The province of the poem is the world.
When the sun rises, it rises in the poem
and when it sets darkness comes down and the poem is dark .
and lamps are lit, cats prowl and men
read, read--or mumble and stare
at that which their small lights distinguish
or obscure or their hands search out
in the dark. The poem moves them or
it does not move them. Faitoute, his ears
ringing . no sound . no great city,
as he seems to read--a roar of booksfrom the waddled library oppresses himuntilhis mind begins to drift .Beautiful thing:--a dark flamea wind, a flood--counter to all staleness.
Dead men's dreams, confined by these walls, risen,
seek an outlet. The spirit languishes,
unable, unable not from lack of innate ability--(barring alone sure death)but from that which immures them pressed here
together with their fellows, for respite .
Flown in from before the cold or nightbound
(the light attracted them)they sought safety (in books)but ended battering against glassat the high windowsThe Library is desolation, it has a smell of its own
of stagnation and death .Beautiful Thing!
November 30, 2008
November 27, 2008
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
From Rosmarie Waldrop, A Key into the Language of America:
Indian corne, boiled with free will and predestination is a dish exceedingly wholesome if taken through the mouth. Their words, too, fit to eat. And crow. A mark of "cadency." Similarly, an eye devouring its native region must devote special attention to its dialect. Where they have themselves and their wives risen to prepare. Against initiative of elements, against white bodies, against coining of new words: Tobacco. Unsuccessful.
Red Copper Kettle.
I began my education by walking along the road in search of the heoric. I did not think to ask the way to the next well. Wilderness like fear a form of drunkenness or acting like a boy. The ground begins to slip. Rhythm of swallows seen from below. It is a strange truth that remains of contentment are yet another obstacle.
the spelling in my mother's recipes
why she gave birth to me
and in the greatest heat
all flesh considered
as a value
November 16, 2008
In the famous opening of The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Marx not only offers the formula of farce following from the replication of tragedy, he suggests there is a way out of the "tradition of all the dead generations":
In like manner the beginner who has learnt a new language always translates it back into his mother tongue, but he has assimilated the spirit of the new language and can produce it freely only when he moves in it without remembering the old and forgets in it his ancestral tongue.
Moves in it suggests a swimmer losing consciousness of the form of the stroke and feeling only the propelling effects of the unthinking, necessary effort; the after-effects of practice become performance. And that image in turn conjures the Burmese uprising of 2007, which in an echo of 1988, saw students amassing behind the monks who were the symbolic voices of the opposition. The students raised their long-hidden banner of revolution -- the peacock flag -- and with nothing but presence, mass, and the spirit of martyrdom, challenged their military opposition to do what the military did: kill the unarmed, raid the monasteries, disperse the very idea of resistance. As George Packer wrote in The New Yorker, the protests followed the script of older moments of protest, failing as other before had failed.
Packer's article, "Drowning," is about the tidal force and retreat of the protests themselves, as well as the horrors of the tsunami that devastated Burma in the wake of the arrest and torture of so many of the participants in those actions against the government. But it is moreover about how the political imagination is shaped in anti-liberal environments.
He tells the story of a political prisoner who finds his orienting principles in Dickens rather than Hardt and Negri. He interviews a man who produces clandestine theater pieces (like Sartre's "No Exit") in small apartments out of the sight of authorities, and who staying out of the September 2007 protests explained that he did so because it was not an "endgame." Surely he was aware, as you made the statement, of the irony that Beckett might well whisper in his ear that a play played out of sight, cut off from the world, might just feel like imprisonment within a plot -- whatever its declarations of "play" -- that always ends poised to repeat. You're on earth, there's no cure for that. And so each revolutionary act comes to feel like the fruitless and mad -- and yet necessary -- demand for an absolute center.
As for the political prisoner who had learned to rely on imagining contemporary Burma through the lens of 19th century England -- crowded, decayed, desperate -- he says, without mentioning the physical abuse her suffered, that he came to appreciate the time he was afforded. Being caged had its disciplinary effects on his learning. "Outside [of prison]," he tells Packer, "we waste so many hours, so many days." He participated in the marches, but as someone for whom freedom has come to mean not the freedom of expression, or the freedom promised by rights, but the freedom from anger and despair, the rage and enthusiasm of the crowd was a bewildering and alienating phenomenon.
Seeing the blood in the streets and the real human devastation of the efforts there, perhaps a famous passage of Dickens came to his mind. In that passage the man who has seen "much trouble" gazes at a scene of shadow and light, of the watery play around a scene of decay and "ruined battlements." He muses on the need for forgetting what has come before and the equally strong desire to make right has been wronged. "Did it ever strike you," he says, "that on a morning such as this drowning would be happiness and peace?"
