Commentaries - September 2020

American poetry and political defeat

by Michael Ruby

IN THE first election year that mattered to me, 1968, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, my country killed hundreds of thousands of people in Southeast Asia, and Richard Nixon was elected president. In the decades that followed, I have always been unhappy with the leadership and direction of this country, usually very unhappy. 


Michael Ruby

 I was born a believer in peace. I say fight for the right.
Be a martyr and live. Be a coward and die.

— Susan B. Anthony speaking
in Gertrude Stein’s
“The Mother of Us All”

Douglas Kearney and the cool ipso facto

Photo credit: MOCA

Douglas Kearney is a vitally important poet, critic, and performer — and, given the significance of his massive open online course, “Sharpened Visions,” public teacher too. As a poet and as a critic-essayist — in both genres of thinking-through/while-writing — Kearney evinces an intense interest in micro-glossaries, socially invented argots, the ironic political possibilities of cant, the language-y side of folktales, the dense musicality of Black speech, the naunced differing registers of the ways people say what they say. He averts falling into the (as he once put it) “vortex of self-reflexive word play,” but he comes riskily and thrillingly right up to the edge of it.

Postcard poetry in the age of a pandemic

Mail art has often been understood as a participatory, collective, and intimate poetic exercise. How to write and share poetry collectively during a pandemic? This summer, I had the pleasure of working closely with a group of dynamic young writers in a creative research collective that utilized virtual poetry postcards. To help foster connections, conversations, and creativity across Zoom screens, the students created a virtual poetry project where they shared an image and poem every week with one another.

Rob Halpern: 'Music for Porn' // 2012

Fuck me with the things our meanings make

On Saturday, July 24, 2010, Rob Halpern read alongside David Wolach at Life Long Dream Come True in south Berkeley. This reading series, only named toward the end of its run, was held in a house on Ellis and Prince that our friends called The Compound. Sara Larsen and I were renting it from a friend-turned-landlord who’d moved to London in pursuit of love and expected to be gone for the foreseeable future.

Jerome Rothenberg, with Javier Taboada


[While it’s been slowed down by the current pandemic, I’m awaiting the publication later this year of El Libro de las Voces (The Book of Voices): Poemas y Poéticas from Mangos de Hacha in Mexico, DF, and the Universidad de Nueva Léon in Monterrey. The book (in Spanish) consists of an extended interview of me by Javier Taboada reinforced by an interspersed selection of poems and other writings, the whole of it translated into Spanish by Taboada.