Today is one of those special Thursdays where we’re taking you all the way back to our humble beginnings as a literary journal. Nearly 15 years ago (Summer 2000) the very first issue of Drunken Boat hit the net. Although it may be small, it contains wonders of artistic achievement that still have the same sparkle as when they were originally published– which is why today’s featured post is Melissa Kirsch’s intriguing and speculative poem about human nature, “The Second-To-Last Hour.”
“In the future, no more bacteria.
In the future, less traffic
no new dance craze to catch on to.
In the future, the daughters who spilled
grape juice on the oriental rug are loved
just the same, everyone is forgiven,
all is forgiven.”
Melissa Kirsch is a New York-based poet, author, journalist, and has been professionally writing for and about women since 1998. At current she blogs for the Huffington Post and writes the “My Secret Library” column for KGB Bar Lit. Her first book, The Girl’s Guide to Absolutely Everything, was published in 2007 and offers advice on many of the topics and challenges faced by young women today. Get the latest updates on her work at melissakirsch.com
Your eyes lit like screens, from inside the commodity I find a likeness of you
It unfolds, again, again, in a mass of flora scented like the real thing
Of all the 3-D printed mansions, which one suits you?
“there’s maybe a higher chance of it fracturing at the contact point if there’s a strong enough force”
There’s maybe a river, underneath, where fish have squatted the mall
There’s a future I’ve only glimpsed from the promises lapsed
Your car spinning, where the parking lot will be
Pressed on by a dream, a liquidation sale of my nineteenth century obsession w/ everyday life
Versus all the oceans that tug
Versus the romance of circulation
Versus if I’m rare will you keep me
In the consumer dream house all the light pours down from above
Electronic dolls whirr in the hallways, cleaning
Panoramas are boxed in by cameras no longer in our hands
Walking the boulevards is not what it was—Virgil and I try it and we are bent and frozen, trying to make it to the steps of the museum. 200 years of African American art is housed in one room. A small room. Later we walk through many large rooms of medieval armor. The shell casings of cyborgs spit up from the past. In the dark of the Buddhist temple, stolen and then we speculate housed in a warehouse full of stolen temples, it must have languished in the dark for a long time. The paint is not allowed to fade. We wonder if the miniature temples carved and added to the ceiling at a later date were meant to house birds. No birds animate the ceiling now. Tourists make Buddha poses. Hey yr not in Oakland anymore.
In the dense realms of wishful thinking
I am always being betrayed, or else a friend is falling off
One of those dream houses
I can’t stop looking at the light –or- I cannot save anyone
Each greenhouse: an intricate music box of sadism
Every plant a handcuff my reading technology fades with laziness not cus it doesn’t feel pretty good
Cultish robes get moldy then get all silicon valley
“I had a car” I had it remelted to my form
Somewhere in the ruins of dead objects, every overdraft fee screenprinted onto teeshirts
Somewhere along this avenue of goblins, I have picked up pagan belief
(Google ad preferences tell us about our interest in astronomy tho its riots we talk about to measure distances but it’s no wonder stars appear throughout) (all our friends got into astrology)
If I turn my head enough, and shake and shake and shake like you tell me
Everything I said before might become different
Everywhere we thought we were going might become the hell we abandoned before
1) Here’s someone to greet you, w/ these flowers the size of yr new avatar’s head
2) Here is agitation foaming up like water, tmrw, another necessary clutter, another letter with a bunch of names, another chance to be called a witchhunt
3) The witchbread you eat all the time
A slashed angel lies where work was: baby back wings & summer
Incorrect gloopy time
Whose gonna be witness to the pause of refusal
With no record of moving parts
A drone hummingbird stands watch by our shoulders
Dropping bits of goo from its mouth which falls on our heads
The meat axe, the pickaxe, the rope, and the coffeeshop move against the metropolis
Human sandbags loiter, causing a pileup
A traffic circle has many points of stoppage
The highway we took by mistake becomes easy with more bodies faster into the pause
Oki Sogumi was born in Seoul, lives in Philadelphia (recently transplanted from Oakland), and writes poetry, speculative fiction, and into little boxes on the internet. She dreams commune dreams.
It’s that time again– #TBT! This week’s vintage selection was pulled from the sea of enchanting photographs that appeared as competitors for our Panliterary Awards in DB 8, Fall 2006. Though all those featured in the issue merit a second look, Jean Van Cleemput’s photographs have earned the spot in today’s post for being especially enjoyable. Van Cleemput’s wild combination of scantily-clad women and creatures of the deep are definitely something you don’t want to miss!
