I read Water & Salt very quickly, so immersed was I in Lena Khalaf Tuffaha’s poems and the way she transported the reader from America to Palestine to Syria and Jordan and back again. Water & Salt moves between motherhood, immigration, boundaries, language, and more without ever feeling diffuse or scattered. Through her deft language and imagery, Lena creates a debut collection that invites the reader to question the meaning of home and belonging in a time of unending violence. In our interview, we spoke about her personal and political inspirations, art as activism, and poetry as a means of traveling beyond the familiar confines of our own communities.
Jenni(f)fer Tamayo talks with poet, performer, and activist Kay Ulanday Barrett about definitions of work/labor in Sick and Disabled Queer People of Color experiences, how different levels of systemic violence impact one’s poetics, writing as embodied spiritual practice and activism, the ethics of performance, and how expansive definitions of care can be a source of resistance in Kay’s new poetry collection, When the Chant Comes (Topside Press)
“Say with me, controlled burn,” Jordan Rice writes midway through her debut collection of poetry, Constellarium (Orison Books, 2016). She’s writing about the Columbia Space Shuttle explosion, but the line also serves as a synecdoche for Rice’s writing: tight, evocative lines, burning just below the surface. Rice weaves together complicated themes, but most of the works in the collection circle around the idea of home, locally and globally, the body, and its changes. They’re poems that are about displacement, quarrel, and loss, and finding transness through that. In its control, hers is a book I’ve been waiting on for some time.
“Estrellada” is a video poem investigating the boundary between what can be remembered and what is irretrievably lost. Filmed in the poet’s childhood home, it documents the damages of time, illness, and depression to the deteriorating 900 sq foot starter house, a symbol of the American Dream. It imagines the border, and the urgency of her family’s crossing, as also a psychological and generational rupture that widens and widens inside the body and mind of the crossed. The family photos call back to memory and longing, aware of the generational traumas that pushed the family into this country, and the resultant familial loss to brutal circumstances. The poem engages unflinchingly with the affective costs of assimilation, taking a reparative gaze as the photos move forward in time, documenting the poet’s physical and cultural transition, as well as her eventual desertion as the subjects of the photos diminish in number. The poem ends on hospital and alternative school intake photos, marking the beginning of her American self—no longer surrounded by family, she is assimilated, estranged from her people, obviously in mourning, alone in the frame.