Read ate the event "Poetry in a Time of Crisis - Is Poetry Enough (April, 2004)", at te University of California, Santa Cruz
First I would like to say two things:
One, I believe poetry exclusively occurs when it is
discussed. [i.e. “Poetry” as a privileged structure is an anachronistic
notion. I can only stand poetry in the context of prose].
Two, Americans should leave Afghanistan and Iraq so writers and clerks can move to more boring topics.
I’ve learned something over the years. [I noticed how my
English derives from clichés, as if I was writing from the debris; what
Eileen Myles said at the conference after telling her story reading in
English at Russia and the reaction of the audience, “Writing with a
“I I’ve learned something over the years”. The instant we’re talking about a crisis we are hidings ours.
[This comes from my Mexican background and my training in
Gestalt psychotherapy; the projections we make, how to recuperate those
projections in order to reorganize the self, to not impose on the world
was it ours. It also comes from Guangfan’s “There is nothing in the
whole universe that is not you”; the basic Upanishad teaching “Thou are
you” and Hegel’s comment at his Phenomenology of Spirit regarding philosophy starting only once we recognized ourselves in/with the absolute other. Mexican popular culture says: “No the hagas pato” (lit. Don’t make yourself a duck,
meaning, don’t pretend you are not you, don’t turn into a third person
in order to not assume the responsibilities of knowing you are the
person you accuse, don’t become 3 in order to not accept you are both 1
I take “crisis” not a crisis I too am
provoking. At the same time the victim and the agent of imperialism in
every case. Something I share with Americans].
Iraq, for example, is Bush’s way to hide he is the crisis itself.
Bush is our way to hide we are Bush.
It’s easy to blame governments when they in fact do represent awfull societies.
I only can call poetry the most critical voice against every order, including its own.
I suspect as poets we take advantage of times of crisis to
try to offer poetry as part of the solution. Maybe to hide poetry is
part of the problem.
In saying “Poetry in a time of crisis” I certified poetry.
I certified it as part of a time.
As part of a time of crisis, which is something really good for poetry.
Poetry in a time of crisis must be useful. At least in that phrase.
That phrase is optimistic.
It makes poetry look good.
Part of the solution. Not part of the problem.
But I think poetry is part of the problem.
In a way Bush does poetry too.
I may say his poetry is pretty bad but it’s poetry too.
Bush tries to cling meaning. He tries to make the audience feel the ecstasy of words. He performs.
The president behaves similarly to poets I know.
I am now doing what Bush does much better than me.
No wonder why poets decide to be poets. They become Bush.
There’s only one step from the blank page to the White House. I’m in it.
I am Bush.
Poetry in a time of crisis can also mean poetry is an emergency measure.
Poetry as something you reuse or return to when things get worst.
For example, if you’re depressed. Or there’s a war down there in Iraq.
You can make an anthology out of emergency poetry like this.
Poetry is part of the problem.
Emergency measures follow a psychology of panic.
Red or yellow alerts.
Put some poetry into the dying nation, into the dying discourse.
Poetry in a time of crisis. Poetry in yellow alert. Or red.
How can poetry help?
Somebody may offer this clue: poetry can help not getting
in the way. For example promoting the end of speeches. A country where
every politician that tries to give an speech –especially a speech to
the nation—is killed.
[I liked Walter Lew’s approach,
‘talking again’ about Spirit as something you need before doing poetry.
And after. No spirit, no poetry. What he meant by “Spirit” I think was
Yet that clue would only be a pretty bad joke.
The way poetry does not help.
It’s not part of the solution but just part of the laughter.
México and the United are nations that resemble each other
too much. They should be completely different, so different that they
would go on war every two or three months. Instead they go to bed every
Countries that laugh too much. Part of the problem is laughter.
How come you laugh when a political joke is done?
How did we get to this point?
Because poetry worked.
What poetry aim at, building the common I, the Nosotros, the We / was achieved.
Homer wanted to praise the heroes. He did. The heroes were praised.
Whitman sang America. He achieved his goal.
Poetry is full of successes.
Poetry has been historically linked to war.
Poetry is always trying to put an end to a war that continues wars that poetry helped to instigate.
Whitman is full of bullshit American poetry hasn’t get rid of.
Whitman was very American. Free verse means having no
meters. No limits. Respecting no borders. Free verse breaks the
territories, makes it bigger. Free verse was how poetry materialized on
the page the imperialism of the United States. Why being American was
the best thing that could happen to the rest of the continent.
Free verse explains how Mexico was stolen of half its territory
through a take over, an expansion of the map of the United States.
In fact, Whitman supported that war.
Whitman wanted to construct a space-time where/when
everything fitted. That’s why Whitman broke the conventions of how much
text could be written, how long could the line be. That’s why Whitman
wrote so much. Wrote those heroic lists, those listings. Groceries of
History. The many landscapes. The different peoples. Every thing: America.
[I am here trying to start a discussion on how from Whitman
to Stein, the way “America” writes reflects/refracts the imperialism
this writing is developing under, developing in its own structures.
