In his essay “What Was the Contribution of Neighbors?” Terrence Hayes writes about legendary Indy poet Etheridge Knight and his legacy, “I once thought a life was simply the accumulation of ideas, but now I think it may simply be the accumulation of details.” Reading The Indianapolis Anthology I find myself reflecting on the city in a new way. It isn’t just a place, but the details of the place that create its identity. More than 50 poets and essayists tackle the city from a myriad of angles, exploring and defining its landscape through city streets and neighborhoods, urban gardens and green spaces, monuments, historic figures, demolished and lost histories, and personal lived experiences. Edited by Norman Minnick, the book seems to capture the “Sense of Place,” that Will Higgins describes as, “more than simple nostalgia… Sense of Place builds civic identity, civic awareness. It builds community. People who know their environs feel more connected, more involved, more like insiders, more like…citizens.” (“Pink Poodle”)
In “Walking to the Circle: 25 Miles through a Divided City,” Michael McColly writes, “It’s odd to travel by foot in places where you’ve lived and known in one way or another for years and discover that they are as foreign as another county.” Reading the anthology, I am an explorer allowed to glimpse Indianapolis city life and roots from someone else’s street. On an unknown city street, I dance with poet Chantel Massey:
…my feet know the middle of the streets
are holy ground so i dance on the yellow lines
my knees bent / my feet step / my gap out
my homegirl chants AYE with her phone on me:
Black body in the middle of the street that is warm
and moving. my locs sway on my face
i can feel my laugh—like a choir hum
as the car lights orbit this body of a planet—
i mean is it not otherworldly to watch a Black girl like this?
watch her beam?
watch her bend into eclipse?
drivers thought the moon sunk into itself. (“Permission on Holy Ground”)
I experience grief on the streets in Haughville with Nasreen Khan in “This is Dogtown,” as she walks her son in his stroller near where a mother was killed in a drive-by, “I don’t know what day she died, so all I know is that her death shrine lists my birthday.”
With Nelson Price, I visit the marshy streets of a newborn city nearly wiped out just as its settlement was beginning. “‘You fools,’ Doc Coe scolded state leaders….for selecting a miserable site for the new capital city.” Doc Coe’s home once stood on what is now Monument Circle. The essay describes the “inglorious decay” during the 70s when the circle was no longer a destination. But in its recovery, “Surely part of the way forward, now as then, is to listen to visionaries in our midst.” (“Doc Coe and the Malaria Epidemic”)
Certainly, Indianapolis has a record of visionary influencers (several come up in this book). Who will be remembered 100 years from now for making Indianapolis what it is today? Perhaps some of those who are speaking through these pages, writing the city’s stories, remembering, living, acting, and building channels of communication to help the city change (if ever slowly) and thrive. The Indianapolis Anthology is a great addition to the cultural and literary legacies of the city.
Rachel Sahaidachny is Executive Director of the Indiana Writers Center, a non-profit dedicated to supporting a thriving literary arts culture in Indiana. She also serves on the board of The R/Evolution Fund working to breakup inequities in arts communities. Sahaidachny has over fifteen years of experience in nonprofit management, with the past decade spent in arts administration. Sahaidachny is also a poet, and editor. Her editorial experience spans nearly a decade and includes: associate editor of The Indianapolis Review, co-editor of Not Like the Rest of Us: An Anthology of Contemporary Indiana Writers, and former poetry editor for Booth: A Journal. Recent writing has been published in The South Dakota Review, The Southeast Review, Radar Poetry, Community of Writers Poetry Review, Indiana Humanities, Nuvo, Red Paint Hill and others. She was a finalist in the 2016 Radar Poetry Coniston Prize, and she was awarded first prize in the Wabash Watershed Indiana Poetry Awards. She holds an M.F.A. in Poetry from Butler University.
Monthly reviews of books written by Indiana authors are made possible by the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Awards and Indiana Humanities. Opinions expressed in this review are solely those of the reviewer, not any affiliated entity.