Author: Andrew Wessels

Editor in Chief

Andrew Wessels currently splits his time between Istanbul, where he teaches writing at Koç University, and Los Angeles. His first book, A Turkish Dictionary, is forthcoming from 1913 Press, and Semi Circle, a chapbook of translations of Nurduran Duman's poems, is available from Goodmorning Menagerie. His poems, translations, and collaborations can be found in VOLT, Witness, Fence, Tammy Journal, Faultline, and Colorado Review, among others. He has held fellowships from Black Mountain Institute and Poets & Writers and is an editor at Les Figues Press.


The Poetry of Politics, the Politics of Poetry

The Poetry of Politics, the Politics of Poetry

As I write this introduction, we are barely more than a week from election night. The news is dominated by talk of polls, campaign stops, spin, gaffes, special interests, claims, counter-claims, empty arguments, and incessant babble. You, as I, might have watched the debates or religiously followed Nate Silver’s poll tracking at 538. Regardless of one’s attempts to avoid it, we are forcefully immersed in a morass of politics and political uses of (destructions of?) language.

This is not an uplifting experience. Emerson would be ashamed of all of us.

However, there does seem to be reason for some hope. Bits and pieces of language from this political morass like “horses and bayonets” or “binders full of women” have become trigger points for the creation of art. Many of the Internet memes that have been created using these phrases, while oftentimes still retaining a political message, claim a primary fidelity with aesthetics rather than politics. While to some degree these are jokes used to release some of the tension and frustration of the political process, they are also simultaneously making a claim for art as a restorative and necessary pursuit.

Which leads me to this week’s issue here at TOA. In the spirit of the election season (and also in the spirit of rebelling against the election season), we present a group of writers who both confront and reject politics through an aesthetic act. On Monday, Craig Santos Perez displays the political perspective of the disenfranchised and colonized of Guam, where the island and residents of Guam become little more than a place for the Presidents’ plane to re-fuel. Kristin Sanders writes a series of poems analyzing and questioning the idea and physical reality of the feminine by responding to art by Brad Bourgoyne that is then redacted, made invisible. Moriah Purdy and Stephanie Rozene bring us a collaborative work with poems by Purdy accompanying ceramics by Rozene that explore the various conflicting ideals, paradoxes, and personas implicit in the complex roles Presidents and First Ladies play as host and hostess of the United States.

On Tuesday, Diana Arterian utilizes the words of the condemned to craft poems that question the interaction and contradiction between systems of politics, law, ethics, and morality, forcing us to examine the divergence between humanity and the death penalty. And, lastly, Brett Evans subverts the political horse-race of campaigning and our collective obsession with winners and losers by propagating a seemingly endless series of imagined pairs of foes that run the gamut from absurd and humorous to poignant.

Curating this special issue has given me hope if not in our political process, then at least in our ability to ultimately transcend the political and remain human through the creation and observation of the aesthetic act. It is my hope that these poems will, similarly, help you remain human in this last week of election season and into the future.


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.