Monday, May 13, 2013

Two Poems

I plan to post a short note, with photos doing most of the talking, about this past weekend's Dark Room Collective reunion at Poets House, and the celebration at the Harlem Arts Salon for US Poet Laureate and Dark Room member, poet extraordinaire Natasha Trethewey, but I think as fitting a tribute might be to post new poems inspired by the conversations we had with the audiences and each other.

One topic that arose at the Saturday panel, provoking some contention, centered on the role of politics in black poetry, and in particular, the role of the Black Arts Movement. As some J's Theater readers may be aware, Amiri Baraka recently posted on the Poetry Foundation website "A New Post-racial Anthology?," a sharp critique of a new anthology, Angle of Ascent by Callaloo editor Charles Rowell, that reads Rowell for reading out of the African American poetic tradition various trends and schools. I am not in the anthology and have not seen it, but having just taught a semester-long class on the Black Arts Movement, some of its predecessors and some of its heirs, I will only reiterate what I said at Poets House, which is that all aesthetics are political, if we understand the latter term broadly, and that the influence of the Black Arts Movement, like that of the Harlem Renaissance, runs like a river--or in some cases, a tiny stream--through a broad swathe of contemporary Black Diasporic writing, including work produced outside the United States.

That said, this morning I wrote two poems which I then posted first to Twitter, in keeping with an idea I have produced a conference paper about, black digital literature. What is the experience of reading a poem on Twitter, which now allows stanzas and line breaks? (I've already seen someone delightfully mash up the poem in his citation of it.) I have slightly modified them here. The poems are rather simple, overtly political, and topical, and in couplets, sparked in part by a comment by the scholar and poet Keguro Macharia made this morning on poems using that stanzaic form. Like haikai and senryus, both of which I've tweeted before, short coupleted stanzaic poems are Twitter-fit.


An engineer fires up a new power plant.
A city on the grid flares like the surface of a star.

At the border, a small army masses and husbands its weapons.
We fail to grasp that we are always grasping

and mostly feeling, which eludes the plotted axis.
The mother tortoise sweeps beneath the silver wave

and the axes, if not the plastic nets. Will we eventually dream
of tortoises when there are no more tortoises or mothers to dream of?


Something unspeakable struggles behind these windows.
Shadows of a cry or cries or their aftermath.

Neighbors come and go and say hello and drive
into the silence of their hard, separate lives.

Or do not say goodbyes or enough to sustain a single
sentence. Do not lend an eye to tear into the darkness.

While in it there are horrors no sentence could bear, not
even the tumor feeding off indifference. Love thy neighbor.

Copyright "CO2" and "Cleveland" © John Keene, 2013. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

  1. I had a fantastic conversation with Mary Helen Washington yesterday on her forthcoming book, which looks at leftist politics and avant-garde practices focusing, I think, mostly on visual work from the 40s and 50s. From the little she said, I think it will make a huge impact on discussions of politics and aesthetics--she said she was surprised to discover that she wanted artists to keep producing excellent art, even if their politics were not as deeply felt. That she found artists who chose to produce deeply political art during that period, the early 50s, lost a kind of formal complexity. Again, she said this surprised her. It should be a really great book. Not sure when it's out. But look out for it.