Monday, July 1, 2013

"The Resurrection Issue" of Beltway Brings DC Poets to Light

The seemingly tireless and always amazing Kim Roberts (poet and literary impresario) has done it again with the new edition of Beltway Poetry Quarterly, the online journal she edits.  You must check out the Summer 2013 “Resurrection Issue” (found here) which features the work of eight poets connected with DC whose work has been forgotten, falling out of print for the most part:  Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Esther Popel, Lewis Grandison Alexander, Waring Cuney, Gloria C. Oden, John Pauker, and Lee Lally.  Kim notes, “These poets were active during the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Harlem Renaissance, World War II, and the feminist movement of the 1970s. Their backgrounds and writing styles range widely. But all deserve to be widely known and read.”

Having recently "discovered" the excellent (and near-forgotten)  book The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford, I'm mindful of how easy it is for good work to fall deep into the cracks of time...and how part of our responsibility as good literary citizens is to look beyond the endless self-promotion of our time and to be mindful of promoting the forgotten work of those who came before us.  So, yay, Kim!

 And here, from Kim’s introduction, is a taste of the writers she uncovered:

“…The earliest writer included here is Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt, who lived in Washington, DC during the Civil War.  Her poems, popular in her time, are being re-discovered by feminist scholars. I am drawn in particular to her poems of war and its aftermath and include five here. Piatt’s wartime experiences forced her to re-think her assumptions about her happy Southern childhood, her family’s complicit role in slavery, and the contrast between her own pacifism and her era’s romanticized ideals of soldiers.

“Four of the writers in this issue have a connection to the Harlem Renaissance period, a particularly rich time in DC’s literary history, and a time I continue to go back to for inspiration.  Alice Dunbar-Nelson, always overshadowed in her lifetime by her more famous husband, was an older mentor by the 1920s.  Her poem, “I Sit and Sew,” written during World War I, is one of the most moving poems I know about women’s homefront wartime experience.  She is represented by that poem and four others.

“So many lesser-known Harlem Renaissance writers have been largely forgotten.  I first discovered Esther Popel when I saw a striking photograph of her by Addison Scurlock in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution.  The caption described her as a poet and I thought, “How come I’ve never heard of her?”  I have reprinted five of her poems, including her powerful “Flag Salute,” a protest against lynching….”

Read more about Beltway Poetry Quarterly (and sign up for a free subscription) here.


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.