Our poem is Kit Robinson’s “Return on Word,” collected in Robinson’s 2002 book, The Crave, which was published by Lyn Hejinian and Travis Ortiz at Atelos Press.
Rae Armantrout was in from San Diego and joined Linh Dinh, Tom Devaney and host Al Filreis for our conversation this time. At turns the group interprets the poem as a satirization of the referentially super-confident language of marking; as a critique of Language poetry (an aesthetic gathering with which Robinson has long been identified); as an expression of skepticism about the monetization and militarization of American rhetoric. Linh wishes Robinson had pushed the poem’s anti-marketing tendencies a bit further. Rae, who is a fan of Mad Men and herself knows a thing or two about poetically torquing flattened idiomatic speech, admires the way “all we need is a few good words” plays upon military linguistic merchandizing. Tom is positively devastated by the notion that thought might take “a contract out on” words.
Finally, the group agreed that the poem is about words’ value, seen through the dystopia of their devaluation at the hands of economic sectors in which referential certainty is guaranteed to get carried away – in which a good (profitable) year is anticipated by, maybe even determined by, the right people in the room thinking up just the right dead language for the moment.
Return on Word
If we look in the direction these words will have to do adding to the enormous burden of words
The entire concept is entirely too conceptual all we need is a few good words
Anybody can relate to to declare an identity no one can take away
But which ones a handful of interest several people in a room
For several hours couldn’t come up with the point is to decide
Then move as one up and down in an altered state
This is easier said than done we are getting close, very close we are getting better
We are going to have a great year there is going to be hell to pay it’s gonna be a fuckin bloodbath
Then the return to words thought has taken a contract out on in order to move them around
PoemTalk’s engineer for this episode was Steve McLaughlin and, as always, Steve was also our editor. We happily recommend to all Kit Robinson’s wonderful PennSound author page, which features readings dated from 1978 through 2009. The recording of our poem is here.