Sunday, November 30, 2003
Welcome to the first issue of Philly Sound Feature, an occasional blog zine which features the work of a single poet on the Philly Sound Blog. Each of the members of our Blog will alternate editing issues and choosing poets to feature. Our first issue is dedicated to the very fine work of poet Carol Mirakove. Enjoy.
editor of issue #1
Carol Mirakove is the author of Occupied (Kelsey Street Press, 2004), and two chapbooks, temporary tattoos (BabySelf Press, 2002) and WALL (ixnay, 1999). She is a founding member of the subpress collective. Carol has lived and participated in poetry communities in Washington, DC, Los Angeles, and New York. She currently lives in Brooklyn.
by Carol Mirakove
truth comes out like a stain. praise woman in her disappearing, in this long wrecked juncture, this profane ear-heart.
the boy died because
filthy shelf-life keeps us from the files.
& everything that chooses you
(( i want the word 'agile' [here] ))
would cool off, the dull knife twists
a screened-in porch. cocktail collapse against a sheer wall & rearing. loses. sleep: the fake sober. schoolgirl. smoking. portland. memory.
rain is shining so we can flee. & karma. & by some force. it's quiet. & there are stairs & you're on the stars & i am crying. happy like a sake bouquet. i do this early in the valentine.
transatlantic no man lands. organ trials kick the dark, & stardead court. i would have explained -
an atmosphere on dignity charming their poisons. the patent illogic on top. flesh & skin absurdly left out. in rain to shine the system.
SHORT INTERVIEW WITH CAROL MIRAKOVE:
This is a question I had put aside for a future issue of 9for9, but I'm really curious what your answer will be Carol, and I can always use it again later. So here it is: If you could go back in time to hear one poet give a poetry reading, who would it be? And tell us what you imagine the reading to be like. Where are you for instance, and what is the rest of the audience like?
Mina Loy. Her writing and her life have been so important to me, for the range of forms and voices that she works in, for her struggles as a woman, for her invented vocabularies, for her remarkable conflicts.. she remains mysterious to me, and while I don't feel the need to dispel all of those mysteries, I would like to gain more insight into what existence looked and felt like, for Mina Loy. I mean -- she abandoned her 4 children. There was obviously a lot going on there. Just to hear her read "Parturition," "Human Cylinders," "Three Moments in Paris".. How did "all the virgin eyes in the world are made of glass" sound when Mina read it? I have no idea what the rest of the audience is like because I am enrapt in her, but I know that Pattie McCarthy and Kaia Sand are there. You know, I feel like it's plausible that Mina never gave a reading.
I've noticed in conversation with you that you're interested in hearing about a poet's process, especially for large projects taken on. Tell us something about your own process for your poems.
Happily! My process tends to go, (1) identify a project, (2) develop the theoretical framework in outline form, (3) collect source texts, and (4) write the poems. Stage (1) always happens organically; I never intend to "find" a project, they just happen.
FUCK THE POLIS (which I've read but not published) grew out of a report on Democracy Now!, which described the Compton, CA sheriff's department being subject to a hostile takeover. It was an appalling story. My research revealed that information on the events were very hard to find, while information on the LAPD Rampart scandal was ubiquitous. I felt angry that the Compton was getting no coverage, and I had a detailed outline of points that I would cover: the situation, the players, the violations, the lack of media on the situation, and how the Rampart scandal informed the Compton takeover.
temporary tattoos came about because Elizabeth Treadwell Jackson had asked me to write a poem for the Paradise issue of her magazine Outlet, and I had attempted several drafts of a submission throughout the summer of 2001, but I didn't like any of them. The deadline grew near, and we were in a post-September 11 context, and everything seemed impossibly complex, and people were saying they couldn't write because of omnipresent anguish and confusion. I wanted to write a good poem for Outlet, because Elizabeth is a good friend and we were, in the Paradise issue, writing the final chapter of a fantastic magazine. So I focused on writing a poem to Elizabeth herself, and you know, she's the queen of the prose poem, so I thought, hey I'll try that. And I found a calm, an intimacy, that I don't experience in lineated poems. And I thought, maybe paradise is a tenor. And I thought that tenor was worth investigating. From there, I collected correspondence, details of daily experience, including overheard dialog, and I pored through it.
The impetus of Occupied was a cumulative disgust with U.S.-led invasions in Afghanistan and Iraq, and gross malpractice throughout the mainstream media. Occupied is, for me, about declaring the names of people who are getting away with murder. But then, I wanted Occupied to succeed in ways that FUCK THE POLIS had failed; I wanted there to be a pleasure of the text. I mitigated that by writing a section of prose poems within the architecture, so that I was not only banging my fist about injustice, but also investigating the emotional states of living in such a context.
