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been hoping to record more The Cowards but need to work some things further. in the meanwhile,

Wendy Trevino’s Cruel Fiction blew me away. The poem “From Santa Rita 128-131,” the transcription of being w/ppl in struggle. “Brazilian Is Not a Race” too–thinking through variegations, agons of identities in context. In my fantasy life I go back to teaching free workshops (instead of sitting around apartment depressed and/or anxious and/or exhausted!) and this is in there. Been turning around and around these lines in “Revolutionary Letter”:

            tl;dr: you don’t need or want

the people who you know

aren’t “with you” to be

with you. really, you don’t

Ed Sanders’ Investigative PoetryI don’t know much about Ed Sanders. Maybe he’s terrible, I don’t know. But I do know I loved his Investigative Poetry, a lecture he gave at the Naropa Institute in 1975. It’s a funny, passionate manifesto for poets to profile/counter-surveil  institutions and the powers that be, ravenous for the dirt. And to use knowledge to enact poetic visitations upon these powers. Look, I love documentary poetry but I think it’s prone to sententiousness and melancholy over the disasters of the past. Which I can still enjoy! But that leaves a vacuum. My take on Sanders is that he’s much more interested surfacing the facts of the present, accumulating data in addition to witnessing. Using a sort of poetic power mapping to clown your local oligarchs, which, often due to ppl’s obsession w/clowning the king, has never actually been done. Either way, this is in the source texts of a documentary poetry course I’ll get to teach on some other plane of existence.

J.T. Roane’s “Plotting the Black Commons,” Souls, January 2, 2019, 1–28. (hit me up if yr facing a pay wall). Part understanding absences in how I’ve understood socio-cultural landscape of my heinous southern, MD relatives/brain-rotting inheritance. Partly toward answering questions I’ve had about how to understand commons as not spaces of universal access but differential use. Roane’s article shines in its particularity. There’s also rich conceptual work happening, particularly his development of black holes in relation to black commons. Check it out.

Rare delight: reading back issue of Tripwire, number 4 on work (2000/1). Parts of it have aged well. Parts…interestingly. Thankful for the context for Karen Brodine’s work (I’m interested in what a collection of radical socialist+ poets would look like); Yepez’ pithy manifest on art and the public which feels right on if you want to not give a shit about 99% of poetry and instead think about where poetry might actually have purchase on a real public; Eileen Myle’s Work Letters (“I’d give the same advice to you, but I know you wont take it”); a very sick burn of David Lehman by Brian Kim Stefans in a book review; Olga Cabral’s epic “Empire State”; the EZLN’s play; Elrick, Banbou, Toscano, Théoret, Roy. The conversation and reviews between and by langpo’ men and early conceptualists in the back end of the issue is the interesting part, a snapshot into the concerns (and omissions, large) of early 00s avant poetics discourse. Folks running on tracks that might have seemed parallel on this issue but which would diverge utterly. Here’s some lines of Brodine’s that make me fly:

the layers, fossils. the idea that this machine she controls

is simply layers of human work hours frozen in steel, tangled

in tiny circuits, blinking out through lights like hot, red eyes

Here’s a PDF of the issue.

Samuel Delaney’s second novel, Captives of the Flame. I’d send this back in time to my fantasy devouring self: “As Tltltrlte came forward, his shoulders narrowed. He pushed back the hood of his cloak and a mass of ebony hair cascaded down his shoulders. With each step, his hips broadened and his waist narrowed. A very definite bulge of mammary glands now pushed up beneath his black silk tunic. As Tltltrlte reached the bottom of the steps, she raised her sword. Think at him, came Arkor from the bird cage. Think at him, came from Petra. Jon saw the blade flash forward and then felt it slide into his abdomen. At her, he corrected.  At her, they answered. As Jon toppled down the steps, dying, he asked, What the hell is this anyway? We’re inhabiting a very advanced species of moss, Arkor explained. ” 1963. As for the whole, either the plot, at points, operated by a kind of dream logic and/or I was really sleepy. I went with it. Enjoyed the poisoned fish/large v small producers/vicious bureaucracy subplot.

