Work in Progress
for Kristin Koster, after the meeting, after the meeting.
It’s summer and the fan is on in whatever room we are in. The anti-repression committee throws a party to raise money for the bail fund and it seems like everyone is there but that everyone is not very many people that afternoon we watched 3 movies in a row and the whole time I was trying to think of a single word that meant only a little better but not much, actually not better at all but, from certain angles, looking like it might be better than before
At reading group there is an argument about what a lull is and whether it exists here or not. There is an argument about who attends what meeting and who speaks for how long. The people I know work shit jobs or have no jobs or keep working the jobs that promise to lead to better jobs we agree that it is lonely now, that it is lonely at home and it is lonely in the large groups of people at the beginning of the summer the Holdout was robbed and the robbers separated the white people from the non-white people now there is a door that is locked after dark
All of the summer movies are about the end of the world. There are the assemblies and readings and conferences and camps and radical journals where the people who are organizing try or are told they should try to get equal numbers of everyone of black people and white people and brown people and men and women and trans people and queer people and people with disabilities to be the ones that talk they want or are told to want everyone represented on stage in proportion to the numerical population of each group there on stage
Maria and Jamie and Sophia and Mo and August and Kasha and Will and Ali and Jasper and Chris and Aaron all move to different houses or apartments. Sarah’s hair is platinum blonde RCA has a new sign or I didn’t see it before that says revolt in ten-foot letters on the top of the house at the queer and feminist group there is a go-round and people talk about the Holdout and then what they have been doing this whole time Laura Riot’s daughter is there and we play with the spindle toy she has while people around the table fold pamphlets and there is popcorn that everyone eats
The anti-repression committee organizes marches downtown every Saturday for the hunger-strikers in Pelican Bay. The police at the march are confused because we want to go to the south side of the jail where the isolation cells are not the north side past Wiley Manuel where the noise demos happen Wendy and I are holding a banner that says fire to the prisons fire to patriarchy or something like that and I keep trying to catch her eye to say this is weird that the police are so nervous no one is shouting because we aren’t sure which way to go down the street but she doesn’t look at me
The people on the stage at the conference or the assembly or the reading are supposed to represent other people or be like a slice of other people somewhere else, not in the journals and readings and cultural events but in the houses marched past in the marches maybe the plaza. The people who are stopped and frisked, the people who could not get jobs, the people who didn’t have the money to leave, the people who were harassed, the people raped, the people without homes, the people addicted, the ill people and the people on medication, the people who are not allowed to get sick, the raging people, the lovers, the people who yell unexpectedly, the people with kids, the married people, the people harassed at work, the people who are bosses, the people that don’t care about the conference and the assemblies we know that it is not just this person or that person that it is a structure of violence unevenly distributed onto black people and brown people and female gendered people and queer people and trans people and people with disabilities and it is agreed that it is a little better because when you look at the stage it looks like all of the people are represented there on the stage
During the second hunger-strike march Officer Masso the officer that shot and killed Allan Blueford was in the police line at the corner of Broadway and 14th street. There are not many people left they have gone home but the people that are left shout together murderer murderer murderer we shout child-killer and go home and fuck you and murderer murderer murder when Masso leaves the shouting stops and maybe there is some cheering I’m not sure but we the people around me are not cheering
In downtown Oakland there are homemade posters that say Wanted Officer Masso.
Everyone knows that outside of this assembly or reading or conference where everyone is represented equally is one thing and that outside of the poem or the conference or the assembly is another that the people who shake sometimes still shake and the people who are stared at are stared at the people who don’t belong don’t belong the people who are beaten are beaten the people who can’t pay rent can’t pay rent the people who are bosses are bosses and the people who are harassed at work are still harassed at work before and after they are the ones that speak on the stage
July 26 is Fruitvale Station the Oscar Grant movie. Some people went to see it together Tim S. was talking about projecting the riots on the outside of the theater but I don’t know if that happened Joshua didn’t want to go but did go Oki cried in the theater and said everyone around her was crying that month there were other riots in Oakland after the Trayvon Martin verdict, but I wasn’t there I was in Rhode Island because I couldn’t find a good job in Oakland Bristol, Rhode Island was where there was the best paying job for summer rent
The posters and the panels and the presentations in the streets and the squats and the communes in France. We had a queer and feminist camp where people flew in from other places Baltimore New York Seattle Montreal Tarnac Maya and Kasha and I drove and got lost on the freeway we pulled over in the middle of a field to smoke cigarettes there was communal cooking I cooked enchiladas with Gemma’s moms they told me how when they were in meetings all the women would talk together in the bathroom beforehand and stand up and leave all together if they needed to if no one was listening to them
That the stage matters and the assembly matters and the meeting where everyone stands up and leaves matters. But everybody knows that that is one thing that everybody being represented equally here is here and in here there are still the people who decide who gets what when both here and there and here right now doesn’t change the before and after the stage where people get jobs and buy medicine and have sex and drive to the store inside that same structure here and there that distributes violence unequally or who gets what when the people who are beaten are beaten and the people with shit jobs have shit jobs the people who are shot are shot and the people who are stared at are stared at which is not to say that the here right now on the stage doesn’t matter they are just different things
It was not this summer but a summer or at least a warm night. We were wheat pasting posters in the Mission and mixed the paste in Station 40 it was one year after the day that Marilyn Buck died at home after she had gotten out of prison but barely in time there was a fire-truck and the firemen yelled fags at us when they drove by we made fun of the fancy stores that were closed for the day and got drunk later having left one of the buckets with wheat paste on the sidewalk and the posters pasted all down the street that had Marilyn’s picture on them and what she did
Hi everybody. One month after the end of the poetry and/or revolution conference, we wanted to organize some provisional thoughts.
