–Interview by Diana Clarke
January author Josette Akresh-Gonzales makes a case for for caring about commas after the apocalypse and remembering even when it would hurt less to forget.
1. I was so struck by one line in “The Trumpet Player”: “Mercy for caring deeply about commas/instead of migrant slaves.” I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what, if anything, poetry can or should do when the world is more visibly messed up than usual. By which I mean, do commas have a use? Why bother caring about punctuation?
Without commas, there would be no small intake of breath between phrases, no pause; it would be all hard stops, choppy and unforgiving, like a drill sergeant yelling at you. Of course, I’m a copyeditor, so I have to care about commas. But, do I have to be a copyeditor? That’s the question I ask myself. If the world were to end (I just read the MaddAddam trilogy, by Margaret Atwood, so this hypothetical situation is fresh in my mind), would survivors who know where to put commas be able to make a living? Or would it be more useful, would it be more valuable in a postapocalyptic society, to be able to grow wheat, to weave fabric, to hunt squirrel. Atwood argues in these novels that storytelling matters tremendously to human beings and to survival. Should poetry address the problems we humans face? I really don’t know how it can’t and still survive as an art form. Those whose work takes big risks with big, troubling narratives—like Jamaal May, Martín Espada, Allen Ginsberg—are so rewarding to read, because they are not selfish: they give a huge gift to us in attempting to take on these topics that matter.
2. The speaker in that poem says, “I have two kids so I’ve forgotten everything.” But whoever she is, she’s writing poetry—which is a kind of memory, not to mention that she’s lying, and that the purpose of the yizkor service is to give people permission to remember, and to mourn family members they’ve lost. What’s the relationship between loving and forgetting? Continue reading