In the comment to my last post, “Deadgod” raised some good issues about “canons” and canonical thinking. When I disparage canonical thinking, I am disparaging the kind of stable lists and established readings that aims to contain poetry’s volatility. But I’m not opposed to people having favorite poets, or even of people promoting certain poets as great.
In his blurb to Anna Deeny Morales’s new selection of Raúl Zurita’s work, Sky Below: Selected Works, Forrest Gander writes: “There isn’t a more important contemporary writer than Raúl Zurita.”
I think this statement could be more than a blurb, I think it can model a very insightful mental exercise: Instead of assuming that a US poet – Ashbery, Bishop etc – is “the most important post-war poet” (as tends to be the assumption in US discussions about poetry), imagine an alternative reality (not all that alternative, if you happen to live not in the US but in Chile or any other part of the Spanish-speaking world) that Raúl Zurita is the most important contemporary poet.
How would that change all kinds of assumptions about poetry?
For example, in Zurita’s work lyrical poetry and politics are not opposed, as in so much US thinking about poetry. The lyrical is political; the lyric also has the capacity to embrace the public, the visionary, dreams, the abject; the lyrical can be excessive and overwhelming, not a call to be moderate/”incremental” and “write what you know”; the avant-garde is not to be obscure or elite, but to be dramatically populist (as it was for example for the Dadaist poster-makers in Germany, 1930s). I think especially in times such as this, Zurita’s fierce work – embracing performance work as well as lyrics – is a great source of inspiration for me.
“All that I came to do in those years, like the art actions with the CADA, was because I felt that pain and death should be responded to with a poetry and an art that was as vast and strong as the violence that was exercised over us. To place in opposition the limitless violence of crime and the limitless violence of beauty, the extreme violence of power and the extreme violence of art, the violence of terror and the even stronger violence of all our poems. I never knew how to throw stones, but that was not our intifada. You can’t defeat a dictatorship with poetry, but without poetry, and this is no metaphor, humanity disappears, literally, in the next five minutes.”
However, I think calling attention to the greatness of Zurita is only good if we do away with the common treatment whereby foreign writers are “allowed” to write about political calamity but that conditions are different for US poets (as in many discussions about “the poetry of witness” etc). Or that Zurita stands for a kind of separate, quarantined, foreign canonicity. That’s stabilizing canonicity.
No, I think we should insist – with Gander – that Zurita is someone for US poets to take to heart as much as they take to heart US poets, or even more than they take to heart US poets. This is one of the threats and promises of translation’s “transgressive circulation”: that a foreign poet can be “canonical” and utterly challenge our assumptions about poetry.
In an increasingly untenable situation in this country, I am inspired by Zurita’s call for a poetry that is “as vast and strong” as the forces of injustice, a call for an “extreme” poetry that invokes and engages with “the limitless violence of beauty.”
Welcome back to plzplztalk2me, a semi-regular feature in which I talk to people who want to talk to me about stuff they want to talk about.
Recently, I e-mailed back and forth with Moss Angel Witchmonstr. Moss Angel Witchmonstr is author of four books, most recently Sea-Witch v.1 (2fast2house, 2017). She is a scorpio & a transsexual & lives in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on patreon at http://patreon.com/monstr.
There’s a lot of exciting stuff headed our way in 2017 from independent publishers. Here are some of the books I’m looking forward to getting my hands and eyes on this year.
(What books are you looking forward to in 2017? List them in the comments section below!)
Stefania doesn’t really use the internet but still received a package from Amazon Prime. What’s the point, she thinks, in opening the box when I can use it as a table. Plus, I’m so tired, from what, I don’t know. Let’s see, where did I put my shoes. What are all these mangos doing here and what is this new trash can? The moon looks insane outside and it’s not even full. I don’t know where this vase came from. I must be losing my mind.
Clarice can only handle art books. Right now she’s looking at Dorothy Ianonne (Siglio Press) and checking to see how many likes her photo got. She posted “Air de Paris” because it’s a controversial one involving a blow job that Instagram won’t notice because it’s too abstract. She doesn’t even really like hot dogs or donuts. She just put them there. And the white brand-less tennis shoes? Those are abstract too which makes me wonder where she’s going with that. READ MORE >
A Beehive Is Not a Little City (Made Out of Honey)
Tremendous Ache in My Fingers
Are You Reasonable?
In Your Motor Car (Flash Your Lights at Satellites)
Klimt in the Country
Never Break, Day
Fellas Remind Yr Mothers
Cantankerous Oval Godhead
Euphoric and He Looks Like a Baby
Cheeseburgers in Paradise
At Loggerheads w/Reptilians
Murphy and the Solar Bowler Hat
Center of the Earth (Everybody Dances in the)
This Colossal Waste of Time
Preview of a Great Massacre
O Shit I Missed the Brexit Vote
Fan Theory about the Karma Police Video Involving Edward Snowden
Casual Friday (Hazmat Suit)
Something Something Hamilton I Guess
Fodor’s Guide to Antarctica
Anvil Meets Head
“Surely no reader will wish me to invent anything further” : On B.S. Johnson’s Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry
I’m not sure you could come up with a better name for an experimental writer than B.S. Johnson: it sounds like someone both regal and a joke, which for the English writer of this name, who walked a strange line between outsider artist and one at the cusp of avant-garde, it could hardly be more fitting. B.S. Johnson was decades ahead of his own time, both in the fuck-all way he approached the act of narrative, and the very outline of his life. His was a career that would not begin to find its traction until long after his death, and for my money, still not to the level he deserves.
From the beginning, it was clear that Johnson wanted little to do with the bullshit tropes of how a book is known to work. Raised by a working class family and spending his early years working as a bank clerk, he eventually taught himself Latin and left the workforce for college, then began writing as an assault on what he critically referred to as the “neo-Dickensian” output of those who would become his literary peers. READ MORE >
For the past few years I’ve been keeping a list of all the books I’ve read. This simple trick has resulted in a marked increase in the amount of reading I do. I group the book titles by month; when the date is getting to be in the mid- to late 20s and I check my list to find that I’ve only listed one or two books so far, which is often the case, the next several days will include harried bouts of late-night reading intended to prevent myself from later feeling ashamed when I would hope to be proudly perusing my list.
Highlights from this year’s list follow the jump. READ MORE >