I’ve been falling asleep to Delaney for about six months. Hoping it will irrigate my dreams. And also looking for poetics in unexpected places. Like out of the mouths of characters in a science fiction novel. These are some of my favorite poems, I think. The ones that move characters but whose actual words remain submerged. Anyway, here are some thoughts on poetry from someone in 1965 imagining what poetry would be on a post-apocalyptic planet at the end of war whose enemy was imaginary but whose casualties were real: “A poet is wounded into speech, and he examines these wounds meticulously, to discover how to heal them. The bad poet harangues at the pain and yowls at the weapons that lacerate him; the great poet explores the inflamed lips of ruined flesh with ice-covered fingers, glittering and precise; but ultimately their poem is the echoing, dual voice reporting the damage” – Vol Nonik, City of a Thousand Suns (1965) // “They were very lucid, very clear—and put wild and dispersed matter into a verberating order that came very close to me” (126-7). Clea on Vol’s poems. // Kocik, Robert: “When words mean only what they say, we die” (293) Supple Science (2013). // This was Delaney at 22 // Need some new statements of poetics, I think. And to return to those that matter to me as I mend another book. Not the poem but propositions about how poems might unfold. What’s new?
I’m performing in Denver this Saturday w/some rad folks at Death Horse 13.
Death Horse 13.
The Time: Saturday, 5/18/19, 6-8 p.m.
The Place: Bar Max, 2412 E Colfax Ave, Denver, CO 80206
Kate Colby is the author of seven books of poetry, most recently The Arrangements (Four Way Books, 2018). Dream of the Trenches, a book of critical poem-essays, is just out with Noemi Press. Fruitlands won the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America in 2007. She has also received awards and fellowships from the Rhode Island State Council for the Arts, the Dodd Research Center at University of Connecticut, and Harvard’s Woodberry Poetry Room, where she was the 2017-2018 Creative Fellow. Her work has been featured at the Beauport Sleeper-McCann, deCordova, Isabella Stewart Gardner and RISD museums, and her poems and essays have recently appeared in A Public Space, The Awl, Bennington Review, Boston Review, Columbia Poetry Review, PEN America, Verse and the DIA Readings in Contemporary Poetry Anthology. She was a founding board member of the Gloucester Writers Center in Massachusetts, where she now serves on the advisory board. Colby was born in Boston, grew up in Massachusetts and currently lives in Providence, where she teaches poetry at Brown University.
Joe Hall is a writer, teacher, and researcher in Buffalo and Ithaca, New York. Joe has authored three collections of poetry: Someone’s Utopia, The Devotional Poems, and Pigafetta Is My Wife (Black Ocean 2013 & 2010). With Chad Hardy, he co-authored The Container Store Vols I & II (SpringGun 2012). With Cheryl Quimba, he co-authored May I Softly Walk (Poetry Crush 2014). With Ryan Kaveh Sheldon and Angela Veronica Wong, he participates in Hostile Books, a publishing collective dedicated to radical materiality. His poems have been translated into Dutch and he has done readings at universities, bars, squats and rivers in most of the 50 states as well as Canada and Washington, DC. Hall has taught community based creative writing workshops through the Worker Center in Buffalo and Just Buffalo Literary Center. Joyous Shrub 666, a 3 piece surf punk outfit, tolerates his bass playing.
Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint is the author of the lyric novel The End of Peril, the End of Enmity, the End of Strife, a Haven (Noem Press, 2018) and the family history project Zat Lun, which won the 2018 Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize and is forthcoming from Graywolf Press in 2021. She is completing a Ph.D. in creative writing at the University of Denver and will be teaching at Amherst College in the fall as a visiting writer.
Couldn’t lv this book more. // “a typesetter changes man to person / will they catch her” (17) // “she thinks about everything at once without making a mistake” / yes! / “the layers, fossils. the idea that this machine she controls / is simply layers of human workhours frozen in steel, tangled / in tiny circuits, blinking out through lights like hot, red eyes.” // “All my life, the urgency to speak, the pull toward silence.” CA Conrad says they fled the factory to save themselves then after years of writing found the factory on their desk. Brodine’s poetics shows how to do more than describe work, she engages it, subverts it sometimes –by imagining bosses are elephants, changing the words it’s her job to typeset, imagining fish in darkness glowing their own light. By centering relationships and solidarities. The poems travel, interrupt themselves w/the coordinated scripts of a job: “this set of codes slips through my hands, a / loose grid of shadows with big gaps my own thoughts sneak / through.” Scribe beside the text. As I spent a long time not critically examining the university, I didn’t think much of the people behind the type, what means and social relations of production a mass-market book requires, what oppressions and resistances. Brodine imagining pounding on the pebbled glass of a supervisor’s window. He could I not love this book for writing printing work w/integrity, having worked at an industrial printing press, having printers on both sides of the family. I’ve seen the title poem get pulled into a couple of anthologies as a great piece of labor poetry but that long sequence is ideally read in full and the threads followed through the rest of the book which moves to the other overlapping spheres of Brodine’s life, her activism, family, gender, sexuality, illness. I struggle with labor poetry when it atomizes people into workers as workplaces do. It reduces their identities; it’s gotta be Labor+ poetry. WSatMT giving space to the wide sweep of Brodine’s thoughts and vibrancy of other quarters of her life. It never feels as if Brodine searches for her subjects, is what’s happening to her, her days—a thermos of coffee, helping clean out her grandmother’s home, getting pulled over w/friends by cops, having a breast removed to stop the spread of cancer. A whole life. // “Survival is a repetitive process.”
