Poetry & Politics Roundtable           (page 4)
with Joshua Clover, Chris Nealon, & Juliana Spahr

CHRIS [cont.]: So I guess I want to say to Juliana that while I agree that most poetry has barely registered the economic and political tumult we face, it’s also true that the poetry that has registered it has done so in a way that actually makes me hopeful about the kind of shock-waves or penumbras movements produce – how they change poetic language even at a distance.

JOSHUA: those are two such welcome and in fact comprehensive responses that I fear anything I say will be little more than repetition, perhaps in a different register.

I should admit my own contradictory situation regarding this question. I have little sense of ought regarding the question of poetry’s political valence; I would never suggest to a friend or student or stranger that their poetry should bear some political message, or do some political work. This is largely because I recognize the distinction Chris makes as more or less absolute: poetry is not of the same order of political work as, well, political work, and for a long time my feeling has been: first organize a militant political action and then write about flowers or baseball or the lake in summer, write New Sentences or flarf or poesie concrete, it’s really fine. In this context, the issue for me comes when people really want to insist that the poetry is their militant political action. I’m not persuaded. And I worry that this becomes a sort of convenient reinterpretation of what was once a necessary and provocative claim, that the personal is the political. That claim centered a politics of recognition, the demand for excluded voices to be recognized as political subjects. But my current sense of political catastrophe, by which I largely mean the entanglements of economic immiseration and environmental disaster, no longer justifies a politics of recognition alone. The political is the political. Class war is class war.

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