Interview with Commune Editions

Small presses on the move

First up in this series of interviews is Commune Editions. You can read more about their mission and books at They have already taken part in other interviews, also, and if you go to their website, you can find links to evermore information about the press.

a. Do you think poetry has a political mission?

All poems have politics, whether or not their authors will admit it. And there is probably a strong case to be made for the connection between poetry and revolution.But it’s not an instrumental relationship, in our view, where poetry must educate, agitate, and propagandize the masses. Poetry can do that, if you want it to, but its value there will probably be pretty limited. Rather, poetry is a promissory note that is realized in revolution; poems at their best contain glimpses of another way of living that can only be realized through a total transformation of society. This is what the writers of the Situationist International mean when they suggest, in response to a similar line of inquiry, that “it is not a question of putting poetry at the service of revolution, but rather of putting revolution at the service of poetry.”

b. What do you think poetry’s capacity to change the world is?

Very minor capacity. Although it likes to act as if it has a very major capacity to change the world. Writers like to talk a lot about how writing can change the world. What they say is often so vague and ahistorical and unrealizable as to not be that helpful. Governments in particular are really convinced that writing can change the world and they write about this a lot and call it “soft diplomacy.” And also private foundations. Private foundations are even more convinced of this than governments and they like to work with governments on soft diplomacy. The Ford Foundation started tweeting today about this under #ArtofChange.

c. Who are some of your favorite poets?

Diane Di Prima, Sappho, Huidobro, Sean Bonney, Alice Notley, Kevin Davies, Amiri Baraka, Wendy Trevino, Pasolini, Apollinaire, Dante, Kamau Brathwaite, Wallace Stevens, Gertrude Stein, Gwendolyn Brooks, Inger Christensen, Bhanu Kapil, Milton, Bertolt Brecht, Jasmine Gibson, W.C. Williams, Claude McKay, Aimé Césaire, Rimbaud, Cheena Marie Lo, David Lau, Frank O'Hara, Fred Moten, Joe Balaz, Mario Santiago Papasquiaro, Mette Moestrup, Blake, Heriberto Yépez, the writing project that was Heriberto Yépez, Claudia Rankine, Kathy Acker, Anne Boyer, Percy Shelley, Muriel Rukeyser, Melvin Tolson, Cesar Vallejo, the author of the Kumulipo, Bernadette Mayer, Uyen Hua, Leslie Kaplan, Ida Börjel, Gertrude Stein, death itself

d. Are we all Greek now?

In the long run, we’re all Greek. One of the political-economic fantasies of joining the Eurozone was that it would itself be an engine of economic expansion, the celebrated rising tide that lifts all boats within the EZ at least. It was going to replace the failed engine of the US, and become the center of the global economy in advance of China’s bid. But this didn't happen. The US declined much as forecast, the Eurozone wasn't able to restart accumulation at a global scale, and now China is foundering and seems bound for collapse. So there’s really no engine, no rising tide, choose your metaphor. The only game in town therefore is beggar your neighbor, and Greece is the victim of Germany’s ability to command trade imbalances in the Eurozone. But in a larger sense it is victim of the global slowdown, which shows no signs of reversing, and which guarantees that the nation will be a container through which class war is lived. The thing about beggar your neighbor is that one by one the neighbors go out of business, and then one day you find out you’re the neighbor. We’ll get there last, because we’re the richest nation in the history of the world. But we’ll get there. The last question must be, once we have all exited, what then? Or does the moment of revolution come somewhere in the middle of the cascading sequence of grexit, pexit, spexit, brexit, usexit? That's right, I said usexit.

e. How would you describe what a poem can do in 100 or fewer words?

Depends on position context and scale maybe? I think what a poem can do for a reader is really different from what it can do for its author. What a poem can do for an individual is really different from what it can do for a salsa-dancing club or political movement. What a poem can do for someone fairly isolated from lived social antagonisms is really different from what it can do for someone who is fighting the cops or occupying a factory or in an abusive relationship. In what conditions can poems do things? That seems like a good question too.