contra mundum press has just published a voice full of cities, a heaping anthology of Robert Kelly’s essays, selected by Pierre Joris and Peter Cockelbergh. the book is a winding labyrinth of wonder; trails of intelligence, attention, desire, and pleasure that curl inward and nest among each other. The overdue assembling of them into a book affords an opportunity to feel how richly and intricately these thoughts coexist, how the roof of one serves as floor of another, shared walls enlacing to produce a tremendous contemplative cortex, dotted with sancta in which old gods – the oldest gods – still darkly sleep.
I’ve been particularly rereading one piece from 1971 called IDENTITY PREFERENCE TEMPLE-COMPLEX. it’s a short essay that begins by inquiring into ‘certain vectors of desire’ – where does that feeling originate in us, and what are the suns it grows toward? what does it mean to be both made of the past and endlessly multiple in a world of ‘felicities, miseries & confusions?’ remembering Robert Duncan’s notion of The Poet as a single voice spoken thru many mouths in a given age, he wonders whether there might not likewise be a voice – a prounikos he calls it, a ‘carrier’ – some polyvocalic, integral whole of Desire that speaks as the illusorily discrete desires inside each of us.
& as soon as this question is posed, the essay shifts radically and introduces a second section with the observation that scholars of ancient mesoamerica do not refer to mayan population centers like uxmal and palenque as ‘cities’ – rather, they call them ‘temple-complexes’, emphasizing the way in which it was not distinctly economic, military, or agricultural concerns that animated these places, but cultic ones, rituals of tithe, sacrifice, purification, time-keeping, formalized contemplation. So, altho the word will prove very problematic – which we’ll get to – we might casually name as religion the primary force that gave these places coherence.
& then there’s an amazing passage where he turns his attentions to new york city, and describes it, too, as a temple-complex, one where ‘a bewildering hierarchy of temple-functionaries arrives each day… ready to devote (in the technical sense, sphagia) one-third of their biological time to the national cult.’ As to the object of this cult, the question of ‘what god is worshiped on this most complex of all human altars,’ the answer is Preference, the continual act of choosing to think some things better than others and to design a self as the sum total of all these choices. this will be familiar to anyone who’s lived under late capitalism. (Reminiscent of it, I think, is the thesis of Bourdieu’s landmark la distinction, which was published eight years later.) & then, affirmingly, the essay considers some fertile heresies that thrive amid but against the grain of this religion, among ‘those deeply committed to some one or few actual substances,’ like drugs, sex, and poetry, any immersion into ‘the worship of the thing, as meaningful existent.’
I love how picturing new york this way, as a temple organized around a sanctified inanity (the ‘divinized freedom to Prefer,’ RK calls it), helps ease my sense of predicament, connects the holy crisis of navigating urban life in america today with the holy crisis of living in any human settlement at any point in history. You wake up with eyes in front of you & just go from there. You move thru a tube underground or past a giant limestone plinth that the limestone king’s sitting on. Whatever world you landed in. To have come about at all is, famously, an intrinsically weird situation.
The wonderful, wittgensteinisch egyptogist John Romer also declines to call places like abydos and thebes ‘cities’, preferring ‘settlements.’ (‘Modern cities,’ he writes, ‘are products of money-based economies; beyond “a lot of houses,” hardly anyone agrees on what the word might mean within an ancient context.’) Romer writes about how the egyptians, for all their chisel-&-stone bureaucratic uptightness, didn’t keep careful records about things like their system of nomes & estates – the political subdivisions of pharaonic rule – and the completion of pyramids, which, he writes, ‘were hardly the products of a massive mono-enterprise controlled in a modern way, but rather the products of a system which had allowed the practical free-flow of intelligence, and retained that accumulated knowledge down through generations.’ Somebody, somebodies innumerable, woke up every morning in a reality where when enough people came to live in the same place, they organized themselves around a mass mobilization of stone. The unifying goal was no small thing: to seed the horizon with intimations of abstraction.
