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Tab Contributing Editors: Ruben Quesada & Lynne Thompson

Tab Journal welcomes Contributing Editors Ruben Quesada and Lynne Thompson as part of the editorial team for the July, September, and November 2022 issues. We’re grateful for the Poetry Foundation grant funding that supports these positions.

Ruben Quesada is the editor of Latinx Poetics: Essays on the Art of Poetry, out this year from University of Nebraska Press, and hosts the Mercy Street Readings. He visited Chapman University via Zoom last fall to speak with MFA students in the required Aspects of a Writer course. His energy and breadth of knowledge and experience made him a top choice for our new position. His latest poetry book is Revelations from Sibling Rivalry Press.

Lynne Thompson is the Poet Laureate of Los Angeles and has visited Chapman University several times, so she has a good sense of what we’re trying to accomplish with Tab Journal and how she can make a difference. A lawyer by training, Thompson sits on the boards of the Los Angeles Review of Books and Cave Canem and is the Chair of the Board of Trustees at Scripps College. Her latest book is Fretwork (2019), winner of the Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize.

In our grant proposal, we wrote:

Tab Journal requests a grant from the Poetry Foundation specifically to continue our diversity and inclusion initiatives. A diverse pool of submissions flourishes based upon several factors: the journal’s self-representation, credibility of staff, integrity of equitable policies and practices, analysis of and response to demographic information, broadly written calls, expansive networks (visibility in BIPOC spaces), and incentives. 

We consciously chose not to use the guest editor model, which too easily shifts responsibility for inclusion away from the organization’s underlying structures, policies, and practices. Instead, our contributing editors are part of the conversation about how Tab Journal reaches potential readers and contributors, how staff read and respond to submissions, and which poems end up in the published issues. We’ve defined the contributing editors as collaborators rather than advisors, and we’ve had some frank conversations about the challenges we face and the possibilities we envision.

One of the first changes we made was to add optional demographic questions to the submission form.

Submissions opened in February, with our greatest one-month influx of submissions. At least two staff read each submission anonymously, and those submissions that make it to the next round are read by the Contributing Editors, Editor, and Creative Director, who will collaboratively make decisions about what goes in which issue. The decisions we make together will be evident in the published issues later this year, but we’re also excited about how the conversations are shaping the way we do things and suggesting future goals.

In the last couple of weeks, submissions have slowed down a bit, so now is a great time to send something our way! Keep in mind that, because we give a lot of attention to design and production, we work several months ahead of each issue’s publication date. Once we fill the November issue, we’ll close submissions–and that could happen in May. So, get yourself over to Submittable this month.

Image of black and white collage with reflective silver textures with writing "space before text"
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Visual Poetry

Visual Poetry: Donna Spruijt-Metz

Tab Journal has published several visual poems over the last two years. Perhaps because we use design thinking in our approach to poetry, we’re interested in the definitions, practices, and possibilities for poets who are consciously using visual elements to create meaning. Tab Communications Coordinator Lydia Pejovic talked with five visual poets for the March issue: Maria DeGuzmán, Kylie Gellatly, Monica Ong, Donna Spruijt-Metz, and Keith S. Wilson.

Here, she talks in further detail with Donna Spruit-Metz.

Lydia Pejovic: Your work in Volume 10, Issue 1, of Tab Journal juxtaposes documentary material, in this case a death certificate, with poetry. How did you begin working with these visual materials?

death certificate with text running on right side and underneath

Donna Spruijt-Metz: Such a good question. Allison Albino, a dear poet friend of mine, sent me one of her poems that was bouncing off a family snapshot. We send poems to each other all the time for feedback.  I loved the poem, how it helped her to talk about things that she hadn’t talked about in her poetry before. At the same time, I was going through boxes and boxes of my mother’s archives. I had been putting that off for decades. I was really having a hard time of it. She suggested I try doing the same thing with some of those materials. And so I embarked on that journey and it really was amazingly painful and fruitful—like writing poetry so often is!

Lydia Pejovic: Your previous career was as a professional flutist. In what ways do you see poetry and music interacting? Can a visual piece be musical? 

