• 3Q4: Roger Reeves

    The Sewanee Review

    Spring 2022

    This week on the Conglomerate, Roger Reeveswhose essay “In a Field in the Rain, Singing into the Silence of the State" is published in the Spring 2022 issue—corresponded with us about his essay and its various threads. Reeves has published two books of poetry: King Me and Best Barbarian. We previously featured three of his poems (“Grendel's Mother,” “Caught in a Black Doorway,” and “Journey to Satchidananda”) in our Fall 2021 issue. Here, Reeves explores the impacts of State violence and listening to his daughter's poetry in his own writing. 

    —Carlos Zayas-Pons, Editorial Assistant

    SR: Your essay “In a Field in the Rain, Singing into the Silence of the State” balances State-sponsored violence, political discontent, and the COVID-19 pandemic. But it’s also an intense meditation on poetry, and an incredibly personal depiction of your relationship with your daughter. It seems to me that the essay is shaped by myriad tensions. How do you write about these polarities without everything pulling apart?

    RR: I am able to write and combine a myriad of tensions without pulling everything apart because they are existing simultaneously and must be contended with in their intersections. For instance, if there’s a protest going on about the killing of Black and Brown folks by the Austin police and I want to take my daughter it, her mother and I have to decide how we’re going to be there at protest with her, our Black child, during the COVID-19 pandemic. And because the police were so violently handling protestors, we have to decide where we will be with our then four-year-old daughter if the police decide to start tear-gassing and shooting rubber bullets at protestors.

    Black life in America is one at the intersections of many variations of violence—and none of them can be avoided so one becomes very good at improvisation, at making life in and during catastrophe. And after the protest, back at home, my daughter play-acts a political rally wherein she begins her rally with a poem and ends it with a speech. My daughter is contending with all of these tensions and playing all through it. I take my lessons from her.

    SR: In this essay, and in your poems from the Fall 2021 issue, you write about how central your daughter is to how you view the world. In your poem “Journey to Satchidananda,” you describe her voice as “gold filling in the cracked / Basketball court of me”; in this essay, you describe how you and your daughter read poetry together every morning. Has the way she responds to poems informed your reading, or changed your writing process in any way?

    RR: Yes, reading poems to her, sitting with her as she explores and interrogates her feelings about the poems have very much shaped the way I’ve thought about poems. For instance, the last line / sentence from “Journey to Satchidananda” is from a poem she “wrote”—which is what she calls her creating poems and reciting them orally. During the pandemic, she was four and hadn’t yet learned to “write,” but nevertheless she wrote. She often would let the rhythm of language take her and had no allegiance to rational or syntactical sense-making. She understood that poetry makes its sense through sound, through the line. I loved it. It was always so thrilling when she would stop me and say: “Daddy, I have a poem.” Never was I disappointed. In her writing of poems, I learned a great deal about awe. She often expressed a sort of awe of the natural world, of repetition. And, I began to think about that awe and play with it. In that way, my daughter became quite a guide for me.

    SR: A large portion of your essay is dedicated to fascistic and neoliberal political violence in Chile and throughout Latin America, and how silence-shattering art such as Romero’s rendition of “El derecho de vivir en paz” can be. What do you make of this new wave of leftist/populist leaders being elected in Peru, Bolivia, and even Chile recently with Gabriel Boric?

    RR: I think the new wave of leftist / populist in Latin America is a response to the neoliberal / fascistic wave that preceded it. I am no expert in Latin America although I am familiar with the history of countries like Chile, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Brazil. What I believe we are seeing in Latin America is the pendulum swing of politics. Of course, after the scarcity politics and precarity that governed various countries in Latin America over the last several election cycles, and the fascistic response to marginalized communities such as indigenous, queer, and Afro-identified peoples petitioning for better living conditions and rights, folks were going to be tired and disenchanted with those right-leaning politicians. The protest in Chile over the metro fare hikes, the police in the streets to enforce noise ordinances, the curfews—these curtailing of human movement are not only hallmarks of State-induced terror and oppression, but the grounds for political upheaval and change.

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