Liz’s Weekend Poetry Series: Occupy Language!

by lizard

The twin pillars of modern poetry—T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound—cannot fulfill the role poetry now must play in our current struggles. The Waste Land and The Cantos echo back to us notes of isolation and archaic knowledge far removed from the spinning crust we occupy.

Navel-gazing confessionals need no longer dribble from the fingers and pens of poets. To successfully occupy language, every effort to connect to that which is larger than ourselves must be made if we, as poets, want to aid those who are using their bodies to occupy actual ground, here and across the world.

There are plenty of poets to look to for inspiration. This morning I pulled Pablo Neruda’s Let The Rail Splitter Awake from the shelf, and a section from ‘The Dead In The Square’—which is about the gunning-down of a crowd demonstrating in solidarity with the protesting workers of the northern nitrate mines in Chile in 1946—really resonates:

VI

People, here you decided to lend a hand
to the bowed workers of the pampas; you answered them;
you called them, man, woman, and child,
one year ago, to this Square.

And here your blood gushed forth.
In the very centre of the country it was spilled,
in front of the Palace, right in the middle of the street
for all the world to see.
And no one could mop it up:
your red stains remained there
like stars, fixed and implacable.

It was when one Chilean hand after another
was stretching out its fingers toward the pampas,
and your words came from the heart, speaking unity;
people, it was when you were marching in your own
Square,
singing the old songs full of tears and hope and sorrow
that the hand of the hangman drenched the Square with
your blood.

VII

This is the way the flag of our country was made:
out of the rags of their sorrow the people stitched it;
they embroidered it with the shining thread of love;

they cut from their shirts, or perhaps from a fold of the
sky
that patch of blue to hold the star of their country,
and with eager hands they pinned it there like a jewel.

Drop by drop it is turning fiery red.

*

Another section of that poem got me working on a poetic response to what’s been developing both here and in NYC this past week, but before we get to that, I would like to put it out there that TOMORROW AT 1PM, there will be poetry on the courthouse lawn as part of OccupyMissoula, so come on down and occupy a bit of public space with us for a small portion of your Saturday.

The poem below the fold is untitled, and opens with the section of Neruda’s poem that inspired it. Enjoy.

*

And I heard a voice welling up
from the dense base of the pyramid
as if the womb of hell had cried aloud,
and there lurched forth a creature with no face,
a foetus like a mask all splattered over
with sweat and blood and dirt.
And that nameless thing cried to me, saying, ‘Wherever
you go, tell of the torment endured
by those on the bottom, O my brother,
tell of your brother, whose whole life
is lived on the rim of hell.

song of the courthouse lawn—
the law inside has a pricetag

and though sun exists above us
Wall Street’s shadow is long

so local occupation of tents and
protestors in the space alcoholics

have been occupying for years with
concrete sleep and vodka nightmares

this creature with no face—
is it slouching toward Bethlehem?

no, it’s creeping through the cracks
of Wall Street’s weakened hand

as they lay out a net to catch us all in—
(a net we will willingly leap into?)

they aim to render the drums cliché
and to gut our resistance of meaning

they want batons and sound canons
pepper spray and tear gas

but not in Zuccotti Park
where the occupiers cleaned all day

and stood Mayor Bloomberg down
with mops and brooms

to keep the looming cops
from carrying out the orders

the 1% were willing to pay for
to sweep us dirty plebes back to the gutter

but they are quickly learning
us plebes have another idea, like

no form of control can last forever

*

—Pablo Neruda/ William Skink

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  1. d.g.

    In tents, but rent paid for now someplace warm, the occupying young no nothing of cold. Nothing of life outside
    the calendar of having. Something. Something is wrong
    with this globalized angst. Let the so-called (and called
    here, indeed) alcoholics back on the lawn. Give the last
    days of wet green grass to those who know its dampness
    at the marrow of their souls. Let the outlawed maple trees
    drop gold on those we have labeled worthless. Give back the soup and the salad, the loaves and the damned fishes. Go back to school and the bike racks and the Dylan and the Donne. This good night winter will be long. Take your gentle caring home. Our fires are rare and reserved for those who have earned the right to occupy their light.

  2. d.g.

    Poetically self identified, the avante garde du jour have pitched tents, pitched rebuttals and scribbled signs as vague as cardboard brown downtown. Sweet Pea porta-potties stand garish as blue gladiolus on the sidewalk. The homeless are humorously happy; vodka kills many things but not true irony. The lady in DMV doesn’t know what it’s all about down there. The man pushing the broom doesn’t care as long as they all wipe their feet. In the cuppola-ed courthouse the couple signs a marriage license and figure without argument what door to exit by. How to start their new life away from rif raf, porta potties and the confusion of who’s helping whom.

  3. d.g.

    Rain. Rain that might as well be snow tonight for how cold we are. How cold we will wake. Mid-October and the sun become ephemeral, a gold locket catching candle light one second now beneath the widow’s scarf, she bending to align the pearled rosary in her husband’s hands. Winter comes like an ancient aching. Stiff, we flex our fingers and try to remember what we did so earnestly in summer’s sun that leaves us craving fire and buttered brandy now.

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