Donna Spruijt-Metz: Another good question. I think poetry and music ALWAYS interact—or I might say that my favorite poets all have music in their language. I wrote an entire ekphrastic cycle based on J.S. Bach’s St. John Passion—some of them are in the forthcoming book. That was one of my favorite pieces to play. So, in those poems, I was listening to each section again and again, and crafting the work to kind of ‘match’ the section. A direct relationship, thus. But in general, I listen for the music in the lines and in the poems—the meter, the arc—crescendo and decrescendo, tempi, register, even pitch. Yes. I really do think that all plays a part in making a poem stunning, memorable, worthwhile. I have been memorizing Christian Wiman’s poem “Every Riven Thing.” That poem is SO musical—so much music. The lilt in the beginning, the change in meter with the change in subject matter. He’s a genius at it.

Lydia Pejovic: How do you decide, then, which poems should be visual? Your poem “I Find This in My Mother’s Effects,” for example, uses the actual image of the death certificate, possibly functioning as visual evidence of your mother’s effects. Are there specific themes or concepts that work better visually?

Donna Spruijt-Metz: Oh, I don’t think I work in that direction. Or I haven’t yet, but it is a really tempting idea.

Up until now, it has been the shock of seeing a picture or document, and thinking, I have to write about that, but I need the picture to be there for me—or the reader ?—otherwise it won’t work. I can’t say what the picture says. But it is an intriguing idea to be working on a poem and think, I can’t get the ‘aboutness’ right—this needs a picture, or it reminds me of a picture. 

Previously in Visual Poetry: Maria DeGuzmán

Also, see the March 2022 issue (Volume 10, Issue 2) for more from all five visual poets who participated in this conversation.

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Visual Poetry

Visual Poetry: Maria DeGuzmán

Tab Journal has published several visual poems over the last two years. Perhaps because we use design thinking in our approach to poetry, we’re interested in the definitions, practices, and possibilities for poets who are consciously using visual elements to create meaning. Tab Communications Coordinator Lydia Pejovic talked with five visual poets for the March issue: Maria DeGuzmán, Kylie Gellatly, Monica Ong, Donna Spruijt-Metz, and Keith S. Wilson.

Here, in excerpts from a longer exchange, she talks in further detail with Maria DeGuzmán.

Lydia Pejovic: In Volume 10, Issue 2 (our Current Issue as this post goes live), your visual poetry functions somewhat like captions for photographs of what seem to be abstract images. How did you come up with this combination and decide the relationship between text and image?

Maria DeGuzmán: I see what you call photographs of abstract images as both abstract and subtly figurative, as formlessness taking form, and form reshaping into other forms. For me, captions to photographic images (whether figural, abstract, or both) were and are inspired by many sources: Egyptian hieroglyphs, medieval illuminated manuscripts, emblem books, children’s picture books, film (especially silent films), newspapers, comics, advertising, Surrealist experiments with word and image, album covers, book covers, video, etc. In most cases the caption attempts to anchor the polysemy of the mute image. But, the mute image continues to radiate, or vibrate, (r)evolving possibilities, slipping around and away from that attempted anchoring, as does the caption itself, despite its putative function.

Either way, one is faced with a melting, deliquescence, or dissolution of the seemingly fixed and “solid,” even when one is working with figural, concrete images. These dynamics of signification are born out of the tensions between language and consciousness. Much of poetry would seem to spring from the attempt to go beyond the constraints of language. These tensions between language and consciousness drew me and continue to draw me to water. Why not work with liquidity, with water, one of the most seemingly familiar, yet strangest, of liquids, a compound substance with anomalous properties, evoking not only contemplation, but forms in motion, among them, animate things, life itself as we know it (and don’t know it) on this planet?

Captions are, in “Trauerspiel of Water,” captions for photographs of water being swirled around a bowl. The combination of captions and photographs of swirling water creates a juxtaposition between what, at first glance, might seem like the fixed (the caption) and the unfixed (the water), between intentional order and random chaos. However, the contrasting juxtaposition morphs into a surprising conjunction as the watery image assumes form (rather than formlessness) and challenges the assumed prerogative of written or spoken language to have dominion over form-making.

