Liz’s Weekly Poetry Series: Participation

by lizard

I have a lot of respect for Joshua Clover. He has made the choice to risk what too many American poets timidly avoid—participation:

In some ways, Clover, a California native with two volumes of poetry to his name, is reminiscent of poets like the Soviet Union’s Joseph Brodsky or Chile’s Pablo Neruda, for whom the life of the poet was inherently political. At the very least, they were not hidden away in MFA programs, but engaged with the real world and its all-too-real problems. While the American poet is often shy, poets in other parts of the world have had to be bold.

I consider any intersection between politics and poetry to be fascinating, so naturally Clover’s participation in OWS direct action got my attention.

From this Harriet piece by Mathew Timmons, I found this wonderful collaborative statement written by Joshua Clover and Juliana Spahr:

And we would like to say that we think poets have been very involved in politics this last year or three, and we believe they have been involved and committed in part because they are poets but that doesn’t mean they have been involved only as poets. And this distinction seems crucial right now. It may be that the present situation asks us to give a lot of our time to other matters, and we write less poetry in this case, and that is the answer adequate to politics. But this is still what we do as people who write poetry — we are not renouncing this desire that is poetry by recognizing that politics sometimes wants other things of us. And it may be that we feel the need to engage the present situation with poems — that, again, does not make us more or less people who write poems. Maybe we are saying something as improbable as it is simple: that being a poet, if it is to be in any way meaningful, doesn’t mean being a person who engages the world through poems. It means being a person who is in the world and for whom writing poems is one possibility in trying to figure out what is needed. It means recognizing the political as the case, as the situation, before we have been captured by the question that begins, “As poets….” We ask first: what does the situation need to help it along? Poems are neither the answer nor not.

For a sample of neither the answer nor not, this week’s poem comes from Clover’s the totality for kids (2005, University of California Press) enjoy!:



You cannot remember whether, at this
Corner, years before, you turned left or right.
Inside this immanent sigh, a city
Under the sign of the Ferris wheel,
The bullet-pocked clock tower. A city
Upflung from notes sprawled in the cool
Margins of the ghostly, the great cities.
City about nothing at all: it will not
Speak of me or others, of love or youth
Or anything else. And the city called
The Antipast toward which you travel
And travel, where rain is falling across
A grammar of skyline, rain is filling
The April air with silver quotation marks.

—Joshua Clover

  1. Steve W

    Nice poem.

    • lizard19

      I’m glad you like it. I don’t often hear feedback on these poetry posts, so I always appreciate the comments.

  2. Turner

    As Auden wrote, “poetry makes nothing happen.” The Clover poem, with its images that peter out and drift off into abstraction, really makes nothing happen. At least for me.

    • lizard19

      thank you for the comment Turner.

      I don’t agree with Auden. IMO Gunter Grass and his not-very-good poem about Germany selling Israel a submarine showed that poetry can still make things happen; in that case what happened is Israeli leaders freaked out and the mechanisms of slander and character assassination were deployed, once again highlighting how any criticism, even bad verse, is perceived as a dangerous threat to the apartheid state of Israel.

      but this post isn’t about poetry making things happen, it’s about a poet deciding to participate in the struggle for economic justice through direct action.

  1. 1 Liz’s Weekly Poetry Series: Anticipating April | 4&20 blackbirds

    […] Participation […]

  2. 2 152 Poetry Posts to Celebrate April, National Poetry Month | 4&20 blackbirds

    […] Participation […]

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