Image by Thanh Long
This volume of Tell Me Like You Mean It marks its fifth year. Whenever a half-decade mark is reached, I do feel the impulse to reflect on the past. In 2017, Tell Me Like You Mean It was edited by Melody Paloma and Mikaila Hanman Siegersma. From 2018–2019, Melody edited alone until 2020, when Susie Anderson took the reins. This year, in 2021, I have been trusted with the series. It seems significant to note that both Susie and I were published in volume 2, the necessary connection there.
The poem I wrote for Tell Me Like You Mean It in 2018 was my second publication. I was 20, struggling to finish university, and hiding from my friends. I was grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the volume. When Melody approached me, I was just beginning to centre my life around poetry – I wanted to write it, write about it, read it, discuss it, teach it. At 20, that was my dream. I thought that would always be my life. Now, I am a university graduate, I am learning to hide less, and I am struggling to reconcile with the idea of a career in poetry. I would not say I am a poet anymore. Writing poetry, now, is an afterthought. I would say this is not a bad thing. In fact, I would say it is a very good thing for me to leave my ambitions in the anxious place.
Still, I am invested in the poets writing on this continent. Every year while reading the series, I feel grateful to recognise the names of my peers. I am grateful now, to have been trusted to curate and edit this volume.
I don’t want to say anything grand about the poets featured here. I don’t believe that grandeur needs to be showered at their feet to emphasise their value. The poets in this issue may very well be ushering in an unprecedented era of poetry. They are certainly capable. This is not what makes their work valuable.
Luke Patterson: Double Brick Dream
Munira Tabassum Ahmed: Somewhere Different
Taonga Sendama: Halitosis
Eric Jiang: Gilly G
Wen-Juenn Lee: for sylvie & the moonee ponds creek
Anneliz Erese: for desire
Donnalyn Xu: out of solace
Janiru Liyanage: No one can love the world except God
Brieanna Collard: Mother
Hasib Hourani: sealed tight for safety
Brian Obiri-Asare: scattered in colour
Christy Tan: the infinity of the other
Coco Huang: Five sketches in ink
Leila Doneo Baptist: Dictation Poem One: Profanity Filter
Adalya Nash Hussein: money for two (I’m in the one percent)
Hassan Kalam Abul: Signed, Ready for Duty in Reservoir
Vidya Rajan: Knock knock, who’s there? Your mum
Victor Chrisnaa Senthinathan: Spiders
Kartanya Maynard: Tree
Hannah Wu: Impressions
The series is curated without theme, but many poets wrote back to me to ask for a prompt. I thought of Kaveh Akbar’s interview in The Adroit Journal, when he said, ‘Even if it’s a poem about a very dark thing, there’s still delight in language to be offered.’ Echoing that ethos, I asked poets to write something that made them joyful. Whether or not the subject matter was difficult, there is still joy to be found in writing the poem, the delight in language to be offered. That is what I searched for. Many of these poems work in the colloquial register – lowercase is prevalent, for example, and is by and large a dominant connective technique between poets who may otherwise have little in common. Still, these poems are rigorously crafted in service of joy. Joy is no casual, uncomplicated thing.
This long into a project, it is worth re-examining the intentions of the project. ‘Tell Me Like You Mean It’ is a directive. For my money, the most moving poems are the ones where I can read their importance to the writer. I do not want to read poems deemed by poets to have ‘literary merit’. I am tired of brilliance without substance or principle. I am tired of cleanness and prestige. I want honest expression, however clumsy. Once again, I am thinking of the political importance of the emotional record. Poetry is about feelings. It is threatening because it connects us to one another when we may otherwise be alienated.
I hope, if nothing else, that the poetry in this volume offers connection to those who may be reading.
I’d like to take this opportunity, now, to thank the designer, Thanh Long, for their generous offering, and the gentleness with which they approached this project and my frantic emails. Thank you. I’d like, also, to thank my dear friend, Tracy Chen, whose precise and unpretentious thinking has informed my intentions towards this volume, and whose steady, supportive presence has seen me through its development. Thank you. And thank you to every poet who said yes. I am very grateful to be among such beautiful company.
Image by Thanh Long