Jean Van Cleemput has been working as a professional magazine and advertising photographer for more than 15 years. His work has been published in GQ Germany, Mooncruise Canada, and Head Magazine UK. The photographs in today’s post are part of Van Cleemput’s project entitled “Beluga,” which he describes as a “photo cookbook” about girls and fish. Although his personal website is under construction, you may view more of his photography here.
The Velvet Lounge: on Late Chicago Jazz, Fred Majer. How do I describe this book of riffs – portraits, snapshots, memories, meditations on class and music? For example, Majer on Elvin Jones: “An extremely light touch, the whirring sticks all over the place, a ubiquitous splashing, crashing.” He brings back Wilbur Little at the Showcase with: “tall, bearded, a leaf-green vest, the double bass . . . a giant lyre in his arms.” Lured by the title, a tiny club I loved on the tip of a devastated (by Latin Kings) deserted strip, I am moving slowly toward the Intuitive Research Beings chapter with admiration.
Cut from the Rushes, Andrea Brady. Brady’s precision is cut from the Cordelia cloth; and as more and more the mechanics of a life, the making of a living, seem, centrally, labor, the Brady Cordelia bears down: “A fear of home not working, work that / makes time slide / through oils liquidising a window, / is a hook for the exterior. / . . . / These forces stabilise the skeletal building / breathing in its jacket, ears bathed in female / garage cycles, faking the passion to hoot.”
A Little Ramble: in the Spirit of Robert Walser, introduction by Donald Young. Odd that another Chicago arbiter (of visual art) from my years there should feature in current reads. The long-time gallery owner Donald Young invited nine artists to respond to Walser’s work, in as glancing a way as Walser’s own writing was glancing, ephemeral, conditional. Walser’s microscript – in an archaic German Kurrent, what Young describes as a kind of “medieval shorthand” – interleaved the exhbitions that resulted and this book that builds upon the exhbitions.
Suite Vénitienne, Sophie Calle. Over all of my adult writing life this project has hovered, undertaken in a February thirty-five years ago, in which Sophie Calle followed, from Paris to Venice, a man she had met only briefly one evening after following him, coincidentally, for a bit that very afternoon. It is a pairing of text and photographs that has been published in various forms over time, but none so fittingly as Siglio’s version, where the eye is cut from the cover and the small, vertical pages ensure the photographs’ grit. I feel, reading the notes of the spy, that I have never known it before.
Patter, Douglas Kearney. The seeping breaks in the body of this book are heartbreaking. From the horror cartoons (“The Miscarriage: A Sunday Funny,” “The Miscarriage: A Bar Joke”) of “Miscarriages” to the niners, the games, the sycorax of “It is Designed for Children,” fatherhood is built, dropped, deflated, raged at, beat, all with the steely surrealism of shock.
In Minima Ethnographica, the poet and heterodox anthropologist Michael Jackson (what can you do) records what a Kuranko friend in Guinea kept under his bed as kanda li fannu, “protective/enclosing things.” There was a gbogure, a padlock enwrapped in Qur’anic verses and thread, used to silence an adversary in legal disputes. Also a yuluba, a knotted cord ending in a noose and smeared with butter, another tool for silencing others. A fele, a twist of black and white thread, which, when laid on one’s threshold, prevents enemies from coming in. Also nisi, a protective unguent for the body made from the ash of Qur’anic suras. I’m quoting this almost verbatim.
Jackson defines these and similar objects as “an attempt to come to terms with inner frustrations by objectifying them in a form that is responsive to one’s will, tractable, and manageable,” enabling one to “regain… control over a situation in which one’s mastery was undermined or lost.” Ultimately, Jackson writes, the sole meaning of a piece of one of the kanda li fannu “consists in its being a vital and integral part of the process of intersubjective life, at once the bodily expression of one’s need for autonomy and the means of restoring control when the boundary between ego and alter becomes so confused that one risks annihilation in otherness.”
(Ultimately, Jackson does an extremely pleasurable Moonwalk all up and down on the colonial condescension of those European scholars who, in previous centuries, took African fetishism as a sign of inferiority and cultural primitivity, motivated in part by the problematics of their own inferior and primitive definition of “human being.” As Jackson notes, “they protested too much…. [F]etishism, as a stratagem of existential control, inevitably makes its appearance in the field of subject-object relations, whether this is between persons and things or solely between persons.”)
