Often Capital

I read Jennifer Moxley's Often Capital (Flood Editions, 2005) this weekend and loved it. Partly because it helped me open up a vision for poems I'm trying to work on now, giving me a sense of what I might actually be writing. This is the first book I've read by Moxley so I'm assuming there's much I'm probably missing, or misreading, in her work. The book is split into two sections, both dealing with the poet's reading of herself in relation to the writings and life of Rosa Luxemburg. The poems in the first section, "The First Division of Labour," are spread out across the pages, with the static of individual words often distorting one another, abuzz:

"comprehension trek

retrouver: misnomer of gratification

en route repatriate the quondam centuries
separate but apostate


The second half of the book, a sequence called "Enlightenment Evidence," takes on a distinctly narrative and lyrical tone, planting steady rows of lines that lead into each other, sometimes echoing the letters Luxemburg wrote to a lover. What's caught my attention is how beautifully Moxley holds these two very different sections together, how they engage each other across pages while never fully settling into a single approach. In an "Afterword" Moxley provides a background to the composition of the "Enlightenment Evidence" poems in a specific context, the early 1990s. She locates her exploration of personal and political contradictions within the effects of the Gulf War:

"It was January 1991 and the United States was bombing Baghdad. [...] I was aghast at the chronic denial of my generation's "world-historical" consciousness. The press had declared by fiat that we had no experience and viewed this televised war as just a spectacle (was "experience" less abstract when those stateside read newspaper accounts of the trenches during the Great War?). To accept such an analysis would be to accept the failure of art, to erect a stone marker over the grave of poetry. I then realized that it was a mistake to conflate my own frustration, anger and limitations with some cosmic or historical moment in which it was suddenly decided that subjects so "constructed" could see no distinction between right and wrong."

Again and again, my own writing in certain recent drafts returns to distinct qualities I sense about my experience of the early 1990s. How does one's initial desire for writing define the feeling of an era? Once I move beyond the illusory curtain of memory, distorted as it can become by nostalgia or reappraisals, I keep finding the need to map out my self and my writing within a half decade that might stretch approximately from 1989 to 1994. I'm intrigued by Moxley's suggestion that Luxemburg can be read in the context of those years, specifically tied to the individual and the historical dailiness one might inhabit. Love, desire, frustration and danger being intricately involved with an awareness of history always happening around us.

My relationship to the word "revolution" began in those years, often within an aesthetic frame. It's only recently that I've been able to see the very serious political implications of that relationship. Of course, this timeline leads to Venezuela and my struggle to understand its current political and social labyrinth. The end point, between that half decade and today, is my deep mistrust of revolutionary political ideologies in relation to the task of the writer. My understanding of myself and poetry places me in a clear confrontation with the word I invoked so often in the early 1990s. I don't know what exactly my current poems say about all this. If anything, they're clouded by doubt and a sense of immersion to the point of disorientation. As Juan Sánchez Peláez wrote in the very first line of his first book Elena y los elementos (1951), which I've been translating recently: "Sólo al fondo del furor." But I do know that reading Moxley's book has been both a pleasure and a helpful example of how a poet might examine his or her own relationship to history as it moves:

"open field, the privilege to limp across desire

no simple anchorage works when exile is a state of

time past, the wasterly girlhood can call me from your

ways entreating lover and I shall pettily dream as

Rosa limped without a country your solution-less must be

my homeland now since eyeward I befall the open field"

No comments: