A Special Feature edited by Sarah Ghazal Ali
There are costs to our living on this small, terminable planet. Daily these costs bear down on each of us, but their severity, visibility, and immediacy depend on who and where one is in the world. In his book Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, Princeton professor Rob Nixon identifies slow violence as “violence that occurs gradually and out of sight, a violence of delayed destruction that is dispersed across time and space, an attritional violence that is typically not viewed as violence at all.” The world we inhabit is marked by disasters—climate catastrophe, vanishing species, famine, fast fashion, militarization—but the human eye is drawn only to the most spectacular and expeditious among them.
Today, eight months pregnant, I ask myself an unoriginal, timeworn question: what tomorrow am I ushering a child into, toward? By the time this issue of West Branch is in the world, my daughter will be, too, as will other daughters, other children. The cost of living is a calamity of multiplication and dispersal. And, as Nixon suggests, the most insidious repercussions are often also the most invisible. How much violence do we fail to recognize as real violence because its effects are displaced, reverberating somewhere beyond the thresholds of our homes, or postponed, dismissed as another generation’s problem?
Solmaz Sharif has said that “writing a poem is an action you can undertake anywhere,” that a poem’s “scrappy thereness” offers something akin to hope as we navigate the impositions of consumerism and carcerality. In the work of these nine poets, I locate a sense of that thereness. In these poems, gathered around the subject of slow violence, you will find speakers who face the costs of their living, who risk being bare and porous to varying instances of harm. I believe that the task of the poet is to resist the lure of obfuscating language, pretty policies and promises. Poems can excavate, investigate, agitate. These poems don’t pretend to have solutions for slow violences and long dyings, but they do bear witness and insist upon our interconnectedness across species, identity, place, and time.
I find here reminder after reminder that we are all beholden to one other, and that tomorrow can be made and remade until it resembles something new, something bright and beyond the conditions of capitalism. I hope the work assembled in this special feature proves meaningful to you, and that it enables the beautiful, collective work of imagining more. Thank you for reading and for being alongside us.
—Sarah Ghazal Ali
Sarah Ghazal Ali is the poetry editor of West Branch and the editor of Palette Poetry. She is the author of THEOPHANIES, selected as the Editors’ Choice for the 2022 Alice James Award, and forthcoming in 2024. A 2022 Djanikian Scholar and winner of the Sewanee Review Poetry Prize, her poems appear in POETRY, American Poetry Review, Pleiades, The Yale Review, Guernica, and elsewhere.
Vanitas (Planned Obsolescence)
Emilia Phillips (they/them/theirs) is the author of five poetry collections from the University of Akron Press, including Nonbinary Bird of Paradise (forthcoming, 2024) and Embouchure (2021), and five chapbooks.
In Situ Adaptation
Do Not Intervene
Natalie Eilbert is the author of three poetry collections, Overland (Copper Canyon Press, 2023), Indictus (Noemi Press 2018), Swan Feast (Bloof Books 2015). Eilbert lives in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where she is a statewide mental health reporter for USA Today.
Rachel Edelman is a Jewish poet raised in Memphis and the author of the debut poetry collection Dear Memphis (River River Books, 2024). She teaches Language Arts in the Seattle Public Schools.
Leigh Sugar is a Michigan and Brooklyn-based disabled artist. She holds an MFA from NYU, and poems appear in Poetry, Split This Rock, jubilat, and more. Her first poetry collection, Freeland, is forthcoming from Alice James (2025).
Benjamin Voigt grew up in upstate New York on a small farm and the internet. His poems appear in Agni, ZYZZYVA, Poetry Northwest, Bennington Review and Fence. He works at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and lives in Minneapolis.
Self Portrait with Caution
Hajjar Baban is a Pakistan-born Afghan Kurdish poet. A 2021 P.D. Soros Fellow, she is a recent MFA graduate from the University of Virginia.
Translated from the Arabic by Sara Elkamel
Sara Elkamel is a poet, journalist, and translator living between Cairo and NYC. Her poems have appeared in Poetry Magazine, The Yale Review, Ploughshares, Gulf Coast, and in the anthology Best New Poets (2020 & 2022), among other publications. Mona Kareem, a native of Kuwait, is a writer, translator, and literary scholar. She is the author of three poetry collections and three book-length translations. A recipient of a 2021 NEA literature grant, Kareem has been a fellow/resident at Tufts University, Princeton University, Poetry International, Arab-American National Museum, Norwich Center, and Forum Transregionale Studien.
Mira Rosenthal is the author of Territorial, a Pitt Poetry Series selection and finalist for a 2022 Indies Book of the Year award, and The Local World, winner of the Wick Poetry Prize. She is an associate professor of creative writing at Cal Poly.
Tree Walk with Changes
Makshya Tolbert (she/they) is a poet and potter who recently made her way back to Virginia. Based on Monacan and Manahoac land,
Makshya writes and practices in Charlottesville, Virginia.