Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Chris Paul: Improvised response to the Militant Poetics website (4 June 2013)

I couldn't make it to Birkbeck the other week – I live in Wales and sadly I was too broke to make it there – only oligarchs take train these days. As a poet I locate myself severally, across time zones, nations, decades – etc – but praxis is located and determined by the material, obv.

I am grateful for Jow's notion of keeping poetry to a minimum – for me the value of poetry is in rupture, conceptual/sensual disruption, its expansion of the art of the possible – but in terms of de-privatising and democratizing capital production, meeting future energy needs within climatically sustainable limits, altering the perception that the economic, the environmental, and the constitutional are mutually exclusive pursuits, avoiding false flag hysteria, protecting civil liberties as the economic elite fuckbuddyup with the conservative right to shoddy up their mutual interests, resisting hegemonic shite grilloesque populism, securing supply chains and essential services (like hospital refrigeration) as we strip past peak oil, avoiding food crisis if these supply chains are suspended, mobilizing class interest along class instead of racial lines, defining a sustainable constitutional space on an internationalist basis to avoid races to the bottom and vulture corporatism, de-centralising the power grid with no nuclear power, rejecting property rights as the cornerstone of policing, ensuring representation across the media and the judiciary, opening out media ownership, establishing tax justice international, seeing off fall out from trade derivative collapse, sustainable public transport, insulating the vulnerable from hyper inflation and currency war, miantaining the remnants of the welfare satate, resisting expansion of war and a new international cold war when syria is in ashes and iran vulnerable – poetry's value is limited....I think actually we (poets) have a vital role in documenting these concerns, articulating them in disinterested aesthetic circles, as a means of 'saying nothing', breaking into fresher epistemological ground. However, these concerns are essentially material and temporal – and the right are actively setting about, consciously or otherwise, in setting the conditions where popular dissent becomes shaped along divisive lines – inter-generational tensions (as in the london riots – this will be exacerbated as the benefit cuts kick in), and racial lines, we see clusters of EDL supporters petrol bombing mosques. We face a wholesale failure of the political class, and representative democracy, like prose, has reached its limits in terms of effecting this change – but we need to address to make structural alternatives through any channel that will listen, – SWP, Greens, SNP, Plaid, Labour, the CPGB, Occupy, the TUC, NUS, WI, FoE, CND, Greenpeace, radical independence, syrzia, Tax Uncut etc, etc. We exist where we are – severally, let's debate and dialogue, talk shit, actively though this and other channels, from where we are now – we'll never attain ideological perfection or revolutionary readiness, dualist fallacy, but we can sure as hell organise ourselves intellectually, as a foundation for political and social action, to withstand the shitstorm of history and elitist self interest coming our way.  We have no war but the class war but recognising and removing privilege is a driver in all this – intersectionality is vital, resistance, autonomy, equality of decision making, accountability, 'the proletariat are recruited from all segments of society' but perception of class consciousness is drawn from along sterotypes determined by the bourgeois.  As Europe is pauperized and we enter neo-feudalism – we need to address the big questions of the age in tangible terms – what does – eg – Keston Sutherland think we should do with the Euro really? – it is not enough for us to simply say 'I don't believe in capitalism'. How can we put in place an international alliance with the democratic safeguards the EU lacks? How can we sustainably and equitably organise free trade as the life machines won't power themselves without fossil fuel trade? It is not enough to simply say build more wind turbines, although we need to build more wind turbines. How do we overcome the armed interests that hinder us given we can't ever outgun them? It is not enough to filter these issues through a highly specialist filter – as a poet, hell no – we need the inter-conncectdness of ideas, to make concrete absent concepts to form meaningful social economic policy from across academic disciplines – intermediacy and cross disc', spanning sciences and humanities, as activism, above all, to revert to type – What will we do?

Jow Lindsay: Pop-Up MilPo (On the Militant Poetics Conference)

It was a totally bracing event, with a sense of ephemerality, fragility, sprawl and gelatinous frondiness. One excellent thing was how tensions & disputes mostly didn't coalesce into historical re-enactment of standardised positions. Sociologically it was a bit of a total sausagefest. There were no clear plans formed, but I think many people agreed that:

(a) We should arrange sequel events. Some people also had suggestions for slightly different formats; some people felt it had better be more than once a year; some people weren't sure about the title Militant Poetics. (Personally I don't think we should get hung up on names. No name will sum everything up).

