I find the idea that we write alone laughable, even egotistical. Poetry is a palimpsest that has been endlessly rewritten—it’s a social space we share with others.
We work too hard
We’re too tired
to fall in love.
Therefore we must
overthrow the government.
We work too hard
We’re too tired
to overthrow the government.
Therefore we must
fall in love.
— Rod Smith
The next day Koki and Demented Panda returned to the small plot of land. They sat together in the smoldering ash and raw sewage that their spells and spills and flesh-guns had brought about, surveying the wreckage. They had walked to the small plot of land from their homes in their two different cities to be together, not together in their separateness, but together, really together.
They had first come to the small plot of land so as to feel the collective possibility of two people coming together and writing with one hand. And they came to it now with the same desire, even though they had ongoing trouble in their coming together. Their collaboration was clearly not working and had not been working from the very beginning.
They had fought a lot about this, how to get themselves out of what they had taken to calling the impasse, which was their inability to figure out why they continued to write poetry in a time when poetry seemed not to matter, and when their attempts to collaborate with one or maybe two or maybe four hands in order to break through this impasse continued to fail. They had said to each other that they didn’t want to write any more poems that demonstrated their adept use of irony and book smarts to communicate their knowing superiority to capitalism. And they didn’t want to write any more poems that narrated their pseudoedgy sexual exploits in a way to suggest that such exploits were somehow in and of themselves political. And they didn’t want to write any more poems that made people feel sad or guilty or go oh no. But still, it was hard for them to figure out what to do with poetry in a time when 19.5 acres were required to sustain their first-world lifestyles, not to mention that within the 19.5 acres were the deaths and devastation from the mining, oil, natural gas, and nuclear industries, the deaths and torture from the policies of their government, the rising acidity of the ocean, the effects of climate change on populations without access to the equivalent of 19.5 acres of resources. And rather than provoking in them the desire to write more poems, this sense of futility, further aggravating their anger and shame, instead infected them, manifesting in all variety of ailments and effects. As a result, they would begin to tremble and shake, minuscule tremors rippling out from their enteric nervous systems and through the fibers in their organ meat, or coursing through their bloodstream and their compromised immune systems and out into the world beyond their bodies, the pent-up frustration and rage slowly seeping out of them, awkwardly, publicly, ineffectually.
And so there they were, back on the small plot of land and they decided that, as good Bay Area poets, they would of course attempt to enter into a trance state together and through this trance they hoped they might move from the places of worry and overthinking in their birdbrains and panda skulls to some kind of right proper political thinking and feeling and action, move beyond the many impasses that so defined them, defined their relationships with others, defined their lives as poets.
They had brought their yoga mats with them and so they lay down on their mats and closed their eyes and breathed in all that was there, the smoky air, the charred plastics and the metals, the sewage and the stink, but also the faint smells of rosemary and the wet sidewalk, and the sweet, metallic gasoline fumes, all of it there in the soft breeze that ever-so-lightly tickled the hairs on Demented Panda’s paws and ever-so-gently ruffled Koki’s feathers. As they lay there, eyes closed, together and yet not touching, they heard the cars continue to drive by, the heavy rail public rapid transit system careening through, people continuing to walk by on their way to more hospitable places, pushing strollers or walking their dogs or talking on their cellphones. There on their yoga mats, Demented Panda and Koki took deep breaths and noticed their breastplates rising and falling as they relaxed their bodies into the ground. And with each breath, they dropped into being relaxed, bright, and natural, dropped into being with the small plot of land, with all its still-smoldering trash and rot as well as its regenerative energies and systems. As they became increasingly relaxed, bright, and natural, they counted the cars as they heard them drive by, not as bits of data but as bodily felt. And they heard the high-pitched screeching of the heavy rail public rapid transit system careening through, not as a source of anxiety but as something simply there, a melodic fact that made their arms and legs become even more relaxed. And they tuned into each person as they walked by, noticed how all of them were breathing in and out just as they were breathing in and out. And eventually they began to think about how they were a part of the cars and the heavy rail public rapid transit system and the people walking by and the kids in strollers and dogs on leashes and people on the other sides of the cellphone conversations as much as they were a part of themselves and of each other.
