War, worship, and capital in Danniel Schoonebeek's Trébuchet
"Never let a serious crisis go to waste," retorted Rahm Emanuel, then-Chief of Staff, when questioned about the Obama administration's post-recession economic plans. What he meant at the time was that the 2008 crisis offered an opportunity to introduce deep, systemic changes to the status quo. Nearly a decade after the crisis, neoliberalism is stronger than ever. The curious refortification of neoliberalism is the subject of economic historian Philip Mirowski's Never Let A Serious Crisis Go To Waste (Verso, 2013), that takes its title from Emanuel's quip. Mirowski's thesis, in broad strokes, is that neoliberalism survived the financial crisis because it's no longer a school of thought that some adhere to more than others. Instead, we are all neoliberals now; neoliberalism is somehow within us. We inhabit "entrepreneurial" selves—as evidenced by our self-promotion and self-branding on social media. We instantiate the inherent logic of neoliberalism on a daily basis, unable to see our own positions inside of it.
Danniel Schoonebeek's explosive sophomore poetry collection, Trébuchet (University of Georgia Press, 2016), is a Mirowskian call to arms that challenges our contemporary American brand of capitalism and demands that we confront our own role in perpetuating it. Trébuchet defines itself in its prologue as "a book like the earth you might salt if you warred against you." Schoonebeek's vision is one in which we "war" against ourselves and destroy our means of production thereafter, as Rome sowed salt in the fields after conquering Carthage to render the following harvests unyielding. He communicates his vision in incendiary poems that range from curt lyrics evoking antiquity ("Archilochos," "Telémakos," "Chorus," "Trojan") to prose poems written in present-day legalese ("Poem with a Gun to Its Head"). The poems scour the page in formal novelty—four have gutters down the center, one is an erasure, one is a diagram, one is horizontally rendered, and the final poem, "Dark-Eyed Junco Was Her Name," takes place over 43 pages, many of which hold just a handful of words. Often, Schoonebeek grapples with contemporary politics head-on in poems such as "Glasnost," "Reaganomics," and "Neutrality." But these critiques also take place within the context of an abstract, universal "kingdom" about which the book tells a folktale. This kingdom perennially destroys itself, only to rebuild the elements of war and capital: "new monuments / new gasworks and watchtowers, / new barriers, new thrones, and new battlements."
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