(b) Meanwhile, we should get together in small groups. In smaller groups, that meet more regularly, people can get to know each other, look out for each other, and invent and carry out practical actions and projects. Most people seemed to hope these spaces could be characterised by attentiveness, collaboration, patience, support, nourishment, tenderness and celebration, and by solidarity that subsists in acts and not only in pronouncements. We also sometimes seemed to refer to them as omnipotent ("this looks like a job for THE SMALL GROUPS!"). There seemed to be slightly different ideas about whether such groups should bring together people who are not already friends, as well as about the importance of ideological mix, of links with other organisations and groups, and of inclusivity and openness. Presumably different emphases could be pursued in parallel.

Mood and will may have shifted since the event, but that's my sense of what many of us decided on the day.

Stephen Watts: Outline of Contribution to the Militant Poetics Conference

I don’t intend the below as an offensive against other possibilities but a possible widening of them.

(i)              Pasolini as a starting point (especially cf. Keston Sutherland’s outline) but also Nanni Balestrini & others. ‘Bifo’ Berardi’s essay ‘Pasolini In Tottenham’ & recent book ‘The Uprising : On Poetry & Finance’ of texts written during & after 2011. Ok, far more complex than this & only a ‘starting point’ & needing criticism : but vital presence.

(ii)            Cecilia Vicuña : ‘Split Temple : Selected Performances Of Cecilia Vicuña’ & Kirill Med-vedev ‘It’s No Good : Poems/Essays/Actions’ (both Ugly Duckling Presse NY & other books from same press) as examples of direction specifically involving performance & action. Many other practices of poets worldwide that could be ‘woven in’.

(iii)           Poetry of David Kessel : his work as radical poet & in mental health survival as crucial, yet little known to more academic radical poetries. Howard Mingham also (see review online of latter by Richard Owens). John Rety & Torriano as long-term activisms (strong links to Parliament Square protest) also uninvolved by more academic poetries. Poems of Sharon Morris (‘Gospel Oak’ 2013) & especially ‘Parliament Hill’ in that book. 

(iv)           Webs & strata of radical (leftist) experimental European poetry, both throughout C20th & also contemporary into C21st : also please to weave more into practice here. Also the range of radical non-English language poets living (in exile/otherwise) in London & UK. This argument I didn’t have time enough to elaborate during conference.

(v)             Essential that actions/writings/theory are open & expansive, peace-energised rather than violence-dictated (at least for me). This is complex & needs elaborating, but I’d have to encapsulate that ‘tenderness’ is a vital part/definition of revolution. That we need to be open to those we don’t agree with beyond our arguments. Concern that ‘militant’ poetry/actions may preclude such vital inclusions & warmths.

(vi)           Co-translation as a vigorous & exemplary example of the practice of ‘collective author-ship’ that was much discussed during the day. Again I didn’t have time to mention this.

(vii)          Example of Jack Hirschman. I recognise some negative/doubting reaction to parts of his contribution to 2012 conference : but remind that he was the person last year who did propose a ‘militant poets cell’ (even if people may not have agreed with his premises or taken him up on his suggestion). Jack also as astonishing exemplar of poet-translator-activist. Between 1971 & 2006 he published 62 book translations of radical & worker poets from Russian, Italian, French, Greek, Albanian, Spanish, Haitian Creole & many more books since. For some reason he didn’t himself elaborate on this last year (& I didn’t have time to even mention him this year) though we’d asked him to.

Monday, 24 June 2013

William Rowe: Response to the exchange between Francesca Lisette and David Grundy

I identified at the time with what I thought was the object of Francesca’s objections – violence against women – as something to be accused of. But I don’t find that the sense of shame it produced is useful. And, having referred to shame, I want to be more precise as to the cause of this shame. Rather than involvement in sexual violence, what was I imputing to myself? A complicity, as far as I can tell, in an ambience of such violence (which gives permission for that violence).

However, as I say, I don’t find the sense of guilt useful. If revolutionary tenderness is to be practiced, this will not be the result of seeing the pointing finger of guilt, but it will come from the type of radical solidarity that the Paris Communards practiced (the Welfare State, which is under destruction, being a reduced and bureaucratized reflection of that).

So for me, revolutionary tenderness, in the complete commitment it implies, is to come out of liberty, equality and solidarity. And the not-so-useful fierceness of guilt is I think fed by the failure of the desire for equality and solidarity.

It’s important to me that Francesca pointed out the implication of rape in the statement quoted by David [which Jennifer Cooke refers to in the third point of her recent post]. Here is the shadow of rape as instrument of war. And a major part of the shock of recognizing that rape is implied is the sense that the perpetrator is enjoying it. As, for us, Ian Duncan Smith and co are enjoying causing suffering to weak and/or exploited people. When the cuts were first announced in Parliament, Tory MPs shouted More! More! More! So there is an accuracy to the slogan ‘fuck capitalism’.

