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.]