Regarding stage (4), I don't think I can articulate the details of how I select and juxtapose words in composition. There's nothing scientific about the process, except that I am very conscious of plagiarism and I usually avoid taking more than two consecutive words from a text. The idea is to import accounts of events by importing word choices employed by other authors, while truly recontextualizing those words in a new living body, so that the words and events might exist differently and further.
Keston Sutherland wrote something he simply titled "For Carol Mirakove," published in the issue of Quid, which featured works by and essays about you, Laura Elrick, and Heather Fuller. At one point he asks, "Is there a place that we own, where to be self-possessed still means more than to be calm and undisturbed?" What is your answer to this question?
Well, I'll apologize upfront for any references of Keston's that I might miss; Keston is well read in areas that I'm not, and as such, the word "own" might have definitions that I'm not conscious of.
That said, I understand "we" to mean the dispossessed. I'm not sure who is included here; I am not capitalist ruler, and I don't like capitalism, but I support it in my living. It's hard (seemingly impossible?) to avoid complicity with capitalism no matter where you live -- because their control is that broad and great -- but it's especially difficult to avoid complicity when you live in the united states. We are complicit to different degrees, and I'm not sure where you draw the line; are well-intentioned directors at corporations classified as "we" but CEOs are "they"? Are all corporate workers "they" but non-profit workers who shop at wal-mart "we"? Are organic vegans "we" while consumers of factory-farmed meat are "they"? So that's annoying, but we're talking about ownership of space and existence here, so I think it seems necessary to determine the group here, so that we can understand the rights that "we" have access to and are blocked from.
Next about the term "own," I'm not sure I can get in the space of what I take "ownership" to mean, but if we can use it to mean autonomy, then I would say this:
I think one can own spaces and experiences within a closed system. As poets, we might say that language is learned (inherited), as are language arts (the established canon), and that we are writing out of those products. We are of course also writing against those realities, and creating other realties, but our creations don't have mainstream cultural power, and as such, they don't have capital power. Does that mean we don't own the places in which our favored realities are constructed? I think we do. I think we are autonomous in these places. Maybe the scope of that autonomy is very narrow in the present time, but the idea is to instantiate numerous anti-establishment realities, to organize, and to realize a more empowered autonomy; to imagine something like a social democracy! If we concede ownership of a single, discreet space, I think the lofty goals are all the more unattainable.
I'm not sure that's an appropriate response to Keston's question, but it's how I'm feeling at the moment, here in rural Maryland. If I may ramble a bit more, I am reminded by these thoughts of a great quote from John Sayles that Charles Weigl sent to me from a collection of interviews (Charles explains that Sayles is referring to the radical groups he associated with in the early 70s & who fictionally appear in his novel Union Dues):
"A bunch of groups ended badly like that. More and more they narrowed their focus as to who was an acceptable person. At first you say, "Well, we're for the people, the proletariat." But then you start running into the American proletariat and they don't want anything to do with you. Then you start having self-criticism sessions and start to sharpen and sharpen your definitions until you have this tiny nugget and you can't see anybody else's point of view. It's beyond an elite--it becomes a pathology. You're so pure that you can't really act in the world anymore, except destructively."
Tell us about the talk you gave in San Francisco on "Information Anxiety."
The title I gave it was "Anxieties of Information: Intimacy and Appropriation." I'm in the process of turning this talk into a paper. I know Elizabeth [Treadwell Jackson, who curates the series of "New Experiments" talks at Small Press Traffic, of which mine was a part] hopes to collect all of the talks and get them in print.
I have been thinking a lot in recent years about documentation in poetry, and how we might serve as witnesses to gross injustice, to suffering and exploitation. This I feel is a tricky thing to do from a position of privilege. As such, I experience myriad anxieties, including accuracy, and volume. Accuracy in the sense of, it's critical to define your voice in representing injustice as I see it, from where I see it. I don't want to appropriate the experience of a slave, or to try and speak for someone else, yet I also want to express my outrage and despair in the face of these conditions. The anxiety of volume has to do with the amount of information was have access to, and that which is thrust upon us. It's daunting to try and understand any of these situations. Right now, for example, I am trying to understand the numerous situations in Latin America, the diverse histories in our neighboring countries, and the U.S.-Latin American trade policies that inform neoliberal situations. There is so much to read and pursue, through the Internet, through the NY Public Library, through interpersonal correspondence.. I have so much access, and never enough time of course, and so the anxiety is a pull to engage such a project while being terrified at misrepresenting, or doing an inadequate job in opening and continuing international dialogues. I looked at how other poets have addressed this problem, most notably Carolyn Forche and Ammiel Alcalay. I laid out their ideas regarding witness, and looked at their methods, the form and content of their poems. I also looked at Amiri Baraka, as he documents racist policies and attitudes in the U.S., and at Rod Smith, who writes and lives through specific elements of the government-heavy DC landscape.
