Rogue Agent is a journal that is, at its core, about bodies. The journal started out as a very personal project for me. I am a person with multiple disabilities. This plays an important part in what I write and informs Rogue Agent as well. My first full-length book of poems, Suites for the Modern Dancer, is a braided narrative that features themes of blindness and mental illness. My chapbook Chance Operations is about chronic pain.
But I didn’t always write about disability or claim the identity of “person with a disability.” When I started my MFA, I was attracted to high-stakes poetry, poems that took risks and allowed themselves to be vulnerable. Thrown into the world of working poets, I became aware that such poetry was not approved of by everyone. Some professors, editors, and other writers thought that it was inappropriate or unnecessary. They labeled it confessional, and spoke the word with disgust. However, I took some disability studies courses and the purpose for my work, and what would ultimately be the mission of Rogue Agent, slowly coalesced. I was going to be bold and honest about who I was; I would write visceral poetry that moved the emotions and was grounded in the body.
When I graduated and started sending work out to journals, frankly I was scared. When I received a rejection, was it because of the quality of the poem or because of its content? I soon found journals like Breath & Shadow and Wordgathering—these venues focused solely on disability. My work was welcomed there. But I wanted my poems to be accepted not just in disability circles, but in the wider world of literary journals. In what aspect of the literary world did my poems fit?
At the same time this was happening, Trayvon Martin was shot and killed. Although the abuse of black people by police has been and continues to be ongoing, Martin’s story was the first time I really paid attention with my whole heart. I got angry, and I got thoughtful. I thought about the kind of privilege I had, and the kind of privilege I didn’t have. I thought about bodies and the way gender, race, sexuality, disability, religion, parenthood—and many more facets of identity— are experienced through the body. I wanted to push back against people in positions of political, economic, and cultural power who wanted to erase or “write over” marginalized bodies.
Eventually to put my thoughts into action I decided to start a journal that would take as its mission a stance of disagreement with those who argue that poems about the body are taboo, invalid, or no longer needed. I invited poets and artists to submit work that took risks with language and form, allowed vulnerability to be present on the page, and authentically portrayed their lives as they lived it. Whether a poem is straightforwardly narrative or surreally imagistic, I want to amplify this expression of the author’s lived experience.
Imagining another’s background and circumstances through engaging with their poetry and art can increase a reader’s empathy. By gathering different experiences together in each issue, Rogue Agent creates interesting and provocative intersections of identity, being, style, and form.
Rogue Agent is a relatively young journal (three years old) and we seem to be gaining in popularity. Bringing our poets’ and artists’ work to a wider audience is one way to send authentic experience into the societal landscape of marginalized stereotypes. A way to talk about problems. A way to imagine solutions instead of stalemates. A way for creativity and openness to fight the divisive forces of toxic masculinity and misuse of power. Editing Rogue Agent is something that is exciting but also humbling. RogueAgent isn’t me; it isn’t an editorial team. It’s the voices of the authors and artists that shape the journal, give it power and meaning. All 37 issues are available for you to read right now, (for free!) at rogueagentjournal.com.
Jill Khoury is interested in the intersection of poetry, visual art, representations of gender, and disability. She is a Western Pennsylvania Writing Project fellow and teaches workshops focusing on writing the body. She holds an MFA from The Ohio State University. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous journals, including Copper Nickel, Bone Bouquet, Lunch Ticket, and diode. She has written two chapbooks—Borrowed Bodies(Pudding House, 2009) and Chance Operations (Paper Nautilus, 2016). Her debut full-length collection, Suites for the Modern Dancer, was released in 2016 from Sundress Publications. Find her on the web at jillkhoury.com.
BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month
Maybe you have lines living in you. Maybe you’ve been walking around like the speaker in Maggie Smith’s “Good Bones”: “This place could be beautiful, / right? You could make this place beautiful.” Maybe you’ve been inspired by Isobel O’Hare’s erasures, and have an urge to address some things. Maybe you’ve woken up in the spiked night, with a line swimming out of the deep. Maybe you have a story to tell. Or, maybe you memorized Jericho Brown’s “Colosseum” and have been repeating to yourself: “I cannot locate the origin / Of slaughter, but I know / How my own feels, that I live with it / And sometimes use it / To get the living done . . .”
These poetic efforts have touched me in the last few months, in that strange trigonometry of language, chance, and seeking, that we readers and writers do. Brown’s lines resonated with me, brought me low, and offered something – if not quite comfort, then a kind of recognition.