A hallmark of Tim Seibles’ poetry is its sense of play. The humor, mischief, delight, and pleasure that run through his poems perform the work of reminding us why it is wonderful to be human beings alive in this world, even as they acknowledge the challenges we face. This prompt invites you write a poem that teases, flirts, tells a joke or laughs out loud — a poem that makes you smile as you write it and makes your reader smile, too. Don’t be afraid to be the class clown!

Read more in this issue: Interview | Critical Essay | Poems

by Tim Seibles 

It was already on when you came in:

a two-lane road, the car’s high beams
blaming the dark.  In the rearview mirror,
the downtown of a city—familiar, but not.

Because you have found yourself
cast in the world without your consent,

you think you must be something
like other people—like the dude
two rows back with his face lit by a phone

or maybe like the star    behind the wheel:
one eye swollen, the other tight in a squint. 

You want to know what happened,
what’s happening and where the road
will go and when and soon

she’s standing outside a 7-11
filling up her dusty, dark-blue Mustang.

Early sun steams the back window.
Maybe she drove all night—

her voice: part sorrow, part wind
under the overhang.  Why didn’t I  

see it before, she asks aloud
for everyone, flexing the engine,

ready to go.
This is the story of what

happens when what
has seemed one way

turns out to be another way:
like a priest.

Even when the day is sprung,
and you wake up trapped
in everything, you want this face

on screen: cool, without a flinch.

Even the way she steers
is a declaration—you want to drive
like that. 

You could drive like that:

like somebody in charge,
somebody who “knows the deal.”

On the passenger seat,
half-stashed in her scarf, a .38.

Your mind moves to revenge: how

your circumstances    just don’t
make any sense.  You want

to know who made it this way

and one chance to make them
back down and beg: the reversal,

sizzling with drama and music
that means you were right

 all along.  That’s why you

keep watching—like everyone else
holding their sodas in the dark.

She could be a friend,
A nice person who deserves

some goddam justice.  You
can tell she’d like another life:

without so many
hard decisions adding up

to only one.  Maybe

you really are the character
other people think you are,   

even though they can’t hear
what’s playing in your head.

After the movie, you walk
back into the mall wondering

if you could do what
she did.  That was  

pretty good, you mutter
with no one nearby  

 and light all over your face.                                                 

Poem copyright 2022 by Tim Seibles. All rights reserved.

See more poems from Tim Seibles debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: “The Last Black Cargo Blues Villanelle,” and“Naive.”  

Read more in this issue: Interview | Critical Essay | Writing Prompt

by Tim Seibles

                                          I love you but I don’t know you  
                                                          –Mennonite Woman

Sometimes somebody says something
and a lost piece of your life comes back:
When I was seven, I would walk home
with Dereck DeLarge, my arm

slung over his skinny shoulders,
autumn sun buffing our lunch boxes.
So easy, that gesture, so light—
the kind of love that lands like a leaf.

I’m trying to talk about
innocence: two black boys                                                                                     
whose snaggle-toothed grins
held a thousand giggles. 

Remember?  Remember
wanting to play
every minute, as if that
was why we were born?

Those hands that bring us crying
into the world, that first
hold us    must be like wings,
like gills. Though this place

is nothing like where we’d been,
we arrive almost blind, astonished
as if to Mardis Gras in full swing.
There must be a time

when a child’s heart builds
a chocolate sunflower—
the air, invisible velvet
touching his face.

I remember an inchworm
walking the back of my hand,
the way the green body bowed.
I tried to keep it with me all day. 

The change    must’ve come
slowly—the way insects go
silent with the autumn chill.
I want to understand

how each day ice grows
and thins beneath our feet:
This itching fury that holds me
now—this knowing

the soft welcome
that once lived inside me
was somehow sent away,
how I talk myself back

into all the regular disguises
but still walk these
American streets
believing in the weather

of the unruined heart.
Love: a secret handshake,
a password I just can’t recall.
My friends—their eyes

cornered by crow’s feet—
keep looking for a kinder
city    though they don’t
want to seem naïve.

When was the last time
you wrapped your arm
around someone’s shoulder
and walked him home?

Poem copyright 2022 by Tim Seibles. All rights reserved.

See more poems from Tim Seibles debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: Movie” and “The Last Black Cargo Blues Villanelle.”

