Poetry in the face of adversity with Toho Publishing

2 minute read
The covers of chapbooks from Neti Neti and Leena Taylor. (Images courtesy of Toho Publishing.)
The covers of chapbooks from Neti Neti and Leena Taylor. (Images courtesy of Toho Publishing.)

When the pandemic hit, Toho Publishing had to decide whether it would cancel its second chapbook poetry course and publishing series or figure out a way to translate it into an all-virtual seminar. Andrés Cruciani and his team chose the latter option, and so did the roster of seven of Philadelphia’s prolific poets. While the city and state went through various phases of shutdowns and stay-at-home orders, the poets featured in Toho’s second run were working from home, venturing out as essential employees, navigating their kids’ virtual classrooms, and supporting each other.

The result is a magnificent collection of poetry that will go on to define this period in Philadelphia’s cultural history. While the city made headlines last month for swinging Pennsylvania and determining the course of the election, Philly’s artists have been living and documenting their quieter moments for posterity, giving us a rich glimpse of what it has been like to live in Philadelphia’s 2020.

Poetic justice

Under the instruction of poet Sean Hanrahan, Erica Abbott, Israel Colón, Elisha Gibson, Jonathan Koven, Neti Neti, Ashley Rivera, and Leena Taylor crafted their pieces into cohesive visions. Rivera’s Human by Design explores themes of desire, heartbreak, and sense of self, while Abbott meditates on grief in Self-Portrait as a Sinking Ship. In Fault/Freedom, Gibson ponders history, legacy, and the role they play in it, while Koven delves into his past and the city’s present in Palm Lines. Colón’s Icarus fuses the pain of his past with his thoughts on fatherhood, and Taylor’s they shot anyway contemplates Black Muslim femininity in America. Neti Neti’s Exodus is exactly that, a collection of heartrending goodbyes.

On December 12, aficionados of storytelling, poetry, and art can attend a virtual launch for the second run of Toho chapbooks, where each of the contributing poets will have a chance to speak, sharing the rhythms, nuances, and beauty of their own words in their own voices. The price of admission includes any one of their chapbooks, or a bundle of all for $89.

Throughout the pandemic, the best of Philadelphia cultivated a virtual space where they could support, critique, and encourage each other in a new, and often difficult paradigm. Despite the obstacles presented by their inability to connect in person, Toho and their writers have crafted a seven-volume collection of superb poetry that will resonate with readers and listeners from all walks of life, and on Saturday, they will finally get to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

What, When, Where, and Accessibility:

Toho Publishing presents Chapbook Series II: Online Book Launch on Saturday, December 12, from 6 to 7:30pm. RSVP at Toho's event page.

Image Description: Two book covers with art, one featuring two figures with a floral arrangement in black and white, and another featuring the female gender symbol with fists at the bottom of the symbol.

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