Asked about his conception of poetry in a 2001 interview with Spanish poet and translator Emilio Araúxo, Afrizal Malna wrote, “Poetry doesn’t live in itself. Poetry lives in the reader who is open to their own memories, their various private and social experiences. Everything that we consider fixed in its position, through the semiotic play of poetry, can attain new correspondences. Those positions open wide and defy us to join them together with fresh contrasts and combinations.”
We’re familiar by now with the designation of neglected writers as “poets’ poets”— essentially, an excuse for their continuing neglect. And we are, or should be, even more familiar with the neglect heaped on African American innovative writers, especially those who refuse to be easily pigeonholed into secure ideological or formal categories. Thomas Elias Weatherly (1942–2014) fits both categories.
When Jacket2 invited me to compose a CFP for a special feature spanning multiple modes of thinking, it was the summer of 2017 and we were several months into Trump’s presidency. I had just returned to the United States, where I am a naturalized “citizen,” after years in Singapore, where I was employed as a faculty member on a work visa, a status determined almost solely on the state’s articulated understanding of my temporary utility to society — a condition that defines and delimits the lives of immigrants everywhere, but especially in oligarchic states (like Singapore and the US) that bank on the sweat and blood of certain bodies, the profitability of distended indenture (including debt), disenfranchisement, carceral surveillance, and other forms of coercion.
I was never left alone at Gitmo, though I was permitted to collect a variety of field recordings and write poems and notes on my iPhone. For security reasons, I was not permitted to record what one public affairs (PA) representative referred to as “nonpermissible human voice.” I attempted to record everything else, and I transcribed as much overheard speech as I could.
Michael Heller is the author of nearly thirty volumes of poetry, essays, memoir and fiction. His collected poems, This Constellation Is A Name: Collected Poems 1965–2010, appeared in 2012. His poetry notwithstanding, Heller’s masterly essays have been a major influence on our arts and letters; his collections of criticism (especially on poetry and art) have been instrumental in shaping contemporary poetics.