Lydia Pejovic: Do you spend a long time interpreting what you see in your photographs/images, or do you write based off of first impressions? 

Maria DeGuzmán: I write from a combination of first impressions and time spent interpreting and researching what I see in the photographs. The first impressions come to me from the emotional impact of the image or images in question. These first impressions surge, a fragment of melody, not in words, but in tones and vibrations. I have a synesthetic response to them. The time spent interpreting and researching comes about through my interaction with the details of the images, details that correlate with striking forms and, furthermore, resemblance (in the midst of formlessness) to bodies (human and more than human), objects, land, oceans, maps, scenes, faces, squiggles of light that appear, to me, like numbers, letters (from a variety of alphabets), symbols, characters from shorthand, and so forth. 

Lydia Pejovic: How do you go about creating your images? How do you choose the color, how much to swirl the water, etc.? Do the images often turn out differently than you expected them to?

Maria DeGuzmán: I fill a metal bowl with water. I then place this vessel on a counter or table near a window or a light source (sun, full moon, candle, sometimes an incandescent or fluorescent light). With my left hand, I stir the water in the bowl with a metal spoon. With my right hand, I hold a small, digital camera. I take photos while I stir, varying the angle of the shots.

Later, I examine the photos one by one to see what shapes the water has assumed, what shapes “appear” in the water. I do not choose the color or, a prioiri or consciously, how much to swirl the water. The colors come from the fact that the water acts as a molten, shape-shifting prism that bends or refracts light into its constituent wavelengths. The luminosity and the variegated hues derive from the interaction between light waves and the swirling waves of water in a metal bowl.

This experiment and/or ritual is designed to override conscious control and expectations. The images are not manipulated. They are the product of “straight photography” that yields queer results. The images result from the camera’s freezing of refractive and reflective patterns in the water swirling too quickly for the naked eye to grasp. However, what is “there” involves continual acts of interpretive perception, vision, on the part of viewers, myself included. 

Previously in Visual Poetry: Keith S. Wilson

Next Up in Visual Poetry: Donna Spruijt-Metz

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Visual Poetry

Visual Poetry: Keith S. Wilson

Tab Journal has published several visual poems over the last two years. Perhaps because we use design thinking in our approach to poetry, we’re interested in the definitions, practices, and possibilities for poets who are consciously using visual elements to create meaning. Tab Communications Coordinator Lydia Pejovic talked with five visual poets for the March issue: Maria DeGuzmán, Kylie Gellatly, Monica Ong, Donna Spruijt-Metz, and Keith S. Wilson.

Here, she talks in further detail with Keith S. Wilson.

Lydia Pejovic: You write a mix of both visual and text-only poetry. Your poem in Volume 9, Issue 1, uses a strip of photographs as part of the meaning and design, and the poem seems shaped in relation to that. How do you decide which pieces should be visual and which should be wholly textual?

Keith S. Wilson: I try to remain open to the possibility of my own writing, especially outside of what I first intended. I used to write with the intention or hope, in the back of my head, of turning what I wrote into a finished piece. This is maybe like chiseling away at a statue, where there is a point at which I’ve concluded so many possibilities that what I have is final. This tends to happen with text-only poems. But now I view my writing as material, like any stanza I write is a piece of a collage, or a color of paint. So it MIGHT turn out to be strong when I’ve pushed it as far as it can textually go, but it might become something else entirely when I cut it apart, move it around, add it to something else.

Lydia Pejovic: How does the placement of lines in a visual piece change and/or enhance meaning?

Keith S. Wilson: I’m interested in a sense of play. In many of the understandings of that. Play means wiggle room and I’m interested in that–in one’s placement space allowing for more than one understanding of something. And play implies a sense of freedom and even joy sometimes, which comes sometimes through movement through space. But play can also invoke discipline and intentionality as well, as when one plays an instrument.

Lydia Pejovic: I saw that you have an interactive poem entitled “love” that I found to be innovative and interesting. How does technology influence the way you create visual poetry? Does it offer new opportunities?

