Interview of Michael Boughn and Kent Johnson, by Reforma, daily newspaper in Mexico City
1. Could you please tell me how the anthology came to be? How did the project start?
It began the day after the election, when both of us were still a bit hungover and in shock, like millions of other Americans. One of us asked: So now what does a poet do? The other said, half-seriously: Maybe it’s time for an anthology. We were crazy enough to think we could pull off a big, representative book in a few months. But crazy times breed crazy possibilities. It turned out to be much more successful than we could have imagined.
2. How did you manage to gather the work of 350 poets in such little time? How was the collaboration like between the 19 editors of the anthology?
It was mostly a dream situation, everyone united in the urgency of their diverse responses to what we all understood to be a catastrophe. No egos emerged to disrupt the work. No one tried to claim it. Everyone just stepped up and went to work.
3. In terms of content, what can be found in Resist Much / Obey Little? Are all the poems directly inspired by Donald Trump’s Presidency?
Most of the poems are direct responses to the Trump regime, yes. A small number of the poems are older ones that fit the topic—sometimes with eerie prescience, as with the book’s epigraph poem, by Lorenzo Thomas, written shortly after the election of Ronald Reagan. But all in all, the book is very topical. Many of the poems are written specifically for the book itself, in fact. We feel confident in saying that this book may well be the largest collection of poets edited in the shortest amount of time, ever.
4. What would you say are the main topics and actions of the Trump Administration that are being denounced by the poets in the anthology?
The demonization of otherness. The poems in the book come from all over the Americas, the whole enchilada. In fact, the first poem in the book, by the Chilean poet Nibaldo Acero, is in Spanish. To misquote Rimbaud, we are the other. And we are facing a violent reaction by the patriarchy that is rooted in a nightmare fantasy of returning to a unified, white, male authority, Father Knows Best, but constipated, packing a big gun, and ready to use it. Difference is always the first victim of Patriarchal Terrorism.
5. Please give me your thoughts on the importance/relevance of poetry as an act of resistance.
There can be no definitive answer. Poetry may go through extended–and sometimes self-satisfied–periods of marginalization, only to then emerge into broader social relevance when historical conditions provide it with new, unsuspected cultural force. We saw this to some extent in the 1960s, in the United States; we have seen it, even more prominently, in several cases of social upheaval in various countries of the world, not least in Latin America. For many decades, while poetry has been more and more driven into academia, the notion of a “political poetics” in the U.S. has been seen as eccentric and utopian. The new period we have entered, with the sudden rise of a nativist neo-fascism, is changing the outlook many poets have about their art and what its responsibilities might be. The task now is to figure out which paths of resistance poetry might follow. And some of those might not have anything to do with words on a printed page, in fact.
6. What role do you think that poetry will have during this administration?
The same role it always has – bringing the news. In the U.S. it’s different than in Latin America where poetry still has cultural authority. But even in North America where it doesn’t at the moment possess much cultural authority, it is still news that stays news, to slightly misquote Ezra Pound. People read it to find out what’s really happening. Sometimes less people, sometimes more people. You never know. Thousands can turn out for certain poets at certain times. We saw it with Allen Ginsberg who was always very respectful of the power. And we are not even counting the more musical manifestations, the Bob Dylans and Stings and Rhiannas. As the resistance grows, the place for poetry will grow, too.
7. Can poetry heal the division that is being created by President Trump’s xenophobic, racist and misogynistic remarks? Is there a possibility of reintegration through the arts?
It can play a role, yes. One imagines, for example, an immigrant teenager from Mexico, say, coming upon the anthology, in Chicago or Dallas, wherever, and finding a poem in it that speaks to her, makes her feel less isolated, gives her more courage. Something small but important like that… Or more generally speaking, one imagines that poetry, through expressions of collective vision and protest–and there will surely be more Whitmans, Nerudas, Vallejos, and Mistrals–will lend some force of inspiration and solidarity for the larger movement required in face of the present civic disaster that has come down upon our heads. All artists in all disciplines have a role to play right now. When times have demanded it, poets have been in the vanguard. It’s an honorable tradition. And now is the time to continue it.
8. What comes after this anthology? Are there more projects of poetic resistance in store?
That’s our middle name. We will continue to edit Dispatches from the Poetry Wars, our cantankerous, ever-resistant web site journal, for at least a while longer (http://dispatchespoetry.com/home/recent/news). The anthology is the second volume published under the imprint of Dispatches Editions. It’s a partnership we have with Spuyten Duyvil Press to publish four or five volumes a year under our name. We are especially looking forward to Lisa Jarnot’s A Poet’s Guide to the End of the World. Beyond that, you just don’t know, though the spirit is certainly alive and growing, and that can lead at any minute to some consequential whim such as birthed the anthology.