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I Want to Go All the Way

By Joyelle McSweeney

Back then, I was still such a bad poet/and I didn’t know how to go all the way

—Blaise Cendrars, “The Prose of the Trans-siberian,” trans. Ron Padgett, rewritten by me.

Kazuo Ohno went all the way.

Kazuo Ohno went all the way.

1. A DOMESTIC ANECDOTE: When we’re feeling a little down here at Action Books headquarters, when kicking against the pricks has left one or the other of us a little bled-out and anemic, and our crepe-de-chine dancing shoes soiled, the dejected one will turn to the other and say, “Are we going to go all the way, Blaise?”. And the other will say, “Yes Jeanne we’re going to go all the way.” This is our own Blaise Cendrars-fan fiction, a way of participating in the first simultaneous poem, “The Prose of the Trans-Siberian,” riding the hot transports of modernism to the end of the line and back—but there is no back, no safe place one can return to, once one has been gathered up in Art and taken it all the way. One returns to a Paris that is a hot, lit up, hellmouth, it resembles the sun-wound of earlier in the poem, it is a profound abscess: “City of the incomparable Tower the great Gibbet and the Wheel.” When we close our eyes we think of that tower, Art’s tower, kitsch tower, postcard tower, which hypnotizes the world with its radio waves, and Sonya Delaunay’s harlequin evocation of Cendrars’s poem’s hectic and childish momentum.

2. Despite the disavowal I quote in my epigraph, I think, in this poem, to go all the way is to be young, and to be a bad poet. It is because Blaise is a bad poet and doesn’t know how to go all the way that he can go all the way and write the (paradoxically indicated) first simultaneous (eternally simultaneous!) poem. To forget your about restraint, craft, subtlety and nuance and instead to let Art’s occult and obscene powers over take you and push you to territory beyond your grasp as a poet. This does not always lead, of course, to obscene Art—Emily Dickinson’s poems are certainly an example of “going all the way,” although to contradict myself again, as I grow more ecstatic, more mystically-inclined as a reader, her poems seem more and more obscene.

3. I want to go all the way. An American editor asked Don Mee Choi to rework her translation of Kim Hyesoon’s poetry, to not use the word “hole” so as to avoid its negative connotations, Don Mee Choi refused. As she has written,

At school, I was taught that Korea looked like the side view of a rabbit. Its severed waist stitched up with barbed wire, its scorched belly studded with a million landmines, its adorable ears brand as an axis-of-evil. As a defect, I don’t know how to affect something else than bunny cartography. I’m not being polite.

Don Mee Choi goes all the way.

4. From “Manhole Humanity” by Kim Hyesoon, translated by Don Mee Choi:

A killer whale goes around the earth once then leaves again with its young.

At a deep place inside the hole, I slosh about like a well from which warm water spouts up. I throb.

Hole labor—this is life.

Hole is the time bomb you have thrown.

Kim Hyesoon goes all the way.

5. Steve Burt has written an article for Boston Review introducing a new taxonomy for poetry: the Nearly Baroque. In this article, he discusses many poets I like and admire, and I appreciate the thought he’s given to the notion of the Baroque viz. gender, a topic many at Montevidayo have been writing about for years (here’s Carina Finn, Lucas De Lima, and Johannes Göransson, to name a few). A few things niggled me about the article, though. Firstly, there is only a glancing mention, a name-checking, of the Latin American category of the Neo-Baroque. Investigation of Latin American authors, many of which have now been translated, could have lead to an interesting conversation regarding what it means that this literary style is emerging from across so many different regions, ethnicities, languages, across economic, historical & political conditions. That feels like a missed opportunity and a false erecting of a boundary. But more pressing to me is Steve’s insistence on “nearly” and “almost” throughout the piece. I counted, VIDA-style: 32 instances of “nearly,” 12 instances of “almost.” Why is it important for Steve to mark the border this way, to locate his poets on just this side of the Baroque? Just North of the Baroque? So far from God, ever-so-close-to-but-still-distinguishable-from the Baroque? Is he holding back, or are they? And why?

Forget “nearly” and “almost.” I want to go all the way.

8. Here’s an excerpt from my ars poetica, “I wanted to unlock my phone.”

The bodies hit the ground in a fusillade like fuselage

You cannot hear this sound except on a snuff site

You have to go out as shame to hear this report

more like handgrenades than like pomegranates

with their little list of Hadean jewels inside

twisted inventories for the Christies auction

nextbodies texting their nobiles

fifty and two hundred bodies hitting the ground like exploding

I wanted to go live there

I wanted to go live in shame

as blood floods the vaulted chasm

I block the run-off-channels and snuff up the charnel-chum

I wanted to stop the clock

I wanted to give my brain a tuck

I wanted my brain to fold over.

I wanted to close the incision with cat gut and tungsten.

I wanted to hack my own phone.

9. I want to go all the way, like Marosa Di Giorgio, Delores Dorantes, Yi Sang, Maria Negroni, Aimé Césaire. All the way, yes, like Johannes Göransson, Claire Denis, Chelsey Manning, Lucas de Lima, Seyhan Erözçelik, Tim Jones-Yelvington, Achille Mbembe, Jasbir Puar. All the way like Alice Notely, like Blake and Bataille. All the way like the great Zurita. All the way and out to the other side, which is this side, but eschatologically inverted, familiar, unrecognizable, there, here, where a vengeful shamanic maidenhood dances her vengeance, issuing in floodtides of unforeseeable retribution. Her name may be Serena yet she is fierce. She comes not with peace but with a sword. She is a sword.

10. Ronaldo Wilson, “Pink”

“Pink” by Ronaldo Wilson from Center for Art and Thought on Vimeo.

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Posted in Featured Blogger on Wednesday, April 16th, 2014 by Joyelle McSweeney.