a burgh for one to live in...
I like this as a new form for poems. The commentary at the end is priceless.
“You fight like a girl.”
i can’t hear you
over the sound
of me crushing my enemies
so here you go
Good in theory but WHAT THE FUCK YOU’VE GOT DREAM BUFFY WITH FAITH’S KNIFE WHAT THE HELL.
another way around
When my grandma told me she was relieved it was me in
“the war,” as it was sometimes called,
and not another grandchild, I think she meant
I could ride the nightmare of it on white horses
or something like that, that
I’d manage, I’d be o-kay
not that she loved me any less; she prayed on her knees until they bruised,
my mother told me, although she wasn’t accustomed to praying
on her knees, and grandpa—he was still alive then—
told a few of his angels to go to me.
More invasion than war, though the word war sounds scarier
I’m not sure it always is. All I knew of war close-up was Meg’s friend
Pietro was a child in the Bosnian war, and as children
we played the card game WAR:
the highest card wins, in the end
one of us had nothing in our hands and the other a whole deck, worthless
without a playmate. Soldiers lined the borders, pointed their rifles
inward and fighter jets circled and warships lined the shore. I feared,
most of all, the tanks, though it was helicopters that I saw
drop the most bombs. Wobbly and slow, they moved like
opossums along the roadside, their terrible bald tails
limp, useless on the ground; the helicopters flew low, so low
we could see the pilots’ faces, could have held cardboard signs:
HELLO MY NAME IS EMILY NICE TO MEET YOU
THIS IS MY FRIEND FARIDA & HER DAUGHTER SARAH
THEY’RE IRAQI REFUGEES
I AM A US CITIZEN & MY TAX $ ARE HELPING
FUND OUR DEATHS
WOOT!!! WOOT!!! DO YOU LIKE BEYONCE TOO?
The helicopters flew low
knowing they could fly low
One day we went to make sure Ahmed’s father’s clinic had enough supplies.
The nurses taped the windows with big X’s
to prevent the glass from shattering during coming explosions.
On the way home
we flew a white flag from the window of Ahmed’s convertible.
I just want this to be over
I knew I could make it through another day, if I were alive,
but how can the human mind withstand this
how can the heart—
Gone all day, we thought the mother bird had left her babies.
It was easier to imagine her death than human deaths.
Her babies made a terrible racket, reminding us:
we are alive and hungry.
I held Farida’s hips as she balanced on the bathroom sink
and reached out the window into the open air to drop food into their beaks,
air the smell of ash fires silence as “night descended like a tired bird,”
come home, home home they screamed.
My grandma tells me, “I only like comedies now.” I see what she means,
the way Ahmed and I watched Fashion TV and sang
into fake hand-microphones as we drove past buildings turned to rubble.
Where are all the people? I wanted to ask
in the silence between songs, but the silence was always too brief
and, really, what could we say?
Is it wrong to say: we were busy trying to stay alive.
Maybe it is how we had become more like animals
using our instincts for survival. Out, in a way,
for ourselves. I felt such shame.
That I could be so worthless in someone’s eyes that he could want to kill me,
that we all could be—
I wanted to hold up a sign, a heart, not for
the IDF as they tried to kill us—though they must have felt so worthless too,
that all they could do was kill, kill, kill—
a heart that was mine, out in the open, unafraid,
full of love, saying only, this is who I am.
Though, at the time, I felt such hate, such terrible
retaliatory hate. I wanted a Molotov cocktail
to explode the two helicopters hovering on either side of us,
or what I wanted was a way to make it all stop.
I just want this to be over.
I heard stories, friends whose family members were in the IDF,
all the sex and dancing and drinking
like college years, but you kill people. I thought about
those boys in the helicopters. Once, years later, in a bar,
a man said to me, “I’ve always wanted to have sex with a woman
who was in a war. You must have such a passion for life.”
I wanted to punch him in his gut. “My cousin,” he said,
is in the IDF and flew helicopters during the war.”
Two degrees of separation. Maybe it was him.
Each of us has to find a balance between love
and hate, where we want to stand on the see-saw—
I can feel love and still feel angry
I can say,
OLLI OLLI INCOME FREE
I KNOW YOU ARE OUT THERE.
There is so much I don’t know,
like what to do about love
in a time like this,
like if I still feel that shame inside me or not. At night,
when bad dreams come, I try to picture that white horse
galloping toward me. There are some things that are so
difficult we can know they are there
but not let them touch us, like the way a fire
burns the skin and we don’t have to put our hand in it
but if we need to, we can lick our finger
and swipe it through and feel nothing.
“You protect yourself when you talk to the dead,” Gail once said,
matter-of-fact. I didn’t know what she meant
until she described wrapping myself in light,
an egg of light, all the way around, the way babies are,
so each time is like being born into a new awareness,
which is maybe why my grandma was relieved
it was me, that—if we are balanced—we see
finite, and not the other way around.
The email I sent out, now reposted here for ease of viewing.
