When faced with anger and fear in times of political distress, there are many ways to react. Some people take to Facebook or Twitter to express their concerns, some take to the streets (or the airports) to protest, and some take out a pen and start writing. Writing—and in fact, all art—can be a powerful means of demonstration against oppression, in whatever form that oppression takes. Responding to the 2016 presidential election, three writers, Kit-Bacon (K-B) Gressitt, Sara Marchant, and Rae Rose, came together to create Writers Resist, a weekly online journal featuring writing and visual art of the resistance.
In his recent piece for The New Yorker, “Poetry in a Time of Protest,” Edwidge Danticat says she is turning to poets, both living and dead, for direction and vision in this current moment of political uncertainty. I find myself doing the same thing. The founders of Writers Resist must have anticipated this reliance on art in times of crisis because they’ve dedicated their efforts to culling the best resistance art from the United States and around the world. They graciously answered my questions about their project. With Writers Resist and similar outlets, I hope readers can find a new place to look to when the going gets scary. And, more than that, I hope artists and writers are inspired to create—rather than cower—in times of strife.
Susan Elliott Brown: How was Writers Resist born?
Writers Resist: A day or two after the November 8 election, Sara sent a message to K-B (we’re both grads of the UCR Low-Res MFA program), asking “What do we do now?” K-B figured it was die or write. We agreed the latter was preferable. We asked poet Rae Rose, a Goddard MFA grad, to join us. Within the week, we’d created a social media presence, started building a website, and invited friends and colleagues to direct their creativity to the resistance movement. Writers Resist, a weekly online journal, was birthed with our first issue on December 1, 2016. We publish creative expressions of resistance by diverse writers and visual artists, including poetry, narrative nonfiction, fiction, essays and digital images. The majority of submissions are from the United States, but we’re hearing from writers from around the globe.
SEB: What is the ultimate goal of Writers Resist?
WR: We are enjoying the virtual camaraderie of Writers Resist; it’s lovely and reassuring that the majority of people embrace civil liberties, human rights, intersectionality and compassion. As our audience expands, our goal is to share that message beyond the converted, to reach those feeling disaffected, with writing and art that touches them in unexpected ways. Ultimately, though, we hope that the resistance movement is gradually rendered obsolete, and Writers Resist with it. Wouldn’t it be a delight to live and write in a United States that thrives on the values articulated in our Constitution?
SEB: How can poetry and fiction be used as tools of political protest and resistance, and can this type of writing lead to action? Do you see our current moment as particularly rich with opportunities for political writing?
WR: All of the arts—writing, performance and visual—have long served as expressions of political protest and resistance, at times subtle, at times overt; their intensity often determined by the degree of threat. Perhaps some of those prehistoric cave paintings we love to contemplate were challenges to unpopular leaders, inequitable allocation of resources, maybe even environmental degradation. Today, we face potentially ruinous threat, and writing provides a particularly adaptable tool for challenging it. Writing is wonderfully accessible to broad audiences at very little cost, if any, whether in social media or café readings, on city walls or t-shirts, on protest posters in front of the White House and at airports across the country, which is happening as we write this.
Words are powerful, and many people with a gift for putting words together in meaningful ways—writers who disagree with the direction Donald Trump et al. are leading our country and affecting the world—are embracing their writing as a civic responsibility and lending their words to the resistance. Of course, it’s always nice to be paid for our writing, so Writers Resist offers a token pittance for works not previously published. However, we know it’s also nice to be part of something extraordinary, paid or not, and something extraordinary is happening.