We are not certain about many things, including the relation between revolution and poetry if there is one. But we are certain about the need for revolution. And we have certainly spent much of our lives engaged with poetry.
We were not certain how the conference would go given that it was the continuation of a conversation among people from two groupings, UK and Bay Area poets, that had recently been quite fractious.
And yet we felt the conference was a success not in spite of but because of a shared need to hold open a space for disagreement, uncertainty, and speculation. As we organized this event, we made sure that every panel was structured around a comparative exploration of US and UK gender, antiracist, and anticapitalist politics. And every minute of the conference affirmed this, we said it over and over, everyone said this in lovely, complex, and contradictory ways. A commitment to the messiness and difficulty of thinking together: together as people, but also thinking together the big questions and struggles, rifts and legacies, aesthetics and politics. This was the thinking of revolution and/or poetry. We didn’t finish. We barely started.
We posted everything we could from the conference, and then we posted everything that was passed our way regarding the conference along with public responses and so on. We didn’t include and/or exclude.
And then a predictable thing happened, which was that there were responses that were not in this spirit. We can say two very clear things about these first responses. One is that they seemed largely to be from other folks from the U.K. and to come from a context we can’t really claim to grasp in full. But another is that these responses singled out people as individuals in ways that were alienating and/or threatening and/or and dismissive, and most but not all of these individuals were women. Or they had language that was alienating and/or threatening and/or dismissive to women more broadly.They sometimes purported to be doing this in the name of some revolution or another.
Because these responses were by men and claimed to be somehow part of the thinking of the conference, it became possible in being angered and alienated by these responses to imagine that the division and the anger was between revolution and/or poetry on one side and women and/or feminism on the other.
That is mistaken. Radical gender and antiracist politics—particularly in the context of active and evolving social movements—are neither peripheral nor exclusive but are constitutive features of poetry and/or revolution. Revolution is not some autonomous object or program. There is no opposition between feminism and revolution, or antiracism and revolution. It is not a form of solidarity to suggest that there is. It is a familiar and regressive fractioning of thought however messy into a world of individuals and false oppositions. We think these things together. Expunging the participation of nonwhite and non-cismale individuals from confrontational street actions and/or launching toxic, sexist attacks that cast discussions of empathy and social bonds as fundamentally reformist — these are especially noxious forms of contemporary radical baiting.
A further set of replies to the first round of responses which had singled out mostly women elided the stark difference between the conference and its initial respondents, erasing the contributions of some individuals at the expense of others. It accepted and took up the order of proper names and empty antinomies. This discussion has increasingly seized the opportunity for varieties of red-baiting and radical-baiting which are endemic to contemporary discussions about poetry’s relation to political life.
And yet we were struck by how conference presenters consistently refused to render these moments of political mobilization mutually exclusive, how smartly they challenged persistent media-managed stereotypes about who engages in contentious politics and who engages in the work of support and care. We were struck as well by presenters’ attempts to imagine the metabolic relation between conflict and care in social movements as something other than essentially male and female, white and nonwhite, and privileged or unprivileged; how they consistently valued both political antagonism and affective bonds; how they saw them as working together. We would like to thank again everyone who participated. We feel tremendously hopeful about the gathering as a model for how our increasingly circumscribed social roles could, in the words of one participant, inelegantly unstick.
the po-rev-ers, aka the and/or-ers
Dear excellent lover thinkers and dear haters too!
We’ve been posting things about poetry and/or revolution as we find them or as people have sent them to us. Thanks to everyone who wrote or thought. And who wrote-thought.
We now begin the moment of posting nothing more here, right now. We can’t maintain a blog! We’ve got no process for it. No skill for it. No aptitude.
But all encouragement to the debates to continue! We will be reading them. And enjoying them.
