Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Why Write?

"Why not," quips Durs Grunbein, a preeminent post-wall German poet and essayist. What's worse than not writing? The proposition, 'Why Write', subtly imposes a norm now in antiquity: most people don't write. With the proliferation of blogs, thematic territories of ones life may be sketched on the walls of an open house. Daily practice of sending texts on cell phones demands people to employ an economy of language and syntactical rephrasing into compact parts. Twitter recently attempted to claim a right to a "new poetry" developed from the form of the tweet. That simply won't work, and not only because it cannot substantiate that claim as exclusive. Writers are no longer the exception, and strangely, with that, they loose acceptance. I don't mean this in the idea that a populous of aggregated means devalues the form, but that in its overabundance, the prescription for a writer to live apart no longer applies when their value becomes commodity. This contemporary apex of literacy measures not in what one reads, but in what one writes.

“I don’t want to frighten you,” Grunbein sharply remarks, “but have you thought about what happens to people who aren’t artists?” They're vulnerable to forget history, to act as mere witness, not murderer or victim. Everything is tepid. Existence provides more for being than a stenographer's introspection. Instead of being, there's to-be-being. The static will for the mimetic approach to art and poetry cripples the artist into an act of helplessness, of simply existing outside the created world and to comment on it. They are the historians of the present, locked away from their capacity to act without further entangling themselves in a growing past and shrinking future. I want not to hide in storehouse of memory, but in the margins of the unnoticably undressing horizon; so long as I approach it. But there's no walking away from that horizon, now, is there? We are surrounded.

The growing preference of written word over the spoken word in american culture speaks little as to what symbols are being manipulated by that move. Language itself, possess no determinant anima, but acts as an acquired history driftlessly manipulated, graffiti-ed, curated and removed from use. Our interaction with this mute force changes our stratagem in speaking with one another as well as our packaging and editing the information which is allowed for use in hyper-public versus the physically-public interactions. Symbolic orders thrive when most of our interactions (or how we perceive interactions) occur in an abstract symbolic reality apart from physical limits, external cycles (daylight, for instance), and culturally aging norms of engagement. Lower percentages of the elderly's use of new technology provides a short window in which this youthful symbolism thrives, as the next generation of AARP members will have grown up or used technology in social or workforce conditions and will resonate their older technologically regulated forms of engagement. All this to say that there is a difference between the dichotomies of writing and not writing, and critically writing and schriftlos (without writing, without inquiry).

Aristotle's approach in De Anima provides a contrast with Durs Grunbein's essay in the 2010 February issue of Poetry....

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Tony Hoagland to Claudia Rankine


Dear Claudia,

Thank you for inviting me to respond to your AWP report
on the subject of race in my poem "The Change."

To start off, let me say that I thought, back when we were colleagues,
and I still think, that, to me, you are naive when it comes to the subject of
American racism, naive not to believe that it permeates the psychic
collective consciousness and unconsciousness of most Americans in ways that are
mostly ugly.

The elements of that confusion are, as we all know, guilt, fear, resentment, and wariness.
Its sources are historical and economic and institutionalized. We drank racism with our mother's milk, and we re-learn it every day, as we weave our way through our landscapes of endless inequality.

That is one reason why it seems foolish and costly to think that the topic of race belongs
only to brown skinned Americans and not white skinned Americans.
But many poets and readers think that.

This is especially true in contemporary poetry where a poem is often presumed to be in the voice of the author. I am not trying to sidestep-- of course I am racist; and sexist, a homophobe, a classist, a liberal, a middle class american, a college graduate, a drop out, an egotist, Diet Pepsi drinker, a Unitarian, a fool, a Triple A member, a citizen of Texas, a lover of women, a teacher, a terrible driver, and a single mother. Purity is not my claim, my game, nor a thing remotely within my grasp. I'm an American ; this tarnished software will not be rectified by good intentions, or even good behavior.

The poet plays with the devil; that is, she or he traffics in repressed energies.
The poet's job is elasticity, mobility of perspective, trouble-making, clowning and truth-telling. Nothing kills the elastic, life-giving spirit of humor more quickly-have you noticed?- than political correctness, with its agendas of rightness, perfection, enforcement, and moral superiority.

Just as you find the posture of "angry black person"
simplistic, I find the posture of "apologetic liberal white person"
not just boring, but useless.

I don't believe in explaining my poems to other poets; they are
part of my tribe, and I expect them to be resilient readers.

I want some of my poems to alarm people with their subjects and attitudes.
I think poems can be too careful. A poem is not a teddy bear.

When it comes to the subject of American race, it is a set of conditions we all
suffer, whether in our avoidance or confrontation. We will need to
be rousted for another fifty, or a hundred years.
I would rather get dirty trying to dig it out of the ground, than make nice.
I am easy in my conscience.

Finally let me say that I think my poem "The Change" is not "racist" but "racially complex."


