Articles

Forms of solidarity

“The voice of the poem transposes Kruger’s feminist dissent to the context of Trump’s inauguration; the President becomes Kruger’s boy-child clenching his fist to flex his bicep, an unnecessary ‘hero.’” Above: Vanessa Witter at the 2017 Women’s March in LA, holding a sign in the style of Barbara Kruger’s protest art. Photo by Scott Witter.

On April 9, 1989, over four hundred thousand women marched on Washington in the March for Women’s Lives. Barbara Kruger’s Untitled (Your body is a battleground) (1989) is perhaps the most lasting image from the protest. Kruger divides a photograph of a woman vertically, half in black and white, half in negative, light and dark reversed; an aesthetic of conflict.

On April 9, 1989, over four hundred thousand women marched on Washington in the March for Women’s Lives. Barbara Kruger’s Untitled (Your body is a battleground) (1989) is perhaps the most lasting image from the protest. Kruger divides a photograph of a woman vertically, half in black and white, half in negative, light and dark reversed; an aesthetic of conflict. It is a work made directly for the purpose of protesting for liberation from legislation that prohibited women’s reproductive freedom.

Alterity, Misogyny & the Agonistic Feminine

Hieronymus Bosch, 'Garden of Earthly Delights' (detail).
Above: Hieronymus Bosch, 'Garden of Earthly Delights' (detail), via Wikimedia Commons.

This essay is conjectural and conversational. Conversational with other texts, other minds; but also among the importantly divergent logics of poetry and discourse, discourse and exploratory essay. Decades ago, skeptical about the force of a strictly woman-centered feminist theory whose reactive stance seemed to corroborate the secondary status of the feminine in the age-old M/F binary, I was struck by the realization of a gender and genre transgressive experimental feminine rooted in embodied female experience but integral to all struggles with the cultural coercions of an ubermasculine hegemony.

 

Antigone: I stand convicted of impiety,
the evidence, my pious duty done …
Chorus: The same tempest of mind
as ever, controls the girl.[1]

Despite the fact that gender identities are in increasingly complex conversation with biology and cultural construction the reductive force of patriarchy, with its sidekick misogyny, remains the catastrophic constant. — S. M. Quant[2]

The art of lyrical commentary

Michael Heller's poetic achievement

“Effacement is the action of shifting desert sands. Time rubs away memory, leaving only its remnants, its shadows. The poem comments on literature even as it makes it.” Above: Photo of a dust storm by NASA, via Wikimedia Commons.

Commentary: Notes, memoranda, memoirs, annotations, derivations, slips (of paper, of tongue), and, in the etymological sense of commenta, interpretation of scripture. Michael Heller’s work is replete with commentary, an ongoing lateral additive to the world around him, lyric in intensity, vibrant with life, literary and religious in its concerns.

1. Ozymandias, a commentary

Heller's 'Dianoia'

A briefing

“The sequence shows glimpses of the scoured alpine landscape outside the hotel’s windows: “the distant plume / of a snowslide / on glacial slopes,” but the would-be Tibetan mountainscapes are only backdrop to the poet’s back-and-forth on ego and emptiness.” Above: Photo of the Canadian Rockies by David Whelan, via Wikimedia Commons.

Sam Johnson’s line on the Metaphysicals — that in their work “heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together”[1] — is one example among many in Anglo-American letters of how a term of reproach, given some time, becomes a term of praise. Since Eliot in 1921 pardoned the Metaphysicals for all that violent yoking, applauded them for their immunity to the dissociated sensibility of his contemporaries, readers of poetry in English have been taught to admire poets who “ransack,” as Johnson said, art and nature for conceits that are misaligned or unevenly yoked.

Sam Johnson’s line on the Metaphysicals — that in their work “heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together”[1] — is one example among many in Anglo-American letters of how a term of reproach, given some time, becomes a term of praise. Since Eliot in 1921 pardoned the Metaphysicals for all that violent yoking, applauded them for their immunity to the dissociated sensibility of his contemporaries, readers of poetry in English have been taught to admire poets who “ransack,” as Johnson said, art and nature for conceits that are misaligned or unevenly yoked.

Blurring realms

Michael Heller's New World

Above: Map of the world by Heinrich Bünting, 1581, woodcut, via Wikimedia Commons.

Heller gravitates toward the patina of age and tradition — to the map of the cover, to the Tang dynasty, to ascetic regions of ocean and heron, and to resonant, gorgeous symbols. 

There is a 1581 map, a woodcut by Heinrich Bünting, in which the world takes the form of a three-leaf clover. A minute drawing of Jerusalem is at the center; three almond-shaped continents extend outward. Bünting’s perfect trefoil of a world is explicit in Michael Heller’s most recent book.