The conference made us happy and full of love. That most of the conversation seemed to be about love was said several times. And even when the conversations were difficult, still it has made happy and love, in us. Thanks anyone who was open to this with us.
Until next time. (This conference happens every year or so, right?)
Sincerely, the po-rev-ers, aka the and/or-ers
a response to Alejandro Ventura’s “Incitement to a Book Burning”
The following exchange, which emerges out of an ongoing correspondence with Boston-based poet-activist Boyd Nielson, elaborates on a variety of questions presently in circulation concerning the articulation of poetry, political economy and activism. Conducted by email, as time allowed, from late-August through mid-October 2013.
[A correspondent sends us the following proposal in response to the themes and problematics of the poetry and/or revolution conference]
INCITEMENT TO A BOOK BURNING
Exhibition Proposal, Working Document
“Where books are burned, in the end people will burn.”
—Heinrich Heine, 1821
As you are aware, the current state of affairs exists to conflate categories of thought such as poetry and social relations, public discourse and private wish-fulfillment, community and individual, art and criticism, and so on and so forth, until we are left digging graves.
As Marx said, there is no such thing as a metaphysical problem, yet here we are, mired in all this bullshit about the laboring subject needing poetry to overcome his or her subjugation to capital, whatever that means. What those of us who know what we want are after is precisely this system, transformed to serve our needs. Unfortunately, as Freud said, people are disposed to get off on their symptoms. Or, put differently, as Lacan said, no one has a theory about what happens beyond neurosis. Or, as Zizek said, what we lack is sympathy with thought. Or, as Joshua Clover said, we are living in this world. Or, as Josef Kaplan said, shoot the kids in the head. Or, as Big L put it, fuck love, all I got for bitches is hard dick and bubblegum.
This is as good a place as any to recall that Wittgenstein, the greatest of all billionaire Marxists, attempted to emigrate to the Soviet Union before coming to his beloved senses and remembering his fabulous life at Cambridge.
Our so-called “crisis” is a simple mechanism: the confusion of the order of things, the exile of materialism from thought. As in the mainstream public discourse, nothing is more taboo than materialism in the fantasyland of magical-Leftist, Harry Potter-Marxist poetry or philosophy. I for one would much rather have a drink with my friends on Wall Street, than with the so-called community of “progressive” poets, who are rightly perceived from the outside as a bunch of child-people.
But I digress.
In sum, I am after the acceleration of the exhaustion of idealisms in this society. That is the task I have set out for myself. No matter how resolute some of us have been in our attempts to murder poetry, it will not stay dead. I have racked my brain recently as to what, if any, critical work or symbolic act might bring about in this especially metastasized discourse the desired effects of silence, laughter, and most of all, the sense of getting-on-with-it.
I propose the construction and installation of incinerators for the burning of poetry books in as many art galleries as possible. These can take the form of modified industrial kitchen ovens with improvised conveyor belts. At present I am of the mind that the apparatus should be constructed in such a manner that it automatically collects the ashes of burned books in urns, so that poets may have a keepsake in which to drown their sorrows.
Poetry is dead, long live poetry.
for the final panel of Poetry and/or Revolution, we were asked to give manifestos, responses, or proposals. as my contribution, i wanted to make this material available for distribution. my closing statement was in part related to the trauma caused by activism and/or other personal history. you may have noticed yourself tremoring after a fight-or-flight event (like this polar bear: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-H_PLi8-N4 ). tremoring is the body’s natural response to traumatic incidents; it releases the stress hormones created during times when the body is in fight-or-flight mode. for reasons unknown, this tremoring often does not happen in adult humans, and in these cases, trauma can have long-term effects. someone who is traumatized has trouble being in the world, being out of their home, making decisions in times of pressure, or in some cases, making decisions period. in order for us to remain able to work together and to think/act for ourselves/each other, we need a method of clearing this stuff. this PDF contains a section from a book on trauma, which shows you how to put stressors on your leg muscles to tire them out, which eventually induces tremoring. these releasing exercises have helped a number people i know who are coping with the aftereffects of trauma, whether from a history of abuse, activism, or living in war zones. they may be helpful for activists who have been in situations where ‘fight or flight’ takes over – running from police, witnessing/being a victim of police violence, watching friends/comrades being arrested, or being arrested themselves. one of the best things about these exercises is that you don’t have to talk about your experiences during clearing – it is a somatic process which releases the stress hormones that accumulate in your body during fight-or-flight episodes. the exercises are very simple, and the tremoring feels really good. they take about 40 minutes to complete.