‘Fuck the State and capitalism's holes’, the statement quoted by David, can mean, as Francesca said, simply doing the same to them. My bother with it (rather than the slogan form) is it can be taken as a simple mirror reversal. Revolutionary violence, for me, is not like that. As in Fanon, it is transformative of oppressed and weakened people. And secondly, as with Marx, revolutionists have to be involved in the practice of violence.

The point is that ‘Fuck capitalism’, as reversal, is I guess ok as a slogan (a slogan does not constitute a strategy) because it turns the enemy’s violence back at him. But it’s not ok as mere reversal, it does not designate the enjoyment revolutionists need. As Sean has said, struggle, in a revolutionary sense, is the only valid form of ecstasy.

Hope others will respond to this exchange.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Selina Vuddamalay: On the Militant Poetics Conference

I came to the event having been fairly disappointed with several other seminars and conferences. The title of the event encouraged me to attend and it was not disappointing because —

(a) We all seem to have similar concerns regarding injustice and violation of human rights.

(b) There seems to be a genuine commitment of intolerance against the language, behavior and systems of global corrupt, elitist culture in all the forms it manifests itself in our neocolonialist era. This is well demonstrated in the poetry and works of so many who contributed their ideas to all present; it was varied and challenging.

(c) We can dance on Thatcher's grave, or any other dictators for that matter, but what has really changed and why not? How do we fight the corruption and greed of politics, and is the power of language alone sufficient? Just as dictionaries can become the graveyard for words, discourse and dialectical debate can easily overshadow the main agendas that truly worry us.

It was a positive event; poets and writers as legislators and activists combined, would perhaps be more constructive? 

My commitment at present is with children; may be tapping into their interests leads to many passions we are engaged with in terms of injustice and human rights. Mine is just a first small (uncertain and sometimes faltering) step towards making 'awareness', in children by exploring their imaginative and creative possibilities through a 'self-exploratory process'.  

As with some of you there are difficulties in knowing the right way, but sometimes there is no right way and it will be a reflective learning process. 

I welcome any comments on this process.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Jennifer Cooke: On the Militant Poetics Conference

These are the things I thought the most important about the day:

1. The structure of the day, with rolling papers that moved on after ten-fifteen minute discussions meant that no one voice dominated, no one set of ideas took the permanent stage. Instead, there was a feeling that ideas were being put on the table to be turned over, touched, tested, bounced about by participants of the day. The fact we sat in a circle and could have eye contact helped too. The way the day developed built trust that each voice that spoke into the space was valued and as ideas moved on, the paper-givers tended to abandon their papers and respond instead to the developing discussion. The affective dimensions of what this format produced was very valuable, in my opinion.

2. Danny Hayward's paper was a turning point in the day, I think, because of the practical suggestions it contained in terms of action. Danny suggested that it was important for us to know each other better - know the politics of those around us beyond just a broadly left-wing anti-capitalist consensus - and that to do that, and to discuss political events as they unfold in the public sphere and how we could respond to them, we needed to meet regularly in small groups. We could then discuss politics, political actions, and our poetry and this would build strong solidarities which could then be fed back into larger meetings of us all.

3. Francesca Lisette raised for me the most important poetic point of the day. Responding to a paper which had described a need to fuck capitalism in every hole in which it has fucked us, she said she wanted no part in a revolution which used rape as a metaphor. This widened into a discussion of the use of sex and fucking more generally in poetry, especially its metaphorics. This for me is a fundamental question which has both academic and activist dimensions. A recent group of female poets - international but many of us are in the UK - has just formed in order to precisely try to think about these questions in more depth, which has been a practical outcome of conversations from the Militant Poetics day but also many conversations and frustrations stretching back a long time before. It was fantastic for me to hear this issue aired so succinctly and passionately by Fran and the subsequent conversations that I've had with other poets, particularly women, around this matter have been extremely stimulating and important.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

