Laura Mullen
VERSION notes Re: Verse
(Tense: tension / Verse: version)                            (page 9)


Speaking of a celebrated book of American poetry in which the turn-of-the century prostitutes (whose actual and mostly black bodies form the subject of a famous series of photographs) reflect on their lives in well-crafted monologues, using the kind of diction, range of allusion, and languidly graceful syntax characteristic of graduates of Ivy League institutions, a scholar used the phrase “recovered voices.” Uh… I may have said that: uh, or huh?—one of those noises signaling a difficulty. Perhaps the word “cover” could be heard (hiding between the “re” and that past tense suffix) in its musical sense? Or we might replay “I cover the waterfront” as an assertion made by the well-known artist Christo, picturing taut blank cloth veiling ships and wharves and warehouses? Imagination is always involved in our understanding of the past—that’s a given—but respect for the limits of our knowledge and interest in the actual (if available) voices of those who have faced or undergone the experience should be at least equally a given or a given first. Where poetry seems to be potentially a way of displacing attention from those who urgently require it, or a mode of continuing denial, or even a means of quickly experiencing the frisson of a confrontation with the difficult facts (“Who hasn’t had a whore?” my friend overheard a group of businessmen sneering in the local airport, in the context of a Republican senator’s contretemps), just in order to, as we say, move on…I, too, dislike it. Can’t drink to that. But I’m happy to lift a glass to Claudia Rankine’s thinking about the relationship between poetry and documentary material, or toast the late Akilah Oliver’s A Toast in the House of Friends, where elegy is inventive and urgently grounded in the actual. Here’s to John Yau’s churn of quoted phrases and Susan Lori-Park’s work (or the work of the performance group The Ant Farm) with historical trauma, here’s to—for the way it exposed us—the Yasusada hoax. If we find ourselves saying—and this was said, and enacted around the poems produced by the author of Doubled Flowering—we’d rather have the made up version because the poems written by actual survivors of the holocaust aren’t good enough…we’d better pick up what we think of as “good” and give it, as the phrase goes, a good look, or, another look.

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