New Moon

So where do I begin? Particularly when rage makes direction difficult. Particularly when grief dislocates, is about extended dislocations. I was invited to participate as a Harriet blogger some time ago, and found it remarkably difficult to decide on the “voice” to cultivate. Even the title of this entry is already days old (the moon’s now crescent) (UPDATE: now half) and from an earlier attempt to begin/enter conversation. So given all that, where do I begin? Particularly when so much time has passed that when is as accurate an indication of north as satellites and magnetized needles. Today is August 24, 2009. (A newscaster voice that imagines an August 25th?) (UPDATE: Today is August 28, 2009) This is one of the last three days of classes for students in Bard’s Language and Thinking Workshop where for the last almost three weeks I’ve been teaching a class of thirteen. (Yesterday, the students matriculated.)

In my initial attempts to begin this blog thing, I focused on a calling up a rather pleasant pseudo-confessional persona:

I’ve been resistant to writing/submitting this blog. Nothing political or ethical in my opposition. Just resistant. I think here of something akin to flame-retardance. Are blogs like flames? The old body-bound ones? Now, I’m certainly no ingénue, and won’t play one on Harriet. So I understand that much like old flames, blogs can inflame and be flamed. Could I just be blog-retardant? I mean I don’t regularly read blogs. There are some I look at, scroll/page through, glance over. But none to which I’m committed like my morning cup of water. (Of course I’ve tried but have been unable to get addicted to coffee either so why worry about my failed attachment to blogs? Because I’m writing one?)

This blog is the first time I’ve ever even typed the word blog. Word still underlines blog with the red of the misspelled. Is expressing-my-thoughts-on-poetry-to-a-range-of-readers-retardant a more accurate description of where I am? Though aside from police reports, ingredient measurements for pound cake, electrical circuitry, directions to a meeting place,, I’m not sure that accuracy is a necessary or useful measurement. So much (for) procrastination. And what’s accuracy and measurement got to do with poetry?

So much has happened since I was first invited to this party. Michael Jackson, (Ed McMahon, Farah Fawcett, Walter Cronkite, Frank McCourt, et al have died. North Korea tested another nuclear missile, and another. Grabbed its crotch and said, “Yeah, what of it!” Secretary of State Clinton, in an interesting and surprising use of her cred as mother, had the ovaries to chide a nation’s government for acting like children. And spokesmen for Korea responded by calling Clinton alternately matronly and school-girlish—the old woman and the simple girl are called in to remind her of the place. State to state exchanges.

(ASIDE: Poetry in/as a state to state operation? Should that be my angle?)

Imagined reading (and began writing about) current events and our (media and mediated) rhetoric around and about those events as a lens through which to think about varied (re)mediations that various works of art (and by art I mean poetry and/or other forms of language-use but I’m somewhat hesitant about sometimes restrictive (and wholesale) categorizing) attempt to enact. Was staging a pleasing and rather inoffensive voice/tone of reflection (V/TOR).

Between Michael’s death by Propofol or Diprivan and Neda Agha Soltan‘s death by state execution or protest-cessation, fifteen-year-old Tyrone Corbett was shot and killed one evening while he was hanging out with friends. He was the unintentional target of an errant bullet shot (rumor has it) by another young man who was claiming his girl (young woman), and thereby (re)claiming his place. The fifteen-year old was collateral damage. The young woman was collateral. Guaranteeing what? Securing what, exactly? There was that next morning a young girl sitting and crying on a bench in front of the park. The next day: a neighborhood call to order; a preacher with a bullhorn; and then a prayer. To come: a daily cop car at the corner. (How long?)

The day after Tyrone's death, I posted on facebook,

Tonya M. Foster

a cop just knocked. they're canvassing the buildings. silence buries some deaths—some mother/father's son. early, there was a girl in green weeping on one of those park benches. later, cameras and bullhorns, shouts, and blind spectacle.