Keith S. Wilson: It changes everything. Digital poetry shares a lot with certain kinds of theater and with video games—you can involve the direct actions of a reader/viewer. Which means you can implicate them, you can involve them or collaborate with them. There’s a barrier of entry into writing and coding this kind of work, and with engaging with it since technological literacy is often lower than reading literacy (and requires that kind of literacy as well), so it also closes off certain kinds of immediate understandings as well, but there are things I can do in an interactive poem that are not possible in a traditional poem.

Previously in Visual Poetry: Kylie Gellatly

Next Up in Visual Poetry: Maria DeGuzmán

Categories
Visual Poetry

Visual Poetry: Kylie Gellatly

Tab Journal has published several visual poems over the last two years. Perhaps because we use design thinking in our approach to poetry, we’re interested in the definitions, practices, and possibilities for poets who are consciously using visual elements to create meaning. Tab Communications Coordinator Lydia Pejovic talked with five visual poets for the March issue: Maria DeGuzmán, Kylie Gellatly, Monica Ong, Donna Spruijt-Metz, and Keith S. Wilson.

Here, she talks in further detail with Kylie Gellatly.

Lydia Pejovic: Your visual poetry is also erasure poetry. How do you find your source material for these poems?

Kylie Gellatly: Erasure is subversive by nature, which gives the source text a very specific role in the work. In this project, I wanted the process to enact the themes and vice versa, and thus made sure that the source texts matched the process in content in order to explore the fuller concept. Because this work is not erasure in its traditional sense, but an extraction of content from its context, I was interested in exploring what exactly those differences mean. The removal of substance from its content provided the mode for me to work with the concepts of gastronomy, consumption, human and animal relations, and gender.

I selected two cookbooks and a hunting guide. Using multiple texts helps me think of them as ingredients, each with its own flavor and chemical makeup, thus interaction. One cookbook was chosen as a cornerstone of hierarchical and masculine cuisine in the restaurant industry (Escoffier), while another was chosen as an eclectic “kitchen garden” book on herbs and spices that includes both histories and recipes (Matter of Taste, Humphrey). The hunting guide is a book on the ethics of hunting and provides a language that, when mixed with the Escoffier’s recipes and the historical text in Humphrey, rounds out the palette. By working with, I am questioning and undermining the language we use around food—how disoriented the ingredient is from its source, how cooking is all action and transmogrification, it is about power of subject over object, and command-based communication: mince garlic, peel carrots, or remove the meat from the bone. 

Lydia Pejovic: How do you create these pieces? How does poetry work differently based on whether you create it by hand or by using digital software?

hand ready to turn facing pages with white text on black on left page and erasure poem on right

Kylie Gellatly: What I love about working with found poetry is that what I notice when I come to the page is always different and depends on the headspace I am in. It makes the headspace something I can work with while creating these poems by curating a space to be coming from. I’ve been doing a lot of research and reading about the concepts I am working with, which has provided a curated space from which to write from, as these poems (so far) are not explicitly depictive of the subject, but are coming out of the questions that arise. As I currently am an omnivore and worked for a time as a butcher, the question is most often some form of how do I feel about this? but is always working with this tension. 

The content and the process of this project is inseparable from the content, while the product—the visual poem—is almost incidental. It’s something I question a lot. With my first book, The Fever Poems, it was truly incidental and I was often saying, “I need to glue it down so the words don’t blow away.” Which is still true, but with this new project, the poems themselves are so dependent on the performance of creating them. With regard to the final visual poem, I am still figuring out how the image works with the text and how I want to direct the image with it. Sometimes it feels too obvious to have an illustration of an animal or butchery on the page—even if the poem is not depicting it, the process is. It will take time for me to discover how that signature, so to speak, is working on the finished piece or what else the image can do. Like any art form, the next piece is informed by the one that preceded it. 

Visual poetry requires a lot of trust in one’s own creative process and I put a lot of trust into what words and fragments jump out at me from the page.

Kylie Gellatly: In erasure poetry, that trust is usually heightened, as the words that don’t jump off the page are blacked out, but I am using the ones that grab my attention as the seed or prompt of the poem. When first coming to the page, I am careful not to read any of the text from left to right, but rather top to bottom, looking for non-sequential chains of language to work with. A big part of the creativity in this work is being able to hold the word, seeing its potential, while also suspending its context and connotations. This can be more challenging if the book you’re working with is one that is more familiar to you. The confines of the work—of having to work with what is there, or of choosing to search the whole book for one word—are what make this process so rewarding and full of discovery. 

