“My aim has been to look as squarely as I can, with clear eyes, at the truth of what human beings are capable of doing to each other. This is Paul’s aim too. Denial is a killer, and if we all felt the horror that so many are forced to experience I know there would be less violence in the world. This is a conviction I’ve had about life and about my writing long before I met Paul, though in the past I probably spent most of my time concentrating on stories of emotional violence, often of child abuse. It’s all the same. The weak are exploited and abused by the powerful, and silence, obfuscation, denial is a complicity that must be confronted.”
Good poetry is good poetry because of who wrote it. If you want to get fancy about it, it’s an index of the culturally defined experiences of the author and the ways that author has taken agency within them, has interacted with his or her own received cultural and historical condition. Poetry isn’t good simply because it has kickass slant rhyme or wicked trippy imagery but because it employs those techniques mimetically to engage heritages and traditions that constitute the wisdom—and oppressions—of most acute concern at a given historical moment.
Wild Hundreds announces its presence when it enters the room. It is part love letter to Marshall’s neighborhood in Chicago, part exploration of the experience of a young black man in America, part indictment of the system that presides over it. It’s thunderous and plaintive, sometimes managing to do the impossible and straddle both. Take “out south,” which asserts: “shake us. we make terrible tambourines. / packed into class, kids passed like kidney stones.”
Since Tomaž Šalamun’s death at the end of last year, I have been living with his poetry, walking around with it, running my hands back and forth across its lines, coming to find in its voice a friend, even though I never took a class with him, never spoke a word to him, and hardly even know about his life. He is the kind of poet who has this effect. Many tributes were erected when he passed. André Naffis-Sahely wrote a moving obituary at The Paris Review, in which he follows Šalamun’s poetry along its “tightrope between ecstasy and despair, the rational and the irrational, the sublime and the horrible.”
Since my last post, I’ve said goodbye to my twenties. One minute I was a flower opening, the next I’m not allowed to carry a children’s lunch pail or purchase fake Uggs anymore. I’m reluctant to buy into the notion that thirty is the age when you should become the person you’ll be until you die, and the age at which you should stop wearing glitter. But if the rest of the world expects age to herald change, there are a few habits I’d like to tilt toward or away from in the writing department–and not because my youthful metabolism will soon grind to a halt.