The anxiety of intimacy is related to the quote you cite from Keston. Anxiety of intimacy addresses the problem of realizing a genuine, shared existence in a hypercommericialized economy. Personally, I feel product-laden, and it's sometimes hard to know the extent to which our communication is informed by -- suffocated by -- all of these products we live through. For this problem, I looked to Sianne Ngai, Harryette Mullen, and many others who engage the language games of capitalism, "news," and marketing in their poetry.
On a formal level, I am interested in sampling. How do we approach and incorporate source texts in composition? Here I studied Jackson Mac Low, Joan Retallack, and musicians such as Australian turntablists The Avalanches and U.S. audio activists Ultra-red. DJ Shadow has this great moment in the film Scratch in which he talks about "the dig," and how he feels like an archeologist, searching for raw materials for his music. Selection process fascinates me, and is at the core problem of how to establish grounds for an argument. Rob Fitterman tells me that he gave a talk on sampling in San Francisco a few years ago, and I believe the general consensus was that it's unclear as to whether or not there's a tradition in this in poetry. Obviously, I'm with Rob; I think the history is there, and it's ripe for further investigation.
A few poets were asked how they feel about Carol's poetry.
This is the collection of their replies,
many thanks to those who responded.
Carol Mirakove recently read at the St. Mark's Poetry Project in New York from her manuscript Occupied to be published this year by Kelsey St. Press. In his introduction, Poetry Project director Anselm Berrigan said one thing he likes about her work is that Carol just "says it." It's true. Carol is intensely interested in the poetry of witness. In this new manuscript she even provides the names of people who do things like run the corporations that build the missiles being dropped in Iraq. But she not only provides the witness, she also constantly asks, as she said in another manuscript called FUCK THE POLIS, "the why questions." This relentless investigation remakes perception from the synapses out. She asks us to reconsider how we see the world through the veil of our subjectivity. She asks us to reconsider how we think the word "world." In the process she upturns meaning-making, reshaping language from the root up. Every word seems a little explosion of intellectual intention, something good in the world.
Carol is one of the most careful thinkers I know. She pursues with seemingly boundless intellectual energy the issues that exhaust many others, including me. While some of us lull ourselves into a state of anxious apathy, Carol continues to probe--and protest. What impels her seems to be a need to write out, write against, that which destroys the human in all its forms, be it war or the more subtle coercion of the dominant culture colonizing meaning. What empowers Carol as a writer, and seems the source of hope in her work, is community. More than once in her work she "calls out" to those who have shared information or an insight. Even those she names, the enemy, are made human by this gesture, individual in accountability.
Then there's the pure aesthetic joy of Carol's work. Anyone who has ever seen her read knows she's kind of a rock star. She reads very quickly, sometimes sending out words like precision darts, on the sassiest lines dropping her voice all low and husky. Her work is filled with rebellious energy, a kind of joie d'vivre that's at once a bit jaded and a bit wide-eyed. The press I co-edit, BabySelf, published her temporary tattoos in 2002, a 24-hour recording of the city of an intimate relationship. It has lines like this: "we are giving each other temporary tattoos. excellent. you smell like ketchup."
That community is important to Carol personally is evident in how much she contributes to poetry and political efforts. In her own, unobtrusive, unself-aggrandizing way, she makes things happen, opens doors, initiates connections. Recently she started something called a "relay"--a periodic bulletin on the news behind the news. She asks others to pass her relay on, and also to develop their own, to spark a chain of information sharing outside the death grip of the media. This is one of the smartest activist gestures I've encountered recently.
As a poet and person, Carol is unfailingly compassionate. Despite a job that literally grinds her down, she finds the time to do the work of poetry and support those around her. I've known her for nearly 10 years, and in recent years I see her making quite conscious choices to build her life into an ethical, healthful, positive force. I take her as an example--not only of how to be a poet, but also of how to be a person.
on the jump
from WALL to
performance is a little
too much like business
and poetry has to get
around the way it goes.
so she ain't cooking in
your modern kitchen any
more, hombre. bailing on
permanance the poet
discovers her stamina
some more. herself becomes
an applique that has
learned how to stick.
One aspect of Carol's work that I respect very much is its total range. The sophisticated almost modernist precision of a work like Wall; the intimacy of temporary tattoos, daily, comical, and searching; and now this latest fiercely political work in FUCK THE POLIS and Occupied, neither of which have actually seen, but both of which I was lucky enough to hear read.
I hear these works arising from and as propaganda (unabashedly). Perhaps it is possible to think of every text acting on propagandistic planes in the current production of even-the-most-intimate-of us zoon politikons. Carol forefronts this aspect of text as information (both factual and affectual, but never neutral) with all that implies.
