Poetry & Politics Roundtable           (page 2)
with Joshua Clover, Chris Nealon, & Juliana Spahr

JULIANA [cont.]: Some days when I get paranoid I think that there is a stand off that could maybe be cartoonized as that between Adorno and Brecht and that part of the problem with the way we study literature in the academy is that Adorno (which I am using as a code word for the idea that literature isn’t a meaningful part of what we seem to be calling “movements”) seems to have won. He is winning even when he isn’t, as Chris notices, in that even when we talk with admiration about subversion, we do it in sadly narrow ways. We are often talking about the language practices of a poem as subversive of the idea of the poem or the subversion of genre within the work. But where I might argue with Chris is that I worry more about what I think is a much larger tendency: the sadly narrow practice (by poets and by critics) of not seeing literature’s subversive potential outside of the genre, its abilities to move people to emotion, to action, its potential to cultivate alliance (both through emotions and through the social structures, the lifestyles, that support the genre). And I worry that if we don’t look at poetry as something that moves (in the most inclusive sense of that term—here I am thinking not only of what one could obviously call “movement poetry,” works like “I am Joaquin” which was written to organize farmworkers but also in Jennifer Moxley’s sense that even the love poem is activist in that it desires to move the beloved to action), then I’m not sure why I want to think with or about poetry.

But at the same time, none of this means that I am somewhat insanely insisting that poetry has played a major role in whatever popular movements happen in the US in this contemporary moment we share. In this moment, poetry has barely represented, barely commented on, and barely played a part in the resistance to globalization, which has been one of the more popular and engaged movements of the last ten years. It did take up the war with Iraq. But, and this assertion I realize deserves more discussion, in sadly limited ways. In this moment, we tend to limit poetry’s possibilities to subversion of genre. And as we do this we ignore all those moments when poetry has intersected with various movements in other geographies and in other times. And I think I want to say something like those moments deserve all of our attention and devotion and we need to keep talking about them. They feel so crucial that I somewhat want to do dumb things, like argue for a movement that argues that movement is what matters.

That said, I have a vocabulary problem here and I am doing Chris’s article a disservice here. He is smarter than what I am summarizing and I look forward to his weighing in.

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