Acker would have agreed on this I think].
So, from this
point on we are going to call “America” the image of a space-time
where/when everything is there/then. The containment of All. What Pound
called “Vortex” and Borges “Aleph”.
What we forget
conceiving such a total-time/space is that a system of simultaneous
realities taking place at once would make all of them absurd.
“America” is a comical nightmare.
Viewing poetry in a time of crisis doesn’t help to put an
end to the crisis, it only helps to make poetry (again) a possible
solution, a praxis that can really mean something good for the culture
it belongs to; viewing poetry in a time of crisis puts the emphasis on
the time of crisis, erases the fact that the institution of poetry is
part of the crisis, that poetry is in a crisis itself.
[My reading of Efraín Huerta, Nicanor Parra, Renato Leduc, etc, gave me
this ideas from the start: we received literary ‘poetry’ from the
Western tradition, at one point we dominated that and even contributed
our own thing to It, but let’s not forget ‘poetry’ is part of the
Western colonial heritage, a post-colonial self-critique stand implies a
going beyond ‘poetry’].
Times of crisis help poetry
hide its own crisis. I think instead of thinking how can poetry help in a
time of crisis, think how poetry has collaborated for the production of
a crisis, how that production of a crisis makes a culture risks itself,
and thus having to strengthen the strategies to perpetuate itself using
the institution of crisis as an excuse.
To make poetry
a possible measure. To make ourselves forget we live in cultures that
are dying, cultures that want to kill.
I think poetry is part of the obscurity.
I think poetry is the place where people go when they want to miss therapy.
The place people go when they are to snob to go to the
movies but they still want to pretend their life can have meaning as
their moon, an elevator to acquire more power or at least meet the
The readers, that group of people who want the
same stuff poets crave for, but don’t have the courage even to write.
Or to corrupt themselves in order to publish.
What I am saying is I don’t believe poetry can fix.
Nor I believe poetry should be saved.
(How much more I would have enjoy 9-11 if the twin towers had been full, completely packed, with poetry books].
I think Wittgenstein was right when he realized he should
concentrate on proving philosophy could do basically nothing.
When crisis arise I’m one of those persons that think words can
help prevent the catastrophe. This is one of the reasons I consider
myself a poet. I believe in alerts. I’m part of the problem.
Poetry should not look for ways to survive. But the poet, at
least, should make an effort to disclose all the information she or he
has historically used to gain authority.
Show even a dying cultural practice like poetry can be more honest than usual politics.
Poetry should unveil where its authority comes from. Should
push its own contradictions, let them come out of the closet. Should
push the crisis further until the authorities that created it to remain
in power are remove by the continuation of the crisis until nothing
I came from all the way from Mexico, made
lines, ask for a permit, say hi to American Immigration agents, lie in
the airport, ate peanuts, had a ride, I came all the way from Mexico to
basically accept I have nothing to say.
I only come
here to do what I think poets should do every opportunity they have:
contradict ourselves all we can right in front of the audience we once
tried to convince poetry was something good, something we should share,
something that helped. Publicly and very openly contradict ourselves
until the laughter stops, until there’s no credibility left in the
authority we inherit or won ourselves, until it is made clear those who
have authority have stolen it.
The function of poetry
is to lose its function. The function of poetry is to diminish the
general notion of authority.
Esta é a caverna, quando a caverna nos é negada/Estas páginas são as paredes da antiga caverna de novo entre nós/A nova antiga caverna/Antiga na sua primordialidade/no seu sentido essencial/ali onde nossos antepassados sentavam a volta da fogueira/Aqui os que passam se encontram nos versos de outros/os meus versos são teus/os teus meus/os eus meus teus /aqui somos todos outros/e sendo outros não somos sós/sendo outros somos nós/somos irmandade/humanidade/vamos passando/lendo os outros em nós mesmos/e cada um que passa se deixa/essa vontade de não morrer/de seguir/de tocar/de comunicar/estamos sós entre nós mesmos/a palavra é a busca de sentido/busca pelo outro/busca do irmão/busca de algo além/quiçá um deus/a busca do amor/busca do nada e do tudo/qualquer busca que seja ou apenas o caminho/ o que podemos oferecer uns aos outros a não ser nosso eu mesmo esmo de si?/o que oferecer além do nosso não saber?/nossa solidão?/somos sós no silêncio, mas não na caverna/ cada um que passa pinta a parede desta caverna com seus símbolos/como as portas de um banheiro metafísico/este blog é metáfora da caverna de novo entre nós/uma porta de banheiro/onde cada outro/na sua solidão multidão/inscreve pedaços de alma na forma de qualquer coisa/versos/desenhos/fotos/arte/literatura/anti-literatura/desregramento/inventando/inversando reversamento mundo afora dentro de versos reversos solitários de si mesmos/fotografias da alma/deixem suas almas por aqui/ao fim destas frases terei morrido um pouco/mas como diria o poeta, ninguém é pai de um poema sem morrer antes
Jean Louis Battre, 2010
Jean Louis Battre, 2010