Do we ever really think about how we comprehend poetry? Does it cross
each poet's mind, when reading another's work, that some poetry teaches
us to read? Sometimes I think we are too absorbed in linking a poet's
work to a continuum of poets and pouncing on the intertextuality that
allows us to say something resonant, something over which others can
mull. We are funny like that. So we often overlook that some bodies of
work create their own hermeneutic, that they are clearing space for a
language that must be reckoned with on its own terms. Reckoning with it
yields a reward, which is consciousness, and an openness to more
consciousness. This is one of the ways poets are agents of a principled
society, or revolution, without being wholly propagandistic. Carol
understands this well. She is among the most ardent of poets whose work
is imputed to a reader's skill and makes the reader aware that, OK,
there is an understanding here between poet and reader, but it is for
naught if it doesn't inform how people live in the world. Carol's
poetry is incessant and riveting, and it compels a reading that gets me
on up out of my chair to walk this language around. It is walking
language, a language of action and not insolence. The thing that always
gets me about Carol's poetry is that it does it work not only through a
well-chiseled rage and persistence but also through tenderness. There
is a love for the possibility that lies within language, a belief that
rescrambling the channels can alter the extent to which we accept the
administered langauge of the state and the media, sometimes even poetry,
that suckers us into going with the flow, punching in, punching out.
One of the things I like about Mirakove's writing is the way she is
able to deal with the very real difficulties of poetry. Her writing,
unadorned, seems to come from a very humble place, lacking the
traditional dignities of the poet. She is a prophetess, like
Cassandra, but unlike Cassandra she reveals the secrets of her
"witchcraft," that is, she keeps an ear to the ground and picks up on
the zeitgeist as it is still assembling itself. Looking at her poems
I sometimes think of my favorite scene from Walt Disney, the birds
and little animals making a dress for Cinderella, ribbons whisking
through the air, a magical transformation, for so are her poems
pieced together from scraps of ordinary things and they become lovely
and scary when they're all together on that dress form we call a
poem. Dodie and I published Mirakove's poem "Dreams Never Die" in a
recent issue of Mirage #4/Period[ical] and we were consternated when
time passed and despite the Mirakovian witch sign, Arnold
Schwarzenegger indeed became our Governor here in California, indeed
just as she had foretold. "two simple cells. expired from political
reality, hype rage: that state can feed. running man, the mr.
freeze, please daze the predator & pre-date the sick day // almost
Carol Mirakove's temporary tattoos is folded in an image of hope scrawled on concrete- daisies drawn on the sidewalks of New York City shortly after September 11. I've known Carol's work to be political, w/ a directness & humor that comes through her Debordian Clowns Against Capitalism filter (e.g. her recent FUCK THE POLIS poems). Her latest chapbook is a 23-page poem, segmented by sections/hours. It reads as a refugee poem. The time chronicles(in which every hour counts) the anxiety of departure & ultimate separation that mark each phase of passage. The setting isn't South Asia or Western Africa, it's Brooklyn. More specifically, the poem's terrain isn't necessarily geographically focused at all. It moves within the scape of the internal/personal.
temporary tattoos is a document of sorrow & possibility. The Mirakove sentence is taut, dense & often beautiful in the least precious, most impacting way. Survival in the real feeds Carol's refugee, keeping her moving through the doubt pangs & hunger for return. The chapbook comes to an end/beginning, not THE END. No daisies grow in the sidewalk cracks, but their images keep us looking- watching where we walk.
In a recent book of lectures called Abnormal, whilst discussing the juridical concept of "profound conviction," Michel Foucault states "These everyday discourses that kill and provoke laughter are at the heart of our judicial system." The inescapale everyday, the quote news unquote, focuses or rather invades, and yes, occupies, the recent poetry of Carol Mirakove. The manuscript entitled Occupied is broken into three sections "Afghanistan," "Iraq," and "New Order." The impossibility of not being occupied by such events and the struggle with the ever-dwindling agency of the citizen of these states are not the sole concerns of poets these days, whatever CNN might want us to think. Yet Mirakove makes, somehow, of this our collective deeply tainted unconscious, an art that is singiular-- a space which only she could have created. This space is one of tension, a tension in process, subject to it, turned by them, and untrusted forward-- faces, your neighbor, we are stolen-- what breaks through is a single voice, sometimes shattered. poetry.
"living in public is a full time job"
Mirakove writes from within our ongoing reduction, from amidst the cyber-steam -- is hers a revolutionary praxis?
CAROL MIRAKOVE online:
from her book WALL (ixnay press)
another from crossXconnect
from The East Village
from DC Poetry Anthology
from Pom Pom
Carol interviewed by Gary Sullivan
from Lime Tree "I am drunk just now with discovering Carol Mirakove."