And though they also knew burning, knew crumpled bags of Frito-Lay corn chips drifting through the air, knew sacks pulled out of one’s pants or pulled down over one’s head, knew bending their torsos at 90-degree angles, knew holding out their arms to be strength tested, and though they knew desire, raw and furious, knew how to put one finger in the cold gin and swirl the ice cubes while putting another finger in the warm soup to check for taste while using yet one more finger to rub vigorously back and forth and then push Send, right then all they needed to know was this breathing. And though they could feel resistance and skepticism and doubt inside themselves as they thought about their collaboration and how much of it was done in isolation from some greater collective purpose, or how it often seemed so focused on the I, I, I of their individual selves and their self-styled pseudoheroic lifestyles, seemed so focused on the I, I, I of yet more autobiography, memoir, bourgeois individualist lyricism, and North American navel-gazing, and though their shame and embarrassment at this threatened to only refortify the impasses they’d pledged to overcome, right then all they needed to know was this breathing.
And though, as a potential side effect of their working together in this way, they might very well later find themselves renally excreting 60 percent of the collaboration, with the additional 40 percent excreted in their feces, nonetheless when they got up from collaborating, they would remember to get up slowly to minimize falls, and that would be okay, as indeed they then mindfully stood up and brushed themselves off, still breathing deeply, feeling now bright and fevered, buzzing for the hive, for ever-broader interactions and barters, ever-more lateral routes to touching and adjacency, attached by suckers to each other, and ready now to move through the world with a tenfold increase in interest in it.
And so then they turned to each other in their trance state and to each other that was not them, in whatever bodies or genders they had at that moment, with feet spread slightly wider than their shoulders and pressed firmly into the ground, nostrils flaring and upper lips slightly snarled, they breathed even more deeply and proclaimed, to each other and to each other other and to all the willing monsters, to the friends and lovers and exlovers and frenemies, some at the bar and some at the staff meeting, some in the streets and some on the organizing committees, to the crooked and the bent, the oversexed and the underemployed, to the gin-soaked cynics and the beautiful losers, to the viruses and the parasites thriving within them, and with ever-growing intensity to the gathering hive buzzing there now amidst the glitter and ash, they spoke as one and declared, with tenfold determination, together and to each other, let us come together now, let’s now let’s, let us show the animal we all have within us, the one that bucks for peace and fucking, and then let that provoke us to brandish our pirate flags and set to it. Let’s clear the fields of all that hinders and hounds us, declare all contracts made in our name but without our consent null and void and charter illicit transport for all those who crave elsewhere and otherwise. What comes out of us comes out of all of us, which is why we want to dance in the common sluice without shame or hesitation, for we have wasps planted in us and want together to grow monstrous side branches that topple the stalk of you and us, so we might together bend the sound of poems and anti-poems beyond the fenced horizon, and let us sing to those who’ve yet to join us, hold high your bandaged wrists and ankles and we will show you our boils and blisters in sympathy and solidarity, in mutual recognition and misrecognition and in mutating symbiosis. And those whom we’ve yet to join, that larger us that we hope will gather two mediocre yet willing poets into its folds, sing to us, c’mon feel the noise, so that our chakras might resonate in the often fraught and contradictory yet purposeful ache of our numbers, so we might hold high our saddle-stitched chapbooks and show you our imitation-leather chaps, made from the repurposed vinyl of a thousand punk-rock LPs, framing our beatific multi-generational and diversely gravitational asses for consensual fondling or tickling or playful spanking. And from this call-and-response we will f ind ourselves abuzz with a potency that fills the air with the scent of sex and rutting, of skin-sap and untold side effects. Look, there are bears on the balconies, lapping honey off the rims of their whiskey glasses, so let’s raise our paws and wings and whoop and whistle freely with them until those more attuned to the tremors within our collective flesh-heat begin to feverishly exclaim, here come the horses, let us go out to get the giddyup, go out and meet the push-back with the head-on fortitude of the you and the we in this growing us, with nothing but poems and lust on our lips, declaring passion, fury, and fight. And we will insist that these poems, those that pun on the word capitalism and those that celebrate domestic love as labor worth slant-rhyming for, those that seem to celebrate with whatever degree of irony our daily lives and lacks, and those that value the kinds of prosodic craft that one can only be trained in at the pricey Master of Flatulent Arts programs, those that construct elaborate sociopolitical walls to bang one’s head against and gather up the resulting splinters and sparks into fragmented sound poems, and those that collect the thick idiolects of Internet culture and from this compost heap harvest uncanny confessionalisms, we will take these and all other poems inside us. We will tear them into a thousand tiny shreds and then eat those shreds and shit them out and from the excrement make new poems or anti-poems. Right now, we are pouring the whiskeys to wash