A Review of America Is Not the World (Anthology)

Review by James H Duncan

In no other period of my life has such a book been as prescient and needed as this anthology, edited by Rachel Nix, published by Pankhearst, and populated by as broad a spectrum of talented writers as you’ll find. And the title gets right to the heart of the matter: America is not the world.

If America in 2016 has shown me anything, it’s that we live in a time when a dangerous brand of nationalism is on the rise, when compulsory chest-thumping pride is considered the truest sign of loyalty, and that voices and experiences of those beyond our borders are devalued and shunned. This collection defies those developments. It opens the doors for all ideas, all experiences, all beliefs about what America is, is not, and could be.

And this doesn’t mean the anthology shuns Americans—not at all. American writers are but one of many in this book, but even the American writers here tread close to the narrative that there is more to this nation than what we’re taught in grade school and what is shouted back at us in braying, boastful proclamations over airwaves and 4G streams.

As editor Rachel Nix says in her introduction, there are many ugly truths within these pages, and you won’t (and shouldn’t) like everything that is said. And that’s the point. We have become a nation that avoids what we don’t like to hear. We stomp it out and alienate the uncomfortable. This book welcomes it in all forms—which is the most democratic value I can personally imagine.

Many poems discuss life in far flung reaches of the world, life that looks drastically different from our mall-centric and celebrity-obsessed existence in America. In “16.12.2014” by Orooj E Zafar, we see the grueling toll survival takes in inhuman war-ravaged conditions, where there is so much loss day in and day out that “nothing/feels like loss/anymore”. Shoulders ache and nails split at the toiling, the building of coffin after coffin for the endless stream of the dead, but the poem also reminds the author of inner strength, and of the will to carry on.

this heart does not experience
fatigue, it does not know
rest; this is your reason
to remember black days

So many of us worry about our fun weekend plans and forget how much of the world struggles just to get through each day, working to ensure they have a chance to get through tomorrow as well. In a rather apocalyptic poem titled “In The Backwoods”, Jonatin Allin seems to predict this dour lifestyle could become our own here in America, reminding us that “nobody chooses this madness/it just is and it eats and it sings”. Nobody wants to live like that, but they do, and we might too soon enough if we cannot learn from each other, if we cannot change and evolve.

There are too many poems of stunning excellence in this book to point them all out, and when I first read the anthology I had to slow down and consume two or three at a time and then pause for an evening, let them sink in, go back and re-read them before moving on. The poems are that powerful and that compelling, and from start to finish they implore you to see through the eyes of others, hear the world through new ears, and understand how one struggle in one pocket of the world is directly tied to all, America too.

Because we are not alone. We are not exceptional above all others. We are only America, and it is time we understood that. It is time we listen. This anthology—orchestrated with such exacting impact by Rachel Nix, brought to life by such beautiful wordplay and imagery by the authors—is the epitome of required reading, for Americans and everyone beyond.        


1 comment:

  1. Orooj-e-Zafar's work is one of the most amazing i've come across. The unique human-ness of her voice gets me every single time. Oh, and her spoken-word is out of this world.
    Rachel did a magnificientally fantasitc job!!!
    All the best to all these amazing necessary people <3 <3


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