I would like to think of religion, on the one hand, as a technology of determining the boundaries of people and communities. This is hard, because of course we begin and end everywhere, or at least in a great many places. The simultaneities and cascading polyphonies of breathing through culture’s ordeals. The undrawable diagrams of in & out. The phone is ringing. Hello.
I would like to think of poetry as an instrument of this kind of religion. I think back on the prounikos, the bearer, the distributed impulse toward intersubjectivity. Poems and kandu li fannu can both be ways of extending oneself, of raising ontological skirmishes on the borders between one person and another and the inanimate world. They open the self to a radical hibridity that seems wildly exotic – because what could be stranger than to be fully imprisoned in the walnut shell of one’s skull, while simultaneously existing in forms of experience entirely shaped and propelled by the forces of culture exterior to and predating it – but at the same time intensely ordinary – because what could be more normal?
In The Emergence of Social Space, Kristin Ross writes about some other mutual interference ideas of the human and the inanimate exert over each other. In 1871, in Ce qu’on dit au poète à propos de fleurs, Rimbaud writes
Look! This is the Infernal Age!
And telegraph poles
Will adorn — a lyre that sings a song of steel
The splendor of your shoulder blades.
In this verse, Ross, notes, amid the mania for the sciences (especially geography) sweeping France at the time, “the poet’s body is directly implicated in the change in production and reproduction… permeated with apparatus-like elements not unlike the way, for example, the language of telegraphy is used in popular nineteenth-century scientific texts whenever the nervous system is described.”
I love the idea of a poetics that attempts, amid the strobing discontinuity of experience, to hear and revoice the intersubjectivities that animate it. It seems to me we have never been so much like telegraphy as we are now. We submerse ourselves endlessly in half-manageable streams of ones and zeros, beset by the ambiguity of whether they’re carrying us towards one another, or away from. We surrender to endless ratios, allowing real parts of our actual selves to be merged into pools of data nobody can read, and then hope to reassemble ourselves from whatever we can hoist back out of it.
Lisa Robertson’s newest book, an amazing long poem called Cinema of the Present, begins:
What is the condition of a problem if you are the problem?
You move into the distributive texture of an experimental protocol.
A bunch of uncanniness emerges.
At 20 hertz it becomes touch.
A concomitant gate.
At the middle of your life on a Sunday.
Throughout the poem, Robertson interweaves selves and instrumentalities in a braided, lyric interrogation of how thought emerges. The poem consists of two voices that exist in unstable relation, tumbling over one another, repeating, negating, commemorating, and transforming each other in the complexity of emergent language. They interpellate but also undermine one another, sometimes simultaneously, in the direction of a stable, unified articulation that often feels like it’s glowing just over the horizon of the present page but never arrives. The flickering selves that fleetingly emerge as the apparent sources of the poem’s voices often seem to reach out toward the objects of their address through a technological language in which subjectivities mingle with both other subjectivities and the inert matter of various formal languages.
Still there was no solution for the fabulous problem.
Your formal discretion expressed itself in the non-convergence of identity with itself.
The grand law empties you of preference.
Your goodness lifts like a cock.
The I-speaker on your silken rupture spills into history.
Your historical pleasure was metrically interrupted by the inadequacies of terminology.
Then you keep spilling.
Your intellect works only among tactile traces.
You’re good at it.
Your interior is all exterior.
The self is rendered mechanically here, but the mechanical is rendered discursively. Which, fuck yeah. Where does a person begin and end? Or a thought? This poem is a protective/enclosing thing, only instead of reinstating a disempowered will, it seems to reinstate an interrupted curiosity, a deep interrogation of thinking that protests too much or is too much protested. “You twined your whole vocabulary of love into a wreath and this was it.”
More on this thought in future posts!
Ian Dreiblatt is a poet and translator. His poems have appeared in Elderly, Bomblog, Web Conjunctions, Pallaksch. Pallaksch., The Agriculture Reader, and Sink Review, among other places. His most recent translations are of Gogol’s The Nose (Melville House, 2014) and Comradely Greetings, the prison correspondence of Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and philosopher Slavoj Žižek. His translations of composer Victoria Poleva’s writings are forthcoming in Music & Literature magazine, and he has contributed translations of early Soviet texts in museum theory to the forthcoming Avant-Garde Museology (e-flux, 2015). His sonnets was published last year by Metambesen, and Barishonah, a letterpress-printed chapbook, is forthcoming this spring from DoubleCross Press.