by Johannes Goransson on Sep.29, 2011
[Brooks Johnson, son of Kent Johnson, sent Montevidayo the follow report from a protest held during Montevidayo-favorite Raul Zurita’s reading at the Poetry Foundation last night. I have not fact-checked any of these remarks and if somebody – from the Poetry Foundation or not – want to add their view to this discussion, I welcome it.]
A group of about a half dozen of us attended the Raúl Zurita reading at the Poetry Foundation last night. Even though my Spanish is horrible and I had to rely mostly on his translator for the text of the poems, he gave one of the most powerful readings I think I’ve ever seen. After he read, during the question and answer session, my friends and I went into the Library, which is visible from the reading room and dropped two banners. One said “What Would Have Happened if Emily Dickinson Had Been Prescribed Prozac?” The other said “VIVA CADA”. [For the Chilean Colectivo de Acción de Arte; Zurita was one of its founders and leaders during the 1970s and 80s. More on this below.]
The Poetry Foundation promptly called the cops and took the banners down. The fact that they would take down a banner that said “Viva Cada” at a fucking Zurita reading is mind- boggling. We then went back to the reading room to try to make a statement explaining our action. The security guards tried to block our way but we pushed past them. When we got back into the reading room, Zurita was still speaking and none of us felt comfortable interrupting him–especially since he was giving an answer to someone in the audience about art and life becoming intertwined. Instead of speaking, we passed out copies of our statement which is as follows:
First, we would like to make clear that we chose to do this tonight in an attempt to honor Raúl Zurita and the heroic spirit of CADA. We are under no illusions that the risks involved in this intervention in any way compare to those taken by CADA in their political and poetic interventions against the Pinochet dictatorship. These people literally risked their lives, where we are risking at worst some dirty looks and an evening in jail. That being said, however, our group has experienced a small taste of the sort of silencing at the hands of power that CADA faced so many years ago. Strangely enough, this happened right here at the Poetry Foundation a few weeks ago, when our comrade Stephanie Dunn was arrested for a protest action during a Wine and Cheese Gala, at the insistence of this organization. As far as we know, the Poetry Foundation is still pressing charges against Stephanie for “disturbing the peace.” To our knowledge, this is the first time that a supposed institution of poetics has pressed charges against a poet for what is essentially a poetic act. The similarities to the obscenity charges brought against Allen Ginsberg in the late 50s oughtn’t be ignored.
The true spirit of poetry is precisely about disturbing the peace—insofar as “the peace” is defined and enforced by repressive state apparatuses. Basho’s frog jumping into a still pond—plop! Mr. Zurita and CADA stand as one of the most beautiful and courageous examples of this. Poetry happens when we are shaken out of our psychic, linguistic, phenomenological, and indeed even physiological compliance with the spectacle and its myriad illusory modes of reification. The home of poetry is not a Museum and it certainly does not look like an Apple Store. Poems are not a bunch of butterflies pinned to the wall. Poetry is that which cannot be contained by the page or for that matter some ridiculous glass and steel mausoleum.
Today, an inextricable aspect of state-corporate repression and control is seen in the heavily subsidized pharmaceutical industry. To us, it makes perfect sense that an institution funded by a 100 million dollar grant from Lilly Pharmaceuticals, manufacturers of Prozac, would find any behavior beyond polite docility objectionable enough to call the cops. We demand that the Poetry Foundation drop all charges against Stephanie Dunn and that the Board of Directors both personally and publically apologize for their conduct.
Further, we demand that either the Poetry Foundation spend the remainder of its drug money on the creation of two new poetry centers in existent disused buildings: one on the south side and another on the west side, whose mission it would be to support poetry in impoverished communities by any means necessary. If there is not enough money from the Lilly grant to fund these centers, then we demand that the Poetry Foundation sell its current headquarters and use the money for the previously proposed projects. We find the present manifestation of ‘the home of poetry,’ situated within the alien geography and aesthetics of Investment Banking and Real Estate speculation to be nauseating. It is our deep belief that the Foundation’s mission statement of bringing poetry to the widest possible audience could more effectively be achieved by following our suggestions.
These disruptions will continue until our demands are met. Long live CADA. Long live art into life.
Some in the jam-packed audience took the leaflets and seemed to very much appreciate what we were doing; the more stodgy members of the audience refused to even acknowledge our presence. We thanked Mr. Zurita (who embraced us) and then tried to leave, but now the PF Security goons (outfitted in Secret Service agent garb) were telling us that we were not allowed to leave, that the cops were on their way and that we had to wait for them. We told them that we were going to leave peacefully and tried to make our way to the exit but they blocked our way and tried to hip toss me when I tried to walk past them. The remaining members of the audience tried to persuade the goons to lets us leave but were unsuccessful. Forrest Gander suggested that we make a break for it and, after a couple of tries, it worked. One of our compatriots filmed the whole action (though, unfortunately, he didn’t get the footage of the guards ripping down the “VIVA CADA banner). The shoot will be up on You Tube later today.
for the Croaton Poetic Cell,