it is useful at times to figure where a poet’s thrust lies, the resultant vector, the primary determinant of all that can be poetically trusted to stand in for the poet – “a poet is primarily a poet, art for art’s sake, no?” – no – Paz ambassadored India, monkeyed around with gods and grammar – letting his guard down it seems on caste (a poet appraising a poet needs to be watchful – these days more so) – pound & eliot (& others) bamboozled along the fascist way and got called out by a precious few (not by Paz though who admired eliot; a poet appraising a poet needs to be watchful) and the imprint of that carelessness is this brilliant void of the nihilist poem, all that passes off for a poem these days (watchful yet?) – back to Paz: translated by Rukeyser; perhaps an earlier attempt by another poet to grapple with an other – perhaps those poems of his are not his but hers – maybe she was just monkeying around with him, playfully letting the gods moisten the sap of antonymnity, the dialectics of being one in relation to the other – perhaps she supped enough sap to allow him to breathe through the pores of the new poem, her poem as voice, as song, a forgiving to let the other move past – there is no resultant vector in Paz: he’s a mishmash – the aesthete would call him complicated, Wittgenstein (‘untying the knots of thinking’) would just dub him confused, and Rukeyser? well she would simply have gone about playfully monkeying around with the x’s and not x’s of Paz, an exercise in mirth that hints at the deadly seriousness of moral ambiguity.
Here are poetic tangents – mine with Lorde’s and Rukeyser’s – to a podcast I heard last night: a tribute paid to Eqbal Ahmad by his friend, Edward Said. Said contrasted his personal ‘filiation’ with his ‘affiliation’ in relation to Ahmad and the world of idea(l)s, Ahmad’s unceasing commitment to the creative versus mere politics, his fiery exhortations rooted in peace, and the sacrifice one has to make in pursuit of love (justice by any other name).
To engage what is true with what is most
It's the moor to an unhandsome toil the imperfect the stone it's the moor to loveless anchor blanched in yellow in-& out of tune
It’s compensation for kin with what is most
"I say across the waves of the air to you: today once more I will try to be non-violent one more day this morning, waking the world away in the violent day"1
To once more blur imagination with what is most
"Disrobed need shrieks through the nearby streets... a brown sloe-eyed boy picks blotches from his face, eyes my purse shivering white dust a holy fire in his blood"2
1. from “Waking This Morning” – Muriel Rukeyser
2. from “The Politics of Addiction” – Audre Lorde
I have taken the liberty of changing the line breaks in the two excerpts above.
I have long been entertaining the possibility of somehow tying together the three areas: poems, social justice and data visualization. It has been tricky, but here is my first attempt.
The 10 poems by Audre Lorde and Muriel Rukeyser (wellsprings of poetic sensibility) are intended to provide context for the accompanying data visualization on gender (using data from genderstats.un.org). This is intended in a tangential and somewhat disruptive way. Data for indicators in the development world is mostly presented in a cut and dried way. Add to that their lumping together in neat categories and the bobbing up and down of pretty graphs and charts, and you end up euphemizing the underlying reality. The technical brilliance on display then serves as spectacle. That of course does not take away from the fact that the underlying numbers have been painstakingly collected and systematically organized. And these numbers are pretty much the only authoritative ones that map the reality that social activists use to change the world.
Hence the poems as corrective.
Resistance, the flowering fire of memory – Rukeyser, Muriel
As we mark the thinness of the
ten thousand things, as we go
past the halt, the hark of memory,
can we shirk off the rock of
my mountain’s mountain? as we
claim the fire of childspeak,
childstone, where will the song
of my deadwood ash its spike,
its noose? to resist is to burn
with remembrance, with the thing-
ness of the ten thousand things
tiptoed dreams and their whys: they
are nearer to us to you to me these
lovetangled ephemera sub-
conscioned into day, brought up
to an interactive tea-pretation
The above is another possible response to Rukeyser’s Song, in a mood quite unlike the earlier one:
The world is full of loss; bring, wind, my love, my home is where we make our meeting-place, and love whatever I shall touch and read within that face. Lift, wind, my exile from my eyes; peace to look, life to listen and confess, freedom to find to find to find that nakedness.
Returning in her blood, the
moon remembers which
near star is no more, and
it sinks its shade again,
builds up the root of the
mountain as it climbs out
of yet another shadow.
Here is Muriel Rukeyser’s poem:
Martin Luther King,
Bleeding of the mountains
the noon bleeding
he is shot through the voice
all things being broken
The moon returning in her blood
looks down grows white
…and the near star gone—
voices of cities
drumming in the moon
bleeding of my right hand
my black voice bleeding
This bleached night is a sparrow’s song
and home this
Furthest of form, article, pretense: a
grip on time we
Stray on the fictions of an undiluted
lie and streak
The night white with pain we dig these
trenches and flee
He sang until his death
singing close to his eyes
to his true life, his real life of lies;
and to remember till he died
how it had lied, his unreal life of truth
– Muriel Rukeyser’s translation of Octavio Paz’s poem
Why so loyal to a worldview which
Space are they good people? Why
In deference to so many potted stances
Have their hearts
Spoken anything true of late?