The Academy of American Poets invited twelve guest editors to each curate a month of poems in 2019. In this short Q&A, Sherwin Bitsui, the Poem-a-Day Guest Editor for November 2019, discusses his curating approach and his own creative work.
Poets.org: How did you approach curating Poem-a-Day for November?
Sherwin Bitsui: I selected poets I admire and respect. Like other Poem-a-Day editors, I wanted to give readers a glimpse of the incredible diversity of American poetry. I also wanted to present non-Indigenous listeners with a chance to read and hear some indigenous language poems. Indigenous nations have a deep and rich connection to poetry—our poems have been spoken, sung, and written in this hemisphere for thousands of years.
Poets.org: If you could direct readers to one poem in our collection at Poets.org that you haven’t curated, what would it be and why?
SB: I still return to our first Indigenous poet laureate Joy Harjo’s poem “Remember.” The poem resonates especially in this moment. I hope readers look it up and read it to their loved ones. This poem is for everyone.
Poets.org: What are you working on now in your writing, teaching, or publishing life?
SB: I’m at the beginning stages of creating new poems that are a continuation of my larger life work. Some of the new pieces feel like still-life photographs and portraits. They are much more still than my previous work. It’s as if the shape-shifting qualities of my previous books have stalled and now the figures remain in their changed states.
I’m fortunate to have returned home in recent months. I teach for Northern Arizona University’s MFA in Creative Writing program in Flagstaff, Arizona, and the Navajo sacred mountain Dóókóosliid is within view of the college campus. I’m reminded of how storied this land is. I’m privileged to provide the students an opportunity to learn poetry from a perspective not offered in many creative writing programs. I also teach poetry at the Low Residency Creative MFA Program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. It’s been wonderful to mentor young poets there as well.