Literary MagNet: Hope Wabuke

Dana Isokawa
From the May/June 2022 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

In her debut poetry collection, The Body Family (Haymarket Books, April 2022), Hope Wabuke potrays her family’s experiences fleeing Idi Amin’s regime in Uganda in 1976 and making a new life as refugees in the United States. In lyric and narrative poems that focus on different people—global leaders, figures from Christianity, her family members—Wabuke positions the traumas of the individual within the global legacy of colonialism and anti-Blackness. With their deft use of space and caesuras, the poems gesture at what is unspeakable about, and who can no longer speak for, this violent past while suggesting that a form of healing can be found through passing on one’s history. As Wabuke writes in “Refugee Mind”: “you must speak you must let yourself be known / by these new children in all your glorious // tangled mess of becoming.” 

Hope Wabuke.

While working on The Body Family for the past ten years, Wabuke says literary journal editors have often allowed her to “see more clearly the center of a poem or themes running through the poems.” When she sent a “sprawling four-page narrative poem” to the North American Review, for example, editor J. D. Schraffenberger replied that he saw a complete eleven-line poem within the sprawl. Wabuke happily agreed, and the print journal published the edited poem, “Rib,” in 2015. Wabuke says it changed how she thinks as a poet, teacher, and editor: “It was a pivotal learning experience about scope and resonance and finding the crystalline center of a poem.” Established in 1815, the North American Review is one of the country’s oldest literary magazines and claims writers such as Frederick Douglass, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Edith Wharton among its contributors. Currently housed at the University of Northern Iowa, the print review of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction comes out three or four times a year. Submissions are open during the academic year via Submittable. 

A series of poems reimagining religious figures is threaded throughout The Body Family, starting with “Figure 1: Portrait of Ruth Understanding What Became of Eve in the Garden as Her Own Body as War. Materials: Wind & Sand” and ending with “Figure 12: Self-Portrait as Fire and Oshun. Materials: Water.” A version of the latter originally appeared in 2018 as “Skin II: Firebird” in the Collagist, an online journal started by Matt Bell and affiliated with Dzanc Books. In 2019 the journal editors started operating independently as the Rupture, an online magazine of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and criticism committed to, as poetry editor Marielle Prince says, “[the] breaking of some kind of silence, refusing to leave something alone, troubling it, stressing it to see what happens.” Submissions to the Rupture, which publishes every two months, are open via Submittable until July 31.

Another of Wabuke’s poems on religious figures, “Figure 4: Pièta II, Black Body as Crucifix Patterned With a Field of Skittles Crossed with Seven-UP against a Blood Red Sky. Materials: White Concrete and Lead,” originally appeared as “The Nerve” in 2015 in Fjords Review. Wabuke says the poem was a way to mourn Trayvon Martin and “opened out to discuss anti-Blackness, grief, loss, and fear.” The piece appeared in a special edition of the journal that centered Black American authors and was edited by poet Geffrey Davis. Fjords Review publishes work online and in a print annual; a recent print issue featured interdisciplinary writer Rebecca Gayle Howell in conversation with Kelly McQuain, photos by Sean Yseult, and poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and translation from more than twenty writers. Starting this year the editors also plan to publish four to ten chapbooks and four to ten full-length titles in all genres. Submissions to Fjords Review are open via Submittable.

Wabuke was delighted for her poem “Judges” to appear in a poetry portfolio on love and justice curated by one of her favorite poets, Crystal Williams, for the Sun. The poem, which voices the disconnect between a Ugandan father and his American children (“he wonders how they can want him softer when there is no room for softness can they not see such a thing was death where he comes from”), ran alongside pieces by Anuradha Bhowmik, Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello, Ashley M. Jones, and Danez Smith, among others. Based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the Sun seeks to “evoke the splendor and heartache of being human” in its monthly issues of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and photography. Submissions are open online and via postal mail.

From 2020 to 2022, Wabuke served as poetry editor, along with Michael Mlekoday, of Ruminate, which had previously published her poems in Issues 34 and 38. “I enjoyed the ethos and outlook of the magazine,” notes Wabuke; Ruminate “invites slowing down and paying attention” and publishes poems, short stories, and essays. Wabuke adds that editing there helped her “think of the poem as process, to think about the collaborative aspect between poet and editor.” Under her and Mlekoday’s tenure, the print quarterly published poets such as Hajjar Baban, Janine Certo, and Susannah Lodge-Rigal. Ruminate also publishes an online journal, the Waking, which focuses on short prose and image-text work. Submissions to Ruminate and the Waking are open via Submittable.    


Dana Isokawa is a contributing editor of Poets & Writers Magazine and the managing editor of the Margins.