Other stuff kicking around. Communes and Workers’ Control in Venezuela by Dario Azzellini. Read the first 3 chapters for a radically different account of the post-Chavez state of Venezuela than that provided by most large news sources. It situates the Venezuelan left within the larger Latin-American council-socialist tradition while also attending to its particularities. The articulation and exploration of the inherent agons in two-track construction of social transformation and how they have and continue to play out is particularly compelling. Particularly the rejection of representative democracy in favor of direct democratic participation. Desperately trying to clear more time to finish this, learn more. I’m wondering how Azzellini will describe resistance to these processes, their relation to the current state of affairs in which the United States is trying to deprive socialist forces in Venezuala of resources and threatening direct military intervention. F that, of course. Also makes me want to find more sources where Venezuelans themselves describe the social currents at play and their relationship to it. Jackson Rising: The Struggle for Economic Democracy and Black Self-Determination in Jackson, Mississippi. A kind of domestic rhyme with Communes. This is an account by participants of Cooperation Jackson to work with other black residents in the city to create a solidarity economy in Jackson, Mississippi “to advance the struggle for economic democracy as a prelude towards the democratic transition to eco-socialism.” This is a utopic agenda! And they did capture major office and get started before experiencing major setbacks. Jackson Rising gets deep into the details of the plan, including the location of “Fortification Line” against gentrification, and the obstacles they face, particularly from a hostile state government. Was struck by how the authors, Kali Akuno and Ajamu Nangawaya, know how rare–and risky–disclosing this level of detail is for an ongoing project: “Please note that we have taken great risk in presenting this information. Parts of what have been laid out in this essay will give fodder to our many enemies and detractors in the state of Mississippi and beyond” (38).  A must read for anyone interested in municipalism and something I’m eager to circle back to. Thinking about how much theory I’ve been taught and pursued and how few strategies/methods, how few on how to organize or even be w/people directed toward social action. Critique w/o a compass. Which made these readings a breath of fresh air and these potentially lively reads for folks that wanna start imagining what building an emancipatory community might look like. Last thought: the writers make clear that both projects were the product of decades of work before they got traction. This means envisioning change–and acting w/others– beyond horizon of the next election cycle or crisis. How I’ve failed.

A Bunch of Garbage Scholarship.Working on a thing on garbage strikes, so I’m reading page turners like “Informality and Working Conditions in China’s Sanitation Sector” by Hao Zhang and Eli Friedman in The China Quarterly. It actually is a page turner as it circles around the differences in working conditions that precipitate strikes in one place (Guangzhou) and not another (Wenzhou) tho the workers in Wenzhou get paid less. The social relations of production have a lot to do with it. Also read a dissertation on the 1978 Memphis police and firefighters strike in which a cop says “I’m tired of feeling like a garbage man.” Working to explain the type of fucked up this statement is given the context (hint: Memphis’ 1968 Sanitation strike).

Nick Drnaso’s Sabrina, the first Mann Booker nominated graphic novel. A meditation on paranoia, violence, grief, and, I think, convenience in a post-crisis world. Drnaso dramatizes an act of violence softening up a character, Teddy, to the conspiracy theories of a radio Alex Jones type telling him not believe in the murder of Sabrina, his former girlfriend, but, rather, a totalitarian state terrorizing its own citizens with staged tragedies, crisis actors, etc.  From here, the toxic soup thickens as Calvin, Teddy’s friend, begins to receive emails from conspiracy theorists/ “Truth Warriors” enjoining him to expose the truth of Sabrina’s conspiracy then threatening him for not revealing the (nonexistent) conspiracy. The narrative draws on the real violence and paranoid energies pulsing through American culture. It’s unsettling, particularly as Drnaso has this paranoid energy push Teddy towards violence to Calvin, who, throughout, cares for Teddy as a sort of doughy American dad-mother hand feeding babe C burgers. As if rips in meaningfulness created by tragedy prepare the ground for the further destruction of the possibility of meaningfulness and relation. And that America is stuck in a downward tantrum spiral of this. So far so good. Though I thought the ending mistook feeding into the world of unsubstantiated paranoid bullshit for rich ambiguity. The ending is deeply lame.

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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.

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