Friday, March 24, 2017

On Eléna Rivera’s Scaffolding*

In the vast majority of poetry books, we encounter poems stripped of their scaffolding. Which is to say, the incredible labor that has gone into the writing—drafting, redrafting, editing, revising; not to mention reading, research, and living—has been removed and made invisible. An evidence of labor withdraws, leaving only the poem as artifact. In Eléna Rivera’s third full-length collection of poetry, Scaffolding, the poet offers a corrective to this trend by revealing (and reveling) in poetry’s living labor. Using dates, strike-throughs, and the indication of “versions” in her titling, the reader becomes privy to a poetic process synched with a process of life, which is to say, working, seeing, breathing, conversing, remembering, imbibing, and loving. My favorite among the poems are the versions, which offer variations on the same poem, distinguished only by dates. The poems are similar enough that we almost see them as ‘takes’—as in filmmaking or studio production. Interestingly, neither poem seems to be ‘better’ than the other. That one comes after the other does not imply ‘progress’. Rather, the poems are merely different—and all the more pleasing for being offered in succession, unfaithful copies of one another without original. Yet, there is something else that is unusual about this book, in terms of how it transgresses and challenges the norms of the ‘poetry book’. And this involves Scaffolding’s take on the sonnet, since all the poems in the book consist of 14 lines. While the poems assume the conventions of the form—they are often “epideictic,” to quote the Renaissance scholar Joel Fineman, inasmuch as they not only offer praise, but are about praise—they also challenge the sonnet tradition through a kind of amplification and displacement of this aboutness. Here, in Rivera’s poems, we have an insistent sense of the speaker’s distribution through and dispersal by a set of perceptions, sensations, and textual encounters. And it is through these distributions and dispersals that we realize the subject, too, is in fact scaffolded by those with whom they enter into contact. Like George Oppen before her, Rivera is an ethicist who wishes to reveal a phenomenology of relation—with things, with other beings, with people, and with a (real and imagined) locale. Scaffolding gets at the ground under our feet—a ground constituted not by being itself but by being-in-relation. It shows not just what stands, but that upon which it rests, the inextricable and at times reversible relations shared between ourselves and other beings—within the field of the poem and the world. Remaining in perpetual motion through Rivera’s careful attention to lineation with sparing uses of punctuation and spacing, we experience the world not as a static entity but an evolving series of particulars inviting our participation as well as our inculcation—a sense that we are responsible for the world’s making. Writing through a reduced vocabulary, however an expansive prosody, we hear the “self” largely as a construction of sound, stress, and idiom. Much in the way we make our way through the urban spaces they describe (the principal one being that of Morningside Heights, Manhattan), we read the poems reiteratively and ergodically. To tread and retread their pathways is to encounter the world with ever-refreshed attention and insight.
*read March 23rd, 2017 at the 92Y. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017


