Spring and all, farewell to jackets
At moments the response to our tenure here at Jacket2 has surprised us; it certainly came with more drama than we expected. One occasion was our insistence on a “we” that some feel served to obscure, to aggregate power, and to evade individual responsibility. For some it seemed like a spectre of collectivity worrisome enough that the language of Stalinism had to be trotted out. Such worries over this seemed to fade over the winter. Maybe it just took some getting used to; maybe it just took the form of annoyed resignation from those who were annoyed. It’s true that we didn’t even think about this so much at first and were perhaps a bit haphazard in our mixing-up of pronouns and points of view; after all, we have gone to jail for each other and bailed each other out and done each other’s jobs and collaborated on many writings before and argued a lot with each too and then changed our minds as a result, and so it seemed to us pretty sensible. Sometimes the “I” feels fraudulent also.
We have throughout these few months thought of our claims here as both modest and maximal, obvious and yet in need of illumination to ourselves at the very least. If there is a unity to our entries here beyond the fact that we wrote them, it is perhaps this: we have attempted to be attentive to how poetry and concrete social or political struggle are different things, existing at different strata. And yet we also felt we had to think them together at every turn, because they are entangled whether we want them to be or not. They are entangled not because one is about the other, but because poetry never comes into being on its own — it arises from these situations, these circumstances, often in ways that cannot be foreseen. One way to formulate this, a way that was not always explicit for us but often present, is as an attempt to think about how best to achieve a sort of political maximalism while making only minimal claims for the aesthetic.
So when we thought about how poetry might change in the future, even slip out of its current shell, we thought that this could happen because of the unfolding of social antagonisms, not because of right or wrong choices that poets might make. When we thought about poetic theorists and street militants, we thought they might be the same people. When we thought about poetry and other arts, we thought that we would need to see the people doing these things as existing in a world dominated by work and other forms of brutality that might provide some coordinating framework. And when we thought about changes in poetry publishing, we thought about social transformations in which poets and publishers were involved, sometimes but not always as poets or publishers. We are trying to figure out this publishing project that we have agreed to attempt with each other, and these things seem very important to us.
Throughout all this we tried to think of these things as shaped by certain moments. We are very cognizant of having formed in a particular historical conjuncture, one in which many poets have taken on a newfound interest in the type of things — political economy, radical politics, riots and rebellions — that have long been been at the root of the poems we’ve written and championed. Perhaps this is part of the period style of the present. The idea of period style is an odd one, however. It’s odd in that the very term imagines you could not have one: a reassuring belief very much a relic of some earlier moment in which the relative autonomy of art seemed on the table, a moment before “the cultural became the economic.” When was it? The fifties, the sixties, the early oughts? We’re not really sure. It seems certain to us that there truly were moments when such contraptions of critical distance — those taken by intensive subjectivities or hyperformalist avant-gardes — had a purchase on a new situation. Such propositions are preserved now as themselves minor period styles, two sides of the same retrenchment in the face of a worsening situation, their forced and uncomfortable refitting for the present regularly disclosing itself in the oscillation of each between claims to evade the political and claims on political critique.
But this does not mean that there is any great honor is achieving a period style. Pace Nietzsche, one will eventually become identical with one’s historical moments whether one likes it or not. Still, periods are never simple; they overlap. As soon as one period style has become evident, another has begun to emerge within or alongside it. Our interest in the braiding of high theory, low culture, and riot porn in the fractured grammars of American poetry that has spread over the last couple of years lies in why it has spread, why it must, where it’s going, and what we can know about our time, its dynamics and demands and directions. In thinking about poetry and poetry publishing, we turn ourselves to that; those who speak of period style without reference to the period have a corpse in their mouth. We have in some sense a very modest ambition for poetry: to be of its time. Not last time, not next time, but this time. This is all one can ask. Not purity, not righteousness, not the poem that changes the course of struggle. Our hope is greater for politics, for daily life, for the animating antagonisms of the age. It is in those spaces that the fate of poetry is contested, and not the reverse.
It may be that such a hope, within and against poetry, is itself period style; we should expect nothing less. The world is not made anew every day, but neither it is the same as it was even a decade ago. The questions change; the poems and the debates must acquit themselves according to these rhythms. We have felt, perhaps, the conversation changing in some degree over the last few years, or months. Good. Good because debate is one-seventh of life, but mostly good because it is in these new currents that people who are interested in sharing a struggle can try to move toward each other. And then do this together, collectively. This is what we are trying to figure out, suspecting as we do that the poem ends at the barricade and begins in the commune.