Two recent essays/tracts of mine include embedded poems of protest. Poems that urge action beyond the reception of the poem. These pieces consider the role of the poem in politics and politics in the poem. I’ll excerpt briefly from both here:
[forthcoming in a massive section Jonathan Skinner edited for Interim Magazine in which he asked that we poets read poems as pieces of advocacy to our politicians about the corruption and disaster of big oil]
“Of course this is the crux of [Jonathan’s] call – of the concern (of some of us) for the human(ities). Grappling with what it means to be human has been reduced to (an) economics. Or was that always the case? After all, slaves and women were the excluded domestic economy upon which the dominant male’s political participation depended. From the classical Greeks on up to the founding and then some of the good ole US of A.
"Would that the poem could have its gravitas and pathos and ethos and eros and humor and yes politics any which way it would have them. '…any shortcut between the two realities seems fatal to poetry.' (Marcuse) Leslie Scalapino did not think poems to be political acts, but 'could go along with them.' Or, I’ll add, per Rimbaud, in advance.”
[with eohippus labs]
“Is this poem complicit with the hegemonic actors/systems that produced its topic? Have I fetishized [its subject] per Žižek?…What, if anything, does the lyric (nearly song) effect that reportage or rhetoric doesn’t.
"To begin, I wanted to engage with language (dialogically and/or dialectically) of milk consumption and commercial dairy practices. (I think I want(ed) a relationship with an abject subject.) There is a time to present and, like Reznikoff, allow the reader to come to her own conclusions (she does anyway, right?). And then, as David Cope says, there is a time to kick down the door so the poem does not recede into the closet. Or as Eileen Myles puts it, where was the A=I=D=S poems? No subject object verb agreement, no.
"Of course there was the Duncan/Levertov split which is what we’re talking about. Field and standing in the field singing/screaming. These are reductive and perhaps not so very productive binaries. I’m indicating at these stripes too expediently.
"And then there’s Oppen who stopped.”
These excerpts are not the poems.
Because most days I am interested in poems and politics, I’m also interested in the (im)possibility of the poem in relation to politics. Economics. Late-late-late disaster capitalism which seems to have swallowed all the ics there is/were. That is not all I want of a poem. I do not, for example, want to think that the moments in a poem or a poetry that do/es not confront politics are simply or always ignorance or denial or privilege at play/work. Back to Duncan/Levertov.
Robert Duncan famously exchanged with Denise Levertov first on poetics and then on poetry and politics. The latter, from what I understand, in anger. Duncan wanted a poetry that could encompass complication and not reductively point as agitprop. Levertov believed in the responsibility of the human as artist to take on politics in an effort to motivate beyond the poetry. This was the Vietnam War they were facing. The good old days when it was just the one war. When it seems in nostalgic hindsight that the State was an obvious monolith and the lightning rod stood overtly tall. We know, though, that the times they were a lot more polyglot than that.
While I take very seriously the line incorrectly attributed to Emma Goldman about revolution and dancing, as in I don’t want to be part of one where I can’t do the other, I confess I don’t rightly know how to do that yet. But I think that my poetry must be at least some of the time posing these questions. I do not mean to or want to deny joy or pleasure or personal grief or any of the other considerations of living or language or cosmos with which poets have engaged.
Could we possibly be beyond the either/or? We have tried the way of protest and the way of complicated articulation and found them wanting. We are after the rapture ennui. Post/sans-author seen it all been there before and so there is nothing left for me to do but take a picture documentary poetics. We are in on the joke poets.
I’ll end with a little something I’m working on. Maybe you will like it.
Oh, rose is a rose is a rose is a genetically modified pesticide laden planted and picked and packaged by underpaid migrant workers then shipped overseas to be used as apology for date rape rose. Oh, beauty and death and awe. Call Congress.