VIDEO: Teen killed in Harlem


Sandra Bookman reports

June 15 at 8:31pm · Comment · Like · Share

Two days later: another post:

didn't understand that yesterday morning's raucous noise was about taking out the park benches. No more sitting under the shade of that unknown tree. They ground the wood from those benches to sawdust, as if a shooting was an inappropriate lynching and sitting in the shade was provocation. So sawdust over blood, and cop cars and uniformed men as memorial.

June 17 at 7:27am · Comment · Like

A friend commented under that post:

i did a little edit of your words & made your poem:


Yesterday morning's raucous noise.

They took the wooden benches from

the park across the way & ground them

into sawdust. As if a shooting was an

inappropriate lynching & sitting in

the shade of an unknown tree was

provocation. Sawdust over blood, cop

cars & uniformed men as memorial.

June 17 at 10:54am · Delete

At which point, a measure of shame—rather than trying to make sense (or make narrative) some of us are trying to make ways out of, well, you know (if you know)—

that what I’d meant as description was read as poetry (or as poetry-potential).

Then I edited his edits.

What to say about poetry (and poetry-making) in the middle of things as they are? What poetry is good in the face of this? What good is poetry?

George Oppen stopped writing for twenty-five years.

On my desk—George Oppen’s New Collected Poems, M. Nourbese Philip’s Zong, Rob Halpern’s Disaster Suites, and Saidiya Hartman’s Lose Your Mother.

Originally Published: August 30th, 2009

Tonya M. Foster was born in Bloomington, Illinois, and raised in New Orleans. She earned a BA from Newcomb College, Tulane University, and an MFA from the University of Houston. Foster is the author of the poetry collection A Swarm of Bees in High Court (Belladonna*, 2015) and coedited the book Third Mind:...

  1. August 30, 2009

    Yeah, North Korea is the country acting like a child on the world stage. Hillary Clinton had the ovaries to act like the arrogant spokesperson for official hypocrisy that she is. The rest of the world doesn't know whether to laugh or cry when the United States – known for disregarding international law any time it feels like it, for invading any country it feels like at any time, for refusing to sign the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for violating the Geneva Conventions – starts lecturing some other nation on how to be a good global citizen. Give me a break.

  2. August 31, 2009

    Yes, Tonya Foster. The new moon is like this, just like this.\r

    "Because all dark, like those that are all light,\r
    They are cast beyond the verge, and in a cloud,\r
    Crying to one another like the bats;\r
    And having no desire they cannot tell\r
    What's good or bad, or what is to triumph\r
    As the perfection of one's own obedience;\r
    And yet they speak what's blown into the mind;\r
    Deformed beyond deformity, unformed,\r
    Insipid as the dough before it is baked,\r
    They change their bodies at a word."\r

    From Yeats' "The Phases of the Moon."\r


  3. August 31, 2009
     Thom Donovan

    Thanks for your *incendiary* post Tonya. \r

    Still looking forward to your words about post-Katrina art and poetry, Paul Chan, etc.\r

    I know it's only a matter of time...\r

    --Thom Donovan

  4. August 31, 2009

    Hey Thom,\r
    yes...going for the well-behaved. i keep thinking about the "parties"; am sure that some of them have free booze and tasty munchies.\r
    on the real, thanks for not letting me get away from what I kept turning over over the last month or so...have not forgotten nor abandoned nor retreated into faux pleasantries or positivities. am trying to frame (for myself) my own reading/understanding of certain things as they are...

  5. August 31, 2009

    Yr post is fraught with the complexities of what matters, the matters that get marked, or go unmarked, or re-marked, re-made, and how. What matters, and how and to whom and why and under what circumstances? I return to these questions but haven’t any answers. Oppen stopped writing for years to act. Poetry alone can’t act. But neither can a human being. Or, one can, but there is always the need for others and for something more, for reverberations. If someone is bleeding to death in front of you, it is not the time to write a poem. When is the time for writing a poem? Writing at all? Arendt proposes that we “think what we are doing” (The Human Condition). What happens when description is turned into poetry or poetry into description? What do such genre crossings do? Facing in another direction, I might ask did Oppen stop having sex during all those years? Rob Halpern’s Disaster Suites reveals the body and sex already there in the “theater” of war and violence. So, too, M. Nourbese Philip’s Zong and Saidiya Hartman’s Lose Your Mother. And your writing about the writing and rewriting and the problem of writing at all and the problems of a too easy inscription, rescripting…I’m listening…I haven’t read Hartman’s or Nourbese Philip’s books. I’m going in search of them…\r