David Grundy: Reply to Oakland

I'd like to apologize for any mis-representation or offence caused by the two sentences in my paper which have provoked this letter. It must have seemed a casual and unprovoked slur on the committed work that poet-activists have been doing in Oakland , and one that seems to open up a rift between groups that should be working together in solidarity, whether or not they’re on different sides of the Atlantic . These sentences, written in haste and based on vaguely-digested conversational anecdote, were clearly a mistake and shouldn’t have been included. The paper was delivered during a day of intensive discussion in which a large number of different positions were aired and debated, and it is in the spirit of that debate that it has rightly been challenged. I hope, in any case, that we can take this opportunity to learn more about what we are doing in our different locations, and find ways of working together which channel our political and rhetorical energies into joint activism.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Chen, Clover, & Spahr: Letter to UK Comrades

 this received in response to David Grundy's paper

We would be unwilling to give such tawdry and trifling material as David Grundy’s
“Practice Run” the time of day, but for the hope that there will be comrades, friends
in the UK with a more serious sense of politics; a real curiosity about what has
happened here in Oakland; and a less self-serving account of the relation between
poetry and militancy. We also hope rather urgently that it isn’t indicative of the race
politics around the “Militant Poetics” scene.

Much of Grundy’s spume escapes us. We apologize for getting lost among the drifty
sentences and Thatcher apologetics, unable to make sense of the “politicallycorrect”
or the force of rectitude in “really being a citizen.” But we must be grateful for
these cloudy moments, given what is to be got from the moments of clarity: the
rehearsal of received and banal slurs of reaction.

Let us go immediately to the moment when Grundy most evidently sells himself to
readers of the Daily Mail, complaining of “the poets who came into Occupy Oakland
advocating various forms of escalation then left black people to swim again in their
own shit once the movement had ruptured.” We will pass over the unfortunate
history of racialized fantasies white people like to have about black people and shit.
Behold instead this interesting dichotomy: poets or black people. Perhaps this
division is the rule at Cambridge; we could not claim to know. In Oakland, it is non
sequitur. There are enough black poets and poets of color that some opposed the
tactics of Occupy Oakland, some fomented them, and some did other things

The racial heterogeneity of “poets,” however, pales before the political heterogeneity
of “black people.” Smugly alluding to a 1970 Gil Scott-Heron performance about
white college activists not only erases the heavy participation of nonwhite political
actors in Occupy Oakland, it recycles an ignorant view of Oakland’s complex racial
politics in 2013 — a city riven by non-white intraracial and interracial antagonisms.
Present day Oakland is presided over by a Maoist-turned-neoliberal Asian American
mayor, and a fully multiracial city bureaucracy and police department at war with the
city’s poorest black and brown residents.

Against this Grundy, content to be a blank bearer of official ideology, resurrects the
crude fearmongering about the “outside agitator.” It is a figure with deep historical
roots in white liberal reaction to increasingly militant veterans of the civil rights
movement and to the urban race riots which spread through cities like Harlem,
Watts, and Philadelphia in the 1960s. It is a term not of description but of crowd
control. The invention of the “outside agitator” as hybrid legal/moral category, and of
the duped and docile black and brown communities that this stereotype
presupposes, has always purposed to justify state violence against unruly and
“illegitimate” political antagonists. It was repeatedly invoked by the Oakland Police
Department, city politicians, pro-police clergy, business leaders, and news media in
order to justify the violent eviction of the Occupy Oakland encampment. It is the
official lie about what happened.

Occupy Oakland’s general assemblies, hundreds and sometimes thousands of
people, voted overwhelmingly to support tactical escalation week after week. That
this could be so easily be chalked up to the machinations of a few outsiders (or in
this case, Bay Area poets — feel the power!) is particularly revealing of the dream
logic of this liberal race fantasy. The awesome, almost supernatural political
influence over non-white communities wielded by the modern day “white outside
agitator” is simply the flip side of the benevolent paternalism defining what Teju Cole
calls the “White Savior Industrial Complex.” That this fantasy is spontaneously
regurgitated by Grundy, following the noble path of left-liberal pundits like Chris
Hedges, underscores the extent to which denying the political agency and diversity
of political opinions of nonwhite people remains a kind of racial “common sense.” It is
a fantasy which has become a peculiarly vicious and effective tool of state power.

It is a strange ideology that fetishizes black militancy in legend and effaces it in
practice, sets militancy as an ideal while condemning it in the streets. The curious
consequence of such contradiction is that it authorizes poetry as the appropriate
space for white militancy — a happy outcome indeed! If that is to be the conclusion
of “militant poetics,” as a limit of struggle, we hope you will keep it as far away from
us as possible; we have more pressing things to do than to discover at windy length
that our poetic practice was the best possible politics all along.

But we would be surprised if this is generally held to be the case. We have great
respect for many of the UK poets. We would assume that they would wish to
renounce such dire and derelict positions publicly, lest the title of “militant” be
emptied of whatever honor it retains.

Chris Chen, Joshua Clover, Juliana Spahr