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Two New Poems, Crumb of a Poetics

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I’ve spent the last two years in flux. When writing started to come again, we made the major decision of moving from Ithaca to Buffalo, forever. We needed to. It was the right decision. But it meant being, again, unemployed and scrambling. While we were living in boxes in a short-term rental, I did the kind of jobs I did when I was 18—and 23—and last summer. Like landscaping or working at a CBD farm where, with the whole staff, I got laid off due to some palace/barn intrigue. So I swallowed my pride and entered the adjunct trenches again where I’m not paid anything and often have to check and recheck my bank account and when I get my next paycheck to decide if and when I should buy a book. It hasn’t been all bad—friends have looked to help me all the way and my love and gratitude for them has grown and grown.

But it’s been challenging to write.

I’ve been at it, trying to scratch out something for the past year. I’m tentatively calling it a municipalist poetics. I’m thinking municipalism in terms elaborated by Margaret Kohn in Radical Space (ugh, space) and the eco-socialist Cooperation Jackson, with their combative relationship to gentrification (establishing a “Fortification Line”!) and emphasis on developing networks of organizations of direct participation and democratic control (“solidarity economy”).

I’m trying to learn how this poetics, though rooted in the specifics of a city and its ppl, isn’t a strictly localist poetics. It would seek to slip the local trap. It would still maintain a utopian horizon.

I’m trying to array this poetics in relation to something Buffalo’s Harper Bishop said (tweeted) though I may not have heeded it at the time: political art isn’t necessarily activist art. In this poetics, the political—political content—is not enough. It may politicize in terms legible not to ppl reading Poetry but ppl in that city (and the country?). It would consider, absolutely, it’s circulation and the relation of that circulation to organizing and confrontations w/the powers of that polis.

Part of what necessitates a municipalist poetics is the collapse of a relatively independent press in many mid-size cities. Buffalo has one major newspaper, and it’s no good. An attempt to start a print-online progressive weekly with an emphasis on city politics sputtered out after a few years, though it was doing good reporting on racist policing in the city. It has since stopped doing actual reporting and is now another strictly online source of (increasingly rudderless) commentary on reporting. What’s left is a gigantic affective & informational vacuum that Buffalo’s neo-liberal machine depends on to quietly redistribute wealth upwards. A municipalist poetics enters this space of absence.

This is all very sketchy. I hope to find time to elaborate beyond a pile of highlighted texts and conversations w/ppl.

My own attempts to write in this direction have been…unsatisfactory. For instance, here’s a piece published by PEN America that redirects trauma to the traumatizers: our fascist Sheriff beating himself up, cops killing cops killing cops killing cops, etc. [But some local companies have begun creating their own self-cancelling loops—like Lloyd Tacos apologizing for apologizing for serving tacos to detention center workers who do the work of starving the inmates.] Thanks to Danniel Schoonebeek for peeling this one from my eternally revising grasp.

An earlier piece about Buffalo’s waters was published by Salt Front in their 2019 Summer Issue.

Filed under: Poems in Print, Poems Online, Uncategorized

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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