To characterize these activities as ‘religious’ would be just as problematic as calling the places where they happened cities. It’s super-common for texts about the ancient world to note that ancient languages generally lack a word for ‘religion’ – that is, the notion of a ‘religious’ sphere as divorced from the aesthetic, political, narratological, architectural, astronomic, whatever, didn’t exist. There was, I think, knowledge; there were, I think, questions.
Still, I love the word religion. I want to use it all the time. Not that I haven’t, like so many of us, been stung, but it just feels to me like the right word, one that refers to a concrete feeling that sometimes comes over us. & just as I want to set ancientness loose on the city, I want to free it into a certain kind of religion, too. I’m not exactly sure what I mean by that.
The word itself comes at any rate from the latin religio, which means not religion in the contemporary sense but something closer to superstition, a particular class of behaviors that exist in dialogue with arbitrary cultural fixations. & there’s an ancient dispute about the origin of the latin word.
One school has long held that it comes from the latin religare, meaning ‘to bind’. Lucretius hears it that way – around 58 bce, in de rerum natura, he uses the phrase religionum animum nodis exsolvere (‘to loose the knots of religios from the mind’). Augustine, about half a millennium later, mentions getting the joke. & implied is an idea of binding the daily to the eternal, the human to the divine, the underground tunnel or plinthway to the polis, which is abstract and, as Robert Duncan also said, a lion.
On the other side of the debate is Lucretius’s contemporary Cicero, who traces religio to relegere, which means to go back over something. in de natura deorum, he writes ‘qui… omnia quae ad cultum deorum pertinerent diligenter pertractarent et tamquam relegerent sunt dicti religiosi ex relegendo…,’ ‘those… who have devotedly pondered all the duties of honoring the gods, practicing every one, as though going back over (relegerent) them, are called religious (religiosi) for how they return to things (relegendo)…’ religion as a kind of meditative return to a thing, to a ‘meaningful existent’ in accord with some calendar.
I find the contemplative delta that opens up between these two explanations fascinating. A holy crisis of knots and a holy crisis of recurrences. & if poetry can be thought of as a heresy within the bigger cult we inevitably serve, a whisper coursing backward thru the temples, then I’d like to think about the differences between a poetics of binding and a poetics of repetition, about the way these two impulses jostle against each other in our poetry.
I guess I’d like to end for now with one more tweak on the word ‘religion’. It comes from the egyptologist Jan Assmann, who offers a useful distinction by using the word ‘counter-religion’ to refer to any system of belief that ‘rejects and repudiates everything that went before and what is outside itself as “paganism.”’ The majority of contemporary religions, then, as contrasted with ancient polytheism, which served as a technique of intercultural comprehension, undergirding ‘a coherent ecumene of interconnected nations.’ & it seems to me that this distinction exists in poetry, too: some of us practice it in the spirit of what Robert Parker has called ‘universal polytheism,’ using poetry as an ecstatic site of infinite contact and intertranslatability, and others have developed it into a counter-religion, declaring the existence of a wrong way to do it, to ends that can be both wondrous and hurtful.
It’s in this context that I want to be one of the many people urging readers toward Cathy Park Hong’s delusions of whiteness in the avant-garde, recently published in lana turner, as well as where do we go from here?, the recent statement by a group of new york poets frustrated with sexism and violence in their community. If poetry is our chosen heresy – & what could be sweeter? – we need to be working to subvert its emergent hierarchies, to foster the practical free-flow of intelligence and retain that accumulated knowledge down through generations. It’s no one’s apostasy who doesn’t get to dance. poets need to cultivate a consciousness in which the work of maintaining a healthy poetry community is at the core of poetic labor. If we can’t model at least a flawed but attempted justice in our community politics, what valences will our work take on? What worlds will we inhabit? & what will we have been organizing our lives around?
