Black American Edition Letter from the Editor
Guest Editor Geffrey Davis
When I first began curating artwork for this Black American Edition of Fjords Review, I felt the expected anxiety over the dirty, unavoidable politics of choice; however, it didn’t take long for that selfish worry to be replaced by something more urgent. Suddenly, the selection process was difficult for different reasons. Suddenly, the act of editing became riskier than any personal-professional stakes of seeming to have a who’s-who editorial reach. Suddenly, worries about craft became worries about silence, and every perspective felt vital. Suddenly, I didn’t want to let any voice go—they all needed to be heard and set against the cultural narratives that continue to sanction a deadly American imagination that fears and threatens black and brown bodies.
I want to talk about [trou-muh, traw-muh]:
- 1. (noun, Pathology)—a body wound or shock produced by sudden physical injury, as from violence or accident. The condition produced by this; traumatism.
- 2. (noun, Psychiatry)—an experience that produces psychological injury or pain. The psychological injury so caused.
([trou-muh-tuh, traw-muh-tuh] = plural traumas)
I want to admit something that now seems foolish, on the exit-end of guest editing this edition of Black American artwork: I wasn’t ready for reading through this trauma. Yes, joy is present in these pages—Brian Gilmore’s “Frightful Weather Outside (A You Tube Video)” paints a humorous, if shady, portrait of a local black Santa Claus; and Brenda Quant’s “Desire Lines” traces a topographical phenomenon to, in part, celebrate our “display[s] of human resourcefulness” and to evidence the possibility of change within histories of subjugation—but I wasn’t ready for the hard-fought-ness of that joy, for that particular aspect of underrepresentation, or even for the brilliant idioms of survival used to claim and sing that joy. Although I know this process well, the grace of it devastated me.
I want to underscore the obvious: more has been at stake than these pages could ever hold or reveal. The timing of this edition worked to highlight and compound that reality. I was making the difficult decisions on what would appear here in the midst of protests against police brutality and the systemic devaluation of black and brown lives (check/follow #BlackLivesMatter and #BlackPoetsSpeakOut, and participate in ongoing engagements with this current moment of national awakening to a shared responsibility for alerting/altering realities of injustice). Without doubt, this atmosphere of social unrest added to the editorial anxiety of deciding on voices I encountered while reading submissions.
Perhaps this is just my way of asking you to bend an ear toward and beyond and against the necessary silence of curation—to treat events like this as vantage points important for beginning rather than deciding on increasing consciousness.
The front cover initiates what’s provocative about the edition, paralleling not just the racial tensions but also the urgency of other major concerns that appear inside: gender, sexuality, mental health, body issues, family conflicts, &c. The spacing of the letters invites the notion that language (like identity) is open and irreducible to the sum of its expressive parts–an appropriate prelude to the uncertain and often uncomfortable realities engaged here.
The counterforce to reading trauma, however, is encountering powerful work that crafts and inspires and demands idioms of survival. Ashley M. Jones’s “nem” rehearses a Southern girl’s high stakes “play” with terms that at once risk and validate a sense of identity. Likewise, Ciara Miller’s “Becoming” interrogates the (im)possibility of constructing an identity according to language with a history of abusing that very identity position. And yet... Remica L. Bingham-Risher’s “Conduit” beautifully plays our cellular interconnections against our cultural divisions. Joshua Bennett’s “Anthrophobia” remixes and repurposes (to heartbreaking effect) the rhetoric used to condemn the death of VonDerrit Myers. Kamilah Moon’s “The Emperor’s Deer” orchestrates an alarming counter-allegory of black life. And so on, and so forth: the work in BAE mourns and critiques and, ultimately, poses provocative questions concerning what must come next for America.
In his essay “Painting a Body of Loss and Love in the Proximity of an Aesthetic” (from The Millions, 2013), Chris Abani writes:
While not every writer can phrase the exact reason [why they write], they can approximate the shape of the wound, because, yes, we are talking about wounds. These wounds are often nothing more than the narratives we have built up over the years around an imagined or real hurt. But having a wound is not the same as being wounded. The former shapes the desire of expression while the latter merely creates silence.
[W]e all write to seduce the world into seeing us as we would like to see ourselves. We are trying to revise the grand narratives of our lives; we are refugees from the world that most people have no choice but to live in, with all their being. We make it possible not only for ourselves, but to others who don’t know how to sing, to make a song that makes living bearable. That is all.
At a moment like this, leavened by new traumas and old narratives (or by old traumas and new narratives), we need more artists and more audiences to [wit-nis]:
- 1. (verb)—to see, hear, or know by personal presence/perception: to witness traumata.
- 2. (verb)—to be present (at an occurrence) as a formal witness, spectator, bystander, &c.; to testify; to give or afford evidence of: to witness the wound.
- 3. (verb)—to attest by one's signature: to witness our will.
- 4. (noun)—an individual who, being present, personally sees or perceives a thing; a beholder, spectator, or eyewitness; person or thing that affords evidence: What new witnesses will come forward?
- 5. (noun)—a person who signs a document attesting the genuineness of its execution: Who will be witness to these words?
- 6. (noun)—testimony or evidence: How will you bear your witness?
In many ways, I’ve wanted all along to open this special edition: Dear Witness... or, rather: Dear, witness... as in Dear, don’t flinch... as in, when you’ve finished reading, Dear, we have so much work to do:—