Guernica prides itself on a unique embrace of art and politics. I would be lying if I said finding that balance in poetry is easy. This morning, in fact, I’ve been questioning myself for rejecting a poem that felt important, but not particularly artful. It is a moral conundrum that I typically leave to the non-fiction editors to sort out. After all, Guernica‘s one criterion is “writing of the highest quality,” which presumably lets me off the hook; we publish the poems we think are best, regardless of content. I am also buoyed when I come across a poem that does strike that elusive balance between craft and stakes. Many of my favorite poems do just that: W.S. Merwin’s “For the Asians Dying;” W. H. Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts;” Adrienne Rich’s “Diving into the Wreck;” Carolyn Forche’s “The Colonel.” Recently my students have been enamored with Matthea Harvey’s “The Future of Terror/Terror of the Future” series in her latest collection. One of those poems is included in State of the Union: Fifty Political Poems forthcoming from Wave Books, which sounds tedious, I know, but is surprisingly great. All of which is to say that the search is not futile. Therefore, when our contributing poetry editor Anna Ross sent me Rebecca Morgan Frank’s poem “Rescue,” I should not have been surprised to read a poem deftly tackling such a demanding historical subject, the Santo Tomas Internment camp in the Philippines.
In 1942, Japanese-occupied Manila sent all expatriates to an internment camp where they waited for three years before being liberated by General MacArthur. The poet does not stay within these historical boundaries; rather, she lets her imagination roam to what can be understood of rescue and what cannot. The first section ends,
Once you rescued a starved dog
from a man with a stick.
On the walk home, it bit you, drawing blood.
God damn dog. Your waking words. The fleet has come. Or tomorrow, the fleet will come.
Every night, the fleet comes.
And the next section begins,
What do I know of rescue?
The answer is “Enough.” This poem has earned Frank a place in the 2008 edition of Best New Poets selected by Mark Strand. It will be available in November from the University of Virginia Press. Read the poem, which we published in July of last year, HERE.