The capital city of Brazil is Brasília, not Rio de Janeiro. When viewed from above it resembles an airplane, or a butterfly. This is because it was built with intent. The city was planned meticulously in the fifties and built in 41 months, from 1956 to April 21, 1960. The city has an intentional space for everything, or at least that was how it was planned. I imagine the people are not contained to their superblocks. I imagine a lot of things, but I have never been to Brazil.
The point is this city was a force of will—and yes, it is physical, but I don’t see how that matters. What matters is how every city is really an act of will.
Each time I move I never quite believe it. The abrupt fact that you are walking down different streets, getting coffee from a different barista and suddenly disoriented when the dark falls makes it feel like a TV show or an exam—some brief interception into your actual life. What is not so abrupt is the moment when your previous home becomes a fragile concept of memory. The colours too soft, the traffic too quiet and the potholes erased: this is not a reality, just one of the worlds we insist on living in.
For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.
I have always been frustrated that this sentence is in the Bible. It means that if I scribble it everywhere I might be seen as some kind of fundamentalist. It is beautiful and it encapsulates what many writers in this fabulous issue are trying to do: build impossible cities: either those remembered and never quite recreated, or those of the future, or just a place that is other.
Aaron Larson’s “Mildred from Nigeria” moves another way through memory, with sentences so tightly packed the words are compacted to diamonds. This sentence alone should make you hop to it: “She grew wild with cultivation”.
Aaron Plasek is someone I want to walk around with. I think what terrifies me about his two poems is the “nothingness that does not reference something” we cannot comprehend. These cities—his cities—are my cities too, the “remembered city” that can only be half found in these pages. These things are so fucking horribly true.
Angie Spoto knows Charles. Who is Charles? Where is Charles? These letters have no postage stamps, but take us across the times we have not known and will not, either.
Anthony Colclough is shaking language and I don’t think you should feel comfortable about it. It is the way that Siegfried Kracauer talks about photography in “The Mass Ornament”. Do not worry, however much it may insist it is “really nothing more than verb upon verb mounted rudely atop another one”, I promise it is more.
Camonghne Felix’s “To Whom This May Concern” is addressed to you and it does concern me. Where the body ends and the buildings begin is blurred. I want to point to this poem’s nervousness of “cultivation” and how our bodies are embedded. Doesn’t it make you question the streets outside?
These fragile enterprises we convince ourselves are an okay reality are all over Christopher Citro’s poems: “he said it was a magic mountain and that’s the main thing.” You know you’ve done the same. Remember the blanket fort?
I have nothing but love for the letters to cities that Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz presents in this issue. I don’t know West Philly, but my new friend does and he said this is all true. And the others? This isn’t my Austin, but the poem builds a different Texan oasis that goes to show how a city is never singular. And Brooklyn? Well, “your small dogs are hella / arrogant.”
Oh, Daniel Romo. Your jokes are awful. Your snowstorms do not mean Christmas, your confessions are at least as true as Jessica Biel’s ass. Your history attempts to be this true. I am sorry that I am talking directly to Daniel, but I really want him to know how much I like his poems.
We might not ever know where we are in Elizabeth Ellen’s story, but revel in the symbolism nonetheless. I mean, I like that sentence—you’ll read it. The cinematic here might be called ‘non-cinematic’, but what you have is one large screen.
Gregg Williard is putting the unexpected back into our city. Maybe it’s London, but there is definitely an ape. It may also be us. I want to bring this question to everyone, “And there’s history and there’s history!”
I should have a disclaimer about these poems: I pretty much love Gregory Sherl. You know when you jump up and down with excitement, but have no words and just want people to do it too so they can feel how you feel? You’ll feel how I feel when you read these. So honest.
Janet Freeman is giving you powerful stories that maybe you didn’t know about because they cross borders that are not always evident. “Love Me Now” is especially chilling, but a darting story that is never obvious.
Jane Hammons’ borders are perhaps more obviously drawn, and “Forging” explores the sadly quite secret history of those who live in North America outside of vast stereotypes. It is a story which will keep you hearing the sound of hooves.
Human and machine are approaching happy bedfellows in Jordan Soyka’s work. But what is human is not lost by adopting Google Translate as a collaborator. What is found is a more obviously graded system of uncertainty in our own speech.
That idea of impossible cities blazes in Joseph Scapellato’s “Immigrants”. I really want to share the final sentences—right here, right now—but that would be depriving you. But, dear Joseph, we are all going where these people have to, too.
And so is Julius Kalamarz. Of these three high frequency poems, I want to highlight “Am I Overheard” for its shackling of huge, unmappable distance. And I want to say, wow, you are breathless—and I think any reader will agree.
Mark Baumer is flattening out the pavements and other places of cities that may, in fact, be the same. It is stunning to see true breadth in the details.
Maureen McHugh’s “Hallelujah Ammonia” is itself “something fierce.” Such a storm and such a fight. The grudge being immortalised is one I damn sure wouldn’t get in the way of, but I love watching it burn.
All this present time, all these cities are previous to Melissa Goodrich’s “Pangaea”. Here, “England is not an island at all, but some brick aching to unwedge itself from the wall.” Stupendous dinosaurs. It is more exciting than the Natural History Museum. And, Melissa, if you’re reading, let’s swap favourite fossils.
Contemporaneity is terrifyingly questioned in Michael Cooper’s “Puddles”, too. The continuous immensity of water is just the thing to remember how brittle progress can be. The sense of the uncanny in this story is both creeping and real: how natural is natural disaster?
How Michael Mlekoday rewrites history makes me wonder which narrative I would choose, if the parallel worlds got offered.
Ofelia Hunt does not close anything. All of the possibilities are open. You only have to choose which one you’d kill for.
R. D. Parker is seriously shattering some lines. And with them, a ton of ideas you let float around without questioning them because they look large. It is like surgery, this poem.
It is probably natural to want to both laugh and cry a little when reading Robert McDonald’s “Artistic Statement”—the idea of those small awkward forms we may have tried to write. Do not be fooled, there is something far more solid and beautiful in these little boxes.
Rose Hunter’s relentless “You As…” poems keep appearing and appear unstoppable. These are brave poems. Fuck you, lyric tradition! It still matters to have the beloved. And what new shapes she is putting the beloved in.
Sarah Terez Rosenblum is bringing a verb with such force. I won’t tell you what it is to be winterized. You think you know? No.
And in the grand old end of this issue, Suzanne Scanlon’s “Girls With Problems”. You know, my friend Chris and I talk a lot about what it means to be one of these girls. I want to quietly copy my favourite lines from this story, especially “More than she needs to know of his particular humanity”, and leave it on napkins around town.
But what town would that be? Enjoy venturing into this issue whatever city—real, imagined, or impossible—you happen to be departing from.
Caroline Crew’s poems have appeared in PANK, Artifice, Sixth Finch and > kill author, among other places. She contributes to We Who Are About To Die, blogs at flotsampoetry.com, and in between time is a grad student at Oxford University. One day, she’ll return to the city that is present in her memory, every day.