Stephen Collis

The Rise of the Biotariat

The first definition of poetry

On Simon Smith's 'Navy'

Margate

Poet Simon Smith is in the midst of a remarkable proliferation, with book following quickly upon book. He has recently published a selected volume — More Flowers Than You Could Possibly Carry (Shearsman 2016) — and, the same year, the book Navy (vErIsImIlItUdE). The selected brings together poetry from five previous collections, as well as a number of uncollected poems; editor Barry Schwabsky associates Smith’s work with “the New York School’s love of speed, wit, and variousness of tone,” which is true, although this only tells half the story. 

Poet Simon Smith is in the midst of a remarkable proliferation, with book following quickly upon book. He has recently published a selected volume — More Flowers Than You Could Possibly Carry (Shearsman 2016) — and, the same year, the book Navy (vErIsImIlItUdE). The selected brings together poetry from five previous collections, as well as a number of uncollected poems; editor Barry Schwabsky associates Smith’s work with “the New York School’s love of speed, wit, and variousness of tone,” which is true, although this only tells half the story.

Drew Milne's Marxist Lichens

I have been reading Jason W. Moore’s Capitalism in the Web of Life — a book which helps to theorize the rise of the Biotariat. Moore writes, “all limits to capital emerge historically, out of the relations of humans with the rest of nature. And in equal measure, so do all projects for the liberation of humanity and our neighbors on planet earth.” The Biotariat rises to that “equal measure” — a relational “project” at once for the “liberation” of the human and the extra-human. As I read Moore, his notion of what this project may look like is just as provisional as my sense of what the Biotariat might actually be — it is yet a project, at the conceptual level, that I can only name “poetic.” Here is Moore again:

Efforts to transcend capitalism in any egalitarian and broadly sustainable fashion will be stymied so long as the political imagination is captive to capitalism’s either/or organization of reality.

Allison Cobb's 'After We All Died'

Nursing the machine that killed us

It is difficult to sum up a book like Allison Cobb’s After We All Died. It is “about” the era of Geocapitalism (the so-called Anthropocene), but nowhere mentions it directly. It is not focused on climate change (which it also doesn’t really mention), animals (though there are a lot of ants), habitat, or any other number of artifacts and attributes that we might associate with the ecologically bereft present. What the book does is accept the premise that the threshold has been crossed, and for all intents and purposes, the human project is done. Now the postmortem can begin.

“We are the killers. We stink of death. We carry it with us. It sticks to us like frost. We cannot tear it away” — John Alec Baker, The Peregrine 

Between the Grasses and the Sentence

Layli Long Soldier’s WHEREAS

I began this series of commentaries with David Herd’s attempt to find a path through the largely legalistic language of the modern border. Layli Long Soldier covers similar conceptual territory in her brilliant new book Whereas (Graywolf, 2017), but she comes at the border, as it were, from the inside out. Writing from the position of an indigenous (she is Oglala Sioux) addressee of the Congressional Resolution of Apology to Native Americans, Long Soldier considers the affective impact of this empty statement as it participates in a long history of linguistic obfuscations and justifications of theft and genocide.

I began this series of commentaries with David Herd’s attempt to find a path through the largely legalistic language of the modern border. Layli Long Soldier covers similar conceptual territory in her brilliant new book Whereas (Graywolf, 2017), but she comes at the border, as it were, from the inside out.

David Herd: THROUGH the Border

David Herd
David Herd

I want to begin this series of commentaries on the Biotariat — a term I will use to explore the coming resistance of “bare life” — by looking at a poetry which directly addresses the legal excision of certain subjects. I have in mind here David Herd’s excellent 2016 Carcanet book Through, which, along with Herd’s organizing and editing of the Refugee Tales project and volumes, constitutes an extensive foray into the violence of borders and the creation and management of the state of exception. Herd explores the interpenetration of spaces and languages of, on the one hand, bordering and exclusion, and on the other, as a grassroots counter-system, spaces and languages of welcome and inclusion — thresholds, commons, and pilgrims’ paths.

I want to begin this series of commentaries on the Biotariat — a term I will use to explore the coming resistance of “bare life” — by looking at a poetry which directly addresses the legal excision of certain subjects.