Lydia Pejovic: I’ll add that you also put a lot of trust in editors—you trusted Tab Journal and worked with Creative Director Claudine Jaenichen because the January 2022 design didn’t allow for four colors, for that vibrancy of your original. I’m suggesting, perhaps, what a page can be.

Kylie Gellatly: The image is usually the product of an emptied page—one that has been whittled to a frame after most of the words have been cut out. The emptied pages, when blacked out beneath, signify an erasure, while the ones that have an image laid underneath and are blacked out around the frame, work more as a window or an under the skin depiction. The latter is used more in this project, as what we tend to engage most with is what is under the skin of the animal. 

Previously in Visual Poetry: Monica Ong

Next Up in Visual Poetry: Keith S. Wilson

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Visual Poetry

Visual Poetry: Monica Ong

Tab Journal has published several visual poems over the last two years. Perhaps because we use design thinking in our approach to poetry, we’re interested in the definitions, practices, and possibilities for poets who are consciously using visual elements to create meaning. Tab Communications Coordinator Lydia Pejovic talked with five visual poets for the March issue: Maria DeGuzmán, Kylie Gellatly, Monica Ong, Donna Spruijt-Metz, and Keith S. Wilson.

Here, she talks in further detail with Monica Ong.

Lydia Pejovic: Your piece “Her Gaze” in Volume 9, Issue 6, mixes images and ideas of women and astronomy. What made you decide to create visual poetry about women and our skies? How do these two topics intersect? 

Monica Ong: “Her Gaze” is a tribute to the astronomer Caroline Herschel (1750–1848), who made important contributions to the field including the discovery of comets, and whose labor made possible the scientific achievements of her brother William Herschel. As a poet, I’ve always been interested in hidden histories, and while exploring stories of the sky and astronomy history, I’ve come across many stories not only of what we see in the sky but about who is looking, and wanted to celebrate Caroline, who deserves to be just as revered as her brother. 

Lydia Pejovic: Can visual poetry be used to tell important histories? You’ve provided an image of “Her Gaze” that is in a three-dimensional form, different than the version in Tab Journal. Why is this the appropriate medium to do so? 

Monica Ong: Visual poetry allows me to engage with archives and also interrogate the “gaze.” “Her Gaze” is built upon a set of sketches that Caroline Herschel made of Comet C/1786 P1 (Herschel), which she observed on August 1, 1786, between the constellations Ursa Major and Coma Berenices that became part the first paper by a woman to be read to the Royal Society.

Although the poem is published [in Tab Journal] as a set of images, the physical poem itself exists in the gallery as a reel that the reader views with a ViewMaster, taking an upward gaze. While this mimics the stance of stargazing, what is central the poem’s visual frame is the hand of a woman’s labor. My goal was to make visible the kind of labor that so often goes unseen and under-recognized, especially due to the social hierarchies of her time, not to mention the profession itself.

Lydia Pejovic: I was looking at “Her Gaze” in Tab Journal and noticed that you include words or phrases that exist outside of the circles on the page. How does playing with the ways in which we format language work to convey new meaning? 

Monica Ong: In a way, I’m noticing how parts of a story get left outside the confines of the gaze. There are always people missing from the frame, especially in history, not to mention science history. At the same time, I also enjoy being playful with what a poetic line can be, especially when interacting with other elements like scientific diagrams. From a design standpoint, to confine all the text within the circle would feel flat and claustrophobic. I like the text to feel like it’s floating and sprawling, allowing the eye to wander into new patterns.

Next Up in Visual Poetry: Kelly Gellatly

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Events Important Update

March: Autoimmune Awareness Month at Tab

March is Autoimmune Awareness Month. Tab Journal acknowledges the many poets who have and written about autoimmune disease.

Autoimmunity, Chronic Illness, Poetry

One of Editor Anna Leahy’s early poetry professors was Mary Swander, who sought treatment for allergies in 1983 and instead ended up with autoimmune dysregulation in which her body couldn’t tolerate certain foods, pollutants, and orders. In 1998, Swander edited a collection of essays by writers with chronic illness. Much and little has changed since then.