them down with while we then prepare ourselves to receive the riches from your lovely assholes, regardless of age or cleanliness, since as we love you all we are ready to get down in it, for the pleasures to be found in the rich, heady aromas of shit and stink and poetry and love are the pleasures that will fuel any revolt worth getting on our knees for. And if you’d rather take the poems and roll joints filled with medicinal marijuana and other herbal remedies, then fine, we will commence with baking fair-trade vegan munchies while reminding the legume intolerant among us to beware the soy-based inks used to print our poems on the 100 percent-recycled postconsumer waste paper, ’cuz that’s how we roll. At the very least we will be happy soldiers to know that poetry might yet have helped nourish entire regiments of lovers, poems in the lungs and guts, knowing that at least in the bodies of those of us willing to masticate and swallow, inhale and ingest, somehow poetry will have mattered. And if a fungus appears, we will feed it freshly cut plant material and keep it free from mold and from that make special structures that we might call gongylidia and upon these cultivate a bacterium that grows on us and grows on you and secretes chemicals that will seep out of our pores and holes, which we will then collect in small tinctures to use as preemptive remedies against the coming crackdowns. And yes, the crackdowns are coming, and as we’ve wet our whistles and tuned our chakras and written the show tunes, let’s get on with goddamn show. When they send in the wolves, we will join the wolves and return with teeth sharper and blood hotter. And when they slice off our tentacles, we will mutate, each sucker writhing outward in tenfold directions. And then after we grow another tentacle, and cultivate yet more fungus. Do not doubt for a moment that we will join the colts and blend in with the galloping menagerie of you horses and riders, you poets and pirates, you masked brigades and brass-band misfits, you feral cats and you feral grad students. So let’s get to it together and clear the streets of cars and billboards and Christmas lights and past-due-bill notices, discovering in every intersection a dance floor, pulsing with unleashed beats and feedback loops of crooked laughter, chicka-chicka-chicken- ha-ha, chicka-chicken-ha, in harmony or disharmony, from each according to their skillz and to each according to their booty. All this with hunger in our hips, such palpable lust not for bodies but for together and for whatever might yet quiver beyond the law. And if we need to stop and catch our breath, because comrades, some of us are creaky in the knees and cranky in the brain meat and riddled with energy-sucking viruses and shy to be seen experiencing even a brief moment of shame-free and seemingly directionless joy since we tend to tell ourselves that despite all this we will probably still end up back in our offices, alone and in isolation, banging our heads on our desks, even then, as we taste the doubt and cynicism creeping up the back of our dried-out throats, we hope there will be strangers among us who will still, despite our bad breath and our sagging bellies, our genital cheese and graying pubes, touch us lightly from behind and then turn us around and kiss us passionately but without imposition, with or without eye contact, the saliva on our tongues transmitting surplus electrolytes and pheromones, recharging us for the fight. For when they pen us in the enclosures, we will need to have already become a coven of women, a coven that includes those with penises and those with cunts and those with both, who will have begun to dismantle the blockades and the fences, salvaging the metals to later meld into slugs to get into the public pay-toilets, because while what women working together can accomplish is unlimited, our bladders are not, and pants down in the rise up isn’t only for sexy time. And through all of this we will have been holding hands together and refusing, even though we might realize we are doomed to have failed for many centuries to come, still we want to come together and do this, again and again, just as yes, we write again and again another poem full of anarchist one-liners. And when we see the yellow-sick wastewater leaking through the cracks and holes in the reinforced concrete bunker walls, we will stick out our thumbs not to plug the holes but to use our talon claws, freshly manicured in a worker-owned avant-garde salon, to scrape and tear at the cracks, screeching in fake witch voices, let it come down, let it come down. Thusly woman-identified, with numbers at the ready, we will collect the overflow and after using it to freshen our slits and creases, toiling and troubling, we will agitate and spit it back, boiling and bubbling. And we will share the pain when it comes, for it will come, even as it comes unevenly and more forcefully upon some more than others, and we will let this so-called brain disorder they want to cure us of, the one that provokes us to hit authority figures and show up late for meetings, multiply in our mucous membranes and from there pass through each writhing sucker, spitting ink and oozing cold jelly, nerve-charged contact jam spread all over our hot buns of steely resolve, working our core strength at the ice-rink and saying to one another, dayum, let’s hook up and overthrow the government. And then, reeking of sex and machine grease and full of each other’s cold jellies, we will wipe our hands over the sweat-stained yoga mats and make of our fluids and your skin and your fluids and our skin the most powerful of potions, the musk of multitudes, and with our tongues in your armpits or lightly touching your backs we will push onward, chanting, this is what poetry looks like, this is what poetry feels like, this is what poetry smells like. We want to take all the forms and whimsies and all the meters