It’s a dark January in America, the beginning of a year—who can even imagine four years?—that will bring changes no one can enumerate for certain, but most of us fear. My social media feeds, once filled with my writer friends outdoing each other in wit and wordplay, have been bulging with political news and calls to action. Many of us now hesitate before posting anything not political, our everyday frustrations and questions and triumphs feeling trivial in the face of direct threats to our democracy. I’ve seen friends apologizing for posting photos of their children or links to newly published work. One acquaintance called directly for all of us to post exclusively about the dire political situation, claiming that history would judge us harshly for our self-involvement if we did not.
For many writers, this has transferred to their own work. Many have been paralyzed since the election—perhaps first out of shock and dread, but then in part because they fear their work is trivial, superfluous, if it is not directly and overtly political.
Others have argued far better than I that art is inherently political. But I want to add this: whether you believe art is political or not, whether you have been a poet who is also a news junkie or a writer like me who looks out the window a lot and often has to say, “No, I didn’t hear that. Please tell me about it” when the topic of conversation is current events, writing still matters. It matters because embracing complexity and nuance, exploring not just what happens but what it means, and reaching towards understanding of the human condition makes us all better. Whether we are writing or reading, art keeps pushing our minds to be larger, more adaptable, subtler. Minds made great like this cannot be coerced into the narrowness of greed or jingoism.
The essays and poems presented in this issue of Sweet were written before the fateful 2016 presidential election. But they are as relevant now as they were months ago, as they will be years from now. They take on the challenges of trying to understand this paradoxical world through words. And they do it with courage as well as craft, forging connections with and for us all.
— Katie Riegel