Here’s an excerpt from “In a Dream,” an earlier poem by Mary Swander but one that might be thought to foreshadow chronic illness:

Your feel it diving into you,
lodge between muscle and bone,
move one spiny fin.
Your whole body goes numb.

Poet Suzanne Edison also edited an autoimmunity-themed collection that combines her poems with visual explorations. Moreover, The Body Lives Its Undoing includes not only the perspectives of patients but also family, physicians, and researchers.

A couple of years ago, Bustle ran a list thirteen poems about chronic illness, featuring work by Hieu Minh Nguyen, Max Ritvo, and others.

Autoimmunity, Covid, Poetry

model of pink coronavirus spike protein

Earlier this month, poet and nonfiction writer Meghan O’Rourke wrote in Scientific American, “When the first wave of coronavirus infections hit the U.S. in March 2020, what kept me up at night was not only the tragedy of the acute crisis but also the idea that we might soon be facing a second crisis—a pandemic of chronic illness triggered by the virus.” O’Rourke argues in this article and in her new book The Invisible Kingdom that covid long-haulers are a game-changer for all those who’ve faced autoimmune dysregulation, the difficulty of getting a diagnosis, and the frustration of inadequate treatment and research funding.

O’Rourke’s own autoimmune disorder emerged in the wake of her mother’s terminal illness, something she wrote about in The Long Goodbye and in poems like “Ever.” The opening lines of the poem “The Night Where You No Longer Live” suggests such a shift in well-being:

Was it like lifting a veil
And was the grass treacherous, the green grass

Did you think of your own mother

Was it like a virus
Did the software flicker

And was this the beginning

Jen Karetnik, a contributor to Tab Journal (Volume 8, Issue 4), has written about the covid long haul at About Place Journal. The opening lines capture the sense of chronic autoimmune dysregulation:

lignum vitae, wood
so dense it doesn’t float

I’ve been reduced to not being able to stand up in the shower 

poetic, considering how much
the wood has given to ocean travel

Even reading a book is challenging and exhausting

an escaped ornamental
pruned to maintain a narrower profile

I don’t understand what’s happening in my body

Kadijah Queen wrote of the pandemic for Harper’s:

Asthma and other chronic health issues keep both my son and my mother at risk; my mother takes so much medication we have an Excel spreadsheet to keep track. They’ve sheltered in place for eight weeks. I’m at risk, too, but I try not to think about it.

Used to be I could rest through fibromyalgia flares, recover. Now I depend on balms and pills to keep going through the pain. Dr. Bob’s, vapor rub, Papa Rozier balm, Aleve PM, Benadryl, charcoal bath salts, lavender oil. Make a pleasure of coffee or espresso for the fatigue. Bless Nespresso machines. Elvazio, Melozio, Hazelino, Voltesso. Solelio for something lighter, if I have to wake up but know I’ll need sleep later.

Her latest poetry book, Anodyne. It’s title refers to something that alleviates pain. Anodyne won the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America. Queen, who has fibromyalgia, told Boulder Weekly the following when the book came out:

I think in terms of health and disease and disability, there’s this really negative language around it,” Queen says. “When in fact we’re all gonna deal with health issues, so why are we hiding it, trying to suppress talking about it, saying, ‘It’ll be OK,’ or just medicating it? And why is the language around it so ugly? Why do we not have more natural and compassionate ways of talking about the aging process? Why are we not creating more places for care that don’t feel like you’re just dropping your parent off somewhere to die? … I think we’re missing real care.

If O’Rourke is right, we’ll understand more in the months and years to come. And yet Edison’s words from “Here, Ellipses” will always be a crucial question:

And we wonder
Who is essential expendable

And we call each other saying—How
you holding up
How you holding
How you
How

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Events More about TAB

March: Brain Injury Awareness Month at Tab

March is Brain Injury Awareness Month, and Tab Journal asked Chapman University MFA alum and former staff Jason Thornberry to share his experiences. You can follow Jason @thornberryjm on Twitter.

