Series Curator: Jonathan Cardew
June Selector: Taylor Byas
What’s rare, what’s bright, what’s new?
This is what we ask a new writer every month in search of the best hybrid, poetry, and flash writing from the previous month. In this edition, we catch up with Taylor Byas!
With a spotlight on Black authors, Taylor gives us a little selection of her favorite writing from July 2020:
These pieces have been sticking with me like that toothpaste that gucks to the bottom of the sink. I distinctly remember first reading these pieces and feeling so lucky to share space with these writers. I’m blown away by these writers’ ability to still render the world in technicolor, to fashion a fire extinguisher out of their words and hold it up to the world that burns outside of our windows.
“Shots in the Dark” by Jasmine Flowers, Rejection Letters
This poem is a shot itself—small, but has enough fire to warm me up. I’m so taken with the voice of this poem, the way it feels like someone at the bar has started telling me about their friend after they’ve had a couple of drinks. There’s a feeling of familiarity here that’s irresistible. And let’s face it; “His shot-out liver might do him in” is absolutely a phrase I can hear emerging from bar chatter. This poem plops me down on that bar stool and orders the shot for me.
“Suicide on the Triples” by Davon Loeb, The Voyage
Davon Loeb’s work is always transportive, taking me to places from my childhood long buried. His sharp descriptions flood the senses, I mean just read this quote; “how the trees closed, like a mouth, huge and earthy, and consuming what was left of the sun, we mounted our bikes, without verbal cue—watching the light quickly fade, and those basketball hoops stood eclipsing like sundials.” Loeb’s writing truly resides in the in-betweens (you see what I did there, check out his memoir)—always between the ghost of the past and the movie we become a part of as we step into his world.
“All My Mothers” by Joy Priest, The Atlantic
I am so jealous of how Priest weaves tenderness into a piece that criticizes systematic oppression and racism, how I leave this piece angry but also longing for the woman in my family who “has grace and a gold tooth, / a tiny heart etched in the middle.” There is the archetypal “strong black woman” and then there are the three-dimensional black women who populate Priest’s poems, ones with oven-burnt wrists and tenor voices holding the choir together. I return time and time again to her work to remember that black women are always more.
“rotten fruit” by Chris L. Butler; perhappened mag, Issue 2 – Roadtrip
I have never felt to seen by a piece. I read this poem and was immediately reminded of my early 20s and a relationship with someone that was manipulative and emotionally abusive. And yet Butler softens that sting with his comically accurate depictions of gas station-esque foods, the “Sahara dry breakfast bagel” and the “cup of the latest sugary concoction, / crafted by an underpaid barista.” Butler’s piece was a road trip down memory lane for me, one that left me laughing, one that left a stale taste in my mouth.
“when some of our people die” by Ashley Ward; dreams walking, Issue 3 (pg. 8)
This poem was a lesson in breath, suspense. The broken lines left me teetering on the edge and waiting for the next word to yank me back from falling. The poem itself is constantly seesawing between the devastating war on black people and black bodies, and the speaker’s own imagining of the aftermath, how “they are memorialized in / smartphone footage with / the shouts of bystanders as / their epitaphs.” Only when I got to the end of the poem did I realize I had been holding my breath. Taylor Byas is a Black poet and essayist from Chicago. She currently lives in Cincinnati, where she is a second year PhD student and Albert C. Yates Scholar at the University of Cincinnati. She is pursuing her degree in Creative Writing (Poetry). She is a reader for both The Rumpus and The Cincinnati Review, and the Poetry Editor for FlyPaper Lit. Her work appears or is forthcoming in New Ohio Review, Borderlands Texas Poetry Review, Hobart, Pidgeonholes, The Rumpus, SWWIM, Jellyfish Review, Empty Mirror, and others. She also loves hugs.
Jonathan Cardew won a travel toothbrush at a boules competition in northern Brittany. His stories appear in Passages North, Cream City Review, wigleaf, SmokeLong Quarterly, Superstition Review, Best Microfiction 2021, and others. He is the author of A WORLD BEYOND CARDBOARD (ELJ Editions) and the blog editor for Bending Genres. Ignore him on Twitter @cardewjcardew.