and stanzas and all the calls for revolution and love and gargle and spit with them and as we spit let us likewise secrete a mucus from tiny glands on our back that will feed the bacteria from the fungus and from that make a fleece-like covering on our back to provide us a degree of insulation so we can rest our tail end near the hydrothermal vents of their thoughts which spurt out at 176 degrees. And yes, we very well might have gas, nausea, and vomiting; we might be shaking the entire time; we might have concentration problems, joint pain, loss of appetite, neck pain, sinus infection, and sensitivity to the sun; might have nipple discharge, breast swelling, or primary malignant breast neoplasm; and yes we might have an increased incidence of malformation, such as a short tail or short body or vertebral disorganization; and we might display bizarre behavior, agitation, or depersonalization, and complex behaviors such as “sleep driving” after ingestion of a sedative-hypnotic. But nonetheless, despite such side effects and the constant struggles to overcome them, do not doubt for a moment that we will stick chickens in our cunts with you and walk without hesitation or shame out of 24-hour grocery stores to the concrete parking lots where we will all eat together with friends and children and the grocery store baggers and all the stray animals drawn by the scent of liberated meat marinated in the sweet tang of pirate pussy, even as the vegetarians among us might playfully admonish the cuntbasters and chicken-tasters by applying parking-lot weed garnishes to our ears and buttocks and overturning grocery carts upon themselves to perform agitprop street theater reenactments of the conditions at industrial poultry farms. And if meanwhile we allow ourselves to be seduced into separating ourselves from each other via a thousand distractions and enticements, remind us to continue to travel together in a cloud as if we are the companions of the always-moving shark, and let us suck against sharkskin and eat shark feces. And if they try to take forms of knowledge from us, the trans-species companionship and herbal cures and homegrown kombucha and hypnotherapy scripts and the passwords to online membership in the Radical Riot Porn collective and our favorite pharmaceutical cocktail recipes, they will have to come take them from the small sacks hidden beneath the uniforms they make us wear, the dresses, the petticoats, the stockings, the girdles, the garters, the Spanx, the four-inch heels that push out our butts and jut out our breasts. And when they have offered us free downloads of movies in which characters are unable to connect because they are too depressed and their depression makes them unable to share anything with anyone, then despite the fact that some of us might find ourselves humming along with the demographically appropriate soundtrack of such entertainments, we want to remember that we can get up and wander out and instead lend our energies to the gigantic productions being rehearsed right outside our windows, preenactments of general strikes yet to come, with hundreds of thousands of participants who refuse to pay for art and refuse to be paid for art but still demand to make and experience art, and let us make of the collective labor and solidarity that will have to have been sweated out in the often and inevitably disharmonious entanglements a model for revolutionary methods of falling in love. And when they tell us to just calm down and have a good time, let us surprise even ourselves as we enjoy our guilt and complicity so much that as we cum we whisper into your ears our astronomical resource-usage statistics, 19.5 acres, 19.5 acres, 19.5 acres. Let this fucking happen not just in the man-and-woman doggy-style used in the “Fuck for the heir Puppy Bear!” action but also in the various woman-and-woman and man-and-man styles and trans-and-man and trans-and-woman styles and trans-and-trans styles and also in numerous other combinations, such as the Lucky Pierre–style so beloved by poets thanks to Frank O’Hara. And let us do this with you free of harassment and gender- normative narratives so that if you say, no, I prefer not to, we will listen, and if we say, no, we prefer not to, we will listen, just as if you say, let this arousal lead us to the new techniques we will also listen and if all are game we will writhe furiously from these positions. And we will have no numbers trouble regarding the equitable distribution of orgasms among all the genders and all the critters, while at the same time reminding each other with our actions and our attentions that while our orgasms may be robust and bountiful we will feel equally loved and replenished by acts of care, wit, and the soft caressing of skin and pelt, just as we will have to have found new words for cumming as we rewire our erogenous circuits such that we find sexual bliss with works of art. That’s right, we want art that makes us wet and driven, driven to flail and whelp and court failure in our impulse to action, again and again, failing with ever more grace and cunning, until futility becomes the magic that when dissolved beneath the tongue of all those ready to bark leads to ever more fruitful inquiries, for our bodies are bored by answers, which is why we wish to striate and rejuvenate the questions, even if in our questioning some of us are led to then ask how might we refuse this, refuse all of this. But know that we will be there with you, still, with your refusal, with our refusal. And if your refusal demands seemingly senseless acts of art, we will rush to the nearest public plazas and help turn over the police cars out front, rock them with a back-and-forth motion and then when overturned we will mount and simulate parodic acts of lovemaking with you, the rushers and rockers among us will do this together because it takes five or six, lovers or not, to overturn a police