TBI & what is normal?

After my traumatic brain injury, when I returned—pale and disoriented—from the flickering grey atmosphere of the hospital to the real world, I felt completely alone. With a passport stamped in my own blood, I sought to resume my normal life. But what was normal—and what of my life remained? 

My relationships were scattered on the wind of my lengthy recovery. The wind moaned, pushing me toward my mother and away from my father. My father, with whom I argued violently over the telephone that night—the night I was injured. I recall one of us hanging up on the other. Was it me? Was it him? I don’t remember. I remember an overwhelming rush of silence filling the void at the end of our call—the statement implied by the force of a hand smashing a landline back into its cradle. The muted click as the call was severed. Yes, maybe it was him. 

My mother blamed him for inspiring me to drink so much that night—the night a pair of strangers savagely beat me. The night that changed my life forever. When I was released, my father visited me. He posed with me for a picture in the grass outside my mother’s home, standing behind my wheelchair. I sat stiffly, feeling his hands on my shoulders. A few days later, we argued over the phone once more, and nine years passed before we saw each other again. Without him, I depended on my mother to guide me through the arduous depths of my outpatient therapy and my lengthy recovery. My mother and I became close for the first time. Later, when I exerted my independence by moving out of state with my then-girlfriend-now-wife, cracks developed in my relationship with my mother, opening the ground between us. I haven’t spoken with her in months. 

Before my father and I fell out, and before that fate-soaked night, I lived with my two best friends. We were in a band together: a trio. We recorded and performed and made plans to tour the country together, to flourish beyond the anonymity of our day jobs together. They visited me there in my flickering grey room. As I looked up at them from my hospital bed, we talked about the future. When I was released, they moved away, taking our friendship with them. Twenty-two years later, I bumped into one. She said our other bandmate was officially homeless now, living somewhere on the streets of Los Angeles. The overwhelming rush of silence filling the void as I received this information reminded me later of that night when I held the telephone. She broke the silence to ask me what I was doing, gesturing toward the papers on the coffeehouse table. I said I was writing. 

Reading with TBI. Writing with TBI.

I find my voice through writing and reading. I seek alternate worlds—not in deep futuristic space, but here—where I can live in someone else’s skin, where I can breathe the same air, sharing their triumphs and struggles, seeing things from their perspective. I inhabit the deceptively simple, sculpted sentences of Toni Morrison and the hideous suffering of her characters; I observe the muddled turmoil of humanity through the eyes of Verlyn Klinkenborg’s blinking tortoise; I soar like Wordsworth’s bees, murmuring by the hour in foxglove bells. I live again. And again.

Thinking of embodiment (and of empathy), I revisit the words of Gregory Orr. When Orr describes, in his poem “Trauma (Storm),” hunkering down within “the cave of self,” the place where he escapes the raging world, I see my trauma made flesh. I experience, again, the glowing pain I felt after waking from my coma. I feel the brusquely indifferent hands of nurses transferring my twisted form from gurney to gurney and place to place like a portable autopsy. I hear the monotonous beeping of MRIs and CT scans in arctic chambers of the hospital and the pathokinesiology study I underwent before a panel of puzzled physicians. The physicians took notes, muttering amongst themselves as they watched me hobbling in pain, crossing the room in front of them like a tortoise. By meditating on Orr’s poetry, I feel liberated from memories of my past by living in his skin, donning the mask of Cain he wore after the accidental death of his brother and—and by the subsequent death of his mother, two years later.

Orr uses poetry, he says, to survive the “emotional chaos, spiritual confusions, and [the] traumatic events that come with being alive.” When I found myself in this same silent cavern of isolation, confusion, and guilt, I recognized that writing was my only way out in the years following my injury. And I find now, in Orr, a kindred spirit. His words remind me I’m not alone.

Read poems by Jason Thornberry

Residue of Yesterday,” OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters (January 2022)

Two Poems: “California” & “My Landlord’s Landlord,” Poor Yorick Literary Magazine (December 2021)

Three Poems: “Cobwebs,” “The Foghorn,” and “Toward Medallions of Broken Glass”, The Antonym Magazine (May 2021)

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Events

Read Across America Day

March 2, 2022, is Read Across America Day!

