Monday, June 28, 2004

Cognitive dissonance this weekend in New York: first the terribly sad memorial service and a small wake afterward, then seeing an absolutely gobsmacking documentary about Imelda Marcos with Nada and Gary. I now feel I know more about recent Phillipine history than Imelda herself does. Unbelievably, the movie ends with her two children being elected to public office. Gary and Nada are tremendous fun to hang with and I hope I can entice them back up to Ithaca in the near future.

So now I'm back in Ithaca and I've finished reading The Pisan Cantos but not quite done meditating on them. I will probably do a preliminary summing up in the next day or so and then move on to Rock-Drill (hopefully resuming my previous pace of a decad every day or two). Tonight at the Bookery I'm delighting in a new book from Coffee House, Civil Disobediences: Poetics and Politics in Action. It's like a third volume of that series Talking Poetics from Naropa Institute, but tuned up for our 21st century concerns. (Which are as yet perennial: what is today's "handover of sovereignty" to the Iraqis but yet another in a long series of abuses of language? How many permanent military bases are we building there?) There's a rich brew of stuff in the anthology (priced to move at $18!): contributors include Anne Waldman, Ted Berrigan, Robin Blaser, Alice Notley, Cole Swensen, Joanne Kyger, Eileen Myles, kari edwards, Lorenzo Thomas, Barbara Guest, Beverly Dahlen, and Ammiel Alcalay. It screams to be used as the primary text for a future seminar or workshop. One thing it brings home for me, even in the subtitle, is how inseparable poetics and politics have become (indeed always were, as Waldman slyly shows by envisioning Plato traveling through airport security on his way to an MLA conference). Poetics encompasses thinking about poetry, which always raises the question, What is poetry for? That's politics. An epic may be a poem including history, but a poet who includes his or her own history is a political poet. Which leads me to this extremely useful passage I found in Robin Blaser's talk: "For me, the central figure in my working definition of postmodernism is that it is nothing more than and certainly nothing less than the correction of modernism . . . politically, socially. Particularly politically and socially. That would of course include sexism, racisms, and so forth." That doesn't quite solve the question as to how and why the most politically progressive poets have latched on to the poetic practices of political reactionaries, but it does seem basically and elegantly true.

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