Room and Augur put together our Utopia issue in a world where dystopia is always happening somewhere, as Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki wrote for Uncanny in 2022. Rewriting the future is critical work. It also happens in the living rooms, public buses, bomb shelters, coffee shops, hospital parking lots, and libraries of the world we inhabit today, from the pens of writers living every flavour of dystopia.
Utopia is not static: we build toward it every day. The through-line between our ravaged world and the liberatory utopias imagined by writerly visionaries is love. Longing for utopia is an act of love. Organizing toward utopia is an act of love. Building toward utopia is an act of love.
In this season of plastic roses and unethically-sourced discount chocolates, Room would like to make a different offering. This collection of love poems comes from writers who hold the present we live in and the utopias we dream of together in their hands and honour the time we spend walking the path from here to there. This Valentine’s Day, spend some time with this suite of revolutionary love poems; loving in a dystopia is a profoundly utopic act.
“INTIFADA INCANTATION: POEM 38 FOR B.B.L.,” by June Jordan
I SAID I LOVED YOU AND I WANTED
GENOCIDE TO STOP
I SAID I LOVED YOU AND I WANTED AFFIRMATIVE
ACTION AND REACTION
I SAID I LOVED YOU AND I WANTED MUSIC
OUT THE WINDOWS
I SAID I LOVED YOU AND I WANTED
NOBODY THIRST AND NOBODY
I SAID I LOVED YOU AND I WANTED I WANTED
JUSTICE UNDER MY NOSE
“We Love What We Have,” by Mosab Abu Toha
We love what we have, no matter how little,
because if we don’t, everything will be gone. If we don’t,
we will no longer exist, since there will be nothing here for us.
What’s here is something that we are still
building. It’s something we cannot yet see,
because we are part
“A Litany for Survival,” by Audre Lorde
For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.
“Love Poems in the Time of Climate Change, Sonnet XVII,” by Craig Santos Perez
I don’t love you as if you were rare earth metals, diamonds,
or reserves of crude oil that propagate war:
I love you as one loves most vulnerable things,
urgently, between the habitat and its loss.
Jericho Brown in conversation with the Kenyon Review
Every poem is a love poem. Every poem is a political poem. So say the masters. Every love poem is political. Every political poem must fall in love.
The political poem has an aim, whether the poet is aware of it or not. When I say I love you, I mean for you to understand that I exist in relation to you. And to your view of me.
“For My People,” by Margaret Walker
For my people standing staring trying to fashion a better way
from confusion, from hypocrisy and misunderstanding,
trying to fashion a world that will hold all the people,
all the faces, all the adams and eves and their countless generations;
Let a new earth rise. Let another world be born.
“Instructions on Not Giving Up,” by Ada Limón
When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty.
“If They Should Come for Us,” by Fatimah Asghar
my people I follow you like constellations
we hear the glass smashing the street
& the nights opening their dark
our names this country’s wood
for the fire my people my people
the long years we’ve survived the long
years yet to come I see you map
my sky the light your lantern long
ahead & I follow I follow
“Tonight I’ll Dream of Nadia,” by Hala Alyan
When I ask the doctor if she’ll wake up again,
he says inshallah, a gift, a falsehood, and I thank him
for the prayer, for the antimicrobial soap, for
my uncle later that night in the nightclub shouting,
I love my people, and the music moving my hips
From “Understory,” by Craig Santos Perez
“Postcolonial Love Poem,” by Natalie Diaz
I’ve been taught bloodstones can cure a snakebite,
can stop the bleeding—most people forgot this
when the war ended. The war ended
depending on which war you mean: those we started,
before those, millennia ago and onward,
those which started me
What if the future is soft and revolution is so kind that there is no end to us in sight.
Whole cities breathe and bad luck is bested by a promise to the leaves.
To withstand your own end is difficult.
The future frolics about, promised to no one, as is her right.
“Elegy,” by Aracelis Girmay
Perhaps one day you touch the young branch
of something beautiful. & it grows & grows
despite your birthdays & the death certificate,
& it one day shades the heads of something beautiful
or makes itself useful to the nest. Walk out
of your house, then, believing in this.
“Love and Strange Horses—Intima’,” by Nathalie Handal
He came towards me.
It was a quiet afternoon.
I stood unmoving.
And we listened to untitled music
circling the earth like an anthem
free of its nation.
“You Are Who I Love,” by Aracelis Girmay
You are who I love, changing policies, standing in line for water, stocking the food pantries, making a meal
You are who I love, writing letters, calling the senators, you who, with the seconds of your body (with your time here), arrive on buses, on trains, in cars, by foot to stand in the January streets against the cool and brutal offices, saying: YOUR CRUELTY DOES NOT SPEAK FOR ME