Since I read her book In the Wake: on Blackness and Being a few months ago I have been thinking a lot about Christina Sharpe’s terms “annotation” and “redaction,” which she develops in relation to representations of Black people (what Sharpe calls “Black portraiture”). After the current confrontation between Hannah Black et al and Schutz/Whitney Biennial curators, I am reminded of how powerful these terms of Sharpe’s are, which provide a corrective for the erasure of Black experience (represented by white dominated cultural production) and the appropriation of Black suffering (represented by white cultural production that takes as its point of departure Black experience/suffering). As Sharpe writes: “Annotation appears like that asterisk, which is itself an annotation mark, that marks the trans*formation into ontological blackness. As photographs of Black people circulate as portraits in a variety of publics, they are often accompanied by some sort of note or other metadata, whether that notation is in the photograph itself or as a response to a dehumaning photograph, in order that the image might travel with supplemental information that marks injury and, then, more than injury. We know that, as far as images of Black people are concerned, in their circulation they often don’t, in fact, do the imaging work that we expect of them. There are too many examples of this to name: from the videotaped beating of Rodney King in 1991, to the murder of Oscar Grant, to the brutal murders of twenty-one trans women in the United States as of November 2015, to all of the circulating images of and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, to the ongoing deaths in transatlantic, trans-Mediterranean, and trans-continental crossings extending across the Black global diaspora. This is true even though and when we find images of Black suffering in various publics framed in and as calls to action or calls to feel with and for. Most often these images function as a hail to the non Black person in the Althusserian sense. That is, these images work to confirm the status, location, and already held opinions of spectacular Black bodies whose meanings then remain unchanged. We have been reminded by [Saidiya] Hartman and many others that the repetition of the visual, discursive, state, and other quotidian and extraordinary cruel and unusual violence enacted on Black people does not lead to a cessation of violence, nor does it, across or within communities, lead primarily to sympathy or something like empathy. Such repetitions often work to solidify and make continuous the project of violence. With that knowledge in mind, what kind of ethical viewing and reading practices must we employ, now, in the face of these onslaughts? What might practices of Black annotation and redaction offer?” Following Sharpe’s invaluable theoretical insights and terms in the passage from which I just quoted, I wonder if we might not consider Black’s et al’s letter in which they call for the “destruction” of Dana Schutz’s painting (whether by the painter herself or the institution sponsoring its exhibition) as both a call for redaction (for the painting to be “edited” out of harm’s way) and annotation (for words to perform a work of redress in the presence or absence of image-making which appropriates black experience/suffering in order to sustain the production of white jouissance (i.e., “empathy”) before the hyper-visibility of the wounded/destroyed Black body). Or, as Aria Dean puts it in the second of two incisive responses to Black’s et al’s letter: “censorship is the stifling of protest not the shunning of power to cause harm.” I too understand Black’s et al’s letter not as a call for “censorship,” but rather as an (as yet misunderstood and unanswered) “shunning of power” via the demand that a work of art be withdrawn from an anti-Black scopic field in order to be replaced by (a lack of) images and (the supplementarity of) words which might not only redress and mitigate Black suffering, and specifically the original harm of Till’s murder and mutilation reenacted if not redoubled by Schutz’s and the curators’ decision to show Open Casket, but the an/original harm of the destruction of Till’s visage/person, which, as Fred Moten writes in his essay “Black Mo’nin’,” demands that the viewer-listener-witness produce a response (what Moten calls interchangeably a “cut” and an “augmentation,” and which reveals itself viscerally through an involuntary turning away of the gaze) to the ethical-political performance of the showing of Till’s body to the world by his mother and the mass reproduction of this showing by an international media. Following the profound insights of Sharpe/Moten (articulated long before the Open Casket “controversy”), I concur with the call to destroy Schutz’s painting—to withdraw it from sight, if not from existence—as a ethical-political-aesthetic response to institutionalized anti-Black violence which the redaction (by means of the destruction of the painting) might enact.

*originally posted at Facebook, 3/22/2017


Friday, March 17, 2017

On Monuments and the Monumental

On Monuments and the Monumental
Roundtable Talk

Saturday, March 25

In response to the premiere of [Kathy Westwater's] “Anywhere” this roundtable talk takes up the questions: What is a monument? How is one made or created? Why? What function do they serve for us individually and societally? And how do we identify and experience monuments and the monumental? With Allie Tepper, Rebecca O. Johnson, Thom Donovan, and Kathy Westwater.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017


Composed between 2009-2012, Thom Donovan’s Withdrawn engages a social and political landscape through a densely speculative and intertextual lyricism. Proceeding through dedication and interlocution, the poems are ones of encounter (with art works, with specific individuals and communities, with social configurations and political events) where friendship, sociality, and politics interarticulate one another. Not unlike Arthur Rimbaud’s poetry in relation to the Paris Commune of 1871, the poems in the second half of the book write through the Occupy movement, resulting not so much in ‘Occupoems’ as meditations on a collective enunciation in the midst of its emergence. These poems might be said to be “meta-political” (or “meta-social”) inasmuch as they are reflections on the potential for (as well as the failure of) sociopolitical subjects to come into being. Through the proper name, others are called into urgent relation, an expression of both the actual (the world as it is) and the prefigural (the world as one would want it to be). In its non-discursive proclivities, poetry withdraws from meaning, taking flight into prosody (stress, sonority, noise) to record a politics without a proper locus—anterior, preposterior, post-expectant.

Excerpts from Withdrawn: a Discourse (Shifter 23):

Let’s remember that singing is the most complete of the physical endeavors, it unites body and soul like nothing else—this is why it started on the fields, there, where the spirit evaporates under the fusion of the temperature of the air and the pain of the body, and in the interstices, a strange feel of freedom takes place. What keeps Thom’s world convincing is his profound conviction that “the possible doesn’t end with words”. But we have words (most often, nothing else) and we use them, some of us, capable of doing it, create songs, “songs the object, and songs the subject”, and ripples are sent, going the goddess knows where!

