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Friday, February 9, 2018

Spahr

I saw Juliana Spahr read two nights ago. It was a good reading, and now I've just read a book I bought there, called That Winter the Wolf Came.

I noticed a technique in the book I'll call hedging. When the socio-political charge get to heavy, or there is too much danger of direct statement, then there will be a distancing effect. For example, in one poem she talk repeatedly of the "non-revolution," where a less hedging writer would write "revolution." Or, when she talks about some oil-rig workers killed, she tells us how she won't talk of the tender children they left behind. Or she uses the cliché "children are the future" but in this way:  "I won't say that children are the future, but..."  You get the idea. Her answers to questions at the reading were also similarly hedging. Of course, all the questions were about politics, not any kind of poetic techniques.

I've like Spahr's work for many years, and continue to like it. The hedging comes off as a kind of ironic distance from her own political commitments. Or maybe not.  I'm not trying to be negative about the work at all, but the issue of irony / distance is quite interesting to me. If she were a less experimental poet she would just write a poem denouncing Trump, or something. What she does instead is a kind of hybrid writing in which the avant-garde techniques pull in a different direction from where the politics seems to be leading.

3 comments:

Leslie said...

I did not realize she had a poem or poems about Deepwater Horizon. These would be very interesting to teach.

Thomas Basbøll said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thomas Basbøll said...

I liked the book a lot when I was reading it. I saw the political content as a part of the persona of the lyrical subject. I think I disagree with her politics but I find her poems beautiful. I guess "Gentle Now, Don’t Add to Heartache" could be read as an "environmentalist" poem. But it can also just be a kind of nature poetry. And even this doesn't do its emotion justice. It's also about love in the ordinary sense.

My reaction to That Winter the Wolf Came was (partly), "I guess G8 protesters need a poetry as well" (and even "I guess there's a little romantic G8 protester in all of us"). It offers emotional precision to an often emotionally lumpen bunch. It's a lot like my reaction to Lisa Robertson's poetry. If we reduced it entirely to an expression of her politics (mainly, feminism) it wouldn't be very interesting. In both cases, the poetry emerges by extricating the emotion from the political pressures of our time. I sometimes think that's what all good poetry ever does. It extricates our selves from our history.