Read more in this issue: Interview | Critical Essay | Writing Prompt

by Tim Seibles
                                                   with Cudjo Lewis

Can’t unnerstand how we fit in dis scene
The day fall down like a man wit no bones
Don’t look like dis the dream I tried ta dream

Not sure what make dem white eyes so mean
Spent most’a my life tryin not ta cry alone
Can’t hardly see how I fit in dis scene

Pockets so empty even springtime ain’t green
Look like my best chance went off on its own
‘Cause dis ain’t the dream I been tryin’ ta dream

I bet dis the saddest place I ever seen
Me and my heart prolly destined ta roam
How’d I get caught up in dis scheme?

Guess some hammer done fell on my dream
You know how it go when your good luck get gone
Who want dis place ta be like it be?

You hear what I say    but dat ain’t what I mean
Been grindin so long my song scrape like a moan
Gotta get myself outta dis scheme

They say when I die leas’ my soul be clean
Maybe they think my hard head turnt ta stone
‘Cause dat ain’t the dream I been tryin’ ta dream

Dis country roll on like a floodwater stream
Nothin much left’a my body but bone

Look like I’m fit’n’ta die in dis scene
But sher ain’t the way it was s’posed ta be


     Note: Zora Neale Hurston’s recently recovered book, Barracoon, features a series of
              interviews with Cudjo Lewis (born Kossola Oluale in West Africa) in which he
              describes his life before and after being captured and shipped to the
              American South to be made a slave.



Poem copyright 2022 by Tim Seibles. All rights reserved.

See more poems from Tim Seibles debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: Movie,”  and “Naive.”


Read more in this issue: Interview | Critical Essay | Writing Prompt

by Amanda Johnston

for Shamika Wilson, mother of Draylon Mason

and one day the sky opens and a voice says now and after decades of church on sunday bible study on wednesday grace and faith over every meal and heads bowed you look up and scream


and it is done the hand that hovers eternally points its long finger and touches the body and the armor wrapped with faith wrapped with prayer wrapped in the blood now soaked in loss and grieving goes quiet so quiet you could fool yourself into thinking it is all a dream

Poem copyright 2022 by Amanda Johnston. All rights reserved.

See more poems from Amanda Johnston debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: It Begins,”  “Two Americas,” and “How Do I Explain.

Read more in this issue: Interview | Critical Essay | Writing Prompt

by Amanda Johnston

A friend says online shopping is great!
You come home and there are packages
waiting for you like little gifts.
You should do it.
You deserve it.
It’s so much fun!

My daughter is afraid to open the door.
I check the front yard for tripwire, mumble
a little prayer– take me, take me.

Poem copyright 2022 by Amanda Johnston. All rights reserved.

See more poems from Amanda Johnston debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: It Begins,”  “untitled,” and “How Do I Explain”

Read more in this issue: Interview | Critical Essay | Writing Prompt

by Amanda Johnston

            March 2, 2018, the first package bomb detonates in Pflugerville, Texas

What does a bomb sound like when everything is exploding?

The coffee pot drips into mourning with the eerie buzz

of cars on the verge of collision. The world and its infinite

brink of life and breath, in and out, small bursts of the day-to-day.

And then a loud note cuts through a quiet street

announcing a terror, that has always been—is—

awake and hungry.  

Poem copyright 2022 by Amanda Johnston. All rights reserved.

See more poems from Amanda Johnston debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: Two Americas,”  and “untitled,”  and “How Do I Explain.”

Read more in this issue: Interview | Critical Essay | Writing Prompt

By Laura Vrana, PhD


Over the recent holidays, I found myself struck by a poet-scholar’s query on what many of us — in a tone suffused with affection and/or disdainful disregard — dub “Poetry twitter.” While compiling a list of forms invented by Black poets, she found herself centering products of male writers, so she was seeking more invented by women. Enthusiastic replies poured in, citing (among others): Ruth Ellen Kocher’s “gigan,” Tara Betts’s “4-1-1,” Allison’s Joseph’s “sweetelle,” Nicole Sealey’s “obverse,” and Ashley Lumpkin’s “disciple.” Too, poets and scholars used this thread to engage generatively about how to define an invented form, suggesting Claudia Rankine’s “American lyric,” or Patricia Smith’s “triple sestina,” or works “undoing traditional forms” like Tiana Clark’s “broken sestinas,” could qualify. I wondered: what, and who, do those of us who research and teach Black poetics include and foreground when considering innovation?

