A West Branch Wired Exclusive
One of the things I really enjoy about reading submissions—when I have the opportunity to do that work—is happening across a poet I’ve never read before, whose work instantly excites me. That work has attuned me to new voices. Not necessarily new to everyone, but new to me, as a reader. I haven’t had the privilege of reading submissions for a journal in the past year, but I have come across poets in other ways—at a seven-month fellowship, a semester-long workshop, a writing group based out of Oakland that I joined in the early months of the pandemic. I asked a few poets from these spaces to send me work and this folio is the result of that request. As I read what they sent me, a theme emerged. Each poem that reached out toward me was a site of longing. Fangary’s speaker wants to know his elders’ stories—a personal history running all the way back to the old village in Egypt. Marquez takes as his subject one of the most frequently written about sites of queer longing—Fire Island. In “The Complex Queer Literary History of Fire Island,” Jack Parlett surveys the literary history of this site and addresses the town’s history of racial exclusion, writing: “Fire Island is a landscape full of stories, but it seems that some of them, perhaps many, have not yet received the attention or visibility they deserve.” Marquez recovers one of those stories. In Kian’s poem there is “silver snatched from stubborn soil / and strung like steel track” across teeth, but “what good, a perfect mouth / if it is always wanting?” her speaker asks. Soil. Sand. Beaches. Streams. Lakes. Creeks. In the poems of McCoy and Davis—two of my fellow Kentuckians—there’s the sense of a desire for something outside of us, in the world—a different world, perhaps, or a different history, new language, more language, for the way we talk about these things. McCoy notices how “tar zebras / the beach,” and “hurricanes / skitter,” and Davis tells us that these bodies of water take “memory’s shape—linking story to sea, tucking future in the egg of the past.”
Joy Priest is the author of Horsepower (Pitt Poetry Series, 2020), selected as the winner of the Donald Hall Prize for Poetry by U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey. She is the recipient of a 2021 National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and a 2019-2020 Fine Arts Work Center fellowship, as well as the Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize. Her poems have appeared in the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day series, The Atlantic, Callaloo, Gulf Coast, and the Virginia Quarterly Review, among others. Her essays have appeared in The Bitter Southerner, Poets & Writers, ESPN, and The Undefeated, and her work has been anthologized in Breakbeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop, A Measure of Belonging: Writers of Color on the New American South, and Best New Poets 2014, 2016 and 2019. Joy is currently editing an anthology of Louisville poets, which will be published by Sarabande Books.
Antony Fangary is a Coptic-American Poet, Educator, and Artist living in San Francisco. His poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming in The Oakland Review, New American Writing, Interim, The Sycamore Review, and elsewhere. His chapbook, HARAM, was published by Etched Press in 2019. Antony was Finalist for the 2019 Wabash Poetry Prize, and Runner-up for the 2020 Test Site Poetry Series Book Prize. His work has received support from the San Francisco Arts Commission, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and the Center for Cultural Innovation.
Francisco Márquez is a poet from Maracaibo, Venezuela, born in Miami, Florida. His work can be found in The Brooklyn Rail, Narrative, The Yale Review, and Best American Poetry, among other publications. His work has received fellowships from Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, Tin House, The Poetry Project, Brooklyn Poets, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. He holds a Master of Fine Arts from the New York University Creative Writing Program, where he was a Goldwater Fellow. He is the Assistant Web Editor at Poets & Writers and lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Aris Kian is a Houston enthusiast and a student of abolition. Her poems are published with The West Review, Pidgeonholes, Write About Now and elsewhere. She is a Pushcart nominee and a 2020 Best of the Net Finalist and ranks #10 in the 2020 Women of the World Poetry Slam. She is pursuing her MFA at the University of Houston and her PhD at Twitter University.
Erin L. McCoy
when we are found we will be fused
Erin L. McCoy has published poetry and fiction in Narrative, Bennington Review, Conjunctions, Pleiades, Nimrod, and other journals. She holds an MFA in creative writing and an MA in Hispanic literature from the University of Washington. She won second place in the 2019–2020 Rougarou Poetry Contest, judged by CAConrad, and her poem, “Futures,” was selected by Natalie Diaz for inclusion in Best New Poets 2017. Her website is erinlmccoy.com. She is from Louisville, Kentucky.
Stream plays coy: always tranquil, mostly sunbathed, sip-shallow & bedecked in polish. We believe it simple, seeing straight through to its bottom. Don’t be fooled. The stream, one must know, is a great masker of melancholies. Think: liquid as motherless child—only fluid because nothing to do, nothing to want, but search. You too would run narrow-necked & grasping if you found yourself too far from both where you began & where you are going. Memory’s hunter & sieve. A roaming amnesia.
A lake does not like to be called placid. Knows itself, rather, an avatar of dysphoria. Stream quests for memory; lake has no memory to speak of. Some days, it feels complete in its bordered body. Daughter of its most immediate motion. Other days, the rains blow it abstract: a wreck against its own walls, wavery as gaze. No longer can it float the crescent moon on its back & believe itself anything transcendent.
Call creek a kind of medusa—swap snakes for white water, little rapids flicking like a chorus of tongues. But creek betrays tragedy, exists outside of time but makes a deity of cadence. Calls rain ancestor & dances for it. Doesn’t care what its end births as long as the middle holds minnow-spawn & a rhythm of rise. What stream makes antsy, creek makes restless. Tenacious. Unyielding & a little smug. Any tree that wants a glance must hang & beg—force its roots out the earth, pray not to fall. God willin’ &—
The river is an age-keeper, memory’s shape—linking storm to sea, tucking future in the egg of the past. River says: let the catfish nuzzle the bones of the patient drowned; let them, full-bellied, hatch their young in spring waters. When river swells, it crushes, it feeds. It leaves a pulse of contradiction, legacy of mold & silt. River asks: what is not malleable with enough patience? as it carves the earth like fresh bread. River trusts: there is a new kingdom, alive & restless in the body of the old—& every drop of it carries that place, & runs towards it.
Marissa Davis is a poet and translator from Paducah, Kentucky, now residing in Brooklyn, New York. Her poetry has appeared or will soon appear in Poem-A-Day, Glass, Nimrod, Great River Review, Southeast Review, Rattle, and Mississippi Review, among others. Her translations are published in Ezra and forthcoming in Mid-American Review, RHINO, The Massachusetts Review, New England Review, and The Common. Her chapbook, My Name & Other Languages I Am Learning How to Speak (Jai-Alai Books, 2020) was selected by Danez Smith for Cave Canem’s 2019 Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady Prize. Davis is pursuing an MFA at New York University.