What better way to celebrate reading than by perusing the poems in Tab Journal?

You can find the newest work in the Current Issue. Or can can spend your Read Across America Day in our online Archives.

Plus, we offer two ways to read most of our content–with your eyes or with your ears.

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February: Low Vision Awareness Month at Tab

February is Low Vision Awareness Month. It’s a good time for Tab Journal to share our efforts over the last three years to welcome readers with low vision to the poetry we publish. Here’s an update, an overview, a trajectory–from Creative Director Claudine Jaenichen and Editor Anna Leahy.

Tab Journal‘s Vision of Low Vision

Because design has always been enormously important to how we approach poetry, Tab Journal isn’t like other literary journals. We consider ourselves designers and curators. When we say, “space before text,” we mean that design thinking extends both to textual content and to the space the work creates. We understand that form, format, and design of text and space can create various reading experiences. As part of our design thinking, Tab Journal is committed to creating an increasingly inclusive literary space, welcoming work that represents a variety of approaches and aesthetics, including work from those whose voices have been traditionally underrepresented in literary publishing.

Why consider low vision?

If you have high vision, it’s important to keep in mind that millions of Americans don’t. Many of us use assistive devices like contact lenses or glasses, but those devices don’t work equally as well for everyone. Take a look at versions of what those with age-related macular degeneration or cataracts see, and consider what these videos suggest about the various ways people see the world.

What does this have to do with poetry?

Tab Journal‘s January 2019 issue was printed on velum that allowed content from other pages to seep through. This meant that reading a page was filled with external visual noise that the reader had to negotiate. We designed an intentionally challenging reading experience in which ease couldn’t be taken for granted. Moreover, the type size was only 8 points. That’s small but not unusual for books and magazines (though visual size is more accurately measured as x-height).

As we reflect on our literary journal’s history and process, we look to this visually noisy issue as a pivotal moment. We realized that we had excluded readers who can, or would, engage with the poems.

At the same time, we were switching from the clunky Open Journals System platform to the current WordPress-based platform. We realized that our online issues—the PDF files of our archives—were impossible for e-readers to follow.

Access in the form of readability matters, perhaps especially in poetry. Because each word of a poem matters, readability is important.

What changed?

Beginning with our print issue in 2020, Tab Journal shifted the visual experience and design to prioritize low vision standards. Low vision standards for graphic design include clear headlines, color to ensure enough contrast and color pairing to accommodate people with color blindness, typographic legibility and readability, and printing surfaces that minimize glare.

Tab Journal now uses a standard type size range between 13 and 18 points in the annual printed issues and considers the fonts and weights (e.g. bold, medium, regular) can be applied for optimum legibility. Typefaces that are too wide or too narrow (such as condensed fonts) impede legibility. In the 2022 issue, we used Atkinson Hyperlegible font designed by Linus Boman with the Braille Institute. You can download the font for free at https://brailleinstitute.org/staging2/freefont.

Tab Journal is also minimizing the use of all capital letters. Using all caps can sometimes be read as individual letters by assistive technology instead of as words. That’s why we now use Tab Journal as much as possible instead of the official name (TAB: The Journal of Poetry & Poetics) under which the journal’s ISBN is registered. We continue to consider the research on reading ease and speed as well as options for using all caps or other visual signals, knowing that WordPress.org defaults are also part of our constraints.

Readability is also based on line lengths and column width. In poetry, column widths and the line lengths are determined by the poem, and we make sure that typographic attributes represent the poem in the most legible format.

What does this mean?

We offer two issues below of examples that demonstrate both an inaccessible format (2019) and low vision complaint issue (2020).

What’s next?

As part of our effort to ensure an equitable experience of our journal for everyone, we are developing more training in 508-compliance to meet a wider range of adaptive and assistive technologies. Section 508 was signed into law as part of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998 to ensure that access to electronic and information technology is created and accessible to people with disabilities.

This year, we have applied for external funding to further our efforts in low vision accessibility and other ways we can increase equity and inclusion overall in literary journal production. We recognize the need for the literary culture to account for accessibility when we consider resource allocation.