November 9, 2008
INTO OLD OR MIDDLE ENGLISH
FOR MY EPITAPH
Mother used to listen to the B.B.C. news
transistor awry on scattered bed clothes,
on in the morning when we came in
to see if she was still alive. Now
I am glued to the World Service at 3 AM,
two Irish nationalists, this is what we like.
INTO THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO
I saw the sun dance, the Virgin Mary
came by, she was cool Buddha eyes,
I poured a drink. Catholic. Necking started:
love and sex both thoroughbreds
galloped past the post. Which lost,
which won? Lost sex sweet sex.
(Tender romanticism is our Vietnam.)
The friend of your friend
is a drag queen is you buddy
in the coffin. The neon
has come on, it's time for coffee.
INTO THE DUBLIN ACCENT
FOR MY EPITAPH
In my mother's womb I sipped
the potion of nationalism and words.
Her boyfriend in her mind Yeats
gave me rhythms. Joyce sent language,
Ginsburg bestowed liberation.
In Hodges Figgis the City Lights books,
I was devoured by Howl. I began
hyperventilating. Bars of Dublin
turned into jammed paradises
with wandering disheveled starlets.
James Liddy, Dublin, San Francisco, Milwaukee, 1934-2008.
November 6, 2008
The very time I thought I was lost, My dungeon shook and my chains fell off.
South Carolina representative James Clyburn, a veteran of the violent times, called the results a non-violent revolution, and the victory gathering at Grant Park -- orchestrated, protected by the police, an amassing -- seemed to expel, with the shouting happy presence of 250,000 people, the ghosts of the Democratic Convention of 1968.
The revolution may not be political in an immediately recognizable sense, since it is still not clear that there is any agreement, even among those gathered in Grant Park, where the actual problems are and what their solutions demand. And if not agreement, perhaps not even any meaningful recognition. Leafing through a collection of writing, this scrap of an essay written more than ten years ago jumped out, offering the uncomfortable reminder of the stakes that remain in many ways far from the election of a president, in the struggles of labor and poverty and survival.
Talking about the perils of the community-based organizations that operate among the vulnerable for very limited ends -- neglecting or ignoring the imperatives of any larger, binding civic discourse and actual political negotiation, thereby exchanging the hope for "change" for coercive power in a sphere of influence -- Adolph Reed wrote in 1996:
In Chicago . . . we've gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation-hatched black communitarian voices; one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program -- the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance ("The Curse of 'Community'").
The twelve years between then and now have added much to that rhetorical patina of the embattled kitchen tables where people are made to seek solutions on their own, and Reed has continued to write against the illusion that an Obama presidency will mean joyous change when the fundamental problems -- urban poverty, working strife, a vast prison complex -- will remain invisible. Or if visible, then presented as barriers to a particular kind of progress sought by liberal foundations and those invested in the development world.
Those twelve years and the migration from the community-level to the "national stage" has necessarily changed the political role of the Harvard-lawyer-become-president. He seems now to stand in for a withdrawal from the strict claims of some false "authenticity" and the diminishing effects of identity politics. In this withdrawal, and the symbolic force of his presence, actual and rhetorical--a symbolism encountered in the kitchen, on television, through the internet and airwaves--one hopes that the necessary political negotiations can again take place closer to home. We may not witness the stuff of true agonism at the presidential level, let alone a language of an analysis that exposes, in a materialist sense, the constructions of our condition. But given that so many are feeling cast out, compelled into a collective exodus through the wilderness of war and the wider threats of economic havoc, there is also the potential for some new recognitions to also take root on a larger scale; if hope, hope brought through mass pain.
The election two days ago was, after all, the culmination of a slow, cascading, majority rejection of the hateful, the fearful, and the insidious traps of a long history. The votes were cast when there is much to fear. Many refused it even as it still continues to play out across the dim, angry faces that were holding tight to the reactionary non-sense. It remains, brutal and brutish and selfish and naive, but it also seems more isolated than ever before, a shrinking island of death.
In 1962, James Baldwin wrote, on the occasion of the one hundredth anniversary of emancipation, a letter to his nephew, in which he said that this history had bound white America in a terror that it could not understand. He tells his nephew not to retreat from the rooted sense of belonging to Harlem, to America, to possibility, even as "the details and symbols of your life have been deliberately constructed to make you believe what white people say about you." The reconciliation of those two truths was to be found, says Baldwin, in "the words acceptance and integration."
You, don't be afraid. I said that I that it was intended that you should perish in the ghetto, perish by never having being allowed to spell your proper name. You have, and many of us have, defeated this intention; and, by a terrible law, a terrible paradox, those innocents who believed that your imprisonment made them safe are losing their grasp of reality. But those men are your brothers--your lost, younger brothers. And if the word integration means anything, that is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease feeling from reality and to change it. For this is your home . . . do not be driven from it; great men have done great things here, and will again, and we can make America what America must become ("My Dungeon Shook," The Fire Next Time).