The Academy of American Poets invited twenty guest editors to each curate a month of poems in 2020. In this short Q&A, Heid E. Erdrich discusses her curatorial approach and her own creative work.
Poets.org: How did you approach curating Poem-a-Day?
Heid E. Erdrich: Right away I knew I wanted to feature poems by poets with new books and poets whose work I wish more people could read and hear. It turns out that, because I am who I am, and I read who I read, most of those poets are Native, Indigenous and also Black and LTGBQ2S writers. Once I began reading submissions, I started to think of November and what might appeal to readers in that month. Then “The Everything” happened and I began to understand how these poems might speak to people in the month that follows the election. It’s hard not to anticipate a difficult time and I want these poems to guide readers during uncertainty. That’s a tall order.
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?
HEE: It occurred to me that perhaps what we need now is what we needed in 2016, “Let America be America Again” by Langston Hughes. Now, in these days of banning critical race theory, I’m not so sure. I do know for sure that Joy Harjo's “Perhaps the World Ends Here,” despite its ominous title, works for every scenario I imagine in November 2020. This is a poem that makes me hope, hold on, and that makes me grateful.
Poets.org: What are you working on now in your writing, teaching, or publishing life?
HEE: It’s 2020 and I am, like so many others, struggling to be as productive as I once was, but still we are always busy. My MFA students are terrific and have been reading Poem-a-Day. Much of my creative attention has been on my new book Little Big Bully. There’s a re-introduction period with a new book as we see it through the eyes or reviewers, readers, and audiences we are able to give video readings. I’m thinking about what it means now, as opposed to 2018 and early 2019 when I was writing the bulk of the poems in this collection. Sometimes a poem reads differently now, as if it anticipated our current state, sometimes the feeling that fueled the poem has passed for the world or things are worse than the poem suspected. Then I look at a poem and think, who are you, huh—did I even write you? With this book, I feel fallen through time and dimensions. I guess we are all there now, this place we knew was out there, this place so many of us come from that we hoped would not come again. So that’s the work and it’s in my teaching and writing life. My breathing and loving life. In our lives.