  6. September 1, 2009
     Kent Johnson

    Invoking "international law," in reference to North Korea's rights as a "nation," Michael Robbins wrote:\r

    >(when Hillary Clinton)...starts lecturing some other nation on how to be a good global citizen. Give me a break.\r

    Well, to offer, in a *comradely* way, the perspective of the Internationalist Luxemburg Poetry Circle, which meets every other Friday at Tony's Oyster Bar, here in Freeport: The sooner Beijing begins to actively harass and subvert, regardless of international law--and with the aim of utterly smashing--the criminal Stalinist freak show in Pyongyang, the better. And if coaxing from the Imperial Offices of the State Department in such case should spur the process, so be it! Such result would be, from the standpoint of "socialist" principles, no less an historically progressive act than the invasion and destruction of the Khmer Rouge "nation" of Kampuchea, by Vietnam. \r


  7. September 1, 2009

    Kent, yr comment is beside the point: it amounts to saying that North Korea is bad. Well, duh. I didn't invoke international law with respect to North Korea, but to the United States, which, unlike North Korea, professes to be the world's standard bearer of democracy & law & human rights. I don't see why any thinking person should cheer the sorry sight of the State Department of a country conducting two illegal wars that have led to millions of civilian deaths lecturing anyone on militaristic behavior. First of all, of course it won't "spur" any "process" for Clinton to mount her cost-free high horse. Second of all, the point is absolutely not whether any actor on the world stage is deserving of censure, but whether intelligent people should be impressed by Clinton's bold assumption of moral superiority. Any American who is, like Tonya here, just doesn't understand not only the history but the present moment of her own country, which is responsible for many more outrages than the freak show in Pyongyang. I'm always a bit more concerned about the criminal freak show running my own country than I am to denounce foreign regimes from a position of absolute privilege while risking precisely nothing. As they used to say in Tony's, you're not thinking dialectically enough.

  8. September 1, 2009

    Glad you plunged us into the thick of the direction(s) and the extended dislocations, which are (damnit) locations. I'm also interested in poetry in the face of serious grievance, including the argument your piece has engendered (well done, TF) about "bad" countries and criminal governments. Considering what must be faced in order to write, I recall the Nietzsche line "What doesn't kill me makes me stronger." In fact, what doesn't kill me gives psychosis or grinding addiction or borderline personality disorder or just a strong case of the Stockholm syndrome, in the news this week. Despite poor Friedrich having kicked the bucket in an insane asylum, the line is repeated and sung and taught ad nauseam. What is my point? What doesn't kill me is blog retardant, if only initially. And 3 other points. \r

    1. I saw Baader Meinhof Complex and couldn't help but think of the Weather Underground and Black Panthers of the same vintage and, lately, news reports of the phrase "the blood of patriots." I wonder where such blood fits into these days. The phrase was of course penned by Jefferson who skipped the revolution (at least the war part) but continued to write while it went down, writing and writing always.\r

    2. (Department of If You Aren't Bummed Out Enough): When I googled Tyrone Corbett I couldn't find the case but did find this blog from Who Cares If Tyrone Can't Read. Jacob Can!\r

    3. My only beef with Hilary has to do with her response to the question about Bill's opinion in Africa. Why doesn't she have a really smart, witty answer to a question she must have been asked thousands of times? Now that lady really needs a poet on staff....

