“O les énormes avenues du pays saint, les terrasses du temple!”
for Micah Ballard
Just now reading two books worth mentioning, even before I finish them, because of their strategies for thinking about poetry within a social context relevant to a sickened age. In her 1988 study of Rimbaud, The Emergence of Social Space: Rimbaud and the Paris Commune (London: Verso, 2008), Kristin Ross situates the young poet’s verse in relation to the Paris commune of 1871 (whether he actually made it to Paris during those two months or not, she finds intersections between his writing and the anonymous makers of that insurgency). Ross writes:
“Poetry then must exist as critique, as evaluation: the active expression of an active mode of existence. To produce poetry that would be an agent as well as an effect of cultural and poetic change, Lautréamont and the late Rimbaud choose a hybrid, poetic prose – the bastard mix of poetry and prose. Their choice is an oppositional one. Their adolescent, iconoclastic gesture stands out as an evolutionary accident, a different and startlingly abrupt rhythm in the critics’ narrative of waning social energies.” (27)
A few pages earlier, she identifies a relationship between capital and writing, the relationship sprung from writers and business, even those of us who exist on the margins, whether unpublished or irrelevant, the impulse to write deeply aligned, or at least marked, by the currents opened by the market:
“Art for art’s sake, of which Mendès is one of the most vocal, if not the most adept, spokesperson of his time, seems, as Franco Moretti has suggested, to be in a dialectical relation to production for production’s sake, i.e., to booming late capitalism.” (13)
This second fragment instantly coincided for me with a moment in Heriberto Yépez’s new essay on Charles Olson, El imperio de la neomemoria (Oaxaca: Almadía, 2007). Yépez writes of Olson’s life and work as a reflection of the United States as the central imperial power of the late 20th century, how the Gloucester poet’s work evokes the imperialistic expansionism of the United States in its current incarnation. In the process of mapping a lineage for Olson, Yépez discusses Herman Melville’s short story “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street,” pointing to that text as emblematic of this connection between literature and capital:
“Up until now no one has noticed that, above all, Bartleby is the writer – socially unappreciated – from a capitalist society, whose emblem is Wall Street, who refuses to realize that his work is a replica of what he rejects. What this scrivener doesn’t want to acknowledge – and I include myself and I include you in this situation – is that his words are copies of the words of the Law of Capital and of the State.” [My translation] (42)
This desire of mine to focus my energies on this blog, avoiding as much as possible the publication of my poems in book or periodical form, in a space that’s owned – after all – by that postmodern symbol of Capital that is Google. What’s behind this rejection of publication, besides an acknowledged laziness and social reticence? The poems will remain unpublished and accessible only on occasion, not out of any inherent value but from a refusal to perpetuate the mistakes I’ve already made in these two decades of writing (the first notebook began in 1988, in the forests of Maine).
I’ve received several crucial texts in the mail from poet comrades recently, books that remind me why this work takes on its own life, depending on where or when we endeavor to lift a pen to lined notebook pages. In his collection Info Ration (Los Angeles: Make Now Press, 2007) Stan Apps builds a series of utterly beautiful and politically astute poems, verses that Kevin Killian succinctly describes as “sonnets in distortion.” When I say “political,” I mean that Apps is conscious of his duty to shape language according to the spirit of our age, wounded and often hilarious. As when he writes, in “Forget Political Poetry:”
“Sometimes political poetry is a world-class shopper
Whose job is to shop until s/he drops
In order to do market research for a future retailer
Looking for a new way to display products (ideological
Commodities, in this case) which have no immediate applied use
In a nation which threatens its citizens with homelessness
So they won’t go on strike for a living wage.” (47)
There’s no sequential order to these ruminations, in fact they contradict each other, or at least reveal a counter-revolutionary impulse in my goals: to dissolve all notions of solidarity beyond the silent page, arriving in envelopes or purchased online, each one in her orbit. The poems make a sustenance more vital than any ideology, though you might insist on proclaiming one set of allegiances as being most beneficial. “Abandon all hope...” These words are dedicated to mon frère Micah, whose poems I now read with gratitude, a sequence of inductions to the new year, entitled A Suite of Poems for the New Year, from which I gather this fragment:
“ I take from their mouths.
We initiate one another
I am in front. In the night
They are in front when
we sit down to bleed
We face one another in the dark.”
Before we hiked up into Monte Ávila one Sunday in Caracas last month, Israel gave me a copy of Martha Kornblith’s last book Sesión de endodoncia (Caracas: Grupo Editorial Eclepsidra, 1997). It’s a sparse book consisting of twenty poems, a few of which appeared in newspapers, magazines and anthologies, before and after her death. She visited him a couple weeks before she killed herself and they spent several hours talking at his apartment that night. He said, “I’m sure she would have wanted you to have a copy of her book.” These final poems are a model of restraint and fury, sweetness filtered through a rough dissertation of precise lines practicing (or enacting) irreversible decisions, as in the following untitled poem (again, my translation):
Goodbye, poem, goodbye
I've tried to explain to myself the sky
I've danced with a poet
in drunken nights.
Goodbye, poem, goodbye.
I will never be a poet again
I will never be a poet again.