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.
“Hard up for cash, the whales began renting out their stomachs to summer vacationers.”
The first sentence to this week’s vintage feature is the unusual premise for this short but highly amusing piece of fiction. Dive into DB 18 and check out Cassandra de Alba’s “The Whales” to find out what happens when the ocean’s noblest creatures become the hottest beach getaway locations.
Cassandra de Alba’s poetry has appeared in multiple publications including Neon, ILK, Red Lightbulbs, Illuminati Girl Gang, and NAP, among others. Her most recent chapbooks are called Bloodlust (No Spaceships Allowed) and Special Bitch Academy. She lives in Massachusetts and blogs at outsidewarmafghans.tumblr.com, where you can find links to some of her other fantastic poetry.
In the realm of cool news, there’s this:
A poet play called The Descent of Alette by Alice Notley with Alexis Almeida, HR Hegnauer, Yanara Friedland, Serena Chopra, Andrea Rexilius, and Sommer Browning. This is their third poet play – last year, they performed five Gertrude Stein plays.
Alette will have performances in Boulder, Denver, Los Angeles, and Colorado Springs. The group is trying to raise money for flights to Los Angeles. People who donate $75 will receive a hand drawn, framed comic by Sommer Browning. What a deal! Yeah art.
If you want to learn more about the group, the play, and their fundraiser go to this website: https://www.
Today’s vintage selection is another brief, beautiful prose piece that offers a small glimpse of a much larger picture. Get your creative juices flowing and fill in your own details surrounding the circumstances of Marilyn Abildskov’s “Of the First,” which appeared in our Winter/Spring 2001 issue, DB 2, and is still highly deserving of your attention more than a decade later.
“I remember the first dinner with my first married man. I’d made soup that tasted decidedly bland and a spinach salad, because I knew he had never eaten spinach raw, and even though the meal was mediocre at best, I ate with great gusto and pleasure and enjoyed the feeling of this man watching me as if in his watching he were satiating a body that up till now had been ravenous.”
Marilyn Abildskov is a creative writer and professor of her craft at St. Mary’s College of California. A recipient of a Rona Jaffe Writer’s Award, two Pushcart Prize nominations, and other honors, Abildskov’s short stories, poetry, and essays have been widely published. Her travel memoir, The Men in My Country, was published by The Sightline Books Series of The University of Iowa Press. To see what Abildskov is up to recently, check out her tagged posts on St. Mary’s website.
The Ground I Stand On Is Not My Ground
selected by Forrest Gander
Drunken Boat proudly announces the forthcoming publication of The Ground I Stand On Is Not My Ground by Collier Nogues. Congratulations to all of our finalists and contest entrants, some of whom will be featured in a forthcoming issue of the journal.
The Ground I Stand On Is Not My Ground will be published in print and e-book format in 2015 and distributed through Small Press Distribution, with a publication launch party to take place on April 9, 2015 at 7 pm at Honey (@ 205 East Hennepin Avenue) in Minneapolis during the Associated Writing Programs annual conference (where it will be offered for sale at table 1928). Collier Nogues will also be reading selections from her award-winning book during this multi-journal extravaganza at Honey. Drunken Boat invites you to join us in congratulating Collier at this time!
Acclaimed poet, translator, novelist, essayist, and contest judge, Forrest Gander said of The Ground I Stand On Is Not My Ground:
“…this is the best book of erasure poems since Srikanth Reddy’s Voyager. They are meant to include an ‘interactive online version’ of disappearing texts. They don’t necessarily read as erasures, but as lyric poems— even managing rhyme and epistolary. Like Reddy’s Voyager, these carry powerful political implications, regarding Japan and Japanese/US relations before, during, and after WWII. Terrific language: ‘All of us were in a position to suffer a/ temporary safety.’ Despite that they are derived from a dazzling array of incongruous texts, the manuscript manages to sustain a consistency of tone and form. Significantly, the technique— erasure— is well matched to a poetry of war, (re)constructing events through absences and aporias— the missing.”
More praise for The Ground I Stand On Is Not My Ground:
“Collier Nogues, who grew up on a U.S. military base in Okinawa, explores how war has shaped the island of her childhood. She gathers a wide range of historical, political, touristic, cultural, and literary texts about Okinawa, and then she “erasures” these documents to unearth new poems. Moreover, QR codes accompany each poem, transporting the reader to a companion website that features digital and visual renditions of the work. Taken together, these poems not only express a desire to erase violence, but they also attempt to map the topography of islands and nations, caves and embrasures, weapons and flags, grace and dread. Nogues is a brave poet who disassembles the official discourses of empire to articulate a dream for an island of peace.”
—Craig Santos Perez
Collier Nogues’s first book of poems, On the Other Side, Blue, was published by Four Way Books in 2011. Her writing has been supported by the MacDowell Colony, the Ucross Foundation, Vermont Studio Center, and Fishtrap. She teaches creative writing at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and co-edits poetry for Juked.
“Drunken Boat has promoted hybrid and online poetry since its beginnings as a journal,” Collier Nogues said. “I couldn’t be happier that The Ground I Stand On Is Not My Ground, with its dual print and interactive online poems, has found its home here. Drunken Boat’s commitment to publishing new media poems and other innovative writing makes more room in the world for the kind of writing I most love to read. It’s an honor to be part of the journal’s move forward as a press. Thank you, Forrest Gander, for choosing this book, and thank you, Drunken Boat!”