The Insurrectionary Turn

  • Posted on: 3 November 2012
  • By: worker

<table><tr><td>From <a href="">The American Reader</a> - By Joshua Clover, David Lau, and Sean Bonney

The following introductory essay, as well as the two poems that follow it, has been drawn from &#8220;The Insurrectionary Turn,&#8221; a portfolio of new political poetry curated by Joshua Clover, which appears in the November print of</em> The American Reader<em>.</em></p>
<p><strong>The Insurrectionary Turn</strong></p>
<p><strong></strong>by Joshua Clover</p>
<p> A nineteenth-century British, twentieth-century West Indian, or a twenty-first-century Chilean poet would be confounded to hear that recent U.S. poetry has been wearing its politics on its sleeve overmuch. And yet that very allegation pervades American culture. Sometimes it arrives as a more-or-less sophisticated case for the autonomy of art: for preserving an undistricted space of imagination that is thereby one of political possibility. Sometimes it is little more than bourgeois <em>ressentiment</em>, an attempt to turn the truth of the era’s political closure into a desirable aesthetic. You would think that the last three or four decades of American poetry were mired in a dull political didacticism against which we needed to be defended. In truth, said poetry (of the published and sanctioned kind) has pursued almost anything else, with historic zeal. Every poet claims a politics; political <em>content</em>, not so much. </p></td><td><img title="Do we <3 politics or despise it?" src=""></td></tr>...

<p>The last year or two has seen certain changes. These developments signal the preconditions for, rather than the flourishing of, political poetry. I can speak of but a few places in general, and with any great intimacy only about the Bay Area: in these places there has been a striking leap of poets into direct political antagonism. Here I do not mean the taking up of political questions, but the taking up by poets of political tasks in the face of an intolerable situation, and the practical work of burning it down. I have seen nothing like it domestically for a good while; the only quasi-cognate is the broad entanglement of poets with the New Social Movements in and around the Seventies. (Writing this, how keenly I miss Adrienne Rich!)</p>
<p>Rather than the complex and current-crossed identitarian wave that crested in that moment, we have in our own a set of struggles articulated more particularly (but not exclusively) around anti-capitalist and anti-statist analyses. This is not so surprising in the midst of the perplexing and briefly optimistic apparition known as the Occupy movement. But that too is as much consequence as cause; the shift seemed to start before Zucotti Park’s encampment. We might name instead the global economic catastrophe which has delivered to the economic core and its poetry-consuming classes a taste of the precarity and misery familiar enough elsewhere. “This is the age of throwing down,” some poet said outside an Oakland bar last fall, between tear gas and rubber bullets.</p>
<p>Chris Nealon, a brilliant poet and scholar, has captured this complicated and uneven shift most eloquently in his masterwork “The Dial,” which I would include here if I could. A brief fraction will have to do:</p>
<p><span style="font-size: small;"> &#8230;let me mention what my friends were up against</span></p>
<p><span style="font-size: small;"> First: other poets</span></p>
<p><span style="font-size: small;"> the ones who’ve always said it was arrogant to have a politics</span></p>
<p><span style="font-size: small;"> the ones who worry that we’re going to spoil the last untainted thing</span></p>
<p><span style="font-size: small;"> Then: the police—bearing down on them on campus—later massed against them in</span></p>
<p><span style="font-size: small;"> the squares—</span></p>
<p><span style="font-size: small;"> Finally capital—unconcerned with poetry—at least as long as poetry never became a</span></p>
<p><span style="font-size: small;"> metaphor for fighting back—</span></p>
<p>If this is one poetic registration of a sea change, another came from an unexpected quarter and epoch. In 2010 and 2011, the United Kingdom was buffeted by a series of riotous confrontations, in many regards distinct, but conjoined in their antagonism to heavy austerity in all its classed, raced, and gendered brutality. And for an odd, suspended moment, Percy Shelley was a pop icon: a stanza of his was cited again and again, inflected with admiration and admonishment, and some fear and much dark joy:</p>
<p><span style="font-size: small;"> Rise like Lions after slumber</span></p>
<p><span style="font-size: small;"> In unvanquishable number —</span></p>
<p><span style="font-size: small;"> Shake your chains to earth like dew</span></p>
<p><span style="font-size: small;"> Which in sleep had fallen on you—</span></p>
<p><span style="font-size: small;"> Ye are many—they are few. </span></p>
<p>This was not a spectre anyone had expected two or five years earlier. Shelley’s return—under cover not of “Ozymandias” or “Mont Blanc” but “The Mask of Anarchy”—exposes something crucial, but only something, about our moment. The poetry selected here comes from within this exposure, this opening, this Insurrectionary Turn. It is not clear, to state the obvious, who will be this moment’s Shelley or Césaire or Cecilia Vicuña. It is not clear if there will be one, or eleven dozen, or none. Or if such a thing is desirable. But it is clear that such things are a possibility again, which is to say: we live in interesting times.</p>
<p style="text-align: center;"> <span style="color: #0000ff;">✖</span></p>