Introductions and prefaces usually make me want to puke. This is an exception. From Meridel Le Sueur’s compact, raw intro: “As a poet wounded in my time…driven down into the pits.” Le Sueur does seem like one of those great feminist-labor writers overshadowed when the wave of leftist writing broke in the 40s.
Also read the excellent microchips for millions by Janice Lobo Sapigao and Excess—The Factory by Leslie Kaplan (and in one of those strange twists that almost never happens in the diffuse world of poetry readership and my own hermitship, talked to Laura Marris about her reading and review of Excess–the Factory). Together, these books make me wonder what we could call labor poetry now; who is saying what about feminist, queer, & anti-racist labor poetry; its possibilities and pitfalls in this moment. Some research questions.
I gave a talk at a university on reading before I did a reading (no pressure–a privilege to do (thank you, Lucy Biederman (author of Walmart Book of the Dead) for the invitation)). I spent most of my time on why reading out loud is important.
We talked about the history of literacy and ASMR, and I told them a story about revising my last book by rhythm. But, mostly, I gathered and elaborated on the claims of smarter ppl. Here are some passages I built out from and some gloss.
From Robert Kocik’s Supple Science: “The hypothalamus—the neuroendocrinological signaling center—as it sits atop the speech apparatus, is especially susceptible to constant collision and vocalic wavelet. Speaking is like using a vibratory keyboard….Thought tones our biochemical being. Chants are bioregulatory templates” (294).
What does it mean to play a vibratory keyboard? That poems can deliver messages, sure, but also poets compose, syllable by syllable, how they feel about what they think. Which means that rhythm should be a major concern of every poet.
“When words mean only what they say, we die.” Kocik, again.
“The alienation of poetry began when intellectuals started to read in silence and to write in private.” Heriberto Yépez.
It is only recently that the study of poetry could be silent. 20th and 21st century educational institutions have a lot to do with that. It’s well documented that composition education (Comp 101) has shifted away from oral forms to producing almost all written products. This is partly because educational institutions are increasingly pressured into thinking of students as little clerks, bureaucrats, and coders in training. And bureaucrats produce silent work: records, reports. Vocalized poetry draws on a historical counter-current of expression that remind us that the voice can connect and move people into conversation and debate in contexts both intimate and public. Thinking here of Vicuña before/as she performs wrapping a thread around the audience.
The silence of poetry should not be taken for granted. Nor should an atomized scene of its reception.
There are some things I’d like to say between Kocik and Yépez along the lines of vibratory assemblages, the regeneration of leftist meat-spaces, and what this all means in regard to the kinds of harm done by silence and hierarchies of who gets to speak, but they’re not well worked out. Just a bundle of pointing. So let me just stick with the classroom now that I have taken a long break from teaching: What would a creative writing classroom look like that didn’t privilege the written text as the final product. I don’t think this would mean privileging a performance as the final product but rather their pairing. And this would mean thinking of them, when they are paired, as not a product at all but as a sounding out of what their composers think the context of their language might be. How do you grade that? Maybe not at all.
A word in the air
hear the image
see the sound
Later that night at a bar in Cleveland this guy talked w/ me for a long time about his vision for the future. He was brilliant and a lot of it was over my head but one fraction that stuck w/me was his desire to create a digital infrastructure that flipped value hierarchies so POC were compensated for the data harvested from them and the constant acts of acts of narrative triage they perform through social media. Narrative triage: a firework of a phrase. That some narratives must be collectively rewritten on an emergency basis by a collective of writers and that this is an extremely undervalued form of ad hoc labor. w/o triage, death. Pay up! I mean, it’s a different kind of indebtedness, a language-work debt I certainly haven’t paid down enough. Ok, I’ll drop the metaphor. Let’s not financialize language too much.
Bibliography, partial, of that talk.
Robert Kocik. Supple Science. (Oakland: ON Contemporary Practice, 2013).
Nathanial Mackey. Discrepant Engagement: Dissonance, Cross-Culturality, and Experimental Writing. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).
Charles Olson. “Projective Verse” (1950).
Walter J. Ong. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. Reprinted, Routledge, 2009.
Cynthia L. Selfe. “The Movement of Air, the Breath of Meaning: Aurality and Multimodal Composing.” College Composition and Communication 60, no. 4 (06, 2009): 616-663.
Cecilia Vicuña. “K’isa / Alangó / A Vibratory Disorder,” Spit Temple. (Brooklyn: Ugly Duckling Presse, 2012).
Heriberto Yépez. “Context and Signs of an Urban Visual Poetics.” Tripwire 4. Winter 2000-2001
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 Poetry. I 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
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.
I’m part of Hostile Books but all the HB work on this one was done by Ryan Kaveh Sheldon. And here I am oozing admiration for Khoshgozaran’s & Ryan’s works and dialogue. Belatedly!
a year late