino,
Anne Waldman, Marjorie Welish, Tyrone Williams. Nevertheless, #She Persisted features 11 poets whose poems are organized around the rallying cry borne from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s critique of Senator Elizabeth Warren who Republicans had prevented from criticizing Jeff Sessions (see HERE). RESIST MUCH OBEY LITTLE impresses with its organization, as explained by its Introduction:

… this very thick book, here in its finished form, was conceived, solicited, selected, assembled, edited, and designed in little more than two months. Between the conception of the idea on the surreal morning of November 9th, 2016, and our sending of the volume to press a short fortnight after Donald Trump’s Inauguration, twenty editors of diverse background somehow managed, in emergency mode, to rally more than 350 poets from various countries into a total of 740 pages.

There are other publications, online and in print, featuring poets in protest. I am focusing on these two in part because Nevertheless, #She Persisted is a slim chap and RESIST MUCH OBEY LITTLE a quite thick book. I was interested in the effects of scale.  As it turned out, after I compared the two, scale doesn’t have the impact I probably anticipated, i.e. the slim chap is just as effective, as persuasive, as the thick anthology—and I suspect this has to do with their shared powerful impetus of protest. In both publications, the emotional/psychological core is powerful and compelling (I believe you can judge my assessment from the excerpts below.)

All that I can do now as a reviewer is encourage you to read both publications. There’s not an askew note in either—and I believe such results from the sincerity of all of the poets’ protests. The featured poems—both new work or, for previously created work, inclusion in these publications—reflect and are enervated by their authors’ clear sincerity of horror, anger, dismay and however else they protestingly responded to the results of the presidential election.

Below are some personal highlights from what I read—the listing is not a “best-of” as I’m sure the examples would change during a different day of reading, especially from RESIST MUCH OBEY LITTLE as there are so many poems to consider.

From Nevertheless, #She Persisted:

We inhale the smoke
of 100 sacks of rice put aside for the strike.
They thought our hunger would make us quiet.
We continue to strike.
     For months we buried our hunger
          with edible weeds we pulled from the ditches.
When we nod to our empty hands
And, in later days, when you look for us –
     absent in books           abandoned by history—
someone will be holding a dark fire,
someone will be writing us out.
Our eyes search out those who left, those who stayed.
At the end of the fields is the edge of America:
          We were held by a word.
—from “Strike: Salinas, 1933” by Shirley Ancheta

I had my IUD removed, a shackle
around my womanhood, the other day.
My ovaries bloomed roses
inside me to show they were thankful.
—from “The Body is an Ocean Weeping” by Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo

Some of us will never play
by the rules that you set.
—from “She Persisted” by Tara Bett

they won’t respond to your cooing
nor your offers nor your scent

they won’t turn your corner in
or keep your house nor make
your bed
—from “maganda isn’t yours” by Irene Faye Duller

Now we are in Moscow now Perm now Mordovia
now we are in Paris now London now Guantanamo
now Wall Street now Ferguson now Oakland
now the avenue the bakery the café
text springing from fingers language from mouths
—from “Riot Love Poem” by Megan Kaminski

you think it is so distant the lynching
—from “poet : code’s story” by Raina J. León

15. We want to demand that the politics of poetry is not simply on the page, or stage, or Twitter, but the organized movement for change, see: Undocupoets.
—from “What We Write, What We Believe: An Asian American Poet’s Manifesto After the Third World Gay Revolution (1972)” by Margaret Rhee

something more than loss should name us kin
—from “October 12, 2013” by ire’ne lara silva

someone says
i can’t be found on
Either side of the perforation

Someone says
i am the hyphen
—from “hyphenation” by Lehua M. Taitano

                               The point
is not that when night fell

there was barely a scratch. The point
is how, armed with a feather,
I believed I could make a mark.
—from “Feather” by Angela Narciso Torres

The INS came to our house. Our house was built in the 1980s in a suburb. The outside was painted a brown beige. It was two stories, so you know it was a dream. And because there were no other houses around it, I let the INS officers in. And because I call them INS you know this is in the past, but it’s here again, just with a different name.
Next time, I said, I’m going to cut their bellies and feed them chicharron.
—from “Dictation” by Vickie Vértiz

From RESIST MUCH OBEY LITTLE (five poems shown here in their totality):

Morning, November 9, 2016, America
By Robert Archambeau

Utter silence on the train platform among the normally talkative commuters.

An old woman in a coffee shop crying quietly, alone.

A man in the parking lot dropping the keys from his shaking hand.

I saw this.

There are the people who understand what we have done.

By Kristen Case

fragility of the body for example the failure of eyes publicly disclosed by the fact of glasses or shivering of the body in response to cold public vulnerability to weather everywhere to carry this fragility into the world to hold it with you where you are watched to be publicly wounded to be a public body to risk address to suffer visibility suffer visibly an intimate address to be a body seen to listen to be subject to sound a sounding onto the body the body to absorb others to absorb the voices of others to be publicly wounded to carry voices and sounds to be cold in public to be visibly cold to have a body to be a body publicly to want for example food breath- ing publicly the private mechanisms of the breath made visible as in exercise or cold visibly to be a living body a body visibly to carry this fragility publicly to risk at all moments both beauty and non-beauty for example to risk at every moment desire and absence of desire pub- licly to confess tiredness hunger headache breathing publicly to confess brokenness boredom breathing to confess weather or for example crying publicly or visibly stopping oneself from crying to show outward sign of to show any inward mechanism to show to show to show

The world does not despise you.