<p><strong></strong>by David Lau</p>
<p>Titties, one two raw, dude, that poem.</p>
<p>Reforma Avenue. Glaciology’s last few</p>
<p>advancing glaciers. <em>Huelga</em> <em>del</em> <em>cobre</em></p>
<p>light in the teargas cloud.</p>
<p>Ah, brief were the days of Chilean expropriation. </p>
<p><em>El ejercito del pueblo</em> and some such <em>golpista</em></p>
<p>in the occluded dialectical revelation</p>
<p>arrow through the boogie. Just water the smudge.</p>
<p>Someday later some will ask us</p>
<p>where we got our style from. From Tokyo’s</p>
<p>cesium hotspots down with messy</p>
<p>in differing difference.</p>
<p>I have grown two faces out</p>
<p>the side of my head.</p>
<p>I am the occupation</p>
<p>of Bataille cuerpos mas puerco. </p>
<p>Wasps in the weed smoke,</p>
<p>rainwater river ocean streak blue sun.</p>
<p>Solar Amphipolis. </p>
<p>The privative prefix, that princeling. </p>
<p>Systematic a-systematicity burgeons</p>
<p>with hotties in the struggle</p>
<p>who learn to set bones.</p>
<p>Revenue resulting from exchange,</p>
<p>Morelia Marxista conocido.</p>
<p>An Egyptian dimension</p>
<p>of the Twitter-scape</p>
<p>vanquished all amigos.</p>
<p style="text-align: center;"> <span style="color: #0000ff;">✖</span></p>