  9. September 1, 2009
     Kent Johnson

    That's a funny post by Alexis.\r

    Michael, not sure how we got into this, I know it's partly my fault. And it's kind of funny, in a way, to be discussing stuff like this on Harriet, but oh well, kind of fun, too. Especially when you get so defensively combative, as you always do. I admit pleasure in watching ultra-smart people try to be absolutely right all the time, even all the way down to the matter of Hillary Clinton's hairstyles. So you said:\r

    >Kent, yr comment is beside the point: it amounts to saying that North Korea is bad.\r

    No, by gumbo, I'm afraid you're not seeing what I'm saying! It's your "pointing out" of the "hypocrisy" of Hillary Clinton's "moral superiority" in regards to North Korea that is *totally beside the point*... U.S. foreign policy hypocritical? Well, duh, as you say.\r

    >First of all, of course it won’t “spur” any “process” for Clinton to mount her cost-free high horse.\r

    Again, you don't appear to have seen what I said. I'm not talking about this or that "public" pronouncement over the matter of North Korea's "bad" behavior, nor am I talking about swooning over a Secretary of State's strategic double-talk, which I know was somewhat your narrow concern in response to Tonya's post; I'm talking about the matter of a murderous Stalinist state and the power deals in relation to it between the two most important world actors, where the policy that matters is going to get made, and from which the totally predictable, self-serving propaganda statements you seem in such a snit about flow. \r

    Obviously, such backroom stuff, as it evolves (they're talking about North Korea all the time, dontcha know), is potentially relevant to the fate of Pyongyang. If China, prodded by the U.S., decides (I'm certainly not saying they will!) that its long-term interests benefit from undermining and disposing of the regime in Pyongyang, then this will be a wonderful thing for the people of the Peninsula and of the world and also for the future of poetry north of the DMZ. And any progressive who cares about basic human rights would applaud the effort-- even if the means used by China are perfectly devious and "improper" (it's you who invoked all the international treaties)-- and *even* if these means are deviously aided and abetted by Washington. Who cares about Hillary's hypocrisy? And what on earth, really, does Iraq have to do with it? I *want* U.S. imperialism to work with China in any way possible (short of war, of course) to free the people of North Korea from their utter enslavement. Do you, too? Or don't you? (I'm posing the questions to you directly, I think they're interesting ones.)\r

    >As they used to say in Tony’s, you’re not thinking dialectically enough.\r

    Hm. Well, I'll just say, to paraphrase the old man, back when he was young in 1844: In the matter of the dialectic, one must focus carefully on each moment in the concrete, lest one fall prey to the facile delights of the abstract.\r


  10. September 1, 2009

    Well, Robbins...thanks for explaining me, for questioning my intelligence, for a remarkable misreading. Quite an assumption you make--that curious description is endorsement of state policy or indication of a "typical" lack of understanding of the rather frightening political conditions to which we (citizens and non) are subjected. (Which, by the way, may be "newish" to you; not so much to me.) \r

    Do you interact much with other fleshy beings? Or does your crew consist largely of your own projections?\r

    For your clarity--I wasn't IMPRESSED by Clinton's "performance." I don't think I state that. There is, however, something curious happening when the state begins to increasingly employ the language of the personal, of the "home," and of the body in state to state relations. Particularly in this moment when increasing numbers of people are being dispossessed, losing their homes (building, country, family, and when poverty (homelessness) is increasingly criminalized. Not that it hasn't happened before...\r

    Both "performances" of righteous indignation (by Korean and US State departments) are problematic precisely because they "skirt" (and deflect attention from) the policy issues at the heart of things. Performances (by government officials and by poets (on pages and elsewhere)) and their relations to missiles and to dead 15-year olds and to bullets, well, that's what I'm puzzling over...that's the central question of the blog.\r

    Perhaps "grabs its crotch" and "an interesting and surprising use of her cred as mother, had the ovaries to chide a nation’s government for acting like children" are immediately (and curiously) translated by you as "impressive" (with, perhaps, a writerly pumping of the pencil-holding fist or a cupping of the womanly breast). For me, they were descriptions of performances that I am trying to understand... \r

    But you go on with your movie-making; keep rolling through your clips...

