Poetry & Politics Roundtable           (page 7)
with Joshua Clover, Chris Nealon, & Juliana Spahr

JULIANA [cont.]: I actually think, Joshua, that you get at what matters when you say that the goal might possibly be “to attack the dynamic that has isolated them” (them=poetry and movement). And then I turn into one of those crazy nuts that I often turn into. Because when I ask what has isolated them, I think, of a series of privatization (or should we say professionalizing?) gestures that define the genre in the US. The prize structure. The degree structure. The academic job structure. The grant structure. The literary criticism structure. The societies and the foundations. All things that I’m involved in and perpetuate daily. Here I am, yet again, talking about my guilt. Someone will shortly pop up and tell me if I felt this way I should quit my job, as if there was an outside to these systems, as if purity was an answer instead of analysis. And yet I confess I don’t know how to attack these dynamics yet.

CHRIS: It’s funny, but maybe because I’m gay and grew up Catholic, I’ve maxed out on guilt as a political emotion. From about the age of 18 on I tried it out again and again as a motivation, and it never led me—it has never led me—to either poetry or activism. Certainly every day I feel complicit in various kinds of “wrong life.” And that sense of complicity is deeply and necessarily locating. But I think that if I’m ever going to be of use to anyone who needs my solidarity, if I’m going to be able to keep open the avenues of potential connection that make, say, being a city-dweller worth it, then I need to focus on where the opportunities are to be connected to people politically, rather than re-activate the guilt I gather we’re all so good at feeling. I’m mostly thinking about politics here, not poetry, but I couldn’t write poems if I felt guilty all the time—partly because, if I adopted that mind-set, one of the many things I’d feel guilty about is being a poet! The emotions that get me writing—that I hope will keep me writing—are anger; admiration; joy; relief (that it’s not game-over—not yet—); and love. Those give me courage; you two give me courage. And courage is the joint between the poems and the movement.

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