Introduction for Saretta Morgan at City of Asylum Pittsburgh's Alphabet City, Co-presented by the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics at the University of Pittsburgh, February, February 15, 2019
Saretta Morgan is the author of the chapbooks Feeling Upon Arrival (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2018) and room for a counter interior (Portable Press @ Yo-Yo Labs, 2017), as well as a forthcoming full-length collection, Plan Upon Arrival (Selva Oscura/Three Count Pour, 2020). Her work addresses relationships between narrative and physical space. Her most recent writing considers the impact of environmental shifts and natural resource management on Black living. She holds a BA from Columbia University and an MFA from Pratt Institute and has received fellowships and residencies from the Jerome Foundation, Arizona Commission on the Arts, Headlands Center for the Arts, and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, among others. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona and teaches creative writing at Arizona State University, and she is the inaugural Center for African American Poetry and Poetics-City of Asylum Dream Space Resident.
Often in the Fall in particular I feel hyper-vulnerable, porous, like a sieve, so that everybody else’s feelings seem to penetrate my borders and my own seep out in reckless, unwieldly excretions that impede movement, puddling at my feet. It is a state of overwhelm. Sometimes it is a state of despair. It is also a state of profound empathy, even as it’s an empathy that might destroy me. Points in Saretta Morgan’s work sometimes feels like a textual rendering of that experience. As she speaks to the erosion tenuous boundaries between people, I’m reminded that sometimes depression and desire may be rooted in the same human need for connection. As her first-person plural speaker remarks, in feeling upon arrival, “contact dawned in us like poetry, old trauma. we begged questions. Responded in gestures. our shins full of glass.” And yet, the speaking “we” also of the forthcoming Plan Upon Arrival, so emphatically plural, is after a particular body, a singular body, opening: “We desired a particular body. Animate breath, weight and now, already the burden our probable failure. We bent over, sat quietly or rubbed each other until our gestures became unclear. We gorged on sweet seeds. Putrid fruit. Our skin rawed in places our ankles became sore.” But the quest for this singular body is plural, is shared. Its text, a material form of ink on paper, of sentences and fragments deliberately shaped, exists where the bodies merge and separate, where ideas become corporeal.
The desire to connect, to erode our boundaries, is simultaneously sensuous and grotesque. Saretta Morgan writes, “An appendix washed up near the barn, pages current-smoothed, leaning funny. We stood and watched the skin stretched and sewn. The so-called imaginary, so called-interior, so-called paradoxical private sphere.” The work of poetry, at least poetry that is shared, is also the work of human connection, of living as “we,” of eroding the borders between interior and exterior, the private imagination and the public, and sometimes that work is labored and sore and chaffing and irritable and its sentences stick and its smells are putrid, and sometimes that work is lithe and sensual and grasps at its own extraordinary good fortune, its music, its sex, its tastes, its forms: “we craved sensuality and other expressions of coherence./ good fucking. james brown. Crumbs from breakfast toast.”
Please join me in welcoming Saretta Morgan.