extreme texts

Handle with care

A study in (poetic) fragility

“Letraset’s rarity and fragility give it a transient quality; coupled with the intimate hand to page contact of its application, the medium itself challenges the masculinist impulse for permanence, immortalization, and enduring legacy in poetics and makes room for vulnerability and even grief.” Adaptation of a photo of Letraset in American Typewriter Bold, by Flickr user harleypeddie.

get out the letraset and a blank page. rub on an M. rotate page. rub on an X. rotate page. rub on a g. rotate page. rub on a line using a border. rotate page. think that y should maybe have been an A but then do it anyway. lament half-rubbed on letter until i own it as part of the thing. rotate page. rub on a J but make its tail kiss an i.

I think of feminism as a fragile archive, a body assembled from shattering, from splattering, an archive whose fragility gives us responsibility: to take care. — Sara Ahmed[1

And with such force in their fragility; a fragility, a vulnerability, equal to their incomparable intensity. — Hélène Cixous[2

Extreme texts

Design based on images by Nurul Wahidah.

When Jacket2 invited me to compose a CFP for a special feature spanning multiple modes of thinking, it was the summer of 2017 and we were several months into Trump’s presidency. I had just returned to the United States, where I am a naturalized “citizen,” after years in Singapore, where I was employed as a faculty member on a work visa, a status determined almost solely on the state’s articulated understanding of my temporary utility to society — a condition that defines and delimits the lives of immigrants everywhere, but especially in oligarchic states (like Singapore and the US) that bank on the sweat and blood of certain bodies, the profitability of distended indenture (including debt), disenfranchisement, carceral surveillance, and other forms of coercion.

Hannah Weiner and the limit experience of language

“Speaking subjects interact with and speak the echoes or ghosts of language’s words and sentences and these ghosts in turn possess us with their incorporeal insistence.” Above: cover of ‘Hannah Weiner’s Open House,’ mirrored.

Hannah Weiner sees words. Hannah Weiner interacts with words. “The words in CAPITALS and underlines are words I see,”[1] she claims.

Otherbreath

Bare life and the limits of self in Claudia Rankine's 'Citizen'

Kate Clark, 'Little Girl' (2008). Infant caribou hide, foam, clay, pins, thread, rubber eyes. 15 x 28 x 19 in. Image used with permission of the artist.

“To live through the days sometimes you moan like deer,”[3] writes Claudia Rankine in Citizen: An American Lyric (2014), her critically acclaimed book of poems regarding race in twenty-first-century America. Rankine’s book is a motley hybrid of text and image; its lyric verse, prose fragments, film stills, photographs, and other visual images all center, whether directly or obliquely, on the accumulative traumas of structural racism.

It is as if every valorization and every “politicization” of life […] necessarily implies a new decision concerning the threshold beyond which life ceases to be politically relevant, becomes only “sacred life,” and can as such be eliminated without punishment. Every society sets this limit; every society — even the most modern — decides who its “sacred men” will be. It is even possible that this limit […] has now — in the new biopolitical horizon of states with national sovereignty — moved inside every human life and every citizen.

A spring in one's death

Or: a fountain of youth/doom in (Middle English) lyric

“When a bird alights on thy shoulder she opens her beak like a beetle’s wing casings and tries to feed thee as she would her young. She first regurgitates hemlock, but stops herself as though knowing this isn’t quite right, and makes another attempt: dish water.” Above: ‘Owl mobbed by smaller birds,’ from a thirteenth-century English bestiary, via the British Library.

Your heart aches, you’re stabbed with hunger — for so long you become unsure of the difference between your organs; where in your body they lie and what are their functions.

star

Your heart aches, you’re stabbed with hunger — for so long you become unsure of the difference between your organs; where in your body they lie and what are their functions.

crescent moon

Bad combinations

Flarf, Amiri Baraka, paranoia, and cultural memory

“Baraka suggests his duty is to act as a vatic vector of affective memory, which is necessarily messy and unreliable.” Adaptation of photo of Amiri Baraka, via Wikimedia Commons. Text: “Somebody Blew Up America.”

