Stopgap

Cover Art by Adeeba Arastu

Winner of the 2018 Sow’s Ear Poetry Review Chapbook Contest

Stopgap reckons with the myth of progress: all the temporary measures enacted in the name of a promised future that never arrives. The gap in which we live. This theme is braided across multiple registers: personal-familial, societal-political, and spiritual-mythological. In this collection, deities exercise tremendous power over human beings, precisely because these gods are human-made, like the gods of white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, nationalism, and war. Another word for this might be theodicy: why does God allow evil to exist in the world? Or, why is human culpability projected beyond human control? Ultimately, Stopgap is a meditation on uncertainty, on not knowing the answers. This chapbook insists that failure forces us to realize our inability to predict the future and reminds us that ultimately we do not know—for bad or good—what will happen next.

“Enough has been said of the body’s ability / to heal,” notes an exasperated Scheherazade in Isaac Ginsberg Miller’s poem “Scheherazade’s Dream”: “What of our ability to survive / without healing?” In his debut chapbook, Stopgap, Ginsberg Miller meditates on the body unhealed: its pain and shame, its desire and its undiminished capacity for ecstasy. The result is a poetry that refuses to avert its eyes from everything unhealing and unhealed: “a civilization… limbs / reaching in all directions before / its collapse.” As he revisits the violence of colonialism, present and past, familial trauma, and the unrelenting complexity of desire, Ginsberg Miller joins with Scheherazade to ask an insistent and urgent question: “What of our ability… To begin the story again.” More than a temporary measure, an improvised solution, Stopgap itself begins to tell the story again, inaugurating not only repetition, but difference and renewal. “If there’s an exit,” Ginsberg Miller writes: “let it lead / to another door.”

–Toby Altman, author of Arcadia, Indiana (a tragedy)

“In questions of survival Isaac Ginsberg Miller’s Stopgap reminds us there are never easy solutions, just the choices we make along the way. A child creates a fantastic world of shadows for her sister while their parents’ world shatters. A mother’s insomnia presses her to make and unmake sewing patterns through the night. Even in his reimagining of the story of Scheherazade, Ginsberg Miller contemplates the choice to survive, “[t]o cradle the snout / of the beast to our breast and sing / him to sleep,” a task that takes the place of dreaming (“Scheherazade’s Dream”). When what we want is out of reach what can be done to hold us over? Ginsberg Miller gives us no easy way out. These poems of intimacy, challenge and protest remind us that “if there’s an exit, let it lead to another door,” another question, another obstacle (“the god of madness”). Isaac Ginsberg Miller’s poems are a deep contemplation on our ability to choose to keep living.”

–Nandi Comer, author of Tapping Out

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