  11. September 1, 2009

    Sure, when I write that something was "interesting & surprising," it usually indicates that I was completely unimpressed by the phenomenon; likewise, when I say of a woman's actions that she "had to the ovaries" to perform them (actually, I avoid clichés, so I'd be unlikely to use that particular groaner), I mean it to be clear that I'm completely underwhelmed. But you're more sophisticated than lil ol' me, what with being "impressed" by a politician using "the language of the personal" even while her own country struggles with structural problems that extend into (gasp) the domain of the personal!\r

    My girlfriend & friends & students & dissertation advisers & cat might well constitute "fleshy beings" in yr book, kid. Dunno.

  12. September 1, 2009

    "had the ovaries" not "had to the ovaries"

  13. September 1, 2009

    Kent, my point was that my response to Tonya's complete lack of interest in Hillary Clinton's stupid response to North Korea has nothing to do with North Korea, only with thinking Clinton was doing anything particularly interesting or different from what Secretaries of State always do, wagging the finger at some country that behaves marginally less badly than we do. So, yeah, duh, American foreign policy: but that was my point, wasn't it? Like, who has the ovaries to be impressed by American grandstanding? As for North Korea & China, yeah, by any means necessary–but not to the point.

  14. September 1, 2009

    ... actually, no, not "by any means necessary." I don't support sanctions against North Korea, for instance. But I'm not interested in this particular debate. :~)

  15. September 1, 2009
     Henry Gould

    I thought the original point about Hillary Clinton & N. Korea was that the "acting like children" comment (along with the N. Korean adolescent response) was, on the world stage, relatively new & unusual. Rhymed somewhat with Obama's Inaugural remark about "put away childish things".\r

    The obligatory list of US evils & wrongs follows, along with the obligatory scolding (USA has no right to preach to other nations!).\r

    We, as poets & witnesses to history, are also obliged to examine official propaganda & boilerplate, & disabuse ourselves of official mythology. But the notion that the historical legacy of the US disenfranchises it from raising issues of universal human rights, & basic ethical standards of civil society, in matters of public policy & diplomacy... well, Robbins, what would you put in its place, in your perfect world? How about asking the Koreans, on both sides of the border?

  16. September 1, 2009

    I think I am starting to get a handle on how things go here. For at least some of the more regular, if not dominant, posters a blogger's blog is a set piece, a machine en scene, against which they place their own, center stage, agenda driven talking points. Seriously. What in Sam Hell does a debate over international affairs have to do with where the blog directs the eye, which is to a senseless death in a Harlem park and to this:\r

    "What to say about poetry (and poetry-making) in the middle of things as they are? What poetry is good in the face of this? What good is poetry?"\r

    To me at least the blog's got soul, the Petri dish for duende.\r


  17. September 1, 2009
     Gary B. Fitzgerald


    I am even frightened by the endless\r
    horrid people who being\r
    . neither poets and/or\r
    . dreamers\r
    . (and who laugh almost at those\r
    . who occupy this being)\r
    exist, indeed, because of\r
    what they give themselves as gifts.\r

    . (I don’t believe I can\r
    . be told how to be\r
    . & then\r
    be myself and happy)\r

    Copyright 2005 – Evolving- Poems 1965-2005, Gary B. Fitzgerald\r
    (Written age 21 – 1973)

  18. September 1, 2009

    Henry! thou shouldst be awake at this hour. First of all, my point was not about whether the US should preach to other nations but about whether bloggers should be impressed when it does. Second, "a perfect world" is beneath you. One has to desire (or expect) perfection in order to find something pretty crummy with the way our nation conducts its affairs? And those are the alternatives?–perfection or status quo? Go back to bed, sir!

  19. September 1, 2009
     Gary B. Fitzgerald

    I apologize for all the little dots in the poem up there but I don’t know how to do indentations here.\r
    (Paper Rules!)\r

    I also apologize for imposing yet another poem on you, but, hey…poetry’s the whole thing, ain’t it? And, unlike politics, poetry’s fun!\r

    Finally, I apologize for interjecting and changing the subject back to poetry again but, hell, somebody had to do it.\r


    Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz :-D

  20. September 1, 2009
     Gary B. Fitzgerald

    So, now I guess we're all just waiting for Michael, Kent, Tonya, Terreson, Henry Gould or Alexis to post a 'political' poem.\r

    Put your money where your mouth is, kids.

