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Post 2: Scorch Atlas & from Un/Incorporated Territory

<—–See here for Post 1.

<More notes on CSP’s & BB’s books below. I would like to fill in holes, elaborate, rethink  at a later date>

Craig Santos Perez’s work is poly-vocal, bringing into mutual resonance several distinct, divergent voices: that of interior experience and reflection (I), that of the sales person finding language to entice consumers to come to Guam, that of the surveyor and historian, the voice of family members, and the meta-poetic voice. The layering of these voices could appear as a stock post-modern structural gesture, but on further examination the subject dictates this method of composition via disparate fragments. It is a hybrid gesture, a dual acceptance and rejection of poetic conventions, a method of communicating the post-colonial subject’s psyche on its own terms.


The alphabet is an aggressive and militant absorber and transformer of cultures.

The alphabet cannot be assimilated; it can only liquidate or reduce (50).

That is, left justified narrative-lyric cannot be deployed in the name of decolonialization. Instead, Craig Santos Perez’ composition by field that gives each voice its own shape on the page restores the tactile and pictorial qualities to the experience of language that the bulldozer of print normally effaces.


The poem can also be seen in these terms: Elaine Scarry speaks of the body clenched in the agonies of physical torture as without “ground.” The agonized body is unable to perceive beyond itself—the pain is a total occlusion. One constricts under pain, twists into a fetal position and loses orientation—the horizontal and vertical awareness collapses into the sensation it is producing. Craig Santos Perez’ voice in sections such as Stations of the Cross is this agonized and, importantly, groundless voice. Between gestures that point beyond source texts to colonial and later Imperial depredations, ritual animal slaughter, and even the passage of Jesus through Jerusalem to crucifixion, we have “the horizon become walled,” an encircling that diminishes perception and agency. In near proximity to this we find “buried / fields of burnt soil” and “slain / ground” culminating in “press the knife” and ultimately one of the costs of pain, the loss of articulate language, the “wail” (68). It is no wonder that here the earth itself is removed from the subject, consumed, and in the viscosity of this welter of overlapping subjects we see the heaviest fragmentations of source texts and familiar syntax (check), an erosion of the typical ground of the reader.

Ground is also lost in a larger sense when a colonial or imperial power asserts hegemony over a people and a system of ownership based on radically different topographical understandings. That is, it is a matter of not who owns or can access what in the new power structure but enforced realignments of what can be owned or accessed—what, in a sense, constitutes the purview of a people.  Early in From Incorporated Territory Guam is referred to as “the first province of the great ocean” and later we are given “to prove the ocean / was once a flag.” Both of these quotes are assertions of an expansive sense of identity for the Chamoru people, one that understands one’s ground as the currents between nodes—channels of exchange. This is a radical inversion of Western understandings of one’s land, fixed as it is one that which can be circumscribed—a yard, a city, a landmass—not that which can circumscribe—a current, an ocean. This is suggested most evocatively in the epigram which quotes Aimé Césaire,“Islands scars of the waters” (53) and emphasized in the naming of the ocean as a “field”—an earth of its own and a source of fecundity. In light of these assertions, the knowledge of the Spanish’s denial of the Chamorus the ocean and the people’s subsequent loss of ocean going technology is devastating. A cleavage of houses, homes, grounds in two and a blow to whole category of topographic knowledge, a knowledge that can read the surface of the water (33), making a ghetto of the island. Colonial occupation also attempts to position the island as an extension, a forward base of a continental United States and striking a blow against a consciousness of Guam as part of constellation of pacific islands that form “Oceana.”

Much of this is dully obvious and doesn’t deviate much form the script the book itself provides for itself (which isn’t shy to annotate, footnote, explain). Nor is this an attempt to delve into the larger juxtapositional strategies of the book and the larger sequence that each book his epic in progress forms. But one runs the chance of missing it in the vivid language, the edges, and the stridency of the composition—how it turns toward action, outrage and sometimes prettiness—that when held to the light at a certain angle—this book charts the total, relentless dispossession of a people. A physical domination of bodies and land and also a metaphysical domination—a changing of the meaning of land, of space in the production of colonial and military spaces. A double dispossession that in certain moments of crisis results in a total lack of orientation in the voice of the dispossessed (much as the body in pain) and at others a hard clarity.


Filed under: Book Notes

About the Author

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Joe Hall is the author of five books of poetry, including Someone's Utopia (2018) and Fugue & Strike (forthcoming). His poems, reviews, and scholarship have appeared in Poetry Daily, The Academy of American Poets Poem-A-Day, Postcolonial Studies, Peach Mag,, PEN America Blog, Poetry Northwest, Ethel Zine, Gulf Coast, Best Buds! Collective, and Eighteenth-Century Fiction. He has taught poetry workshops for teachers, teens, and workers through Just Buffalo and the WNYCOSH Worker Center.

1 Comment so far

  1. Pingback: Butler/Perez Part 3: Scorch Atlas | Pigafetta, Poetry, and Painkillers

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