you got lots of ooohs when your postcard started moving
and then gasps when the stars appeared
i hope you will add them to detail collector
regarding yesterday’s lecture love letter delivery
how to hold hands
when undocumented parents
are being stolen in the night
you could solicit publishers
for this anthology
i think it’s very well done
and it’s not like i needed that validation
but it sure did help
made me feel like
after all this struggle
i did at least one thing that works
217 does bike tricks in her
pink and white crossword shoes
as we pedal south
on first avenue
you text me
and i can’t believe i hadn’t looked up and noticed it yet
in between finals mayhem and preparing house dinner
i call ‘home’
ask for the (64 year old) birthday kid
wishing her the happiest of happies
guess what we’re doing right now
we’re roasting marshmellows!
and even if you’ve never met my mom
i’m sure you might be similarly moved
at the image of mom and dad
on backyard 70’s suburban patio
holding skewered marshmellow
over grill fire
for one of our final projects for workshop, we were asked to compile an anthology of poetry published in the past 20 years. and then we were asked to write an introduction for said anthology. i wish i could include the pdf of the anthology i compiled. i don’t think i can do this on the blog, but i can include the table of contents:
Redaction Paintings, Jenny Holzer p. 1-10
This Connection of Everyone With Lungs (excerpt), Juliana Spahr p. 11-13
Don’t Let Me Be Lonely (excerpt)., Claudia Rankine p. 14-18
River and That We Have Become Numbers, Max Regan p. 19-21
The People Database (excerpt), Kristin Prevallet p. 22-24
SOAPS, Nonhuman Animal Memoir (excerpt), Heather Fuller p. 25-27
Found Dope, Candy Jernigan p. 28-31
Executive Order No. 10178 Oct. 30, 1950, 15 F.R. 7313, and ginen sourcings, Craig Santos Perez p. 32-35
Trench Town Rock (excerpt), Kamau Brathwaite p. 36-38
Dictee (excerpt), Theresa Hak Kyung Cha p. 39-43
Looking Back at Camp, Lawson Fusao Inada p. 44-46
From Sheds 12 and 13, Raul Zurita p. 47-48
The Bluegrass State, Brenda Coultas p. 49-50
Bilingual Instructions, Harriet Mullen p. 51
Nox (excerpt), Anne Carson p. 52-56
The Doctors from Book of the Dead, Muriel Rukeyser p. 57-60
Coal Mountain Elementary excerpt, Mark Nowak p. 61-68
Ghettos (Holocaust excerpt), Charles Reznikoff p. 69-71
i was super excited about this assignment. and when i turned in my kazillion page anthology, it glowed like a pile of gold. or i was glowing, pile of gold in my hands. there was something about putting all this work that i look up to, (all these poets doing things i aspire to do in their work, all those poems in one place) that made me hum… the marrow humming in my bones humming bound by ligaments humming wrapped in muscle humming blood moving through humming skin hugging it all together hugging. putting all this work in one place told/showed me things. mostly it was poetry doing things. the kinds of things i think poetry is here for doing. rather than try to go on like this, i’m including my imperfect introduction below… still a draft. but man, how good it felt to arrive at those last lines.
What does it mean for an internet resource many of us rely on for information on any range of topics from art/literary movements to chemical elements (AKA: Wikipedia) to not contain an entry for the term documentary poetry or documentary poetics?
I imagine the answer taking two forms: 1. It gives us the freedom to define the term/category for ourselves. 2. It perhaps reveals the underfamiliarity the reading public has with this category? Or, perhaps it reveals one of the things that’s most appealing to me about documentary poetics: that this category of work is not a movement and therefore not tied to a specific time period or geography.
Both this lack of Wikipedia defining and this lack of ties to a specific movement create a sense of openness, of possibility, which allows us to continue to interpret and define what the world of documentary poetry encompasses. In my interest in continuing to keep this definition open, I prefer to tell you what draws me to the poems I chose for this collection rather than tell you what documentary poetry is.
In this collection, you will find that, thematically, much of this work touches on death and violence in relation to colonialisms and systems of power. Many of these pieces operate from places of social and political critique and activism.
You will also find the essence of the document itself. In Jenny Holzer’s Redacted Paintings, she showcases American government documents regarding Guantanamo Bay (acquired through a process made possible through the freedom of information act) While Reznikoff.s Holocaust Poems consist solely of testimony lifted from the Nuremberg trials.
While some of the poets in this anthology work with acquired documents, others rely on their own practice of creating documenting and archiving as their artistic/poetic practice. For instance, in Candy Jernigan’s Found Dope, she works to map out the places and times where she discovered dope vials/containers while walking in her neighborhood.
One of the questions that comes into view while looking at / creating different forms of documentary poetry is how present or absent the lyrical I becomes in the work. In other forms of document (photojournalism, documentary film), it seems the more professional approach is to not include a sense of the photographer or film-maker, but to let the events, the places, the people bring the story/a truth to the viewer/reader. In this collection, you will find varying levels of presence of the poet in their work. But we can not deny, regardless of whether or not we use the word I or actually speak in our poems, we are always bringing ourselves into our work. (The photojournalist still holds the camera. The photojournalist still makes choices about whether to choose an image of their subject laughing or grimacing. The photojournalist still chooses which truth to reveal.)
My own interest in documentary poetics comes from a place of attempting to recontextualize information. A printmaker and collaborator of mine, Corinne Teed, might have said it best when she said talked about the compartmentalization response to news/information (you see it. you name it. you move on.) and how documentary poetry often interrupts that compartmentalization so that readers become witness and are given the space to emotively respond rather than shut down.
This is not to say that each of these poets/visual artists are coming from the same place I am, but it is one way of contextualizing this collection of work. Another lens from which view this work through might be a though that colleague K. Wayne Yang offered in a lecture on colonialisms recently: to refuse historical amnesia is to refuse to forget. It is to make the ghosts come back. It is to decide to live with them because we refuse to forget how (our) people died. This articulation is all too appropriate to this body of work, since documentation feels largely about not allowing ourselves to forget, or not allowing the world to forget us.