Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2015  v14n1
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Lyric’s Labor

Most of my poems emerge from a kind of open lingering with a given line or image that I can’t shake for a week or more. If it sticks with me, if it sticks to me, then I will more often than not give it to the page and see what takes root and grows there. I’m always taking notes and mapping out projects. I’m always trying to crack a term or concept open and get a better sense of how it has moved historically, so I can get started on the fresh choreography in my head. I want to see how many different ways a line can be read, or an archival source can be marshaled, but in a responsible way. I want to be responsible for myself as well as my tradition, and it is this sense of joyful debt that frequently propels me toward the kinds of poems I’ve been writing over the past year, poems which are often extended meditations on a single figure or set of figures that would traditionally be considered unworthy of thought, or philosophy, or lyric.

To my knowledge, this isn’t a project I happened upon one day so much as a project that happened to me while in the midst of persistent study with my friends—dead, living, and everywhere in between. In that space of collective unconcealment, what rose to the surface again and again was that we yearned for what Ashon Crawley might call otherwise ways of thinking about value and beauty, otherwise ways of mapping ethical relation than what we had been given. We wanted a critical vocabulary for our experience of having grown up in places the dominant culture calls nowhere, having loved and lived as and alongside people widely known as nonentities, as nothingness enfleshed. The poem, for me, is a means through which I might strain against such discourse and enjoy myself in the meantime, investigate myself while there is time left to do so, time set aside for looking, and loitering, time outside of marketplace temporality, and the social and material conditions which demand that one’s waking hours necessarily operate in a certain, extractive relationship to loveless labor.

All to say: poesis is always already bound up, in a good way, with play. As much as the poem is an instrument through which I hope to gesture toward the ineffable, or stake a set of philosophical claims, it is also a kind of cloak, holding open the potential for both insight and opacity. To my mind, a term like form tells on itself and lies too: through precious, sustained architecture, the flesh becomes amorphous, invisible, omnipresent. The stanza is a room big enough to fit a world inside. The poem is how I build what I haven’t yet seen, how I give all that I have ever known away.  end  

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