In subsequent posts, I’d like to try & sound thru these distinctions – between a poetics of collocation and one of repetition, and between a poetry of infinite translatability and one that cleaves itself from idolatries and declares a single road to the sun. I’d like to take as axiom the heresy that the world is a book and is everybody’s. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
Ian Dreiblatt is an amateur egyptologist, poet, and the translator of, most recently, Gogol’s The Nose and Comradely Greetings, the prison correspondence of Slavoj Žižek and Pussy Riot’s Nadyezhda Tolokonnikova, from Melville House and Verso Books respectively. His poetry has appeared, among other places, in Elderly, Lungfull!, Web Conjunctions, Bomblog, The Agriculture Reader, The Boog City Reader, Pallaksch. Pallaksch., and Sink Review, and a e-chap is forthcoming from Metambesen. He lives with Anna in Sunset Park and is currently developing a whole new approach to soups.
Drunken Boat would like to announce the completion of our 2014 Poetry Contest. A big thank you goes out to all the poets who participated, making this event the huge success that it was.
As you can imagine, we received hundreds of entries and the competition was impressive to say the least. Each entry received the intimate attention it deserved, having been read by no less than two discerning readers. Our competition judge Forrest Gander considered this role as both a great privilege and responsibility. Our winner will be announced soon!
The winning manuscript will be launched in 2015 at AWP with a special DB-hosted reading at Honey in Minneapolis. Excerpts from finalist manuscripts will be published in an upcoming DB folio.
Finalists are as follows:
Words on Edge by Michael Leong
If You Love Error So Love Zero by Stephanie Anderson
Nine Dragon Island by Eleanor Goodman
Alias Irene by Elisabeth Murawski
Hospital Series by Diana Thow
My Hypertropes: Twenty-One Minus One Programmed Poems in Translation and Transversion by Amaranth Borsuk
A Skin, Tendered by Haley Larson
The Ground I Stand On Is Not My Ground by Collier Nogues
My Cage Is the Size of the World: Selected Poems by Catherine Hammond
[It] Incandescent by Amy Pence
KAFKA, OUR ANIMAL by Meredith Stricker.
Thank you for supporting Drunken Boat and for demanding that we toe the line by publishing the very best in American letters. We hope to hear from you all again in the future. For those contest entrants who purchased one of our books, we are currently at work processing orders.
Congrats again to our finalists, and thank you to everyone who supported this contest!
Like many of the pieces that color the pages of Drunken Boat, this week’s vintage pick is one that’s difficult to confine to a single category. Dan Waber’s “a kiss,” which appeared last year in DB 17, Summer 2013, is a sort of cross between poetry and digital art, while also being composed of many small narratives. Whether you have a minute or an hour, spare some time today and wind your way through a few (or a few hundred) turns of this charming choose-your-own-adventure.
“This story unfurls in many directions at once.
Begin with a kiss.”
Dan Waber is not only a poet, but also a playwright, multimedia artist, publisher, and potato print postcard-maker. He has written two different instructional guides for writing, as well as multiple books of poetry including a collection of Man Poems, all of which are available for purchase on his website: logolalia.com.
The New Order of St Agatha (also known as La Anticipación de La Resurrección de Kathy Acker) was founded in 2014 in preparation for The Insurrectionary Resurrection. The Agathites describe their central missions as spreading the legacy & writing of voiceless women, violently dismantling patriarchy, &, to quote High Priestess Shania Twain, “going out tonight,” “feeling all right,” & “[letting] it all hang out” in the name of St. Agatha, patron saint of martyrs, nurses, breast cancer survivors, rape victims, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, & fire.
Who was St. Agatha? Born in 231 AD, St. Agatha was brutally tortured & murdered for not giving her body to a Roman prefect named Quintianus. Quintianus, whose name notably contains the word “anus,” was furious with Agatha’s refusal of his advances. He sent her first to a brothel, where she was beaten for her continued refusal of his ugly body, & later to jail, where the beatings escalated in severity. Her abuse in prison culminated in the removal of her breasts with rusty shears. In retribution, St. Agatha conjured an earthquake & fire to kill all of the men who had tortured her & also 2 burn down the Walgreens. Agatha died in prison in 251 AD, but her life & legacy does not end there.