Could it be a coincidence — that two Flarf poems inspired by Amiri Baraka both contain the word “popsicle”? There is Benjamin Friedlander’s “Somebody Blew Up America” (2011), a response to Baraka’s poem of the same name: “if you leave your popsicle in the sun, / you have to expect the pages to get sticky. // It’s one of the reasons Lynne Cheney is careful with any book.”

Could it be a coincidence — that two Flarf poems inspired by Amiri Baraka both contain the word “popsicle”? There is Benjamin Friedlander’s “Somebody Blew Up America” (2011), a response to Baraka’s poem of the same name: “if you leave your popsicle in the sun, / you have to expect the pages to get sticky. // It’s one of the reasons Lynne Cheney is careful with any book.”[1] And Michael Magee’s “Mainstream Poetry” (2003) flarfifies Baraka’s “Black Art” through a series of Mad Libs-style deformations:

Open Mouth

The revolt of trash in contemporary Vietnamese poetry

Four members of Open Mouth, 2006. From left to right: Bùi Chát, Khúc Duy, Lý Đợi, Nguyễn Quán. Image courtesy © Open Mouth.

The assault on poetic conventions is the core of Open Mouth’s seemingly colloquial and improvisational manifesto, through Lý Đợi’s article, “Poetry: we do not make poetry” (2004). Seen in a larger context, this statement points to a dialogue between the present and the past, a battle between the novelty of the avant-garde and the decay of the conservative, a proposal of poetry as anti-poetry that is certainly not an outlier in the history of poetry, an attempt to resist perceptions that have turned fixed and fossilized, an urge to speak that arises within a suppressed presence. 

Author note: This paper was originally written in Vietnamese by Nhã Thuyên and translated into English by Nguyễn-Hoàng Quyên. This is an abridged version of an essay that appears in the book un\ \martyerd: [self-] vanishing presences in Vietnamese poetry by Nhã Thuyên (New York: Roof Books, 2019).

i plei poetry

Sampler: Open Mouth poetry — Bùi Chát

Translated by Lê Đình Nhất-Lang

Alstonia scholaris. Photo by Binh Giang, via Wikimedia Commons.

Note: These poems were originally self-published in the bilingual book of poetry Bài thơ một vần/One-rhyme Poems (Giấy Vụn/Scrap Paper Press, 2009), by Bùi Chát, with English translation by Lê Đình Nhất-Lang. The works appear in Jacket2 with the agreement of the author Bùi Chát. 

 

Tháng tư 

Sampler: Open Mouth poetry — Lý Đợi

Translated by Nguyễn Tiến Văn

“[A]t the gate of the palace of leadership where I worked, a beggar was always in sight. […] Then, in close watch, I recognized that the figure I had thought to be a beggar was really a painted wooden stand with a carved statue of my own half-length – cunning, rosy, and of course with a brain rotten by vermin.” Above: Presidential Palace, Hà Nội. Photo by Lars Curfs, via Wikimedia Commons.

Note: These poems were originally self-published in the bilingual book of poetry Khi Kẻ Thù Ta Buồn Ngủ/When Our Enemy Falls Asleep (Giấy Vụn/Scrap Paper Press, 2010), by Lý Đợi, with English translation by Nguyễn Tiến Văn. The works appear in Jacket2 with the agreement of the author, Lý Đợi. 

 

At the surface and medium-depth

Theorizing a haptic poetic

“‘How can the poet reach and touch you physically as say the sculptor does by caressing you with objects you caress?’ [bp Nichols] asks, and then answers: ‘only if he drops the barriers.’” Image: Adaptation of photo of bp Nichol’s ‘Journeying and Returns,’ with permission from Coach House Books and the Poetry Foundation.

The haptic poem occurs at an extremity of communication. It arrives in the fleeting moment of contact between language, body, and object as they route their way along the skin and through the nervous system. Unlike the related expanded practices of visual poetry and sound poetry, which engage the ocular and cochlear realms of experience, the haptic poem is a more holistic engagement of body and bodily processes.

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