“Enough!: Poems of Resistance and Protest” edited by Claire Millikin and Agnes Bushell; Littoral Books, Portland, Maine, 2020; 126 pages, paperback, $20.

“Enough!: Poems of Resistance and Protest”

This year, 2020, has been maybe the most wearing, tearing time many of us here in the confines of America have ever experienced. The main part of the wear and tear, as with practically everything that happens, is mental. And whether you realize it nor not, what’s suffering the principal affliction is what Edgar Allan Poe called your Moral Sense. Your sense of right and wrong.

Accordingly, Littoral Books’ “Enough!: Poems of Resistance and Protest” is mainly about this summer’s swell of moral outrage about the killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Daniel Prude, (add further names here), as well as the general injustice practiced on all kinds of routinely vilified minorities. Its main emotions, expressed by several dozen poets from Maine, involve anger, confusion, and to some extent desperation about widespread racial injustice. The collection is an effort to make some sense out of this outrage, as a way of pushing back against, and possibly leading to ways of changing, the situation.

Some of the poems just tell you straight on what’s making the poets angry, often with a stern dose of moral instruction for the reader. This kind of poetry Poe called “didactic”; it seeks to state the moral truth (as the poet sees it) directly to the reader’s intellect. “I write this poem / to wake you up”, says Reza Jalali’s “I Wrote This Poem for You,” mincing no words about his intent. Similarly, Maya Williams plainly states:

I want to write a poem to every Black and Brown fem with earbuds in their ears,

because all day in our shoes is a struggle for us, all days trying

to stay alive is a struggle for us, and we still wake up to walk up

and down, or run up and run down, Congress St anyway.

Some of this has a defiant, even militant feel. Penobscot elder Donna Loring’s preamble, “We Are the First People and the First Nations of This Country,” is a chant building toward the line: “The First People wait for retribution.” Other participants, especially the (presumably) white poets, feel a strong sense of moral duty, but are at a loss for what to do: “My soul is in great need” concludes Doug Rawlings’ “Talking White Man Privileged Blues Part I”. Similarly, Carol Bachnofer observes: “It seems I don’t know any prayers” in her entry “We’ve been too long asleep in the graveyards of our history.” Amid such variations, the didactic message is about the same throughout the book.

Other poems aim less for the intellect and more for the soul, to use Poe’s terms. Poems such as Leonore Hildebrandt’s emotionally incisive “Whose Order?” is an evocation, through a well-knit, patterned repetition of lines, of the tangled moral rot that led to the federal attack on the protesters in Lafayette Square in June. The care and precision with which Hildebrandt treats this material is characteristic of all her poetry, including a couple of others in this collection; to me at least, her poems cast the most beautiful lights on the material of this book. “When soldiers rush to harass and incite, / the nation’s windows go dark.”

Also somberly effective is editor Claire Millikin’s long rumination, “Elegy for George Floyd,” and several poems by Lisa Panepinto offer her characteristically evocative concision, including the poem “enough.” There isn’t space to name all the contributing poets, but UMO instructor Kathleen Ellis, UMA professor Ellen Taylor and Cafe Review editor Steve Luttrell all pitch in memorably. A battery of black and white photos by Nicholas Gervin illustrates the situation on the streets of Portland.

How this is all going to turn out, we don’t know, and that’s part of the trouble. What we do know from this collection is that the anger and anxiety many of us, most of us are feeling right now, is shared. So that’s some light in a distinctly Poe-like moral darkness.

“Enough!” is available through Littoral Books’ website and local book stores.

Off Radar takes note of poetry and books with Maine connections the first and third Thursdays of each month. Dana Wilde is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Contact him at [email protected].

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