It is a privilege to introduce the first poem in 826’s fantastic Read This Poem project. I have chosen a poem that is lyrical and haunting, mysterious yet accessible, and best of all, a profound marriage of the personal and the political. In a mere twenty-two lines, Jennifer Elise Foerster’s “Relic” traces the effects of colonialism on the land and the body of Native America. A member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma, Foerster uses the trope of cartography to illustrate how the past is always the territory of the present—not just to a culture but to an individual person, like a mother or a daughter. But, “Relic” is just as powerful on the micro level as the macro. With stunning images and gorgeous music, the poem is expertly crafted. Every time I read this poem, those first four stanzas slay me. They’ll slay you, too.
Dean Rader’s Works & Days (Truman State University Press, 2010) was the winner of the 2010 T. S. Eliot Prize, and his book Landscape Portrait Figure Form (Omnidawn, 2014) was a Barnes & Noble Review Best Poetry Book of the Year. He is a professor at the University of San Francisco and the editor of 99 Poems for the 99 Percent: An Anthology of Poetry.
Photo credit: Jill Ramsey