Dear Jacob and Tom,
You blog post surprised me. Firstly, I believe it accuses me of something I didn’t actually say or express in my paper. The paper describes what happened at the Millbank protest in terms of how the crowd reacts. I think it is notable – which is why I wrote about it – that the crowd responded immediately and in condemnatory fashion. It expressed a judgement. I do not, in the paper, comment upon whether I think that judgement is the correct one. I point to it as an example of how crowds make ethical decisions (something often disputed in theories of crowd behaviour); how, in this example, they distinguish between an act judged as indiscriminate and potentially harmful to protesters and other acts which the crowd directly supported through cheers and other chants. Girard calls this way that a group operates to exclude a member to reinforce its sense of itself as a group scapegoating; my very brief allusion there to Girard is perhaps unclear and certainly too short. I was not advocating scapegoating but pointing to how it happens. I think it is very important for us to understand carefully how crowds behave.
What the crowd did in that moment is very different to what later happened to Edward Woollard, in the press and through the courts. My description of that event is not analogous or the same as stating that I agree with the attitudes of the judiciary. For the record, I can state that I did not agree with or support his arrest, his prosecution or his imprisonment, and nor do I now. In fact, I absolutely condemn it.
Yet, for me, no one, no crowd, no individual, in whatever situation (revolutionary struggle and protest included) is beyond criticism. Not all actions in a protest are revolutionary. If we want to think and act in ways which are going to further the struggle against the current State, then it is important that we analyse our collective and individual actions. To do so is not to align oneself with the State, who might also critique those actions but from a very different perspective and with different reasons. I personally think it is a shame that Edward Woollard threw the fire extinguisher towards the people below, which included both protesters and police. I’d have preferred he’d done something else with it, any number of things. I’m glad it didn’t hit a protester, for obvious reasons; I’m glad it didn’t hit a member of the police because they’d have tried to put him away for life and painted an even more vicious picture of the protests than they did, it would have given the Daily Mail even juicer headlines and it would have achieved very little to nothing in furthering what the protests were actually about. I’d be very worried about a situation which forbade us to think critically about the actions we undertake, collectively or individually. Perhaps this is a genuine point of disagreement here with you, given what you wrote.
As to the other points you raise, I don’t have much disagreement with your political statements, although I have a problem with the rhetorical style in which you write. You tend to try to state what I say, then state your own position as different, and in doing so, caricature my position as one which apologises for police violence or denies that other emotions than the one I am focusing on are also felt on protests. This dismays me, for several reasons. It is so often that the left ends up fighting among itself, expending the precious resources we have on debates about position-taking and misrepresentation. I truly believe – and this was very much in the spirit of the Revolution and/or Poetry conference – that we are not at all best served by the denouncing style that this blog post is written in. For one, it made me feel like I simply want nothing to do with ‘Militant Poetics’, whatever that is. It made me feel tired. It is a form of grand-standing and, in an uncannily accurate inversion of your own accusation of what you think I am doing, excluded me from the kinds of militant position your post thinks we should be taking.
Of course we should criticise each other and each other’s positions. For example, I’d be interested to extend the conversation about the chorus that you raise briefly in the post. There is a historical, literary (dramatic) dimension to the chorus, of course, and there is also a very immediate need to discuss how chants and slogans operate on us, circulate among us, express our feelings or work to make us feel alienated. You say that the chorus is on the side of the police and negative community formation. I don’t agree that all chanting is just like a chorus or that it is all negative, in history and in practice, even though obviously some chants are. I’d like to explore this: I usually find chanting problematic. But everything about the way this blog post has been done has not at all been in the spirit of seeking dialogue or discussion. You know how to contact me. You didn’t. You just posted this to the web. You know my name – and I have met Jacob, at least, several times at events and on protests – yet you refer to ‘the author’ throughout. The ‘we’ that operates in your paper is quite obviously deployed in order not to include me.
We should seek dialogue, to talk to one another about what we think the other might be saying, to be careful of one another and each other’s feelings. Today, I should be writing to a deadline. Had I done so, I’d have had more time to give to preparing for the strike which has been called for the 31st October 2013. This is a very real material consequence of how you’ve decided to engage with my paper and it makes me angry and makes me feel the impotence of how we conduct our debates. There were all sorts of options open to you to make this into more of a dialogue than a denunciation and yet you explore none of them.
It is precisely this issue of how we talk to each other and how we try to build lasting, inclusive conversations and solidarity that for me was the most important aspect of what was discussed at the conference in the Bay Area. I’m not sure what you intended to achieve with your response. But the effect has been to make me angry, baffled, despairing, and to feel as though the possibilities of us being able to organise anything among poets and activists in London in the way that the two conferences at Birkbeck hoped for are extremely far away.
We, as militants, want nothing to do with any solidarity achieved through the condemnation and ostracism of other protestors regardless of whether their deeds are agreeable to us or not. While we might not wish to affirm everything which takes place we believe that where acts of protest are matched with the most brutal and inhumane violence of state repression then we must side with humans who are crushed by that power