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Drone War Poem: Joyelle McSweeney Defends Josef Kaplan’s Kill List

By Harriet Staff

An unarmed U.S. "Shadow" drone is pictured in flight in in undated photograph

Responses to Josef Kaplan’s Kill List (Cars Are Real 2013), which we aimed at the other day, are employing the Internet’s breakneck form well–Joey Yearous-Algozin has already made Real Kill List (Troll Thread 2013), which drops a Facebook-reaction comment-stream into PDF (sequels forthcoming?); and today, Joyelle McSweeney responds to the poem for Montevidayo with a surprising link to Inger Christensen’s Alphabet. First, she writes: “This new Kill List poem by Josef Kaplan is easily easily the best work of conceptual poetry I’ve seen in a long time … let’s face it, conceptualism, as Inger Christensen would say, ‘exists’.” More:

‘Kill List’ could be read as a litany, it could be reading off a library shelf. The indexical adjustments of ‘comfortable’ and ‘rich’ have a nice, well, ‘comfortable’ sixties feel to them, a now-out-of-touchness, a vagueness. Like ‘don’t trust anyone over thirty’–-as expressions of acute political crisis, kind of sweet. In our current context, these could be financial terms or refer to perceived social assets or even how interested the author feels in these poets–or it could be random. As 2 goes into four (ie the binary of rich/comfortable into the 4 line stanza), there is also the alphabetical order itself. Sweet old alphabetical order. Humans made you, and humans love you. But nothing humans make is innocent. Not even orders of knowledge. Moreover we are invited to read these 68 pages as a computer would, scanning for names (names are the only element that changes), data mining an index for names we recognize. Like a drone-operator or a drone. Attention or recognition here is itself weaponized.

This is where I link Kill List to Inger Christensen. Re-reading Alphabet, I was very taken by the poem’s smoothness. It has the smoothness of a big fat bomber high up in the strangelove sky. As it glides, we glide, we can see the whole horizon line of the earth, cities and species and chemicals all becoming visual in the reading-scape of the poem. [nb, I think Kill List is a very retinal poem, since consuming its well-designed pages, its nicely serifed, landscaped font, is so very easy. It’s so easy to consume this book, to be an early adaptor of the predator’s visual viewpoint. After all, computers as we know them were developed in the 20th c. for work on the H-Bomb, for calculating shock waves. The Internet, as we know, is a military installation]. As each noun in Christensen’s poem comes into view, the poem remarks it ‘exists’. But I also felt this word ‘exists’ could function as meaning the opposite– each of these things ‘exists’ at the exact moment it leaves the planet. Alphabet is as much a cold war poem, ‘existing’ in the split second between the dropping of a nuclear bomb and its impact, as Kill List is a drone war poem. Both invite us to think about how poetry ‘exists’ under the aeriel penumbra of war. Both make us realize how puny ‘existence’ is, how puny ‘is’ is. The incommensurateness between the title’s reference to the supposed ‘inhumanity’ of drone warfare (I think drone warfare is humanity itself) and the poem itself might be the point of this poem.

Read the rest of “Some Comfortable Thoughts: Inger Christensen’s Alphabet as Kill List.”

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Posted in Poetry News on Thursday, October 17th, 2013 by Harriet Staff.