There has been a lot of discussion about how similar our position is today, economically, to the 1940’s, or even just to the recession in the 1970’s. However similar it is economically, I’m thinking it is quite different historically/culturally. One thing I noticed in these articles is this idea of the revolutionary writer not being a worker— there’s always this divide between the intellectual/writer and the worker/union-man. The assumption was that the writer could only be someone who came from the bourgeoisie but renounced his class privilege to join in solidarity with the struggle, but that his class-consciousness would always be somehow vicarious. There is, as such, much talk about the emergence of the proletariat consciousness. Maybe this is bold to say, but I wonder how far in that direction others feel we’ve gone, especially with how the adjunct market has developed in recent years. I mean, the economic question is one thing and worth discussing (are we independently wealthy, or coming from affluent families? what are the implications of working within a service/knowledge economy: does this make the “intellectual” just an ordinary worker?, etc.) but outside of individual anecdote, has the scale tipped in such a way that the dominant consciousness that is emerging from the academy a proletarian one? How classical/canonical are our reading backgrounds? Are we “approaching culture from a position of exteriority?” Or, to take another step back, are the prophecies of those “converted” from the bourgeois class even sufficient for defining what would constitute the class consciousness of the proletariat, or would the proletariat have to define itself into existence? Is our primary barrier the fact that we haven’t yet articulated a class consciousness?
So, what is the role of the writer? A while ago, I think Sten sent around that post by Spahr which ended with a talk of how the MFA degree has become increasingly critically oriented: that poetic works seem more and more like works of criticism than odes to the west wind. I was reminded of that when I read this quote within the Introduction by Freeman:
the handful of revolutionary writers active in the Coolidge-Hoover era devoted themselves chiefly to criticism. They analyzed contemporary American literature from a Marxist viewpoint and agitated for a conscious proletarian art. They exposed the decay of bourgeois culture before it became generally apparent, and indicated future literary trends.
In this period, the revolutionary writer suffered from a dualism which forced him to be secretarian. His social allegiance was to the proletariat; his literary peers were attached to the bourgeoisie. Hence he had no literary milieu; he worked in isolation. That was why he was prolific in critical writing, an intellectual process, and backward in creative writing, an emotional-imaginative process….
There came a time when many writers who had all their lives ignored politics and economics suddenly abandoned the poem, the novel, and the play and began to write solemn articles on unemployment, fiscal policy, and foreign trade. This politicization of the man of letters was a step toward his transformation as a poet.
I can’t even be sure that Spahr and Freeman are in agreement or contention. I won’t pretend ignorance of the fact that there is among us a very strong tendency toward the critical mode, toward being analytical and/or especially/at least political. I think this is something we hold central to our group identity.
How do we understand this tendency as relating to the statements above, and apropos this conversation, does this relationship between writer and politics differ greatly from previous arrangements?
My own feeling is that there is something significantly different— that the economic lessons of the past should have prevented the current “crisis” and, as it didn’t, what we learned from the labor movement should guide us forward. However, intellectually, I feel we find ourselves in a very different position. I don’t think that division between intellectual and “worker” makes sense in the way it used to, and it’s not because the idea of “intellectual” has changed, but that the nature of work has changed. I have always been a wage slave; my parents have always been wage slaves. I didn’t receive an elite education, I’m not descending into the ranks of the worker [because I have always been there]. Nonetheless, we are not “uneducated” in the way these writers seem to describe the just-so-happens-to-be a talented storyteller who would describe a “pure” proletarian experience.
As a further thought and a response to the book introduction Robin sent out, I have further questions, but I’ll try to be quick about it. If we, as poets, are to have a social function in hastening the revolution, and not in a vulgar role of propagandizing for the party, but in the true sense of forging a radical consciousness, does this then require that our work achieve some kind of mass appeal?
My heart says no. There is very little left in me that dreams of fame or celebrity. I would like very much to be respected within my community as an artist/resident, but I don’t have it in me to do anything other than what might be denigrated as coterie writing. This then leads me to another set of questions:
Can we believe in a kind of trickle-down consciousness? That a vanguard is led into a radical consciousness by experience, analysis, art, or otherwise, who then create the material conditions that give rise to a collectively held class consciousness, one that may care very little for the poetry that fueled the revolution? My answer is no, for reasons I don’t think I need to go into because probably everyone feels the same way: in short, Vanguard-ism does not seem tenable, c.f. Russia.
These two forks then lead me to the conclusion that the formation of my own radical consciousness, forged of poetry (and molten steel!), is a singular project. But isn’t there something terribly bourgeois about that? Laboring toward one’s own salvation/enlightenment? Buying low-wattage light bulbs and recycling instead of engaging in direct action against the capitalist state?
First, it seems to me that we have to acknowledge that the awakening of any collective class consciousness is going to be entirely heterogeneous. Will there be a single proletariat class identity? Perhaps, hopefully, only in the sense that this will be an identity marked by radical inclusivity, and radical difference. Likely the consciousness we’re forging will be only one node or modality within a un-centered whole, that interacts with other ways of being to various degrees, whether closely or not at all. All of this is to say: poetry for the poets. This is our own way of “coming into the light” of class consciousness, and our best way of servicing the “party” is that we prepare ourselves for it.
I think this requires a great deal of humility that perhaps few of us are capable of bearing. Certainly, for the time being, humility is hard to maintain, as we as intellectual workers find the only path to material sustenance requires of us a great deal of self promotion.
Now maybe I’ve gone on too long.