Poetry: This Death Is Incomplete
July 17, 2013
Jul 17, 2013
4 Min read time
Read Part 2 of Amy King's essay on poetry and death.
All grass is flesh.
We compose from and are composed of dead stars’ enriched guts (Neil deGrasse Tyson). Adam shaped from dust. The phoenix rises from ash. Death becomes us. Poetry is the sea that cracks the frozen axe within us. It brings the Nothingness we need; Death enters the room with poetry’s spotlights—the gaps falling where they may—and causes anxiety or gives escape. Poetry can be Death’s release valve, letting it enter, creating a presence where no invitation was issued.
So the latest rash of pronouncements about poetry’s death begs: why hostility for the impotent dead? Why boast a murderous view of poetry? If pages and readings of poetry are irrelevant, why are they so remarkable? Unlike movements purporting to produce nothing in opposition to the capitalist push, poetry’s refusal to turn pure product or to quantify services rendered is threatening. Poetry surfaces Nothing; it generates and compels. Those with superficial hungers hope to harness the beast for capital gain. “I have slain the thing, the blight that creates unquantifiably.” So goes the patriarchal-hand-in-hand-with-capitalism impulse to conquer, claim, and control anything of value. Poetry refuses the harness in ways philosophers are still trying to name.
The reason we go to poetry is not for wisdom, but for the dismantling of wisdom.
Poetry is unto death: both simply are. Inexplicable. Unjustified. Mercurially undefined, ever present, jolting, disruptive. Poetry, in its Technicolor coat of permutations and strategic elisions, unseats the brain’s conditioned ways of processing culture in our capitalist program. It does not go gently into that good night of need and acquire, of status quo correctives, of this is how we work our lives to the bone till death. It rides in the familiar clothes of a culture that readily absorbs the rebel, but cunningly so that simple hats cannot contain it. Poetry is a deceitful thing. That protects us from eternity.
We desperately need our deaths to keep us from the pitfall of our permanency, the investment in Eternity as where we’ll finally put our real work, as Tomaz Salamun reminds us:
cruel and crystal.
It replaces people and
loves and does not
the well. With your hand
you dust a glass,
you do not
break it. Let every
a man does. Death
Death, the uncommodifiable, spotlights the absence of Eternity. Death focuses us. Poetry points out the changing artifice of culture and undoes the stories we believe about the afterlife. Poetry makes presence with Death. Forgetting our deaths, we risk default to myopic mindsets, competitive power grabs premised on superficialities. Why my difference is better than yours. I just encountered this week yet another proclamation of the passing of “the old dead tools of storytelling and myth making” in the service of a new master group executing work to be read “completely free of necessary imagination.” That ‘I killed the old tools in the service of the better work my group makes,’ is also another story, borne by the very “old dead tools” denounced. Spinning yarns to name things and claim power over them is no new concept.
Alice Notley explicates the practice in “The Book of Lies”:
Do you believe this stuff or is it a story?
I believe every fucking word, but it is a story.
Don’t swear so much. Aren’t we decorous? What is a culture?
It’s an enormous detailed lie lived in, wrought beliefs,
a loving fabrication. What’s good about it? Nothing.
It keeps you going, but it institutionalizes inequality, killing,
and forced worship of questionable deities; it always presumes
an absolute: if no other an absolute of intelligence and insight.
The lore of certain people—men—what you’re referred to.
This is Marie, thinking, though she wouldn’t use this language;
this is also Eve Love thinking, though she’s young enough
to bang her head against the wall thinking it: Marie would rather
reinvent the world for herself. This is Leroy thinking, who knows
more about lies than anyone. This isn’t Mercy, or Ruby, or
the Satanist girl, or the girls, or their fathers thinking.
The Satanist girl almost thinks this; but she can’t love
skepticism. It would make her cry. I, I don’t think.
Except as a device. I think thought is a device. To get there.
We are all at risk of the default; it requires the many fractured parts of us to carry on with some awareness of how we each add to “the enormous detailed lie lived in.” With this incomplete Death, we go on living the stories of our own making. To get there.
Stay tuned for poetry as corpse . . . .
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July 17, 2013
4 Min read time