Renee Gladman's new book The Activist (Krupskaya, $11) addresses social resistance, personal commitment and political devastation in this playful narrative inquiry. Her work here is theoretical in a sense, composed of dream imagery, Elf-like (Earth Liberation Front) social sabotage and social organizations on the brink of collapse due to the personalities and personal desires of key members within the group. Her vision is purposefully problematic. On one side there's a protest by white liberals for "greener grass." These whites represent a liberal system of "correct" discourse and regulated acts of protest. Meanwhile, there's also a dysfunctional terrorist network at work in her book, and there's a catastrophe no one can quite agree on: did it happen or not? She's looking at the philosophical problems of identity, social organization, personal responsibility and psychic infection within the totalitarian structure of the State. It's an admirable inquiry and raises important debates on the function of social protest post 911. One side is a McVeigh-like registration of discontent: blow it up. The other is to refuse the State's power over domestic space and our internal lives—liberate the imagination. Hers is a work of the imagination for sure. Purposefully ambiguous, fragmented and marvelously disconnected, these narratives measure intent by ability, desire by action and faith by the secular intrusion of the State's social apparatus. Using diverse strategies for her narrative revelation, including interviews, conversation and faux reportage, The Activist raises important questions in an era falling to Ashcroft's Patriot Acts and the President's permanent War on Terror.
This morning, forces stormed the homes of Altar Mendlesohn, Alvin Mendocci, Alsana Mendoza, and Alonso Mitchell in search of the spurious leader of the Commuters, now accused of three felony counts of conspiratorial behavior. When asked the status of the "separate" criminal investigation of the CPL, the organization most likely behind the bridge's destruction, Daniel Sharpe of the BSU refused to speak. This statement was released to the press earlier today: "Americans need to understand that silence is sometimes necessary when one is engaged in a psychological war. And that is exactly what we are fighting here. There are too many people using our honesty with the American people for their own selfish gain. Our top priority is to disable the coagulation of all so-called angry people, be they commuters, activists, what have you."
Andrew Felsinger has posted an interview with Kent Johnson by Rodrigo Garcia Lopes, Editor, Coyote Magazine, Brazil here:
Johnson has useful insights re: American poetics and discusses them with generosity, depth and self-effacement. I don't agree with his broad Jihad against authorship, although the example of his practice is provocative, intelligent and necessary. Language poetry, the function of authorship, the "school of quietude" or "official verse culture"—none of these are problems, but symptoms of deeper cultural and individual abandonment. Poetic strategies native to one's self disclose an art of active imaginative progress and power. But whatever individually we can accomplish according to our own lights or idiosyncratic practices doesn't guarantee an audience. New strategies of dissemination and extension are necessary. Or maybe old ones will still work. Coleridge as long ago as 1809 realized that broad, popular readership for his work was not possible or desirable. Instead, he focused his energy on those who would influence public debate. The Friend, his irregular weekly that ran for 28 weeks that year was an early attempt to extend complex ideas on politics, poetry and ethics to a limited number of people. (His subscription rate never rose above 500 or so—quite high even by my current small press experience!). But his influence was great. At any rate, and I realized that I've digressed from Kent's fine interview, I want to suggest new concentrations of energy. We need more publishers and fewer writing clones. Personal instinct is far more valuable than mastery of prescribed styles or strategies. Poetry is not a popular form, but it does move deeply through the current of our culture.
That said, please check the interview for analysis and commentary on current poetics in America.
Issue 11 of Swerve is out and it's beautiful. Stitched with fine paper and folded accordion-style it's gorgeous physically. Editors Fred Schmalz and Brian Engel-Fuentes have selected terrific work by Matthea Harvey, Ted Mathys and Mark Conway. A selection from my poem "These Days" also appears and I want everyone to read it. Contact Swerve at: 1120 E 36th St, Minneapolis, MN 55407.
James Koller and Stefan Hyner read their work in Austin Sunday night. There was a good crowd at 12th Street Books. Stefan read from his new Skanky Possum chaplet, Webbed Toes, and Koller read from Like It Was and other books. Koller, by the way, published Charles Olson, Philip Whalen, Michael McClure and others on his Coyote Books imprint, and his magazine, Coyote Journal, was an important source for Bay Area Poetry in the 1960s and early '70s. Stefan translates Chinese and English poetry into German. He also translates the work of Franco Beltrametti into English and is researching that poet/artist's archive currently for a complete text in English. Other projects include preparing for American publication a collected poems of Spanish poet/anthropologist Jamie de Angulo, whose Indian Tales is a classic of West Coast tribal mythology.
Anyone curious about Hyner's work should contact us for a copy of Webbed Toes. Skanky Possum will also next year publish a larger selection of his poems. Koller's Like It Was is available through Blackberry Books: 617 East Neck Road, Nobleboro, Maine 04555.