Articles

Engagement, race, and public poetry in America

Ansel Adams, “Roy Takeno at town hall meeting, Manzanar Relocation Center,” (courtesy the Library of Congress).

Has American poetry become more engaged with public events, more politically relevant, in the opening years of the twenty-first century? That is the claim made by The New American Poetry of Engagement, an anthology edited by Ann Keniston and Jeffrey Gray and published in 2012.

Amuse-Bouche

You came to see human bodies tonight, but she said this is “holy work and it’s dangerous not to know that ’cause you could die like an animal down here.”[1] She was talking about making dances — pacing back and forth across bridges, riding up and down the block, selling loosies on the corner, walking in the middle of the street. The hazard of movement, of moving and being moved, of knowing that we are affected, that we are affective.

Captions without images

On Robert Fitterman's 'Holocaust Museum'

Rob Fitterman reads at the Poetic Research Bureau, Los Angeles, 2008.

As Walter Benjamin, Roland Barthes, and Susan Sontag amongst others have told us, when it comes to photographs, the caption is essential in relation to what we think we see: if the contextualizing text is changed, the meaning of the work as such will change significantly.

On Chip Delany

Last fall in New Orleans, I was browsing for Halloween costumes at the home of designer Cree McCree. My foxy companion tried on an outfit that had a vague resemblance to Wonder Woman. Cree’s partner (noise/jazz/avant-everything musician) Donald Miller remarked that he couldn’t think of me without thinking of Philadelphia. He also couldn’t think of everyone’s favorite female superhero without thinking of Samuel “Chip” Delany. I tried to flowchart this in my mind for a moment, but sometimes you just need to let great thinkers to do their thing.

Spatial motion

On Leslie Scalapino’s ‘How Phenomena Appear to Unfold/the Hind’

It is difficult to conceive of a literary work spun out of “spatial motion.” To read and consider a poem that defies iconographic metaphor and symbolic interpretation, a poem intrstead composed out of language’s own phenomenal play, is to butt up against traditional values about poetry that still slide toward the pictorially descriptive.