  21. September 1, 2009

    Funniest thing I've read on Harriet in a while:\r

    "(actually, I avoid clichés, so I’d be unlikely to use that particular groaner)"\r

    "Groaner" is such a cliché metaphor! At least, I'm guessing that Michael did not literally groan when he read the line about ovaries.\r

    Question: Did Martin Amis intend his title "The War Against Cliché" to be self-parodying? I hope so, because if not . . . ahem.\r

    Clichés are unavoidable in language. Take arms against that sea, dudes -- go for it!

  22. September 1, 2009

    Re clichés: I avoid them like the plague.

  23. September 3, 2009

    Tonya Foster, I've been thinking about your blog. Ruminating on it would be more accurate. And it is because I've been trying to stare down the same question for over forty years now. You say:\r

    “What to say about poetry (and poetry-making) in the middle of things as they are? What poetry is good in the face of this? What good is poetry?”\r

    Your on line bio tells that you are from LA. At least, that you are from N.O., which, culturally speaking, is not fully LA, since, as one observer puts it, New Orleans is the northern most terminus of Caribbean culture. Southern LA is more Cajun and blues Black than Caribbean, and northern Louisiana is decidedly evangelical protestant. So actually the state encompasses three distinct cultural morphs. (there is a point to this.)\r

    During the worst days of Reconstruction when many of the white folk were what today we would call insurgents and terrorists fighting against a new regime, Louisiana was noted for its violence. The Colfax massacre alone killed over 200 people, all Republican, black and white. One 19th C. U.S. Congressman speculated that maybe there was something in the intermixing of Cajun, Creole, Indian, and Anglo-Saxon blood that made Louisianians prone to violence. It was that pronounced, the lynchings especially. I think I have it right when I say that between 1890 and 1960 over 5,000 African-Americans were lynched. While it is true that lynchings occurred through out the nation, in LA, Kentucky, Georgia, Florida, Indiana, Illinois, even Minnesota, and while it is also true that such ethnic groups as Italians and Germans were lynched, clearly the burden rests on the Deep South and clearly African-Americans were most victimized. Lynching was simply a political tool. It was intended to intimidate and disenfranchize.\r

    But the thing that bothers me the most about it all is that lynching was something of a social event. It wasn't acted out in the dead of night by white men wearing hoods and not wanting to be identified. It was a passion play, a kind of auto da fe, performed at high noon, often in a town square, or in a bucolic setting, and with all good towns people in attendence. I've seen a photograph of a mother with two children. The blanket is spread out with picnic basket and all. In the upper field there is this young black man hanging dead from what I think is a live oak tree. This is the sort of nemo, anti-self, scene that fights against my own instinct for poetry.\r
    There was a cultural journalist by the name of James Allen. Some years ago he purchased postcard pictures of lynchings. Yep. People would take pictures of a lynching, make a postcard out of it and send it to their friends...through the U.S. Postal Service. But see for yourself:\r\r

    The other thing about lynching that bothers the beejejus out of me is that the phenomenon has world wide distribution. I recently read an account of black South Africans lynching other black South Africans in the period of apartheid. And if the ethnic cleansing of Rwanda some 15 years ago is not lynching I don't know what is. Still, my roots are in the south of this country and her story of sometime darkness hurts the heart.\r

    So how do you make poetry now or at any time in human history, since, saliently it is one shitty story?\r

    Abel Meeropool was a Jewish intellectual, school teacher, and closet Communist living in the North East. One day he saw a photograph in a newspaper of a twin lynching in Indiana. The picture shook him down to his soul. He responded to it with a poem which, later, he set to music. He called the poem "Strange Fruit." Billy Holiday would famously make it her own.\r

    This is my answer to your question.\r


  24. September 4, 2009


    I've been waiting for you to post. Perhaps it's unfair to nudge you this way but I heard/read somewhere that you're writing about New Orleans, post-levees breaking (or being blown). Other than an arc built in the 9th ward, I haven't seen or read anything memorable about NO, post-levees blown. Any recommendations? Will you post about this?\r