“The conversation . . . about politics and poetry has become so predictable that it is mostly a reflex down an algorithm already preset and pre-scripted. You want to talk about political poetry? Show me new questions about political poetry and I’ll show a political poem.”
“What happens if we don’t territory?!”
—Danielle Pafunda and Reagan Louise
According to poet Todd Fredson, Issue 11 of Matter, on the poetics of intervention, seeks to explore what possibilities exist for poetry (in its most expansive sense) to challenge the neoliberal, Imperial project that “West” has come to signify.
The following writers—Joyelle McSweeney, Bhanu Kapil, Sarah Vap, Fady Joudah, Khadijah Queen, and others—answer, elliptically, the questions posed by Fredson at the outset: is this project most adequately contested by those not yet swallowed in it, by “fringe” literature, as Ivorian poet Tanella Boni identifies such production that is marginalized in the marketplace? Do interventions such as genre defiance (think avant-gardists) or the inclusion of more voices (think translation) provide resistance, or are these simply gestures that ultimately demonstrate the appropriating efficiency of the global “free market” structure?
If global capitalism is characterized by smooth, uninterrupted elisions of power, repression of resistance, corporate and terroristic takeovers, and historical revisionings according to said colonial and imperial forces, are local expressions of precarity, as Fredson asks, bound to become complicit in the commodifying instinct? According to Joudah “ . . . subjectivity has become posture and algorithm today, a Houdini act, but one that does not honor its illusory roots and goes on to believe its own lies. Still this return of poetry to a public shared realm, where ‘originality’ and ‘canon’ are questioned, is also troubled with reproduction. It’s inescapable.”
As inescapable, say, as the cultural construct of “the commons.” Danielle Pafunda and Reagan Louise provide an epistolary commentary on the “commodifying instinct” as it relates to the desire not just to be, but have, in the domestic and transnational sense, from their book Bon Aire exploring kinship, radical love, polyamory, the couple state, sadness, security, and hilarity: “That/this/ he/she/it/I is mine,” from land, to human capital, intellectual property, to spouses, to one’s own corporeal body: “One of the ways in which nations, peoples, households, individuals secure themselves is through territory. Westward expansion, Stand Your Ground, the Soviet block, block parties, neighborhood watch, the high ground, walls, border patrol, wedding bands. This is the subprime myth of home ownership.”
A movement away from incorporation and consumption—struggle, intersectionality; the frissions of grassroots and guerilla movements; and the irreplaceable texture of locality, regionality, and place—is necessarily troubled, as well (a nostalgia or need for pre-foundational stability can easily become a fugue or post-traumatic state of mourning).
Pleasure is a component of aesthetics, something we can even demand of art, according to Stevens, but what happens when our desire to be pleased—to say nothing of having our consciences eased and critical thinking obliterated by cheap gaffs, empty academic syllogisms, and pop culture soma—overrides our desire to engage, reflect, remember, as in individual or from within the autonomic nervous system of world body/mind?
“Were we charnel ground attendants in — a previous — life?
Were we loved? Did we die next to the water?”
(Bhanul Kapil, “Mutations and Deletions: Ban”)
In an age of large-scale involutions of sense, authority, and structure, when the Platonic charioteers are driven by the horses (or even, perhaps, in postmodernism, by the chariot itself), it is difficult to truly understand into what, or from what, paradigm, we write, think, see. And, if there exists today no outside to capital, our task becomes that of creating an “outside” (or fractional other) to the prison house of language beyond even Derrida, Lacan, Kristeva, and other metaphors for double-consciousness (or double-speak), and to live and create within a “field of action,” or retain the aptitude, however bleak, for what Kapil haltingly calls “The courage./ To be alone. As an artist. To have the courage./ This kind of courage./ Despite./ Or within./ Communal aims.”
If a poetics exists that can confront the consequences of neoliberal expansion, globalized English, and the attempted graft of democratic ideals (Constitutional law and free-market principles) onto the world, it would necessitate the creation of a language in conversation with that of privilege and singularity, the monstrous One obliterating the differences of the many—a language whose emotional truth is understood by those who speak it, or believe that the narratives other people tell us about our humanity and history is not always “true,” as a constative utterance, or context-less, as a performative, nor, in the final frame, capable of defining who, or what, we are.