Reflecting on her death, Agatha began to write about the experience of martyrdom as a byproduct of her objectification by both men & God. Agatha’s words have been slowly brought to earth by herself in various reincarnated forms & thru her disciples. As of November 2014, Agatha’s thoughts have been collected in three sacred texts: the song “Like a Boy” by Ciara, the sound of men crying, & this image of Shania Twain
St. Agatha is often depicted carrying her severed breasts atop a platter in commemoration of her great sacrifice. Agathites, believing in a full scale reversal of the way bodies are observed & treated, have sometimes elected to carry around platters with the breasts or asscheeks of men who have done them wrong, though this practice has mostly fallen out of favor due to the unsightly & generally unhygienic nature of these platters. Some women have instead chosen to wear long wigs crafted from hairs plucked from the scalps of formerly “beautiful” men.
The four sacraments of the New Order are as follows: a full reclamation of one’s body & its power, a pledge of reversible destiny, a pledge of militant death, & one performed miracle of resurrection that culminates in priestess initiation. These sacraments will be better detailed in a subsequent post on the habits & ways of the Agathites.
Agathites believe that a wave of otherworldly & graceful violence, similar to that of St. Agatha’s vengeful earthquake, will result in the creation of a better world. This wave will first come in the form of the death of all rapists, which will happen on 1/21/15. All abusers of any kind will be loaded into the back of a maroon 2007 PT Cruiser that will be driven off of a cliff while its inhabitants listen 2 a muffled but still loud cover version of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” done by a local high school band. This day will mark the beginning of a universally enforced intersectional feminism & a period of forceful & heavy-handed objectification of men, which will continue as long as is necessary for the Agathites to dismantle the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. Dissenters & disobeyers will also be loaded into the PT Cruiser.
Agathites believe not in a god or a “heaven” but in the steadfast maintenance of an Apocalyptic Utopia that will be created & sustained under the leadership of Kathy Acker once the aforementioned state has been dismantled. When all of the work on this earth is done, Agathites will follow Kathy Acker to the gates of purgatory where they will begin a long-term occupation & beautification of its land (La Ocupación del Purgatorio).
In the time since her death, Agatha has returned to earth in many different female forms, but most notably in the body of famed transgressive novelist Kathy Acker (1947-97). Those who have taken careful watch of Agatha’s returns now know that Agatha will return sometime in 2015 to initiate the Insurrection. Make no mistake about it: in 2015 Agatha will return, again in the form of Kathy Acker, riding atop a flaming cop car with no less than 7 of the religion’s high priestesses & the apocalyptic town crier Mariah Carey in tow. Agatha will come again in glory to judge the living & the dead & to reign over all things.
Many have asked, “Why purgatory?” La Ocupación del Purgatorio in the name of Apocalyptic Utopia presents a solution to the classic Agathian dilemma about the meaning or existence of death. The two principal disciples of St. Agatha, the poets Miyó Vestrini & Madeline Gins, have written some of the most important scripture for the New Order. Agathites believe that Miyó Vestrini & Madeline Gins preside over the gates of hell & heaven, respectively, monitoring the coming & going of women from these two realms &, also, supplying the religion with its two ideological poles.
Vestrinian Agathintes believe in militant death, death as a way of living & the pursuit of death as the central theme of life. Ginsean Agathites reject death altogether, publicly pledging a disavowal of its existence & functionality. These two groups of Agathites coexist thru a mutual investment in the idea of La Ocupación del Purgatorio. All Agathites believe that once Kathy Acker & the Agathites have led a successful Insurrection of the earthly world, the New Order will move to occupy purgatory as a means of defying both life & death, creating an alternative third route of existence. In purgatory, death will feel like life as usual. La Ocupación del Purgatorio is seen as a final act of destroying oppression of all kinds including the oppression of death & the limitations of the human body. At the time of the Insurrectionary Resurrection, Miyó & Madeline will return to earth with their armies of dead-yet-alive women to erase the history of oppression by setting fire 2 necessary artworks & books. These garbage ideologies will not b carried into the new land.