Trump’s election and the people he’s chosen to work with him are galvanizing much of the population. He has verbally assaulted so many of the diverse demographic groups in the United States and around the world, and now he’s assaulting them with oppressive, xenophobic executive orders. He has, albeit unintentionally, offered himself up as a common enemy of our nation’s values and the organizations that defend them. Writers Resist and the hundreds of other resistance movement organizations, established and newly formed, are acting upon a rare opportunity to unite and promote the progressive changes we’ve been unable to accomplish independent of each other. In unity there is indeed great power. And Trump’s raging narcissism has invigorated our unity and our activism—and, oh, the writing fodder he provides. As Howard Zinn wrote, “A poem can inspire a movement.” The words we write are indeed inspirational, from the poetry and prose that enflames activists’ passions to the profane and hilarious and poignant protest posters that motivate marchers to the chants collectively intoned on every continent. This writing is profoundly cool.
SEB: What are a couple of your favorite poems featured on your website? Why are these special?
WR: We have no favorite poems per se, but we can mention some notable ones, based on feedback from our readers and website stats. First, Suzanne O’Connell’s “Gentle Bones” is a quiet poem for an increasingly deafening world. Her images show the juxtaposition of the political world she belongs to and her quiet, daily life. The title refers to the gentle bones of ears, which are “flexible trumpets/made for listening.” Her images kill us.
We love the impassioned call to hermanas / sisters, in “Resiste / Resist,” a poem and translation by Mariana Llanos. The poem’s emotion relies on images of the female body, images that empower, rather than objectify, and the calls to women intensify with each demand to join the resistance—
“Aunque tiemblen tus huesos / Aunque sangre tu alma.”
“Even if your bones tremble / Even if your soul bleeds.”
Last, there are two poems many readers found particularly meaningful: “Floating,” by Penny Perry, and “The Other Day I Peed on a Stick,” by Rae Rose, our poetry editor. Penny and Rae are mother and daughter, and their poems serve as companion pieces, the former about an illegal abortion prior to Roe v Wade, and the latter, from a contemporary perspective, but one equally rife with challenges. These poems reflect the intimacy and diversity of women’s choices and emphasize that, like many women’s issues, reproductive choice remains at risk, so we must remain vigilant.
By Suzanne O’Connell
Darkness is upon us all.
The old tree kneels
to sip from the water.
Poison pen letters
for insufficient postage.
Girls wear safety pins
and march in the street.
The house is dark.
The dachshund-shaped lamp,
sitting in its halo of light.
Darkness is upon us.
Search for the tiny miracles
close enough to touch.
Your ears for example,
those workaday wings.
Hello gentle bones,
hello flexible trumpets
made for listening.
You can touch the silken skin,
move them as in flight.
Their perfect rims
are crimped like pies
for our tarnished Thanksgiving.
Sara Marchant, prose editor, received her MFA in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts from the University of California, Riverside, Palm Desert and her BA in History from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has been published by The Manifest-Station, Every Writer’s Resource, Full Grown People, and Brilliant Flash Fiction. Her work is forthcoming in the anthology Nothing But the Truth So Help Me God: All the Women in my Family Sing. She lives with her husband in the high desert of Southern California, where she enjoys teaching ESL at a Christian university, despite being the only Mexican-American Jew on campus.
Rae Rose, poetry editor, is a California poet and essayist whose work has been published in Cicada Magazine, Lilith Magazine, and The Paterson Review, among other literary journals. Her book, Bipolar Disorder for Beginners is an account, in poetry and prose, of her struggles with that disease. Marge Piercy characterizes it as “powerful and emotionally charged.” Rae earned her MFA from Goddard College, and she is the editor of Kids! San Diego Poetry Annual.
Kit-Bacon Gressitt (K-B), prose editor, is a feminist writer. She supports unrestricted access to affordable abortion and other reproductive health services, and she’s an immigration and LGBTQ rights advocate. She also birthed a child of color, who’s taught her a lot about white privilege and intersectionality. An erstwhile daily paper political columnist, she has an MFA in Creative Writing, her work’s been published in literary and feminist journals. K-B is a Women’s Studies lecturer, and she’s represented by Amanda Annis, Trident Media Group. K-B’s website is www.excusemeimwriting.com.