In solidarity with the June 2020 protests and the Black Lives Matter movement, Poem-a-Day will be dedicated to featuring Black poets, engaging a number of Black curators throughout the summer to guest edit the series in two-week installments. In this short Q&A, January Gill O’Neil discusses her curatorial approach for July 6–July 17 and her own creative work.
Poets.org: How did you approach curating Poem-a-Day?
January Gill O’Neil: For my Poem-a-Day curation, I wanted to include poems that touched on a range of Black experiences, from historic to contemporary, from Black rage to Black joy—and everything in between. The remarkable poets that make up the July series give us their original, complex, compelling perspectives reflected in language that is dynamic and incredibly eloquent. The poems I’ve selected are both anvil and hammer in uncertain times.
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?
JGO: “jasper texas 1998” by Lucille Clifton. In June 1998, James Byrd Jr. was lynched-by-dragging by three white supremacists in Jasper, Texas. This was not that long ago. Today, we are marching in the streets saying our lives matter. When Ms. Clifton writes, “i was chosen to speak by the members / of my body,” I believe she is speaking for not only the physical body, but also the body of us: those of us demanding equality, equity, and justice. Black lives matter. We (poets) are speaking for the members of this body, this time. And as Ms. Clifton says at the close of her poem, “I am done.”
Poets.org: Who are you reading right now?
JGO: My nightstand is always overflowing with books. Currently, I’m reading Remembering Emmett Till by Dave Tell, The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom, and Natalie Diaz’s Postcolonial Love Poem. I’m also looking forward to reading The Age of Phillis by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers and Enzo Silon Surin’s When My Body Was a Clinched Fist.
Poets.org: What are you working on now in your writing, teaching, or publishing life?
JGO: My family and I recently returned to Massachusetts from my time as the John and Renée Grisham Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi, Oxford. I’m revising my fourth manuscript, which is based, in part, on my experiences in the Deep South. I’m also involved with several arts and poetry organizations, all of which are facing incredible challenges trying to serve their communities during the pandemic and resulting economic downturn.