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Essay / Expressions

A Call for Anthropological Poems of Resistance, Refusal, and Wayfinding

SAPIENS is seeking poetry submissions for a curated collection that will publish next year. Deadline: September 1, 2024.
A person stands inside a moving flame of yellow light while sparks fly out in all directions. A second person stands on the left side holding an umbrella against the sparks.

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SAPIENS Anthropology Magazine invites creative works for the upcoming poetry project: Poems of Resistance, Refusal, and Wayfinding

As wars rage, inequities intensify, and repressions persist, our editorial team asks how poets—informed by anthropological themes and research—can speak to the ways sociopolitical movements and people’s everyday moments can resist and refuse as a means to defend or usher in other ways of living and being.

We invite submissions of poems to this special call by Sunday, September 1, 2024. Details below.


Anthropologists have long tried to understand how power works across a group of people or diverse groups of people in, say, a colony, nation-state, or transnational contexts. In restricted circumstances, people still have some level of agency in what they do, say, or think—and how they relate to others—even if it may not always be visible.

Yet legal, political, and other such constraints obviously exist across various spectrums. These impact people differently—but nonetheless shape social engagements and people’s capacity to speak back to or outrightly reject power. Broadly, many social scientists have argued that where domination exists so, too, exists resistance.

But pinning down the forms, meanings, and intentions of people’s resistance has proved challenging. Do social movements substantively challenge domination, or do they often reproduce it in new forms? How do these movements emerge in the first place—and persist?

When zeroing in to study what anthropologist James Scott called “everyday forms” of resistance not part of broader movements, are people’s actions conscious or not? And are they actually about social change and resistance—or something else? Moreover, is resistance only within the realm of humans? Might plants and animals also resist?

While no consensus exists as to these and myriad other issues, anthropologists agree that societies, and the social norms that reproduce them, are not static. Examples abound showing how, for example, disparate peoples adapt and appropriate whatever is meaningful to some other gain—as a Yukon village leader explained to an anthropologist: “‘We have always accepted and reshaped technology that works for our own purposes.’”

Rather than a static “culture,” communities on the ground show “‘an inexhaustible reservoir of responses to the world’s challenge.’” People resist everything from state rule, to how others name them or their communities, to language dominance or language loss, to new media and other technologies, alongside much more. They may do so through poems, song, or dance.

Yet not all negotiations of power reflect resistance. Anthropologists such as Carole McGranahan question the limits of studies of “resistance” for how they are deeply tied to domination. Perhaps not surprisingly, some of what anthropologists have been seeing in their fieldwork doesn’t fit: People’s actions and words emerge on their own terms and move beyond mere response to domination or class struggles.


As a related but different lens, refusal rejects “‘differential power relationships,’” reconfiguring relationships and engagements along other lines. When an individual or community expresses refusal, it can denote “an insistence on a certain sort of grounding in the world,” anthropologist McGranahan explains. That is, an implied “yes” even as there is an embodied and emphatic “no”— “a deliberate move toward one thing, belief, practice, or community and away from another.” People halt engagement or refuse consent in order to support what is of interest to them rather than a dominating force.

For example, the anthropologist Audra Simpson writes about refusal by Mohawks of Kahnawa:kà, saying, the community “holds on to a truth … and operates as the revenge of consent—the consent to these [settler-colonial present] conditions.” As an academic, Simpson aligns with her community and refuses to share certain insights from her fieldwork in her writings, saying “no” to demands of the field and the publishing environment while saying “yes” to the values of her interviewees.

But refusal can also be a “no, not that”—without knowing what’s to come.

Explicitly or implicitly, then, both resistance and refusal invite wayfinding—whether to reclaim and rework something of tradition or to carve new spaces.


Poets inside and outside the field of anthropology have shown us how resistance and refusal work. Consider June Jordan’s poem “Moving Toward Home,” which starts with refusal:

“I do not wish to speak about the bulldozer and the
red dirt
not quite covering all of the arms and legs”

Then moves the focus to “home” and “living room”:

“because I need to speak about home
I need to speak about living room
where the land is not bullied and beaten to
a tombstone”

Poets usurp, resist, refuse, and silence to bring readers to a new awareness or grounding. They have often led the way, resisting, as Geoffrey Hilsabeck argues, “the degradation of language. … hopelessness, alienation, and cynicism.”

They confront and resist empire—and defend human rights. Across decades and continents, their words galvanize and inspire. And they ensure their “voices will always be louder than their erasure,” as Palestinian American poet Noor Hindi writes in “Against Erasure.”

Specifically, we see poet-anthropologists, for example, refusing language supremacy and labels to articulate “being in these times” in three languages in “Feeling What We Are” by Delmar Ulises Méndez-Gómez.

Others, as Justin D. Wright recounts, refuse anti-Black racism through the “elemental craft of Black survival.” Yet others, such as Grace H. Zhou, use the tools of erasure to read archives against the grain and to carve new meanings out of xenophobic histories.


Resistance and refusal, then, push writers and scholars into spaces of wayfinding. Poets and ethnographers are familiar with crafting ways forward by attending to surprises, ruptures, buried histories, sensorial experiences, and much more.

In poems, wayfinding may take shape through craft elements, fresh forms, or content. For example, Ather Zia’s speaker in “i. will. cross” is a character who traverses the Line of Control in Kashmir, seeking freedom and independence. 2022 Poet-in-Residence Jason Vasser-Elong uses form to evoke a labyrinth in writing about experiences of abuse. Meanwhile, poet-anthropologist and Passamaquoddy tribal member Natalie Dana-Lolar speaks to braiding knowledge, reclaiming, and remembering as ways to heal.


We invite you to submit original, previously unpublished, well-crafted anthropologically informed poems that speak to the themes of resistance, refusal, and wayfinding.

We invite authors to submit up to 3 poems compiled in a SINGLE Word document or ONE PDF (no more than 8 pages total) or up to 3 audio or video files. Do not include your name in the document that contains your poems. A series of 8–10 poems will be featured in the magazine in 2025.

Deadline for submissions is Sunday, September 1, 2024. An honorarium of US$250 will be offered to those whose work is published in the collection.

Submit here (scroll down to submit to the call for anthropological poems of resistance, refusal, and wayfinding).


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