This query was particularly on my mind since I was about to begin writing a piece on Amanda Johnston, so I was struck when Johnston herself chimed in on this very back-and-forth unobtrusively mentioning her “genesis”. She describes the form as “comprised of seven poems. Five individual poems create a sixth prose poem, and italicized words create the final seventh poem when read independently as a visible erasure.” Johnston’s tone, putting herself forth for consideration yet doing so quietly and briefly, encapsulates the simultaneous humility and well-warranted braggadocio with which Black women poets today innovatively “make poetic culture in their own images” (Leonard 27). I mean “braggadocio” not as a critique. Instead, I hope it and this piece will celebrate Johnston, even as I suggest that innovative precursors paved the way for her triumphs. Johnston recognizes this lineage; readers should also situate her work against this backdrop to fully understand her contributions to contemporary African American poetics.

One of Johnston’s most vital ancestors came up recurrently in that thread: Gwendolyn Brooks. One scholar posited that Brooks’s “sonnet-ballad” and “anniad” are invented forms; others highlighted that Terrance Hayes’s “golden shovel” could never have emerged without Brooks. In these meditations, I want to argue the same of Johnston: a boldly innovative versifier herself whose works come into sharper relief when seen as partially descended from Brooks.

Like Brooks, Johnston is equally adept on page and stage. She has won honors for slam and performance work in venues like the Nuyorican Poets Café and has published in journals like Callaloo and Poetry, along with two chapbooks (Guap and Lock and Key) and her full-length collection Another Way To Say Enter. Many “slammers” like Johnston engage in textual innovation encouraged in part by their training in MFA programs: Johnston earned her degree at the University of Southern Maine. Yet these innovations are equally indebted to Brooks’s model of poetic invention. In addition, she and Brooks share extraordinary accomplishments as poets and tireless advocates for their peers. Johnston devotes herself to opening doors for Black authors: she has served as Board President of Cave Canem, co-founded the reading series / social media campaign #BlackPoetsSpeakOut, and founded Torch Literary Arts to promote Black women’s writing. Through these labors, Johnston, like her foremother, links poetry to social change.

More should be said about Johnston’s labors on behalf of Black writers as well as about her performance work. But I will focus here on her written texts, particularly how they derive inspiration from Brooks in treating centrally the variegated subject of Black motherhood. Countless Black poets have penned riffs on their foremother generally and especially on her works on this topic (including Robin Coste Lewis’s “the mothers”). However, Johnston’s entire oeuvre centers motherhood in modes topically and formally inspired by Brooks’s “the mother” (1945), locating her as a modern poet of Black motherhood. Johnston’s body of work addresses how the experience of shepherding a young life into and through a world that subjects Black children to additional forms of precarity yields internal conflict and heightened raging at social (in)justices.

Her speaker(s) return(s) repeatedly to dwelling on her/their mother(s). The ars poetica “With Apologies to the Poem” from Lock & Key, for instance, apostrophizes her verse with sardonic audacity a lá Brooks (or her foremother domestic poet extraordinaire Lucille Clifton). It opens: “you complicated flutter of sound / broken and bent meaning / all the best,” then continues in ironically self-aggrandizing self-effacement: “I can’t // connect the sky or birds / to my mother // I tried // as you did” (8). These lines via paralipsis do connect “sky” and “birds” to the speaker’s “mother,” insinuating that the poet-speaker finds this character, and, I argue, this theme meaningfully unavoidable.

On top of this returning to one’s own mother, Johnston’s full-length Another Way to Say Enter reflects a pervasive preoccupation with the speaker(s) as mother. Numerous poems overtly address being a mother, from the haunting narrative in “When My Daughter Wasn’t Assaulted,” to “What We Dare Not Say” positing that “unconditional / motherhood / could be driving / your young into the sea” (27). Even in poems not specifically addressing motherhood, images like describing the domestic task of peeling potatoes through a simile equating the vegetables to “a newborn baby’s head” (23) raise the specter of this role.

I will unpack just two of these motherhood poems: “My Beloved Be Loved,” and “We Named You Mercy.” The former revises Lock & Key’s “My Beloveds” and appears in Enter with the epigraph “after Toni Morrison,” situating it as allusion to Morrison’s novel and embracing Morrison’s influence on her representions of Black motherhood. This poem stunningly lyricizes Sethe’s decision to perform matricide, inhabiting this mother’s consciousness and rendering her supposedly monstrous choice explicable in just six couplets. But its treatment of the so-called choices involved in Black motherhood also has roots in Brooks’s “the mother,” especially in how skillfully Johnston extracts maximal ironic effect and societal commentary from small-scale devices like punctuation and diction.