—Etel Adnan

I still don’t know how to talk about Withdrawn, but I want to say that it mystically catches us “Dreaming when we cannot see / Waking from the archive again.” That it is here Thom’s complicated we that itself is the archive: we, unaddressable, in an inverted state of apocalyptic address. We, the bodies in whom all speaking is dispersed. In the face of a total vacuum of meaning, Withdrawn asks, “Who will resurrect / What we could not feel / The first time?” Bearing witness to “The way this tear in the eye / Becomes commodity,” it begins to propose the structures of a sadness beyond the reach of commodity. To “The mind bludgeoned / By a force without grace,” it offers the specter of a world where the relationship between grace and force has been reversed.
—Ian Dreiblatt

How do we orient ourselves, or fail to orient ourselves, in a moving and ever-changing surround? What are the conditions that withdraw us from any grasp of the society in which we live? How to find a pathway that leads forward, and not back, or worse, around in circles? These questions gripped me physically last week, behind the wheel. And I find myself asking them once again today, while reading Thom Donovan’s book of poems, entitled Withdrawn—a book in which I am somehow encrypted, and which I perceive as a subjective refraction of the experience of an entire political generation, those who traversed the Occupy movement. Faced with the demand to respond to the book, I wonder about the “post-expectant” moment in which Thom’s feeling of self now seems to be situated.
—Brian Holmes

Y’all miss each other, together, in the emergency. Gon’ sit in with y’all so we can miss each other at practice. Let’s practice missing each other, together, until, together, we don’t miss each no more. Then we just together. We just get together, then. It’s like we just finally get our shit together. Love just interinanimates our souls in communal luxury. We all we ever wanted.
—Fred Moten

With cover art by Harris Johnson.

Support Compline by preordering Withdrawn and receive the book early at 20% off the cover price, plus free shipping!

Preorder Withdrawn here!

Thanks for your support!
Michael Cross

2556 Frances Street
Oakland, CA 94601

Thursday, February 16, 2017

For Opacity: Visceral Poetics Now

"We clamor for the right to opacity for everyone."
- Édouard Glissant, "For Opacity" (tr. Betsy Wing)

A symposium that continues the collective work of Poetics of Healing and takes Eleni Stecopoulos's Visceral Poetics (ON Contemporary Practice, 2016) as a point of departure for new writing & dialogue to treat these times. Readings & performances may engage opacity & transparency; anti-imperial & anti-colonial poetics; "the chronic syndrome of the West"; healing & somatic practices; mother tongues & mongrel tongues; otherness & immigrant poetics; the writing of Antonin Artaud, Édouard Glissant & others. 

Hosted by: Stecopoulos & Thom Donovan, co-editor of ON Contemporary Practice for The Poetry Project.

Appearances by: Cornelia Barber, Charles Bernstein, Melissa Buzzeo, Declan Gould, Jeanne Heuving, Madhu Kaza, Robert Kocik, Liz Latty, Andrew Levy, Sean Labrador y Manzano, EJ McAdams, Marissa Perel, Kristin Prevallet, George Quasha & Emji Spero.

Statements or video by: Will Alexander, Brenda Iijima, Mg Roberts & TBA.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Resist Much / Obey Little

Inaugural Poems to the Resistance
Edited by Michael Boughn, John Bradley, Brenda Cardenas, Lynne DeSilva-Johnson,  Kass Fleisher, Roberto Harrison, Kent Johnson, Andrew Levy, Nathaniel Mackey, Ruben Medina, Philip Metres, Julie Patton, Margaret Randall, Michael Rothenberg, Chris Stroffolino, Anne Waldman, Marjorie Welish, Tyrone Williams

ISBN 978-1-944682-32-3       740 pages      $30.00

we can’t build a wall. we can only spout pure water again and again and drown his lies.
         Eileen Myles

Racism, xenophobia, misogyny and their related malaises are to the U.S. what whiskey is to an alcoholic. The current occupant of the White House won the election yipping, against possible recovery, “Drinks are on me!” The rich, multitudinous voices in this anthology variously call for—having embarked on—the hard work of sobriety, sanity.
         Nathaniel Mackey

Poets are summoned to a stronger imagination of language and humanity in a time of new and radical Weathers. White House Inc. is the last gasp of the dying Confederacy, but its spectacle is dangerous and addictive so hold onto your mind. Fascism loves distraction. Keep the world safe for poetry. Open the book of love and resistance. Don't tarry!
         Anne Waldman

