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.