For instance, Johnston expands Brooks’s devotion to exploring exactly what the action of “love” — a verb she features prominently thrice in the anaphoric, haunting final stanza of “the mother” — means to Black mothers. To do so, she excludes the comma that should appear for clarity in her title between the vocative “My Beloved” and the imperative. This absence (like Brooks’s brilliant double-edged meanings of “in my deliberateness I was not deliberate”) provokes readers to recall that the former, often-saccharine endearment “Beloved,” is etymologically equivalent to the latter passive construction, “Be Loved” and that true maternal love involves action, not mere words. This immediate juxtaposition also highlights that white supremacy attempts to leave Black mothers powerless. But against such passivity, the piece centers verbs: “I grab,” “I know,” and “I will hand.” Thus, the poem emphasizes that Black motherhood always centers maternal care enacted in action — even if that mandates matricide or abortion, and even if others view these women warranting confinement in the poem’s “cage[s].”

Johnston’s “We Named You Mercy” extends this Brooks-inspired work of depicting mothering complexly via minute, deliberate formal details. “Mercy” is written “after Gwendolyn Brooks” and transports the “mother,” discussing abortion into our century. Despite the homage, a stark contrast differentiates Brooks’s piece from Johnston’s. Readers can infer that Brooks’s 1945 speaker likely obtained the abortion(s) before and without revealing her pregnancy/ies to others, to retain some modicum of control, perhaps thanks to physical or socioeconomic necessity that others might devalue. Johnston’s speaker instead induced abortion out of medical necessity; it remains unclear if only the child’s health or also the speaker’s was imperiled. In addition, this would-be mother inhabits different domestic circumstances and shares the experience with a partner: clearly, they both longed for and “love[d]” this unborn and so only chose abortion to express “cold mercy.” In light of these conditions, Johnston’s speaker’s emotions become even more double-edged than those of the speaker of Brooks’s poem. Both poets depict the children in ghostly terms, but Johnston tonally describes the child in beautiful natural imagery and alliteration, its “toes” “small petals,” its “closed eyes” “pulps of possibility” (5).

Juxtaposing her work with Brooks’s emphasizes that Black women may, regardless of circumstances, view abortion as hardly wholly their choice and as a result experience conflicting emotions. That Brooks’s speaker endures her loss in silence (except the outlet of this poem) becomes pronounced in her mournful final repetition of the singular first-person: “I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I loved you / All.” While Johnston’s speaker has recourse to first-person plural, society nonetheless still veritably forbids speaking publicly about miscarriage, medically-induced abortion, and concomitant mourning; this remains somewhat true even if others beyond one’s domestic orbit knew of the pregnancy, as may be the case for Johnston’s speaker. Such taboos make it difficult for Black women to process guilt, shame, or self-doubt.

Yet “We Named You Mercy” violates these taboos in content and via aesthetics used. Johnston’s tools for representing her speaker’s sense of self-blame and culpability mirror Brooks’s: both center compound neologisms and pose unanswerable rhetorical questions. Johnston’s neologisms like Brooks’s create an overall indeterminate mood. Her first-person speaker declares: “I saw your face once and, yes, I did / kiss your cheeks and cry for your sweet not- / quite nose, not-quite lips” (5). Brooks’s “sucking-thumb” and “gobbling mother-eye” condense memorably the haunting experience of envisioning the unlived lives of (a) child(ren) aborted; Johnston’s adjectival “would-be” and “not-quite” and nouns “almost-children” and “half-wing” operate in parallel to summon the children into pseudo-embodied form. Like those ghostly phantasms, these linguistic neologisms might seem mere fabrications to those around the speaker; this liminality parallels how others denying her anguish validity might increase its keen ache. Johnston’s speaker also blames herself in the same form as does Brooks—unanswered interrogatives. “the mother” poses two haunting questions: “Though why should I whine, / Whine that the crime was other than mine?” and “oh, what shall I say, how is the truth to be said?” Johnston expands this to five. Her speaker queries early on: “Would I get / another chance to see you if I held the knife? Cold, the sterile / the taker’s tools” (5). Near poem’s end, these questions accumulate in an accelerating, frenetic compilation: “Did you see me? The one with / empty arms stretching to embrace a / a [sic] silhouette of you? … / Or / did I make that up to keep you with / me a little longer? Did you stay until the no / I set upon your body untangled itself from sprigs of hair / and released you from the softness that tethered you to the / love in our cold mercy?” (5). In these rapid-fire queries, the speaker questions her complicity and sanity.

