Cupids Health

World Music by Srikanth Reddy


My parents, both retired South Asian medical professionals, always wanted me to become an anesthesiologist someday. “Good pay, no night calls—and most of the time, your patients are unconscious,” they would remind me over the dinner table. Now that I teach poetry for a living, I tell them that I have pretty much the same effect on people as an anesthesiologist—only I make less money.

Our family joke says something about my current profession, albeit in a backwards sort of way. Unlike anesthesiologists, teachers of writing try to wake people, including themselves, to the possibilities of poetry as an expressive art. That’s what makes this opportunity to serve as a guest editor for Poetry so exciting and bewildering at the same time. As I walk through my neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago—a historically Black community traversed by university students from Asia, Europe, South America, the Middle East, and beyond—I’m awakened, daily, to the diversities of language and feeling as a sometimes harmonious, sometimes dissonant, world music.

So I’m immensely excited—and still a little bewildered—as I begin working now to compile three issues of Poetry to appear in spring 2022. In March, I’d like to launch this series of issues with a special folio dedicated to Margaret Danner, an under-recognized poet of the Black Arts movement who worked as an assistant editor at Poetry and went on to embrace the Baha’i faith as a world religion. I like to imagine Danner taking the “L” train from Poetry’s offices in the Newberry Library to the Baha’i church on the city’s North Shore with a poem forming in her mind as she watches 1950’s Chicago unroll out the window. I hope you find her work to be as exacting and expansive as I do.

For National Poetry Month in April, we’ll highlight the wealth of contemporary poets who write in what my elementary school system used to call “English as a Second Language.” If American history was written by immigrants, refugees, Indigenous peoples, and their descendants, a new story of our literature might be told through the poems of non-“native” English speakers who answer our open call for submissions. We invite poets from other countries who write in an adopted English to submit work, too. The word for speaking something other than your mother tongue is “exophony”—it’s a big and melodious word, with room for many.

Last but not least, in our May 2022 issue, we’ll feature a selection of poems from the pre-modern world in translation. It’s easy to overlook the deep histories of poetry as a global art form in today’s news cycle. But we’ll try to revise Ezra Pound’s dictum to “Make It New” through an open call to contemporary poets and translators who “Make It Old” with this issue. We’re especially keen to highlight non-Western poetries, work by women and nonbinary poets, translations by individuals and collectives who’ve been historically marginalized, and innovative translation practices in this folio. How old is old? We’ll leave that up to you.

I hope this literary mini-series—beginning with a Black Chicago poet who adopted a utopian world religion, then turning to an immigrant chorus of exophonic writers, and ending with ancient poetries from around the world—might illuminate the art of poetry from new local, national, global, and historical perspectives. But I’m also looking forward to reading work from all poets, whether you’re unknown or widely celebrated, in any form, on any subject, in any style, from any tradition. I still remember my first rejection letter from Poetry, which saved the world from a truly terrible Marianne Moore imitation in the summer of 1993. (I, too, dislike it.) Since then, the magazine has introduced me to many of the most thrilling writers of our time. I expect I’ll meet more of you in the coming months.

To make a metaphor from a joke, aesthetics—as opposed to anaesthetics—can awaken us, daily, to the precarity and possibilities of the human voice as a vehicle for art and social change. Today, we’ve repurposed the past tense of “wake” as a new part of political speech: “woke.” There’s a kind of poetic justice to the word in its many forms—awake, a wake, a waking, a wakefulness, awakening …



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