<h2>Letter on Harmony and Sacrifice</h2>
<p><strong></strong>by Sean Bonney </p>
<p>I’ve been thinking about the riots again lately. It seems to me,</p>
<p>sometimes, that the week in which they happened has been</p>
<p>compressed, buried somewhere in the distant past, and we’ve all</p>
<p>been trapped within its shell. Nothing has happened since then,</p>
<p>nothing at all—or rather, everything that has happened has been</p>
<p>blind scratchings at the walls of that week, on and on, hurtling</p>
<p>further and further back in time. Its a purgatory which I suspect we</p>
<p>will only be able to escape from when Margaret Thatcher dies. Can</p>
<p>you understand what I’m saying? Actually, I was talking to a friend a</p>
<p>couple of days ago about what “understanding” might actually mean.</p>
<p>“Understanding,” he said, “is precisely what is incompatible with the</p>
<p>bourgeois mind.” For some reason I started thinking about the final</p>
<p>scene in Lindsay Anderson’s film <em>If</em>. You know it, of course—</p>
<p>everybody does. Malcolm McDowell and his crew are sitting on the</p>
<p>the roof of the school, firing at all the teachers and parents and other</p>
<p>kids, and then in a brief pause, the headmaster steps forward. He</p>
<p>thinks he’s such a liberal, you recall. “Boys.” he implores. “boys—I</p>
<p>understand you.” Yeh. And so the character played by Christine</p>
<p>Noonan—one of the few characters in the film who isn’t a “boy”—</p>
<p>she shoots him right in the centre of his forehead. You know what I’m</p>
<p>getting at—that bullet is his <em>understanding</em>, plain and simple, tho I’m</p>
<p>not quite clear just how incompatible it is with the headmaster’s</p>
<p>presumably bourgeois sense of beauty, love and imagination, or</p>
<p>indeed his understanding, ultimately, of himself and of everything else—</p>
<p>including his killer. A killer who is identified only as “the girl”</p>
<p>in the cast list, even tho she’s obviously the central figure in the film.</p>
<p>Anyway, I’m getting off the point: Margaret Thatcher, and her</p>
<p>strange relationship with the combined central nervous systems of all</p>
<p>of the people who were picked up in the weeks following the riots,</p>
<p>around 3000 of them. It is, of course, a very tricky equation, and has</p>
<p>to take into consideration all of the highly complex interactions</p>
<p>between the cosmological circuit of the entire history of the city (as</p>
<p>perimeter) with the controlled circle of each of the riot prisoners’</p>
<p>skulls (at the centre). There are those who say Thatcher is just a frail</p>
<p>old woman and we shouldn’t pick on her. I prefer to think of her as a</p>
<p>temporal seizure whose magnetosphere may well be growing more</p>
<p>unstable and unpredictable, and so demonstrably more cruel, but</p>
<p>whose radio signature is by no means showing any signs of decreasing</p>
<p>in intensity any time soon. They can hear it on fucking Saturn. The</p>
<p>paradox being, of course, that Thatcher herself sits far outside any</p>
<p>cluster of understanding the bourgeois mind could possibly take into</p>
<p>account. But in any case, it’s clear to me the heroes of Lindsay</p>
<p>Anderson’s <em>If</em>, had they lived, would have ended up as minor members</p>
<p>of the Thatcher Cabinet, or at least as backbench Tory MPs. But we</p>
<p>don’t know whether or not they do live: the film freezes on</p>
<p>McDowell, sliding down the school roof, blasting away, his face not</p>
<p>quite fearful, not quite anything. Then silence. Just like the riots,</p>
<p>they stay where they are, and so does everything else, fixed into that</p>
<p>single, fearful second. According to some cosmological systems, and</p>
<p>ones not so far removed from our own as we would maybe imagine,</p>
<p>when anyone dies—be that Margaret Thatcher or Mark Duggan—they</p>
<p>take their place among what are called the “invisibles,” traditionally</p>
<p>opening up a gap in social time, a system of antimatter in which</p>
<p>nobody can live, but from which new understandings and</p>
<p>arrangements of social harmony may be imagined. Music, for</p>
<p>example. Or the killing of a “king,” etc. But while I’d like that to be</p>
<p>true, it’s essentially hymn-singing, a benevolent glister on the</p>
<p>anticyclonic storms of business-as-usual rotating counterclockwise at</p>
<p>ever increasing speeds into the past and into the future. I take those</p>
<p>“invisibles” as being not too dissimilar to so-called “undesirables,”</p>
<p>all those refugees banged up in the various holding cells that cluster</p>
<p>in rings outside airports and cities, etc. That is, objects of human</p>
<p>sacrifice which vicious and simplistic systems use to sustain a sinister</p>
<p>and invisible harmony where everything spins on its own specified</p>
<p>orbit and everything remains in its preordained place; everything that</p>
<p>is except the ever increasing density of suffering, as pressure</p>
<p>increases and one by one we vanish into some foul and unlikely</p>
<p>parallel dimension. You know, like a government building</p>
<p>or something. A cathedral, for example. Or a medieval jail. Or a</p>
<p>Heckler &amp; Koch MP5 (Police Issue). Anyway, I’m rambling now. I</p>
<p>know full well that none of the above is likely to help us to</p>
<p>understand, or break out of, or even enter, the intense surges of</p>
<p>radio emissions we’re trapped inside. Cyclones and anticyclones.</p>
<p>Like, I’m certainly not proposing Thatcher as a counter-sacrifice,</p>
<p>however tempting and, in the short term, satisfying that may be. It</p>
<p>would be impossible: every Daily Mail reader would understand</p>
<p>exactly what we were doing. It’s horrible. I feel like it’s gonna be the</p>
<p>6th August 2011 forever. Christ, for all I know it’s still 13th October</p>
<p>1925. The estimated costs of the August Riots were around £100</p>
<p>million. You can get 46 rounds of the ammunition that killed Mark</p>
<p>Duggan for 15 dollars and 99 cents. On Amazon. For the police it’s</p>
<p>probably far cheaper, and right now that’s the clearest definition of</p>
<p>harmony I can get to. Happy new year.</p>
<p style="text-align: center;"><span style="color: #0000ff;">✖</span></p>


While the journal's editors chose to display poems by David Lau and Sean Bonney, the portfolio also includes poems by Juliana Spahr, Jasper Bernes, and Wendy Trevino.

i've got you're political content *right here*



this has brought on a sudden fit of poetry!

some haikus

a revolution
is dead when academics
write its poetry

rhetoric won't save
you from a mob of broke folks
in next years' class war

yeah, motherfuckin' community college instructors and teaching assistants. let's hang those bastards!

Khmer Rogue! Attentat!
Victoria! Proletariat!

That is one of the worst haiku I have ever read. The content is excellent, but it's poetic feel is empty! Haiku is about the poise of the sentence, it's timing.

"First: other poets"
curating poetry books

You go first. I'm right behind you.

if you need a leader to follow then you clearly don't get it!

on the one hand they want to be marxists and on the other they want to be poets. but you cant be both.

you can definitely
be a marxist and a poet
but that doesn't mean that other marxists will be interested in your poetry
or that you should expect other poets to be interested in your marxism

Like Neruda.

you don't really know much about poetry, do you?

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