(Originally published on the Action Books blog)
Before I talk about visionary poetics, as per the title, let me begin “elsewhere”—in which I find myself curious if non-Western and non-modern conceptualizations of the role of the poet/artist have anything to say to the poets/artists among us as we face the world today.
With all that has beset us recently, it appears that our world is collapsing. Collectively, we are experiencing confusion, anxiety, grief, uncertainty, shock, and waves of uncategorizable emotions. What is clear is that the linearities and meanings that had held the world together have been collapsing one after the other.
In such a scenario, the gesturing towards non-Western and non-modern frameworks and formulations is not a superficial romanticizing or fetishizing one. It embodies a desire sparked by the recognition that the links that make up “now” are broken: to call back what has been split off.
The scissions are the result of specific, historical encounters around the globe. They are born in modernity/coloniality. Western modernity, as a normative system limiting realities and representations, contrives the illusion that ways of being from other genealogies of space and time are unsound or at best unfashionable and exotic. Not only is the reality it frames incomplete, its frameworks also disempower trajectories that have their origin elsewhere.
A way of calling back wholeness is to restore and resignify the practices and configurations modern colonial matrices of power have sought to displace. We dialog with the pasts—with biological, cultural, and spiritual ancestors—with nature and the nonhuman—with the space between, the interrelational—with locations other than androcentrism, heteropatriarchy, and Western modernity—with mother-lineages and the regenerative spiral—to create new paradigms of healing and synthesis. This is how we conjure decolonial futures.
When we extend our listening into the zones of fracture, into the seemingly irrelevant or incongruous, we prioritize relationality with that which is gathered in the interconnected, fluid, untamable, polysemous pneuma.
A place where the waters of the past, present, and future meet. A place of paradoxes. Known also to the shapeshifters and shadow-seers—the visionaries of the times—those who hold/have held the roles of witches, shamans, brujas--
(Here we are, trying to access other language-worlds into English. It is okay that some things fall between languages. If we gave English the job of becoming the lingua franca for the world, we must take it back.)
(And, since I too feel my way into the world through English often, let me just say: the meanings that are easiest to make will stick, viscous-like, to language that trickles through the ports of mass availability. Then, to peer into a different world, we must make possible uncommon language, to reveal what is not common.)
This place that—for sure—poets-artists have known as Art.
I guess what I am trying to say is that if reality is a more heterogenous place than modernity/coloniality has allowed us to conceive of, then poets and artists—whose job it is to evoke otherness—have an important role to play in envisioning futures.
For, the futures that are arriving will not be like anything we have seen before. They are emerging from a different paradigm—one in which the very structures of social relations are organized to center—in the words of Irene Lara— “well-being and connection within oneself and in relationship to other people and the earth as a whole.” One in which honoring of differences becomes a key invitation into inclusion.
Under the logic of capitalism, art and literary worlds end up reinforcing principles of exclusion and scarcity. Artists and poets are pushed to/turn to the margins for a space they deem unrestricted by capitalism.
The new visionary paradigm we are calling forth asks that poets and artists retrieve themselves from marginality. That, they call themselves back into belonging. Lure themselves away from the self-interested capitalistic call of redundancy and meaninglessness. If the world is conceived as alive and filled with intentionality, the poets and artists co-imagining it (in participatory worldviews: bringing it forth) will not be confined to the margins. In such an understanding of the world, art is not art’s own business—it has something to do with a place, a community—and how each self grows into its unique expression.
This understanding of the poet and the artist as a link—as a point of connection—is what we need to relearn from nonmodern and non-Western conceptualizations of the poet and artist. How much of our own knowing of connection (regeneration) did we forget because of Western modernity’s insistence on rational linearity and disenfranchisement?
When we remember so as to transform, that which is stagnant cannot remain so.
And thus, like the fore-figures who shaped seeing—into pasts and futures—through language—who perhaps did not turn away from the task and the risk of healing—I want us to lean into the risk of claiming poetry and art as necessary, so as to carve the visionary time-spaces into this present. Art can contain messages. But, like an ecological being/eros, art cannot be socially responsible. It is the horizon of possibilities. The message is the place the future may be heading. We activate the future when we make art.
Not from hope, but from obduracy, as a responsibility. Because we are here and now.
For poets, this is not about putting our writing through finishing school, or sanding out the rough parts, or making it right—but a more complex relationship with language and with the imagination. I am thinking of the striking words of Gerald Vizenor as he conceptualizes Native survivance: "I write to creation not closure."
Poets and artists must make art because we are good at experimentation. We are good at play.
It is time to find what lies beyond refusal, and activate it.
I am realizing I need to learn to talk about my creative work better. Until now, I have mostly resisted talking "about" a poem or sequence, because what is happening in it—what has come through during the process/stages of writing—as per my sensing feels far more entangled with mystery than I want to describe. Silence then is a way to protect the space of the poem or sequence instead of sprinkling a dash of the mundane all over it.
But perhaps in this the disservice I do to the work? By not inviting into the work people whose engagement would enrich the creative work?
Sometimes, communities of practice help one make greater sense of the work by bringing their receiving of it into its cauldron—not to fill the silence around the work, but as true collaboration.
I have been feeling the need to surround myself with more practitioners who place value on what I have grown to care for, so that such a collaboration can happen organically and deliberately, through shared vision, making space for the multiple ways in which emergence and expression interact.
Rightminded collective space counter the algorithm of loneliness and, even more significantly, create synergies where reality itself can be recontoured through the connections generated.
Tarkiib Collective is such a collective space. A salon for writers and artists who believe something important happens in relationship with the sacred, and that this is an integral part of presenting—through our work and practice—transformational alternatives to the systems, structures, and narratives that further inequality and persecution.
If it calls you, I would love to hear from you.
"The poem always knows so much more than I do." - Marie Howe
I was hearing Marie Howe talk as part of the Collective Trauma Summit 2020 which has done something remarkable - invited poets to be a part of the conversation around trauma and healing.
Howe said what I had been thinking about earlier this morning, as I drafted and revised a long poem about grief and air. The poem always knows. Although it may take time for the poem's knowing to arrive fully. That is okay. Writing, reading, being with poetry is not about meeting any markers of productivity! It is about the darting silver flicker that inhabits the waters of anti-capitalism: what has not been captured, or - what has been liberated with care and struggle and stubbornness. That which is beyond an estimate.