by Dan Hoy on Dec.11, 2011
Stop the Heavens
from crashing to the Earth.
This is the cry of the biggest
assholes in Heaven.
– from The Portable Atlas
Last month Robert Hass and Brenda Hillman were beaten by Berkeley police, and Geoffrey O’Brien ended up with a broken rib. They are obviously not the only poets (“academic” or otherwise) to suffer at the hands of the State since the Occupy movement started, but they are the first to be given an opinion piece after the fact in The New York Times. Generally speaking, I’m not all that interested in their credentials or even their poetic oeuvre. What interests me here is their act of resistance as a form of poetry.
This is not a backhanded compliment. Poetry means a lot of things to a lot of people, but to me there’s only one “true” poetry, if I can speak like a monotheist here. Poetry is not some bullshit on a page. It’s a strategic practice that may or may not involve the creation of what are typically called “poems”.
The fundamental components of poetry are power, risk, and resistance. A poetic situation is one in which there exists a process of resistance within a field of power. This situation necessarily creates risk, and risk is what turns death into life and life into death: it sets power free or releases it from bondage, so to speak, by raising the stakes to their limit. What results is always a catastrophe, and yet the catastrophe itself is neither right nor wrong, neither good nor evil. What we’re talking about here is the mechanism of revolt, or what Žižek (via Benjamin) identifies as “divine violence”. Divine violence does not judge; it annihilates. This is pure power. It’s egalitarian only in the sense that it serves no one and no thing. It wipes clean.
Within the context of a conventional poem, the field of power is the psychic energy channeled by the poet. This energy is contorted and amplified through a process of resistance to what the poet wants to say. The stronger the resistance, the greater the risk. What the poet risks is 1) failure and 2) the consequences of not failing. Either way, risk is a destabilizing and dislocating force. The reader will experience it as ecstasy, or anxiety, or laughter, or boredom, emptiness, etc., but the poem itself does not move its audience to act. What it does is reorient them so that action is once again possible. In other words, the poem is a product of intentional, uncalculated risk, and risk is a prerequite to, though not a gaurantee of, revolt.
“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.”
This is a quote from famed occultist Aleister Crowley, whom I consider both a total clown and a real poet. For our purposes, what is relevant here is the whole of the law, which knows no risk; risk is what exists outside the law. There can be no turning of death into life (no resurrection) within the law. The law is made of rights, not risk. The moment you start talking about rights is the moment you have none. In other words, resistance is not resistance unless you risk everything by resisting the very concept of rights. Likewise, a poem that says what you want to say (that does “what thou wilt”) is not a poem. It’s a law. And an entire book of these non-poems is a system of death.
Globally speaking we are living within the worst book of non-poems possible. The book is getting worse. How much worse, and for how long, will depend on our collective efforts toward escalating a sustainable risk. If risk is what exists outside the law, the law is whatever serves the biggest assholes in Heaven. It’s what keeps the Heavens from crashing to the Earth.
We are told the world will end if we don’t follow their plan. This is not just a scare tactic (though it is that too); they are telling the truth. And our role, as human beings, is to seize this truth and do what we can to make it materialize. Our task, as poets, is to not fear failure or the consequences of not failing.
The world is the end of the world.
“Where shall we go beyond the shores and the mountains, to salute the birth of the new work, and the new wisdom, the flight of tyrants and demons, the end of superstition, and be the first to worship Christmas on Earth?”
Crash the Heavens
Be the 1st
for Ariana Reines
It’s so hot I feel like I’m in the wrong century. I wash up in a mini-mart and pull a bottle of orange soda out of the fridge and just start full on blowing it for no reason. This is the kind of shit I do in absentia. I’m running into the sun with a windbreaker the tears streaming down my face. I start diving into the surf like it’s my own rescue party and emerge hours later on the dark side of the beach. It’s so black I’m blind. I’m dripping with salt. I stumble toward a fire instinctually but it’s all these normal-looking people doing it to each other in front of goats and pigs. What the fuck. I just want to pass out and wake up shirtless back in Saint-Domingue, kick down some doors, torch the fields. Tell the white man and his entire planet that its time has come.
– from The Portable Atlas (and the latest and last Supermachine)