She also blames herself when she imbues speech with the capability to enact the abortion, describing it as a performative utterance, the “no / I set upon your body.” Thus the “mercy” extended feels tepidly “cold” indeed, directed at the unborn fetus and thereby denied the mother herself. It is fitting that Johnston also implicitly evokes Morrison here: her final image of “almost milk that did not swell, but was light as air” (16) recalls Sethe’s last days at Sweet Home, when her “swollen” breasts tortuously subject her to abuse by white enslavers and serve as material reminder of the child sent ahead whom she is desperate to follow. Johnston’s poetic invocation of milk-laden breasts are an absent presence, “airy,” yet real — like that “ghost” of possibility provoked by holding the lifeless child.

Too, Morrison often ruminates on “mercy” ideologically. Her A Mercy (2008) describes a mother begging a white man whom she judges likely to treat her daughter humanely to “take” her into enslavement, an attempt to protect her from their present master’s rapacious sexual abuse. To her, his accepting “was not a miracle. Bestowed by God. It was a mercy. Offered by a human” (195). Farah Jasmine Griffin glosses this passage:

For the mother, the white man offers a gift of mercy, but is the mercy an act granted to the slave child by the man Vaark, or one granted to the white man to whom she is given? Is the act of mercy his ability to see Florens as a child and not only a piece of property over whom he has power? Or is it God’s mercy that the enslaved mother sees Vaark as a human being who might do right by her child and not as a monster who would cause her great harm? All she knows of white men would lead her to see them, to believe them, to be monstrous and evil. Yet, she sees this one as a human being, capable of kindness (28).

We might similarly ask in Johnston’s poem: who requests mercy — child, mother, father, poet? — of whom — child, mother, father, poet, readers? If even trading in humans can seem merciful depending on the relative situation, then (Johnston suggests) the choice to prioritize an unborn child’s quality of life over the mother’s well-being qualifies, too, as an act of mercy. The unborn “Mercy” embodies such grace to her mother — Griffin also asks: “Who can be more deserving of mercy than a child” (29) — even as this speaker serves the God-like role of extending her offspring mercy. The body of the poem only incorporates its key word “mercy” once: in the phrase “our cold mercy” that thus carries tragically key dual meaning. In context sans capitalization, it primarily describes the parents’ tortured decision. But read in light of the title, this phrase also evokes corporeally encountering the corpse of the child.

As parallels between these two poems evince, tortuous cycles persist for twenty-first-century Black mothers denied equal access to resources and exposed disproportionately to environmental and institutional hazards that make them and their children precariously vulnerable to negative health outcomes. “We Named You Mercy” is not only a potent document of personal trauma. It is also a rallying cry to rectify such circumstances, or at least to grant Black women platforms to express losses and to advocate implicitly for reproductive justice.

For the ability to hold the child, to write this verse, and to lyrically name the child does proffer something to this despondent speaker. That the name is “Mercy,” however, ultimately encapsulates the tragedy of the loss and the parents’ feelings. Johnston’s speaker experiences the “cold” comfort of sharing her burden with a partner and writing in a somewhat more accepting era. Yet it is undeniable that Brooks’s formal and thematic innovations, as well as her meditations on this under-discussed facet of Black motherhood made a pathway for Johnston to follow in her own work.

Before closing, it seems worth thinking about the choice on the part of this poet of motherhood to dub her created form the “genesis.” This audaciously positions her as fertile and god-like, authoring creation and the text representing it. This mirrors Nikki Giovanni’s tone in “Ego Tripping (there may be a reason why)” when she declares: “I turned myself into myself and was jesus.” Both poets make Black women, so often societally abjected, godly. And rightly so, for Johnston’s invented genesis is itself a wildly creative hybrid form, demonstrating her formidable talents and demanding fresh reading strategies. She formats the five separate pieces, spread across multiple pages, as individual columns for independent reading. But they also together, read left-to-right and up-to-down across the columnar divisions, create a sixth longer poem. Finally, she invents a new sub-genre, the “visible erasure,” by asking readers to identify the seventh poem hidden in plain sight. Each columnar poem contains italicized phrases; assembling these left to right across the two-page spread comprises a seventh poem. But locating this invisible (yet hyper-visible) seventh poem asks readers to do the impossible: ignore the roman typeface text they have already read. Those words haunt this seventh piece interpretatively. Reading such work — let alone innovating such a form and writing effectively therein — certainly requires and displays capacious, generative poetic thinking.

