Buzzed Books #70 by Amy Watkins
Pulse/Pulso: In Remembrance of Orlando,
edited by Roy G. Guzmán and Miguel M. Morales
In the aftermath of tragedy, there’s poetry. I don’t know if that’s a universal truth, but it looks like one. Gregory Orr says that poetry exists at the threshold, which is why we feel compelled to write poems in moments of great emotional disturbance, when we’re pushed to our limits, forced to change or confront a hard truth. The Pulse nightclub shooting was a moment of incredible emotional disturbance for Orlando and LGBTQ and Latinx communities worldwide, and it’s no wonder poetry has been part of confronting and expressing shock, anger, sadness, fear, and defiance in the two years since. Pulse/Pulso: In Remembrance of Orlando (Damaged Goods, 2018), edited by Roy G. Guzmán and Miguel M. Morales, is one artifact of that emotional poetic work.
For anyone with even a tangential connection to Pulse, it’s likely to be a hard read. One poet quotes the text messages victims sent their loved ones that night. Another writes in the persona of a mother whose son is killed. Another quotes a family member who says, “They got what they deserved.” But it’s not all fear and sorrow. Many poets in the anthology write about the joys of community, sex and love, self-knowledge and acceptance. Others write defiantly about claiming their places in the world, including the world of poetry, and call out those who would silence their voices or appropriate their experience. Though the anthology is chapbook-sized (and priced), the slim volume took me almost a month to read; each poem carries such raw emotion that I could only read one or two at a time.
In the book’s foreword, the editors write, “We left the typical constraints and expectations of MFA workshops away from our selection process, and for that we are proud.” Some of the poems in the anthology are extremely polished, in the MFA workshop sense; others seem more visceral, less filtered. Some of the poets have significant publishing histories; others are newer to poetry or their accomplishments are in performance rather than page poetry. All of their perspectives are valuable, especially since this anthology serves as both art and artifact. A work of witness, such as this book is, has different requirements, a different job to do than the average anthology or journal issue.
In “Intruder (Home as A Fallacy),” June Beshea writes, “no, love does not protect us against bullets / all this dance and joy do not protect against destruction.” After the Pulse shooting, a mural went up in Orlando: rainbow stripes, 49 birds, Marvin Gaye’s face, and the words “Love conquers hate.” I appreciate the sentiment, but love won’t conquer hate if love is platitudes. If love conquers hate, it will be messy, sorrowing, angry, defiant love–love expressed in all these poems and small acts of kindness, in celebrations and protests, in voting for better political leaders and standing up to small and large-scale bullies. That love might eventually turn civilization toward a better future.
The proceeds from the sale of the anthology will be donated to QTPOC organizations.
Amy Watkins (Episodes 124, 161, 164, 192, and 209) grew up in the Central Florida scrub, surrounded by armadillos and palmetto brush and a big, loud, oddly religious family, a situation that’s produced generations of Southern writers. She married her high school sweetheart, had a baby girl and earned her MFA in poetry from Spalding University. She is the author of Milk & Water (Yellow Flag Press, 2014) and the art editor for Animal: A Beast of a Literary Magazine.