Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2023  Vol. 21  No.3
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The Places We Inherit

It strikes me just how much place works its way into poetry—that often the images we keep coming back to were, or are, abundant in our specific landscapes—and that perhaps this feels inevitable. I, as a poet, don’t find this inevitability limiting as much as I find it mesmeric within the writing process. The landscape that raised me was one filled with empty factories, a polluted river, lakes, queerness, and trains that felt to me to be heading nowhere and yet still, a somewhere I didn’t quite have access to. These poems can responsibly enact the complications and consequences (bodily and environmentally) of industry in my rust belt Midwestern home, without the burden of judgment or finding resolve. I can look inward on my own world and in turn imagine a new one in poetry. I can document the truth of my home and my spot within it, without being beholden.

Yet, place has led me to seek out more documentary means within my poetry while also trying to maintain lyrical qualities. I feel just as strongly in the connections that can be found within the archive or within the historical as I do in the connections lyric movement can make within a poem. From this, setting my poems within the specificity of place—Lake Michigan, a factory, a moving train, or a queer bar in my hometown—allows me to slip freely through the realms of documentary and lyric, where they intersect and then depart. This dichotomy has been pushing me recently toward the types of poems I’ve been writing over the last year: poems dedicated to factory-working drag queens, a specific building, a ship, train, or archive. People and things I have found, lost within footnotes—things I believe poetry has overlooked.

Overlooked. This practice feels vital, even now as we are grappling with the continuously unfolding effects (again bodily and environmentally) of a train derailment, more industry, in Ohio. These horrifying and perplexing images are not new. To stop and consider these familiar images, footnotes, archives, even the lyric itself—that I might forever be coming back to them in many different forms—is meaningful and necessary on its own. It allows our world to expand, and in turn, expands our home. It allows for little understanding, and for that I’m sorry—yet in them the immense relationship of the landscape of place to that of the page is paramount. And how this has always been my inheritance.  

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