Calamity is a word that, to me, first calls to mind Wile E. Coyote, the misguided rocket that soars past Road Runner and sends Mr. Coyote tumbling down to the bottom of a deep canyon, the small mushroom cloud of dust where he lands. However, where Mr. Coyote shows up in the next scene either intact or, at worse, bandaged up, the truly calamitous event does not disappear so easily. Rather than being easily reparable, it is something that creates irrecoverable loss. The calamities that pile up in this week’s issue range from the potential calamity of nuclear warfare in selections from Maggie Cleveland’s Atom Fish to Francisco Guevara’s meditations on life, death, and the history and presence of the body; from Katie Manning’s nightmarish fairytale evoking the fears of a soon-to-be-mother to Robby Nadler’s ekphrastic response to human vulnerability and sexual politics in Lucian Freud’s provocative painting Sunny Morning—Eight Legs.
While putting together this special issue, I was surprised to discover that the word’s etymology was more complicated than just the immediate Latin predecessor calamitas: loss, damage, disaster. The word is also related to clamare: to shout, proclaim, declare, cry out. My first impulse is to say that this is the purpose of the poem, the purpose of writing. Why else do we put words to page? Because we feel we see or feel something we must shout, proclaim, declare, and cry out. Because we hope that through our verse that we can evoke a similar emotion or impulse in others. The four writers highlighted this week take the same approach to their own work, desiring not only to recreate a personal emotion but also to provoke a personal and original response from each reader.
The poems this week challenge us to examine our own world, to see both the calamities in our personal lives as well as the global issues that create disaster and loss for multitudes around us. They challenge us to not remain silent, to instead cry out, to name calamity and be honest with the conditions of our world. None of these poems offers a solution, and that is perhaps the point. We cannot return to the earlier situation, that world before we knew of the splitting of the atom or before conceiving of a future life. We cannot erase the faults of our ancestors nor the events of the previous evening. What these poems offer us, instead, is a path toward accepting the responsibility and actuality of the new world we can create, the world that becomes the tomorrow derived from our actions today.