Is "American" poetry political? Fuck yeah it is.

Much love to Nikki Wallschlaeger, a Bettering 2015 editor, Bettering 2016 nominee, and brilliant mind, for these words about "America," the American poetry world, and the imperialist project that is the US.

As a series called Bettering American Poetry, our editors each have unique and complicated relationships with the concept of "America." Three of our editors have been Native, including one who currently lives abroad, and one who explicitly refuses to recognize the validity of the US. We have editors who openly struggle with American-ness as it relates to their Blackness and to Latindad and to how the broader "America" has denied their humanity. Editors who have lost their mother tongues. Editors who are the children of undocumented and migrant parents who have had their humanity and rights equated to their relationship to "American-ness." Editors whose existences are a daily battle against ethnocentrism. Editors who will always be between places. Editors who have wondered if they can survive, let alone eke out a space for survival and wellness in this place. Editors who seek to subvert and interrogate the meaning of this place, to decolonize, and to combat imperialist mindsets. And we will always want to do "better."


[Image description: Facebook thread from poet Nikki Wallschlaeger, shared with permission, reading:

the conversation about whether American poetry can be political has got to stop. It's redundant and if anything reflects the liberal anxiety that comes with dealing with poets who are actually out there challenging facing and reconciling with oppressive American structures in their work whether it be personal as political or as critique of the world or both.

as far as I'm concerned american poetry has barely scratched the surface of understanding of what it means to live inside an empire

I was thinking the other day how the war in Iraq started when I was in the 2nd grade and how it spread to neighboring countries in the middle east. I am 34. So, almost my whole life. What does that mean? How does imperialism affect one's relationship to culture that depends on it? I'm interested in these questions.

things I'm not interested in: democracy and toting its mythological accessibility as a loyal citizen. things I am interested in: the psychological and cultural machine of the myth and its manifestations.

but not as a casual observer, as someone living inside of it.

because it seems to me that american poets are expected to reassure when they absolutely should be doing the opposite.

I know I've probably said all these things before on some wayy or another- but I felt like saying them again because frankly the way things are going can we at least be brave enough to finally tell the truth about ourselves and our relationship to this country rather than keep believing it will always be here in this way for us to feed upon.]

Drunken Boat Says Nice Things About Bettering

In some instances, I think, existing can be a form of resistance. And existence can be tiring. The experience of reading Bettering American Poetry 2015 reminded me a little bit of being on a road trip, and being thirsty, and stopping somewhere. To fix that. To quench the thirst. Maybe a more poetic way to say this would be: oasis in a desert. Or: shelter in a tempest. Again, we have the anthology as restorative relationship.
dia prague dada

Bettering American Volume 2: Meet the Editorial Team

Bettering Books is thrilled to announce the team of co-editors who will be selecting the poems that will comprise Bettering American Poetry Volume 2:

Kaveh Akbar
jayy dodd
Joshua Jennifer Espinoza
Muriel Leung
Camille Rankine
& Michael Wasson

Follow the link below to learn more about our marvelous editors. Stay tuned for more news about Bettering American Poetry 2016, and don't forget to send us your nominations for the anthology!


Nominate for Bettering American Poetry Volume 2!

Did you read a poem in 2016 that blew you away? That challenged power structures, and told oppressors to fuck off? That exposed something crucial or needed? That gave you hope or solidarity? That took a baseball bat to the dumpsterfires of 2016?

We want to hear from you!

Bettering American Poetry is now accepting nominations from individuals and journals for our next anthology.

Read our nomination guidelines here. Questions? Get in touch at