There are many chairs and no tables in this depressingly uplifting play, Help, which is about a new table we need right NOW, “NOW that is the ‘n-word,’” as the play says: a kind of roundtable, virtual and actual, where we can all sit around to talk “us,” cohabitus, especially the souls of White folks.
Jose Antonio Villarán’s Open Pit asks how to write a catastrophe whose immanence is dissipated across space and time. Tracking the poet’s research on transnational extractivism in the Peruvian mining town of Morococha, Open Pit essays a poetics of Rob Nixon’s “slow violence,” catastrophes (being products of human choices) which play out across scales that defy a pinpointed “there.” Writing in Davis, CA, to a young son in Philadelphia about research in Morococha, Peru, Villarán sets a network of places as actants, grafted onto variable patterns of placement on the page, carving tracks of space for the words of people interviewed in Morococha, descriptive language on the products of research, and autobiographical first- and second-person verse.
Open Pit was published by Counterpath Press in 2022. The Spanish Tajo Abierto will be published in June 2023 by Álbum del Universo Bakterial in Lima, Peru.
Note: This conversation between David Naimon and Claudia Rankine is part of Between the Covers, hosted by Naimon, and was recorded on November 13, 2014 at the KBOO-FM studios in Portland, Oregon. This interview was transcribed by Amy Stidham and is available for listening here. It has been lightly edited for publication. — Amy Stidham
Note: This conversation between David Naimon and Claudia Rankine is part of Between the Covers, hosted by Naimon, and was recorded on November 13, 2014 at the KBOO-FM studios in Portland, Oregon.
“To live through the days sometimes you moan like deer,” 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.
For six evenings in October 2018, the Mile-Long Opera was performed for free on the High Line, starting at 7:00 p.m. That time is significant: the opera was billed as “a biography of 7:00 p.m.” because the libretto and accompanying texts were based on interviews with hundreds of New Yorkers about the meaning of the hour when day gives way to night.
“No we don’t talk, but people get to know each other just by walking past each other all the time.”
You conceived this forum in the midst of attacks on Conceptualism for being a pain machine wielded by and for white people. I wondered whether your goal was salvific: could Conceptualism’s reputation and potential be rescued, could its soil be aerated and fertilized, could histories, lineages, practices, and ideas not normally associated with the current branding of Conceptualism become part of our sense of it.
Collected over the past four or five years, this forum offers a wide, and usefully conflicting, set of short essays, mostly by poets, on how race figures in their work. Max King Cap curates a set of images by visual artists that speak both directly and obliquely, to the issues at hand; Cap provides short commentaries for each image.