Tony Hoagland

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Intro to the Conversation on Knowledge and Belief

Few conversations echo and ping-pong in my head as did the conversation with Quincy Flowers and Ronnie Yates atop the balcony at Avant-Garden last Thursday. Following an incredible reading spanning both style and geography (yes, they're linked, but not always so neatly), after conversations and first impressions, we amassed our aether and visited the bar on it's 15th anniversary celebration. The effervescent Mariana wore an orange Argentine dress and chassed her way through the packed house like a melting ice cube. "Why is the dress Argentine? Do you know?" she asked us? "Because you're wearing it?" I replied. "No," she said, holding the round vowel in her mouth like a fleshy horn, "because the tag is on the outside." She reached her hand between her shoulders, down her spinal column and rubbed the tag between her thumb and index finger. "Is it on backwards?" She wondered off on another errand, the Doppler of her long vowels trailing after her.

We sat where a stage had once been, in the backyard of the house of adaptive reuse, partial use, partial reuse. The back-wall of the stage with its short, acute overhang lumbered behind us, making invisible the town homes put up some ten years ago while making itself also almost invisible. While I knew there was anniversary party, I hardly thought I'd run into half the people I once knew while ascending the tightly wound spiral staircase. If someone were on their way down, there was hardly room for more than one, and there followed the brush of bodies a sense of falling in simply for the fact you almost fell off.

Ronnie was preaching about something by the time we reached the corner. Actually, they were there already because I got caught up running into an old friend who had, in some strange way, cyber divorced me while I found my way into daily writing and reading, a ritual of remove. Carlos, an inventive musician, smart and bold, but self limiting in some aspects that I find also in myself, which later became painfully evident to me. I should call my friend Franke, who can do a spot-on impersonation of Ronnie, which I admire deeply; anyone who can imitate the manner of speech of another person accurately and with inventiveness just gets me. Franke should write this part. Ronnie always answers the phone, "My Brotha," with a terrycloth scratch in his voice and fermata on that last a. If you don't smile the second you speak or hang out with Ronnie, that's your cue to lighten up. But we're way past that part. I mean, we've had a reading together and Quincy (overloaded with PhD and teaching work) came by and drank wine with us while we were waiting to speak while listening, caught in an etiquette of silence that is strange (as it is outside the norm) to know so much about someone before you meet them, pour them a glass of wine and sit silently beside one another for a good hour before you ever say an audible word to one another.

"There's got to be something greater, man..." Although Ronnie may sound like a hippie in typed speech (which in ideology, he certainly comes close), he's also extremely grounded. My best way to place him ideologically (forgive me the violence) is an existentialist, post french structuralist disillusioned by 1968, born again hippie traversing the continent in all manners beatnik.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


We wish to pay heed to the sources of the unnameable despair that flows in every soul. The souls listen expectantly to the melody of their youth—a youth that is guaranteed them a thousandfold. But the more they immerse themselves in the uncertain decades and broach that part of their youth which is most laden with future, the more orphaned they are in the emptiness of the present. One day they awake to despair: the first day of the diary.

With hopeless earnestness it poses the question: In what time does man live? The thinkers have always known that he does not live in any time at all. The immortality of thoughts and deeds banishes him to a timeless realm at whose heart an inscrutable death lies in wait. Throughout his life the emptiness of time surrounds him, but not immortality. Devoured by the countless demands of the moment, time slipped away from him; the medium in which the pure melody of his youth would swell was destroyed. The fulfilled tranquillity in which his late maturity would ripen was stolen from him. It was purloined by everyday reality, which, with its events, chance occurrences, and obligations, disrupted the myriad opportunities of youthful time, immortal time, at which he did not even guess. Lurking even more menacingly behind the everyday reality was death. Now it manifests itself in little things, and kills daily so that life itself may go on. Until one day the great death falls from the clouds, like a hand that forbids life to go on. From day to day, second to second, the self preserves itself, clinging to that instrument: time, the instrument that it was supposed to play.

Walter Benjamin

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Metaphysics of Intimacy

Suppose we're surface awaiting
substance. All we can do is stretch
taut a tarp before a burning building
and convince someone leaning out the ledge
of rubble's supperiority to ash just before
they jump from the window sill.
The best we can do is not break.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Part of the Game: Touchdown

Vague and hazy instructions on how to throw a no-hitter

buy things from gold purses
take risky airplane rides
use reflecting tape as your only guide
have the ball change sizes while mid-air
don't see the catcher
don't see the batter
receive a daily newspaper
skip a day or two

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Boys and Matches

You can convince yourself of anything. A straight line
doesn’t exist. Though true
I’ve never seen a ball continue rolling past the rest
of a bridge. Perhaps gravity
too is an optical allusion. What’s the function
of deception? f(x) persuasion
bends not towards truth but agreement.
I threw a stone in water in order
to realize the moon causes waves. If alls a joke
I wonder who’s laughing.
Did I misinterpret thunder? The parting of thighs?
Did I misgauge the circumference of the refilling
tank now unloading? Am I always to be subtle?
I am always subtle.
This is a disaster area, back up. The falling snow
fuels the fire. We can imitate stars only