In the interest of making space in our storage closet, and for the boost that beneficence brings, we are offering one free back issue (your choice) to anyone who emails me (Nicola) at email@example.com by the end of the business day on Monday (July 18).
If you are already a subscriber, you can offer your free issue to a friend. If you’re a contributor, you can nab an extra copy of the issue that features your piece. If you’re not (yet) either of these, here’s your opportunity to sample our prose and poetry wares for zip.
As an added enticement, here’s PhD candidate Ruth Williams’s thoughtful analysis of Jaswinder Bolina’s “Stump Speech,” which appeared in our Winter 2011 number.
Ruth Williams: Jaswinder Bolina’s “Stump Speech” reminds us of the point made by numerous postcolonial theorists: more than any geographical location, the nation is first and foremost an imagined space. Bolina creatively captures this fact in his poetic version of a political stump speech; however, rather than a triumphant declaration of national superiority, the speech suggests the terrified and terrifying national imaginary most reminiscent of post-9/11, posteconomic meltdown America.
The opening of the poem sets the tone of trouble as the speaker recognizes the difficulty of these days, when “the shadows of the nation cast wobbly.” Using a direct address to us, the listener/reader, the speaker says: “I understand how near you are to the tipping.” In a wonderfully crafted metaphor, Bolina represents our national anxiety as a perilous walk along a “high scaffolding” where you’re caught between “trying not to overthink it and . . . trying not to think of it either.” With dangers all around us—“Bacteria in the headwind, free radicals in the cola”—of course, we “feel small.” We long to remember a different nation, in which we “didn’t even think of germicide.” A place where it was easy to merely grow up, “large and employable,” and find that the nation, in kind, “employed you.” However, such times have passed us by, and “Lately, you think you are nearly no longer the nation”; instead, we’ve become like “a hallway all vanishing point, no conclusion.”
There’s something about the second person “you” in this poem that is mesmerizing, in part because we don’t often hear a stump speech make such prolonged use of the second person; more often, we hear “we,” a call to collective unity. The “you” address causes us to intimately enter into Bolina’s rich sensory descriptions, to assume the imagined nation he presents us with as our own.
Yet in the context of the end of the poem, we begin to realize the danger in identifying so closely with the “you.” If elected, the speaker promises to restore our wounded national psyche, returning us to the same happiness we might experience walking in a “tree-shaded backyard of old friends you haven’t see in many years.” In the pleasant “sun after rain” feel of this space, the nation will be “flawness and naked and crooning beside you its pledge of fidelity, its ripe promise of industry, missile silos vigilant under the prairie, its warheads waiting in the sea.”
Clearly these lines suggest that the pleasant image of our nation cannot be erected without the unpleasant truth of the military-industrial complex; however, the power of this poem lies for me in its insistence that I examine how I, one the “yous” of this nation, have been called to adopt its imagery. Furthermore, the end of this poem forces me to ask: for what purpose am I being encouraged to adopt the speaker’s vision of this nation? In other words, is my own sense of peace necessarily contingent on the vigilant missiles, the waiting warheads? Must it always be this way?