In my more romantic moments, I want to claim great things for such a practice, that it serves to bind subjects that are otherwise figured as singular, afraid, and driven by lack so that we may more obediently and efficiently maintain the market imperative to keep capital circulating, and that such bonds and the communities they make are the only way to preserve dignity and beauty, even at the edges of green zones. In any case, a record of such makings is what I seek in poems, particularly in the lyric, and I find in the representations of mind that such work makes available a binding across time and cultural difference. I’m thinking of poets’ journals as much as of poems, Dorothy Wordsworth’s Grasmere Journal, the notebooks of Gerard Manley Hopkins, the travel journals of Tu Fu, Whitman’s Specimen Days, D.H. Lawrence’s travel writings, Basho’s Narrow Road to the Interior, Schuyler’s diaries, but also of the poetics that seem committed to composition by receptive attention rather than willful intention, the poems of Joanne Kyger and Philip Whalen, for example, that read like a book of their days and their times. What I am trying to say, as a basis for my own statement on poetics here, is that part of what I want to know in a poem is how the poet got over, from one precarious moment of being in the world to the next. I understand, given all the debate and theorizing around the first-person lyric, how simplistic this desire can seem. But it’s precisely in this simple record of “an attention still willing to be surprised,” as my friend Philip Trussell puts it, that the most complex and, for me, interesting explorations of power, politics, perception, history, rhetoric, ethics, desire, beauty, and language can happen.
Critic Kobena Mercer has approached the intersection of discursive indeterminacy, politics, and subjectivity perhaps more directly. While reassessing representations of black male bodies in the work of Robert Mapplethorpe, Mercer writes that “[i]n contrast to the claims of academic deconstruction, the moment of undecidability is rarely experienced as a purely textual event; rather it is the point where politics and the contestation of power are felt at their most intense.”1
Richard Pryor gave an interview in 1980 on the set of Stir Crazy while messed up, probably on cocaine. The video now has about a million and a half hits on YouTube. “I’m rich. I’m a rich, black ignorant nigger,” says Pryor. To the interviewer’s entreaties of “C’mon Richard,” Pryor responds, “I’m serious, shit. You didn’t let my grandmamma talk. I’m talkin’ this for Marie Carter.” As the interviewer sets himself back on track by asking himself, “Okay, what do I want to say here, I want to say…” Pryor cuts him off with, “I don’t care what you say cuz nobody cares what I think.” When asked about influences, Pryor says, “I never had a comedian I looked up to, I look up to the Bank of America… I ain’t no good, I ain’t gonna try to be no good, this nigger should be in the penitentiary." When asked about Gene Wilder, Pryor says, “Gene Wilder ain’t shit, he’s a faggot.” When asked to get serious, Pryor says, “He [the interviewer] want me to be intelligent, like Malcom X… ahh, the Black Man, the reason the revolution has come down… I don’t know nothing, I’m lucky.” Apropos of nothing, Pryor interjects, “I ain’t no good, I ain’t tryin' to be no good, I just sucked three young white girls' pussy.” Pryor points to the dispensability of blacks in the movie industry, noting the recent firing of an extra on his set. As the interviewer tries to recover from this commentary Pryor asks, “Can I play with your dick?”