Monday, February 13, 2017

This Now, More Than Ever

This Now, More Than Ever 
Feb 9 – Mar 3, 2017 
SFU Gallery 

EVENT: Reading, Dialogue, Coffee with Steve Collis, Karine Ng/Jayce Salloum, Jerry Zaslove 
SAT Feb 18, 2017, 1PM 
SFU Gallery 

Amir Atouani / Awa Dembele-Yeno / Léa Incorvaia / Mico Mazza, Lorna Brown, Clint Burnham, Adrienne Callander / Neil Callander, Dana Claxton, Brady Cranfield / Jamie Hilder, Thom Donovan, Samir Gandesha, Rosemary Heather, Antonia Hirsch, Am Johal, John O’Brian / Marina Roy, Marianne Nicolson, Karine Ng / Jayce Salloum, Genevieve Robertson, Carol Sawyer, Michael Turner, Althea Thauberger, Kika Thorne, Peter von Tiesenhausen, Urban Subjects, Tania Willard, and Jerry Zaslove, among others. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

EP 83 RADIO 11.8.16

In the wake of an election that solidified our country’s many disconnects, we invited our authors to share their responses to the hatred triggered by Trump.
The intention of this project is two-part: (1) to create a time capsule for our gut reactions to this political season, a collection we can return to when we feel complacency or forgetfulness settling; (2) to make use of the unique capacities and freedoms of the essay to explore the dichotomies of bipartisanship, and to integrate personal responses with societal facts.
with Susanne Paola Antonetta, Diana Arterian, Dan Beachy-Quick, Steve BensonLaynie BrowneJulie CarrNicole CooleyMatthew CoopermanJennifer Kwon DobbsThom DonovanLeora FridmanAnna Gurton-Wachter, Joseph Harrington, H.L. Hix, Aby Kaupang CoopermanJH PhrydasBt ShawJessica Smith, Sasha Steensen, Sophia TerazawaTony Trigilio, and Nicole Walker

Friday, January 20, 2017

"Post-recognition" and art questionnaire

—How have and do artists position themselves beyond recognition?
—Does the artist have a privileged role to play in seeking a society beyond the recognition of the State?
—In what practical ways do artists function beyond the State: e.g., through what daily economic, social, and extra/legislative practices and modalities?
—How do the formal qualities and content of art works reflect the problem of post/recognition?
—Is there an aesthetics of “direct action” and extra-legal political actions that intersects with the problems and questions of aesthetic discourse?
—Inasmuch as State recognition relies on the concomitant recognition of the marketplace (capital) and the university, how might artists exist without currently dominant markets and liberal institutions?
—Should art have a different social function than it currently maintains and/or aspires to? 
—Can strategies that we associate with non-Statist political blocs and subjectivities—e.g., mutual aide, group self-determination and governance, practices of everyday resistance and collective insurgency—be pursued through an art practice and/or aesthetic discourse?
—To what extent is art history/contemporary aesthetic discourse categorically embroiled with recognition politics, thus beholden to political formations and subjective enunciations determined by the politics of the Neo/liberal State?

Monday, January 02, 2017

from The Camp (or Camp Amerika)

The camp extends everywhere
comprising the exceptional jouissance

of suffering’s hyper-visibility, and general
dishonorment, and natal alienation

and gratuitous violence, but also en-
compassing what we do everyday

without interruption
                                    while our wills

to this public sentiment called progress
and participation and democracy

survive the president being cooler than
any who preceded him, this coolness 

being precisely what should have worried us
while I.C.E. was being built-up.

The camp is a function of constitutionality
and not giving a fuck really except when

it concerns us to do so.
                                    It is otherwise un-

concerned with freedom, except the freedom
to not be fucked with by others and to critique

identity selectively (Locke 101).
It views our freedom in other words negatively,

freedom being the denial of others' capacity to
fuck with us but it also views our freedom

                 retaining notions such as universal

human rights and the public sphere when
we know quite well (or we only pretend not to)

whose interests these conceptions serve and
who gets excluded by the practice of law.

Like the Black Codes did not endure, or the
flesh, or we did not know exactly where the

detainees were interned,
                                      though they transmit no

sound and how can you listen anyway to some-
thing no one wants to hear because it would take

more than ears to hear it,
                                        by which I mean, one

would have to act in the world as though they
had registered social death as fundamental, as

though they had ears with which to see the musique
concrete of forced feeding.

As if one’s conscience itself were on mute—that’s
what it feels like to live in the camp which is

everywhere and yet no place in particular,
sensing only our differential places within it,

distinguished by the whiteness of mobility, and

wealth, and history—by the capacity of art, of poesy.