Welcome to LINE LEVEL: Craft Lessons from Poets of Color, a monthly column in which writer, editor, and educator Joanna Acevedo zooms in on an element of craft from the work of BIPOC poets. LINE LEVEL unfolds in three parts: an excerpt of a poem, followed by a contributor’s note, followed by Acevedo’s own exploration into the poet’s world of language. Guided by a curiosity that yields learning, we are invited to consider historical context, stylistic influences, and more, all the way down to the level of the line. This month, Acevedo discusses “lot’s wife shopping in a pandemic” from Pentimento by Joshua Garcia.

“lot’s wife shopping in a pandemic” from Pentimento by Joshua Garcia

you extend the same invitation +++come +++in opposite directions
++++a difference between turning back +++the pages +++and skipping
to the end +++both a kind of understanding +++at some point i hope
you can put things in the past +++your mother tells you +++i thought we were so far
++++past this +++and maybe you were are +++maybe you just got +++turned
++++around in the work of loving +++a person +++for a whole life+++turned around in
the blindfold of memory +++in the past +++both behind and beyond
maybe somewhere the we language +++turned to I language +++turned to you
++++and above the highway +++flashing +++SAVE LIVES +++STAY HOME
as you drive into town +++three separate times +++to find the right pair of jeans
++++three separate times +++because the shops won’t let you try +++on clothes
anymore +++because you need to leave +++some of it behind for an hour
++++or return to it +++they keep saying they want to burn +++it all down
++++she says +++and you don’t tell her +++you mean it when you do
that you’ve dug +++your hands into the soil +++and are unsure
++++of what’s worth salvaging +++you decided you need +++a new wardrobe
the last time you were downtown P+++the last time you ordered another drink
++++because you thought more was still possible +++can’t we just start over?
++++wouldn’t it be easier +++if we just start +++over? +++you turn
in the mirror +++hanging from your bedroom door +++to see
++++if the new jeans fit +++gaze over your shoulder +++to see how you look
from behind +++how you look +++walking away +++from something you never had
or always did P+++a tug of war +++in the blood +++come with me +++behind
++++and beyond +++your +++heart hardening against it all

Contributor’s Note // Joshua Garcia

This poem comes from a series of reimagined biblical scenes I wrote as I was reckoning with my faith and reorienting my relationship to its narratives. The form of these poems is largely influenced by James Longenbach’s The Art of the Poetic Line, in which he writes, “Some poets have argued that the rejection of the line carries a kind of political charge, just as poets once felt that the rejection of rhyming verse for blank verse or blank verse for free verse carries a political charge.” Longenbach’s suggestion of a political form stuck with me as I began re-evaluating my experience in the church as a queer person; coping with the onset of the pandemic; and grieving the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and others. The world felt like it was crumbling, and I think many of us were reflecting deeply on the past while trying to carve a way forward. By stripping these poems of a traditional structure and breaking up the text to allow breath and silence to control the pacing, I hoped these poems would formally mirror the feeling of moving toward an uncertain future. 


Craft Lessons from Poets of Color //  Joanna Acevedo

We all talk about poetic form, but what are a poem’s formal limits? How do we know we’ve found the right form for our poetry? Form can be a confusing territory to navigate, but as we see in Joshua Garcia’s poem, “lot’s wife shopping in the pandemic,” manipulating form can completely change the meaning, pacing, and breath of a poem. Without form, we would simply be writing prose, and indeed, prose poems do blur the lines—but control of the formal elements of a poem means control over how the reader comes to the poem. Intentionality with form can open whole different worlds, and changing up the way a poem is structured can radically change the way it is read, felt, and experienced. 

I’ve always liked this quote from Ocean Vuong: “Besides being a vehicle for the poem’s movement, I see form as … an extension of the poem’s content, a space where tensions can be investigated even further. The way the poem moves through space, its enjambment or end-stopped line breaks, its utterances and stutters, all work in tangent with the poem’s conceit…” This quote sees form as an expansion of the poem itself, a way that the poem can open up and invite the reader in based simply on not the words, but the way that they are arranged. In Garcia’s poem, the form is integral to the way the poem works—the way the words are arranged create a feeling of movement, scattered and frantic as it may be. Garcia mentions uncertainty; this poem feels uncertain in the way it second guesses itself, hopping from place to place on the page, surprising the reader with where it ends up. 

This tension between what a poem is made of and what it looks like can manifest in many different ways. Garcia’s language is simple and straightforward, and he does not engage in traditional language or imagery; in short, this is not a poem in the sense that we would think of one if we were to say, Google “poem,” or look for a “poem,” in an Encyclopedia. He uses repetition, but he’s not engaging with typical metaphors or similes, or making the kinds of observations that we would associate with traditional poetics. This breaking down of norms and forms creates something entirely new and original—and it shows that form has almost no limitations. Crossing out words, repeating words, changing the way that words appear on the page; all of these options and more have almost infinite possibilities attached to them, which allows for endless exploration and experimentation.

In Garcia’s poem, this breakdown is a symbol in itself—he is using the choppiness of the form to make the reader feel panicked about the uncertain future in the wake of the unjust deaths of Black people at the hands of the police through the stutter stops and breath manipulation that come out of working in such a stop-and-start format. Like Vuong notes, the poem’s form has become a part of the poem itself, the content and the form become inextricably linked. 

Addressing one’s own forms when writing can be a daunting task. Writing poetry is already difficult, and having to tackle the problem of what your poems look like as well as how they sound makes it even more difficult. But being conscious of goals—how you want the reader to experience your work—can be an excellent place to start. If you want your reader to linger in one spot, or move quickly through a stanza, or you want their eyes to skip through a certain section; all of these are ways to change the form and guide your reader so that they are reading your work the way you want to be read.

In Garcia’s case, his forms bring us into a new space, moving away from traditional forms and into the future, whatever that may be. Poetry is constantly evolving, and we don’t know what will come next. As a community of writers, who knows what will come next? It’s up to us to keep trying new things, keep writing, and as we invent new forms, we can shape the world around us. 

Joshua Garcia is the author of Pentimento (Black Lawrence Press, March 2024). His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Ecotone, The Georgia Review, Passages North, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. He holds an MFA from the College of Charleston and has received a Stadler Fellowship from Bucknell University and an Emerge—Surface—Be Fellowship from The Poetry Project. He lives and writes in Brooklyn, New York.

Joanna Acevedo

is a writer, editor, and educator from New York City. She is the author of two books and two chapbooks, and her writing has been seen across the web and in print, including in Jelly Bucket, Hobart, The Rumpus, and The Adroit Journal, among others. She received her MFA in Fiction from New York University in 2021, and also holds degrees from Bard College and The New School. Read more about her and her work at

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