The world does not despise you.

The world does not renounce your body.
The world does not despise you.

Over a Barrel
By Jenny L. Davis

If the only words you have are
then speak.

If your voice can only be heard
                                                            coming from the mouth of a gun
let it sound.

Every time I leave the house
I prepare myself
to listen.

Trump and the Wall
By Carrie Etter

The wall was begun in 122 AD. The wall was begun in the Spring and Autumn Period. The wall was begun in 1961. It was built by Roman soldiers. It was built by soldiers, peasants, and criminals. It was built by East German soldiers. They built the wall to make the Empire more secure. They built the wall as protection against invaders. They built the wall to keep people from fleeing to the West. It was made of sandstone. It was made of stone, brick, tamped earth, and wood. It was first made of barbed wire, later concrete.

The wall begins in the mind.

The Sounding
By Forrest Gander

What closes and then
luminous? What opens
and then dark? And
what do you stumble
into but a violet
extinction? With
froth on your lips.

8:16 a.m. The morning’s
sleepy face

rolls its thousand

eyes. Migrating flocks
of your likesame species

into transparency.

A birdwatcher lifts

her binoculars. The con-
tinuous with or without
your words keeps
situating you here
(here (here)) even while

you knuckle your eyes
in disbelief. Those

voices you love—

do you hear them

hissing away like

an ingot’s candescent
scale hammered on some
blacksmith’s anvil?
And behind those

voices, what is that


the valves of your

ears open as black

rain, not in torrents, but
ceaselessly comes

unchecked out of everywhere
with nothing
to slacken it.

As well, I was moved again, as I was the first time I saw the poem, by Patrick James Dunagan’s “3 Poems From November 2016.” What’s interesting is how he extended Part I, “TOUCH ME NOT,” from what was an ekphrasis poem (I first saw it when I chose it for my curated project of poems inspired by Filipino American Artists which you can see HERE) to become a more layered three-part poem for RESIST MUCH OBEY LITTLE.  

Also, it’s always good to read through a book of poems and come across something that you know you’ll ponder long after you’ve read it. For me, it likely will be Roberto Harrison’s “Poetry in a Time of War” wherein he writes:

Sometimes poetry becomes armor.
I propose a poetry of vulnerability in a time of war, in any time where the word belongs. We must imagine evil, as a sound in the song of goodness, in this poetry. The devil face is a mask we can wear to celebrate it. Only a struggle with the demonic delivers a link to us all.
Vulnerability is nonconceptual.

Many other poems stood out for me, such as Noah Eli Gordon’s “On Electoral Politics,” John Rigney’s “Inauguration,” Kent Johnson’s “Poetic Imperative,” all by Susan Lewis and Mark Lamoreaux and Susan Briante and Ruben Quesada, Ron Silliman’s “Cantico Del Sole,” Edwin Torres’ “A Song for No’America,” Caitlin M. Alvarez’s “A Recount(ing),” Rosebun Ben-Oni’s “Tracking For Sign,” Katy Bohinc’s “from Ulysses,” Brenda Cárdenas’ “Porque Los Mexicanos Refuse to Pay for Any Pinche Muro,” Ching-In Chen’s “Initiation,” Genny Lim’s “This Is My Country,” Norma Cole’s “Hard Candy,” Reed Dickson’s “what just happened,” Denise Duhamel’s [no title],  Norman Finkelstein’s “Beckmann,” Michael Heller’s “From Afar, A Little Resistance to Credo,” M. NourbeSe Philip’s “& counting,” Patrick Pritchett’s “Song X (Resist),” among others. But this is also the kind of exercise where, happily, what stands out can be different when I next read the book—there’s that much depth in it that warrants more than one read.  Ultimately, I am happy to meet poets new to me, and one advantage to both publications is how both most likely will introduce new poets to a variety of readers.

I will also give props to Donald Wellman for perhaps the most entertaining opening to a poem. His “Inaugural: Hoo-Ha, Odious, Numb” begins

My last song cycle invoked a one syllable word,

I believe that the above poems show the depth and variety of poetries. I encourage you to generate your own list of personal favorites. Read these books. And before, after, and during the reading of these books—as no doubt these poets (and both of my friends despite their differing views on those coming belatedly to protest) would encourage—also, ACT! As Walt Whitman proposes in the anthology’s muse-poem “RESPONDEZ!”

Let every one answer! let those who sleep be waked! let none evade!


Eileen Tabios is the editor of Galatea Resurrects. Her 2017 poetry releases include two books, two booklets and four poetry chaps. More info at


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  3. Eileen:
    Thanks for the mention in your review-- glad you liked it, though Donald Wellman may have said it best...