Poetry: A Space of Possibility


By Joanne Mallari

During National Poetry Month, I met Stephanie Gibson, who is a program manager at Nevada Humanities. When Stephanie invited me to curate a panel for the 2019 Nevada Humanities Literary Crawl, she asked me this question: How do you see poetry functioning out in the world? From my first encounter with spoken word at a local public library to my time in the MFA program at the University of Nevada, Reno, I’ve seen how poetry can help us move towards a more nuanced understanding of diverse experiences.

A number of metaphors exist to describe how poetry carves out space for our plural identities. Last year, I encountered an article by Betsy A. Sandlin, titled “Poetry Always Demands All My Ghosts.” We often associate ghosts with negative energy, but in the context of Sandlin’s work, ghosts empower the speaker “to make [their] own choices regarding identity.” Like a ghost who can move through walls, the speaker of a poem resists being tied down to a particular social location. In other words, poetry empowers us to move between identity categories that threaten to box us in.

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At our next annual Literary Crawl, I have the privilege of engaging in a larger conversation surrounding poetry and identity. As a queer Catholic woman of Filipino descent, I wield poetry as a means of moving between sites of contradiction. The title of my panel—“Crossings”—is an invitation to explore the ways in which poetry allows us to break away from rigid dichotomies of race, religion, gender, and sexuality. Alongside talented artists, I aim to facilitate dialogue on what it means to celebrate hybridity as a space of possibility rather than a space of constraint. 

This panel is only a small glimpse of what the Literary Crawl will offer in September, and I am excited to learn from a range of perspectives. Whether you are returning or attending for the first time, I invite you all to celebrate the ways in which the arts and humanities make room for our diverse voices against the backdrop of the high desert. 

Joanne Mallari holds an MFA from the University of Nevada, Reno. She is a contributing writer for bookinwithsunny.com, and she is at work on her first collection of poems, Daughter Tongue. Joanne is currently serving as the 2019 Nevada Humanities Poet in Residence, and she will be participating at the Nevada Humanities Literary Crawl in Reno on Saturday, September 14, 2019. Be sure to catch her panel, “Crossings,” at this year’s Lit Crawl.

Images/Joanne Mallari

Cheyanne TreadwayThomas