By Victor D. Infante

2016 has been a strange sort of watershed for celebrity culture, from the deaths of beloved public figures such as Prince, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Glen Frey, Gene Wilder, Edward Albee, W.P. Kinsella and Muhammed Ali, to the the circus of a reality TV star running for president. Every aspect of culture has, in the course of things, become politicized, and our politics have become conflated with pop culture. It’s hard to tell what’s real anymore.

Hard, but not impossible. Here’s what’s real: 13-year-old Tyre King was shot by Columbus, Ohio, police while holding a BB gun, even though Ohio is an open-carry state. What’s real is that there are voices already looking to blame the child for his own death. What’s real is that this is barely a blip on the news because evidently the slaying of a black child at the hands of authorities has become so commonplace that it hardly registers.

That child was real, and his life mattered, and yet our authorities and our media treated his life as though it were disposable, at best a curio. That’s unconscionable. That’s an affront to decency on a monumental scale. We should be ashamed of ourselves as a nation that this not only was allowed to happen, but that it was greeted with a shrug.

And you’ll have to forgive us that we have little sympathy for people who are upset that the sanctity of their football game has been disturbed by the silent protests of athletes refusing to say the pledge of allegiance. You will try to say that politics has no place in sports, but the history of athletics would beg to differ, as perhaps best exemplified by the late Ali. Whether it be professionals such as Colin Kaepernick or high school players such as Michael Oppong of Worcester, Massachusetts, athletes silently taking a respectful knee during the pledge has been a powerful and striking reminder that this wound is still open, and bleeding.

Make no mistake: The world is bleeding, and whether it be here, Europe, China, the Middle East or Africa, there are very real people who’s lives are being destroyed by the quest for power: Corporate hegemony, religious zealotry, racial supremacy, radical nationalism … these are all, ultimately, symptoms of small groups of people seeking to exercise control over other people and their resources. We can dress it up any which way we like, but it’s still tyranny, and it’s still appalling.

For our 2016 Best of the Net nominations, we’ve chosen five poems and one short story that we feel speak to those wounds in a variety of ways. As always, we’re not fans of rhetoric: We like our politics personal, and prefer that the lens focus on real people and real emotion, not ideology or didacticism. Ultimately, we believe that the struggles and pain of normal people are real, and worthy or respect. We loved Prince, Bowie, Albee and the rest, but feel King’s death is just as noteworthy, and far, far more tragic: Those great artists brought the world marvelous things, but that child was a world of untapped potential. That’s what’s real. That’s what’s gone.

Our 2016 Best of the Net Nominees



  • Dear Nat,” by Anastacia Renee Tolbert (Pub. July 17, 2015)