American Poetry // Angela Hibbs
As part of our guest edited month exploring publishing and the emotionality of sharing writing, Angela Hibbs shares what might be meant by “American poetry” and some recommendations.
America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing.
America two dollars and twentyseven cents January 17, 1956.
I can’t stand my own mind.
America when will we end the human war?
Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb.
-Allen Ginsberg, "America"
Obviously America is on everyone’s minds these days. As a Canadian poet, I’ve spent years reading my fellow citizen’s work. But I’ve always bought contemporary American poets mostly through reading work published in Poetry Foundation and the New Yorker.
When I was asked how many American writers I read, I looked at my bookshelves or what I had just read and I saw a lot of Americans. But how much do they identify as American? I mean, do they think America is a big part of their writing? Does going to an American university mean it’s a big part of who you are? Is it the saying of the Pledge of Allegiance? Is the only difference that we like the Queen and they don’t like the Queen? Is it the high-density living? Surely we know more about them than they know about us.
The American poets I’ve been reading lately include Jorie Graham, Larry Leavis, Heather Christle, and Joyelle McSweeney, who I messaged about the concept of an American poet.
This is what she told me: “I think for me being an 'American poet' has been about coming to terms with my fluency in American violence, from the earliest indoctrination via Looney Tunes to the chains of corporate, military, colonialist and cultural violence that flow away from and return to America. As a white middle class American woman, I am both a subject of that violence and its spectre, I suffer it in both directions of that word.”
I also spoke with Lesley Belleau, author of Indianland who said, “as an Indigenous writer, I don’t feel there is a specific frame that constitutes an American writer or a Canadian writer. There are writers on Turtle Island that adhere to specifics based on space in the world, and I feel that that matters.”
Suggested links to some American Poets
“Her latest work, a nightmarish portrait of the toxic hazards that surround us, arrives uncannily in the midst of a pandemic.”
The author of Romance or The End (Soft Skull, 2020) and Women in Public (City Lights, 2015). She lives in Los Angeles and teaches at the Poetry Field School.
"I have nothing actually at all to do. We cannot remember having that—a thing to do. To be needed."
-Jorie Graham, "Overheard in the Herd"
The author of The City Scattered (winner of the Snowbound Chapbook Award, Tupelo Press 2022), Hawk Parable (winner of the Akron Poetry Prize, University of Akron Press 2019) and Tongue Lyre (winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award, Southern Illinois University Press 2013).
The rape joke is that you were 19 years old.
The rape joke is that he was your boyfriend.
The rape joke it wore a goatee. A goatee.
Imagine the rape joke looking in the mirror, perfectly reflecting back itself, and grooming itself to look more like a rape joke. “Ahhhh,” it thinks. “Yes. A goatee.”
- Patricia Lockwood, "Rape Joke"
“There’s a slash in the title of this poem, ‘Time/bomb,’ that is a reference to the way poets divide lines because 1) this poem is made of sentences and 2) I wanted to gesture toward split but not (yet) set off the bomb the way poets sometimes break a line to add tension.”
Are you born slave or tyrant?
I am vanishing on the threshold.
And did they change your language?
Look—how odd the word, a pair of eyes
and a harsh sound. Interruption—
Trance first, then entrance.
- Desirée Alvarez, "Call & Response Between Colonizer & Colonized"
Angela Hibbs is the author of several collections of poetry, most recently, Control Supress Delete (Palimpsest Press).