Thus, Black women poets (Johnston among them) indubitably deserve treatment as creators of twentieth- and twenty-first-century American verse. That Twitter thread ultimately helped me continue dwelling on key broader matters in twenty-first-century African American poetics. Many assert that now that Patricia Smith won the Pulitzer and “slammers” (with other types of Black poets long held in abeyance by the academy and literary establishment) are being increasingly recognized, these poets now exercise full freedom. Although “gatekeepers” initially “pushed” slam and its “artists to the margins or jettisoned it” (Johnson and Blacksher 170), such institutions have begun to “recognize the literary merits of slam” and “bring slam and spoken word poets” into their legitimizing spaces (Johnson Killing 2). Keith Leonard recently asserted that twenty-first-century Black poets can wholly “create as they please” (29). Amanda Johnston’s career gives me (qualified) hope that he is correct, or soon could be. For she is to some degree recognized by the establishment on stage and page, and collectives like Cave Canem and the Affrilachian Poets help her reach broader audiences and craft her own platforms.

However, reading her as poet of Black motherhood and emphasizing her innovation remains in order. As Brooks’s brilliance is kept at the fore through the tireless labors propagated by the Furious Flower conferences and center, among other efforts, so I am delighted to have this opportunity to bring Johnston’s work before readers and position her as a modern daughter of Gwendolyn Brooks in these pages, where we with the writers tend and foster African American poetry.


Works Cited

Johnson, Javon. Killing Poetry: Blackness and the Making of Slam and Spoken Word Communities. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2017. Print.

— and Anthony Blacksher. “Give Me Poems and Give Me Death On the End of Slam (?).” The Cambridge Companion to Twenty-First-Century American Poetry. Ed. Timothy Yu. New York: Cambridge UP, 2021. 169–79. Print.

Griffin, Farah Jasmine. Read Until You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature. New York: Norton, 2021. Print.

Johnston, Amanda. “About.” Amanda Johnston. https://www.amandajohnston.com/about. Web. Accessed 1 Feb. 2022. Electronic.

Leonard, Keith. “New Black Aesthetics: Post-Civil Rights African American Poetry.” The Cambridge Companion to Twenty-First-Century American Poetry. Ed. Timothy Yu. New York: Cambridge UP, 2021. 17–30. Print.

@nadia870. “Hey poetry Twitter, what forms do you know of that were invented by Black women poets? As I begin forming a list of forms created by African American poets, I realize that none of the folks I’ve found so far are women. Please help!” Twitter, 29 Dec. 2021, 10:51 a.m., https://twitter.com/nadia870/status/1476234444625358851.

Read more in this issue: Interview | Poems | Writing Prompt

Vrana headshot

Laura Vrana is Assistant Professor of English and African American Studies at the University of South Alabama and a proud alumna of Penn State, where she earned her Ph.D. in English. She researches 20th-century and contemporary Black poetics, and her publications have appeared or are forthcoming in outlets including MELUS, Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, College Literature, and Obsidian and the edited collections Some Other Blues: New Perspectives on Amiri Baraka, Revisiting the Elegy in the Black Lives Matter Era, and two volumes of the Cambridge African American Literature in Transition series.



Amanda Johnston is the creator of the genesis — a poetic form comprised of seven poems. Five individual poems in adjoining columns create a sixth poem when read from left to right. Each individual poem also contains italicized words/lines which create the final seventh poem when read independently. The poem must move chronologically through time.

Johnston remixes extant poetic forms such as erasures and the contrapuntal to create the genesis. The challenge: Write a genesis OR mix two forms together to create a new form.

Read more in this issue: Interview | Critical Essay | Poems

by Amanda Johnston

A coworker sees me crying at the copier. I don’t know how to explain, so I don’t. She asks if I like poetry and says there is a poet I should check out named Maya Ange –

I go deaf and close my eyes relying on the machine in front of me to continue its business
and hold me up with the flow of industry and all that shows I have value.

A boy, this time, opened a box in his kitchen with his mother.
A world stops. The machine goes on.


Poem copyright 2022 by Amanda Johnston. All rights reserved.

See more poems from Amanda Johnston debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: It Begins,”  “Two Americas,” and untitled.”

Read more in this issue: Interview | Critical Essay | Writing Prompt