Dan Vera

Dan Vera: Tenth Anniversary Issue

Tenth Anniversary Issue: A Tribute to Guest Editors
Volume 11:1, Winter 2010

Guest Editor, “US Poets Laureate Issue,” Winter 2009

 

Dan writes:
“To have contributed to this journal by editing one of its historical issues has been a great honor. In my particular case I was given the opportunity to explore through editorship the lives of the nation’s Poets Laureate while in Washington, DC. These included among the finest poets of their generation. They resided in this region and wrestled with the role of a writer in the nation’s capitol at a time of war and peace. They benefited from, wrestled with, and in some cases, suffered under the federal bureaucracy. These are very Washingtonian experiences. I am honored to have been able to contribute to the repository of poetic DNA of place which is Beltway Poetry Quarterly. In no small way I consider it the repaying of a debt.

I recognize my own work is enriched by a knowledge of place. For me this was best expressed by Pablo Neruda in his poem “We Are Many,” where he wrote of how the poet should “speak, not of self, but of geography.” Geography, in this sense, is more than just what now physically exists. It includes what came before, what has been built up to sustain us now. It is the architecture that holds and the lives and stories of those who came before. And in a place which most of the world thinks of as politicians, two buildings and a few monuments to the dead, a sense of place matters even more. We must pay attention to writers to these matters because our work does not exist in isolation. Otherwise we deny ourselves the comforting lineage our lives reside in here in Washington. There were those who came before you. They walked these streets and wrestled with many of the same concerns we do.

We gain this sense of literary geography by learning the stories, by reading them and listening to them and by asking questions of those who came before us. We learn by paying attention and remaining curious. In my own experience of living and writing in the Washington area I have been helped immensely by the existence of this journal. The truth is Beltway Poetry Quarterly has done more to help me knit together a sense of place than any other publication I know of in the Washington area. I feel grounded to this place because of this publication. I have a sense of the flowering community of poets because of this publication. I know the deep roots of this community of writers because of this publication. I have an expanded understanding of the geographic lineage I am in, as a writer who lives in this area, because of this publication. That is to say I know my forebears because of Beltway Poetry Quarterly. It is one thing to be told to pay attention to your surroundings as a writer but another thing entirely to find the resources to ground one self in Washington’s writerly past.”

From the Editor:
Dan Vera is the only person in Beltway Poetry‘s ten years to have guest-edited a literary history issue. His 2009 special issue celebrating US Poets Laureate is a terrific contribution to the journal. Dan has been instrumental in the Beltway Poetry‘s efforts since he moved to the area, generous in his willingness to brainstorm, to steer me into new areas, and especially to encourage Beltway‘s commitment to celebrating literary history. In addition to editing the Poets Laureate issue, he wrote a terrific essay on the experiences of four Laureates in particular (Joseph Auslander, William Carlos Williams, James Dickey, and Maxine Kumin), was a featured author in Winter 2006, and has contributed to several special issues: the Evolving City issue, guest edited by Teri Ellen Cross, the Split This Rock Issue, guest edited by Regie Cabico, and the Forebears Issue. For the latter, he and I worked on a project over a two-year span, researched and photographing houses of writers that still stand in DC. We were able to document an incredible range of DC Author’s Houses, from boarding houses of Elizabeth Bishop and Zora Neale Hurston, to the apartment buildings of Ambrose Bierce and Ed Cox, from the childhood homes of John Dos Passos and Gwendolyn Bennett, to the fertile sites of salons hosted in the homes of Georgia Douglas Johnson and May Miller. Dan’s intellectual curiosity is an inspiration to be around. His input on the journal has been invaluable to me, as has his friendship.

 
REFLEX

I whispered to myself; just lie quietly.
Patience now flowers into death.
—Miklós Radnóti

Miklós, they could not silence you
in an earthen grave.
We found you and the tiny book
inside the lining of your coat.

I think of you on days like this
when the light is gray
and my mind is jumbled
with what matters least.

You are standing there
exhausted
stealing moments in the dark
to write
of the fullness of the moon
of the fruitless orchards
of where and how your body will finally rest.

Did you know your words would return
to prove the tireless faith,
of what commands the hand
to leave a record of what matters most
and lives on beyond remains?

 

Kathy Keler, "Call and Answer," 2009, acrylic and alkyd on wood, 9" x 6"

Kathy Keler, “Call and Answer,” 2009, acrylic and alkyd on wood, 9″ x 6″

ARTIFACT

I was always confused by the photos
of my grandmother in Cuba.

In those pictures she looked older
then we knew her alive and among us.

I have seen the earliest one
when she was young and arresting.

In a white dress she sits on an oil-drum
with wild orchids in her hands.

She is as beautiful to the eye
as she would ever be allowed to be.

But in every other photo
she is weighted with the sadness

of a woman who was never asked,
who was never expected to know,

who always resided at the margins of men.

 

JUDICIAL TEMPERAMENT

Thurgood whispers in Sonia’s ears

You know they said the same things about me?
Master two languages, graduate at the top
They still sneer and drawl
about how ‘qualified’ you are.”

Si, asi siempre es. she sighs.

The only quality the senators want is a mirror on the bench.

I await the sounds of Sotomayor
Rolling her Rs through oral arguments
Putting the Latin tenses in all the right places
Ruffling the feathers of the old birds
who learned their pronunciation second hand.

Inter rusticos
In forma pauperis
In flagrante delicto.

 

 

 

Dan Vera is the co-editor of the anthology Imaniman: Poets Writing in the Anzaldúan Borderlands (Aunt Lute Books, 2016), and author of two poetry collections: Speaking Wiri Wiri (Red Hen Press, 2013), and The Space Between Our Danger and Delight (Beothuk Books, 2008). A CantoMundo and Macondo writing fellow, he’s the winner of the Oscar Wilde Award for Poetry and the Letras Latinas/Red Hen Poetry Prize. He’s received grants and fellowships from the DC Commission of the Arts & Humanities, the Humanities Council of Washington, DC, the Ragdale Foundation, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. His poetry has been featured in college and university curricula and included in such anthologies as Ghost Fishing: An Eco-Justice Anthology, Queer South, Divining Divas, and Full Moon On K Street: Poems About Washington, DC. He is the former Board Chair for Split This Rock, and co-creator of the literary history website, DC Writers' Homes. For more visit http://www.danvera.com. To read more by Dan Vera: Dan Vera: Winter 2006; Dan Vera: Evolving City Issue; Dan Vera: Split This Rock Issue; Dan Vera's Introduction to the US Poets Laureate Issue,Fall 2009; Dan Vera: Langston Hughes Tribute Issue; Dan Vera: Floricanto Issue.