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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.

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I wrote another poem. It’ll be ok.

I wrote this poem and Serena at Poetry Northwest asked for some poems so I sent it with some other poems. I didn’t know it would be the poem she picked, because it was new and I didn’t know what it was and it’s breath rose from the basinet like a good line from a Sylvia Plath poem. But I wrote this poem.

And it’s about grieving the death of someone who is alive. Because we are alive but, in relation to one another, we, the subject of the poem, are dead. And to speak to one another is to speak with the dead. I didn’t realize that for a long time. I thought we could root around each other and flower.

Here’s a hyperlink to the poem.

It’s kind of a weird poem for me. Here’s some lines a reader pulled out:

I know I can return
to it all in my mind
like the king who let
us pull away gold letters
knotted to his doublet
when we pulled we made the
alphabet that made him
king, the alphabet we
trade for silence
stuffed into a hole

This poem came from a place where a lot of my poems come from: back floating in a big salty pool of exhaustion.

I had another thought, only half related to this poem, about why so many poems about work are elegies, elegies for the life work wastes.

Now I’d like to talk about the neoliberalization of the university…

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To Build A Nest of Citation?

That is, to write an academic essay. For a graduate seminar six years ago I wrote a draft of an essay after reading Thomas Heyrick’s profoundly weird late 17th C ode “The Submarine Voyage” and a doing a great deal of research on old-timey diving technology. Now, after countless revisions, rejections, revisions, crashes in motivation, and more, the essay has been published by the good ppl at Eighteenth Century Fiction. In an ideal world, it would be accompanied by this drawing by Ignacio Calero and Sean Parsons:

mechdolphinFor Heyrick’s poem is his fantasy of traveling the world’s seas as a man transformed into dolphin imaginatively projecting English power to the deepest depths of these seas, much as, I’m sure, dolphins dream of transforming into cyborgs, rising from the seas, and, I don’t know, smashing capitalism? Or–gentler–traveling the cosmos, joining the constellations whose pull is threaded through the fabric of our beings?

cosmodolphins

Bunk geophysics, Defoe’s terrible investments, King James’ plan to build a submarine fleet in the early 1600s–I went down a lot of rabbit holes before I started to build meaningful connections. And what I wanted to do, at first, was to continue to understand the imperial imagination and how poetry and poetics participated in empire in ways that seemed innocuous and fanciful. The idealism beneath that: understanding one of its many forms in a particular time, we can guard against it as time bends backwards to touch itself as it sometimes does. Though, really, a lot of that gets clipped away in transforming a nest of thoughts into a focused journal article and this is just an essay dutifully lodged in and perhaps already lost in an infinite Borgesian library. Long 18th C scholarship doesn’t have much purchase on anti-imperial thought now. And maybe it shouldn’t! Dolphin house:

Dolphin-Lift-481492What was the point? I’ve been asking myself this in regard to this article and graduate school itself after I turned down a decent teaching job. One salvage: I was learning how to build an archive, to track down every last thing on a subject. To build something, patiently, over time. Though I’m deprofessionalizing as an academic, there are more contemporary subjects I want to do saturation jobs on. And the process taught me to value more and more those researchers that can pursue a subject for years, that can keep alive the fires of their obsessions while still not ignoring the rolling crises of hours and days. How do they do that? How will I?

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Ghost Fishing

Thanks to terrain.org for featuring my review of Ghost Fishing: An Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology.  A major work by the editor Melissa Tuckey. I try to be honest and by turns sympathetic, challenging, and accessible. It’s kind of impossible. The long-and-short of it is that I find that Tuckey has identified some great poems in this anthology for the capitalocene/plantationocene and taken seriously the job of compiling a plurality of voices. But I left questioning the value of poems staked in romantic aesthetic and ideals in the work of eco-justice.

I started the review while unemployed in early summer 2018 after a move to a new city. The poetics of eco-justice was something I wanted to think through after getting somewhat of a foundation in grad school. Unemployed, I had time. I finished it mid summer just as I was picking up a few news jobs, one of which turned my attention to class and labor. To bring these two worlds together, I’m working on an essay on garbage strikes. But I’m also aware that the eco-social world is changing by leaps and bounds and that my own archive of thinkers on this subject needs to deepen. Feedback on this review is most welcome.

 

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reading notes: but he did not know where out was

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i’ve been down lately. flat as a floor. i hate moving and not having any money. one small joy was my friend carra giving me this treasure, which she said a lot of the ppl she knew in Berkeley carried around in the 90s. as i move from ithaca, which is where mitchell lived–a commune called lavender hill. short parables and wisdom book in language of pleasure and revolutionary care. & reminded again, to let go more of those habits that make me a man in the eyes of the worst ppl.

“To make his dreams real he lives quietly through his reactionary emotions. He experiences desires to control his environment and he experiences jealousy when his pleasures are threatened and he experiences possessiveness of property. He accepts these emotions much as he accepts depression and the men’s brutality. They have to be acknowledged and gotten through.”

“The men who hate others were false and death-inflicting and obsessed with being strangers.”

“It is categories in the mind and guns in their hands which keep us enslaved”

I melted at the short piece Tourmaline begins the preface w/:

“Heavenly Blue worried all the time. He worried about the bills and the roof that needed repairing and the strange men who always watched the house and what the neighbors might do next and about Hollyhock’s unhappiness. He worried most of all that he would go mad. His worrying got the bills paid and the roof fixed and drove the men away and calmed the neighbors down and helped Hollyhock be happier. and finally his worrying drove him mad. It was the madness of looking inward and being afraid. There had never been enough love and warmth around him and he thought he had gradually dried up inside. He wanted out but he did not know where out was.

Lilac and Pinetree and Moonbeam and Loose Tomato and Hollyhock gathered. They held Heavenly Blue in their arms for days, they let him cry and stare and slobber and scream and be silent. They paid the bills and looked after the roof and watched the street for strange men and talked to the neighbors and Hollyhock kept himself happy. Their house filled up with comfort and routine and gladness until Heavenly Blue could no longer resist and became response-able again” (80)

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new words

Allison Cardon has a tremendous essay on Anne Boyer in the new Tripwire.

Maria Garcia Teutsch included a few of my poems in her final issue of Homestead Review. This isn’t the first time MGT has published my work. It’s good to be known, better for me, lately, to be remembered. Firsts and lasts: Mark Lamoureux was in this final issue. A fun little issue of Lamoureux’s Cygist Press was my first meaningful publication. In my first browse through, I was struck by poems from Joanna Penn Cooper, Dylan Krieger, Joanna Fuhrman,  Alich Rosenthal, and adrian nichols.

My poems are from a cluster I wrote alongside a big academic project, following the research and autoethnography in my last book, Someone’s Utopia. Working to get the MS done this summer. It will have some sort of center in the city of Buffalo, I think.

Lines from my poems:

“Occupation”

…You are preparation

getting away with it, cutting

banks, trespassing, giving

 

all you were hired to sell

“Lv Poem”: “There are small flowers sprouting / from the moss in my tendons and they are turning / their heads to you. You are buying vegan mayonnaise / and doing jumping jacks. I am so bent out of shape / I am missing those jumping jacks and Buffalo”

“2029 Buffalo Alt Ending 3”: “Harper Bishop became mayor, threw up / shots with stoned teens and undid  / the whole executive branch/spectacular decider thing.”

 

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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

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?