On the Anthology as Community
Often born from a need to understand, the anthology provides a ready avenue for conversation by bringing different voices together into a nexus of continuous exchange.
Moreover, it has the potential, through the dialogue contained within it, regardless of genre, to fracture whatever a priori ideas one holds on its subject or theme. In rare cases, those long-held strictures can lose their luster and be eventually thrown out. This is as true for editors as it is for readers.
As the editor of two anthologies – Others Will Enter the Gates: Immigrant Poets on Poetry, Influences, and Writing in America and Walking the Tightrope: Poetry and Prose by LGBTQ Writers from Africa – my experience is no different.
Each anthology I’ve edited has left me more open and with a perspective wider than what I could have possibly imagined when the idea for the anthology first came to me.
Because Others Will Enter the Gates is my first edited volume, I’ll provide a brief description of its genesis and how the project continues to condition how I see myself as an immigrant and how I think of immigrant poetries.
In 2012, I approached Diane Goettel, the executive editor of Black Lawrence Press (BLP), with the idea of an anthology having to do with immigrant poets in the United States. I didn’t quite know what shape it would take. I knew, however, that I wanted the anthology to be composed of essays addressing how “émigré poets in the United States make sense of their immigrant experiences.”
Within weeks, Diane replied expressing high interest in the project. Days later, she informed me that Angela Leroux-Lindsey, BLP’s senior editor, would be coming along for the project as well. And, it’s through the wise counsel of these editors that I first learned how important a clearly written abstract can be to compiling an anthology.
Why is the anthology being done? What initial themes might ground the project? What is the expected page length for each submitted piece? Will exceptions be made? These are some of the necessary questions that should be addressed in a good abstract, which to me is no different than a compass at sea whose dial still points north!
With the nuts and bolts in place, all I had to do was solicit submissions from immigrant poets and send out calls for submissions. We also approached Kazim Ali to write the introduction. And, he was just as excited as we were about the project and he couldn’t have been more generous.
But, more than anything, the anthology was very much about the submitted pieces themselves which challenged my expectations of the “who” of the immigrant poet and the “what” of her poems.
As I mention in the preface -
To frame the discourse [of the anthology], the following areas of focus
were suggested in the original call for submissions: a) Influences b) What
it means to be a poet in America c) How work fits within the American poetic
tradition and d) How work fits within the poetic tradition of the (poet’s) home
But the submitted pieces were not at all bound by these suggestions. Some contributors opened with a particular suggestion and then branched out to address more pressing concerns. As an editor, whatever notions I had of straightforward categorizations were quickly dispelled.
I came out of the project feeling very much a part of a large and vibrant community – one that refuses to be pinned down and layered with stereotypes. A community that is at once unique and myriad, rooted and cosmopolitan, convergent (in a loose and abstract sense as “immigrants”) but divergent in its approach to origin, gender, aesthetics, experience, etc.
I came out believing that the word “immigrant” is not a static reality with a static definition. Instead, it is a fluid construct, a conversational field, open to interpretation.
I emerged from the project not bound to the notion of immigrant poetry as inherently biographical. Instead, it is biographical and un-biographical, palimpsestic and fragmented, surreal and resistant. I left with a clear understanding that when it comes to immigrant poetry (or any immigrant for that matter) no single categorization will suffice.
By truly engaging the community of voices within the anthology, I have a better sense of the immigrant community at large and my place in it.
I understand that no two anthologies are the same, that even when they take on the same subject, each ends up being a universe onto itself – full of its own personality, preferences, and needs. This, however, does not take away from the fact that each can inform and widen perspectives, which, at its height, has the potential to texture how one examines the self, how one approaches craft, and how one conceptualizes community.
Whether compiling an anthology or composing a volume of poetry, we enter where our soul agrees. Listening is at the core of all writing and projects in writing.
It is no different
On the chest
Of a lover,
You’ve come to know
And now can’t get
You kiss the thighs
Of this lover
And angels bored
From playing trumpets
With new music.
Their throats loosen.
Listen to Abayomi read his poem:
Abayomi Animashaun is a Nigerian émigré, who came to the United States in the mid 1990s. He holds an MFA from the International Writing Program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and a PhD from the University of Kansas. A recipient of the Hudson Prize and a grant from the International Center for Writing and Translation, Abayo is the author of two poetry collections, Sailing for Ithaca and The Giving of Pears. He teaches writing and literature at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh and lives in Green Bay, Wisconsin with his wife and two children. www.abayomianimashaun.com