car, sometimes seven if its tank is still full of not-yet-ignited gasoline distilled from the finest international oil. Regardless, such acts can’t be done alone or in isolation, just as it is often difficult to pull the needles out alone or in isolation or to build a giant worker-run counter-factory made of Legos amid the roller coaster and other giant amusement rides in the central court of the Mall of America, fitting plastic piece into plastic piece in order to construct a gigantic Constructivist fantasia of interlocking reds and blacks, within which artists and lovers can hide in plain sight, stealing power from the Gap on the second floor and using crumbs from the food court to feed the hopeful monsters training for what will have become a new breed of revolutionary lovemaking mall rats, fueled by Orange Julius and the hive-buzz of fluorescent lighting, scurrying into the night armed with erect and pulsing genitalia and brains on permanent holiday sale, shouting, we are smashing up the present because we come from the future and cannot run hot and wild without having released the colts. We want to have done this with you. To have carried babies inside us to manifold protests and actions, and after they come out, to have held them fast to us as we eat chicken with the grocery store baggers, our breasts full of milk, and to let anyone who wants to suck at them, as the chemicals we produce will provide healthy and complementary amino acids to our feasting, strengthening the immune system for the viruses to come, with or without the feelings of comfort or excitability on the giving or receiving ends, and if whether on the giving or on the receiving end of such suckling any one of us begin to blush from embarrassment, out of fear that such exchanges might be reenacting clichéd and problematic tropes of idealized motherhood or the sexualizing of adult nursing or the exploited domestic and reproductive labor of child-rearing women or the gratuitous titillations of public breastfeeding among North Americans, we will pause and wipe our milk moustaches and feeling the heat in our cheeks and buck ourselves up, for there is no shame in the free and consensual sharing of resources or in the complicated emotions such sharing can frequently elicit in zones of temporary erogeny. And if some of the milk drips and dribbles onto the ground, splashing in with the dripping cunt-chicken juices and yellow-white blister pus and tick-nipple discharge, we will not be surprised in the least to find our ranks swelling further with the plush and the furried, the winged and the clawed, the nightbeasts with their quivering snouts leading them to the feast. And look, here among us now, jackrabbits nibbling on rotten apple cores and mountain lions and red-winged blackbirds falling from the sky and demented panda bears drifting on broken-off ice-shelves, and leopards, red foxes, kangaroos, feral cats spitting in the night, wild dogs and horses, horses, horses, horses, all holding us upside down so as to hypnotize us and then using the forefinger and middle finger to press down the vent area just in front of our anus so as to make our sex organs protrude, and then fingering these gently as we write furiously from this position.
And then maybe just then will be heard a dank vibration, halfway between hum and roar, gurgling up from the tangle of nerves that thread round our guts, our first brains brewing in intestinal funk, then up and out the throat, the invisible sound waves resonating between each animal body, twisting into feedback loops of blistering distortion within and among all the raw mammalian feelers, coursing through the circuits, each meridian charged up with electrified chi. Yes, that just happened, we are materialists who read horoscopes and poets who say chi, freed from constriction and habit, from impasse and defeat, from all that says no inside of us, from all that has been done in our name and still shits out of us, with or without clumps of it ever sticking in our fur so that we will never forget, so that now in the variable buzz of all in consort, tone poems coalescing into tenfold operatics, the fibers of all muscles rippling with the ground tremors of the high-heeled work-booted parade, with leaping and grasping, with or without eye contact, with or without the holding of hands or the light touching of the back or the front, all pressed up against the sweet metallic smell of our entanglement, group-flesh groping ever toward something greater than ourselves, because an army of lovers cannot fail, and with chins up and chests out, bursting forth from the ground into all directions, fists lifted, a thousand middle fingers thrust up in pride and vigor, for all tomorrow’s parties today, in heat and in fury, nostrils flaring, each as each can and as each desires, shoulders to it now, leaning over what will have had to have been done to become that which we cannot yet dare envision beyond the sweet taste of it on our moist upper lips—
David Buuck is a writer who lives in Oakland, California. He is the founder of BARGE, the Bay Area Research Group in Enviro-aesthetics, and cofounder and editor of Tripwire, a journal of poetics. The Shunt was published by Palm Press in 2009. Further info available via davidbuuck.com.
Juliana Spahr’s most recent books are Well Then There Now (Black Sparrow Press) and, co-edited with Stephanie Young, A Megaphone: Some Enactments, Some Numbers, and Some Essays about the Continued Usefulness of Crotchless-pants-and-a-machine-gun Feminism (ChainLinks).
This issue of First Proof is funded, in part, by the Bertha and Isaac Lieberman Foundation and the Thanksgiving Fund. Additional funding is provided by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and readers like you.
I find the idea that we write alone laughable, even egotistical. Poetry is a palimpsest that has been endlessly rewritten—it’s a social space we share with others.