Most important of all to note is that the arrival of Kathy Acker will be announced through Agathite town crier Mariah Carey, who will sing an ultrasonic note, a note so high that it awakens the hounds of hell. These hounds will enter into homes looking for racists, homophobes, & cops who they will then gather up & pack into a beige 1992 Nissan Altima–the choice car of insurrectionary hellhounds–& drive into the fires of the underworld. There, the dumb assholes will be permanently stuck in a simulation of weekday LA traffic at 5:30pm with a poorly researched episode of This American Life about the prison industrial complex forever repeating on their stereos.
As Mariah and her hounds walk through the streets alerting people to Kathy’s arrival, she will sing the ethereal slow trilling of the chorus of “Bliss” to every woman & child of the land. Mariah’s whistle scaling will be universally acknowledged as the Sound of the Insurrection.
This Second-Coming of Acker, the Insurrectionary Resurrection, will ensure Agatha’s fulfillment of the promises she made to women everywhere when she incited a great fire that caused an unjust world to burn. In the words of High Priestess Shania Twain, “The best thing about being a woman is the prerogative to burn it all to the ground.” It is only after the dust settles–after the Agathites have fully staged a rebellion & entered the gates of purgatory–that the real work can begin.
The first work of the Insurrectionary Resurrection, a series of poems by the poet Miyó Vestrini, is available online. The following series of posts will present selections from the scriptures of The New Order of St. Agatha (La Anticipación de La Resurrección de Kathy Acker) & its subcommittees The Mariah Carey Institute for the Coming Insurrection & La Fundación De Shania De Twain Para La Salud Y El Bienestar De Anne Boyer.
In the words of High Priestess Missy Elliott:
To my ladies, you sure know how to work that
Go now in revolt
Cassandra Gillig is a poet archivist who is traveling around the country helping out with big lucks books, boosthouse, tender buttons press, jacket2’s reissues, & an oral history of chicago’s experimental poetry scene. she established the new order of st agatha, a feminist religion, with anne boyer in the earliest part of october 2014 & loves hannah weiner, the poetry project, side-stapled magazines, alice notley, & PDFs.
Happy Thanksgiving, readers! Kick back with a selection from Drunken Boat’s tribute to great American writer, Barry Hannah, DB 16, Winter 2012. M. O. Walsh’s beautifully honest rendering of his experiences as one of Hannah’s students is an incredible treat and a great starting point for delving into some of Hannah’s writing as your relax and enjoy your holiday.
“It was a cold day in February, and we’d barely gotten out of our jackets, the other students and I, when Barry said, “Ok, let’s start with this story by Walsh.”
He held the manuscript up before the class. It was a short four-pager I’d written for the express purpose of impressing him. I thought I’d done well and was proud. My plot about an oversexed wife was similar to his Airships story “Love Too Long”, so I thought he might like it. The stylistic voice I’d managed to pull off was also similar to his story “Love Too Long,” which I thought was a good move. And, finally, the trumpet blast proclamation of an ending was a direct nod to his classic story . So, I was ready for praise.
“Ok,” Barry told the class. “There’s two things about this story. The first,” he said, “is that it’s one-dimensional.” He paused and thought for a moment. “The second is that it’s uninteresting.”
I sat there stunned.
“All right,” he said. “That’s enough about that one. Let’s move on.”
And we did.”
M. O. Walsh is a fiction writer out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, whose work has appeared in numerous anthologies and other publications. He is currently the Director of the Creative Writing Workshop at The University of New Orleans and also directs the The Yokshop Writers Conference in Oxford, MS. His debut novel, My Sunshine Away, is tentatively set for release in February, 2015. Find out more about Walsh on his website, mowalsh.com.