I’m reading a poem by Paul Foster Johnson called ABRASIVE MACHINING


It goes:


aided your thought process

you self-styled outsiders

sharpening sticks against your enemies.

Some of us were driven into your arms.

Off-kilter and feline, you worked

under difficult conditions

putting out stapled affairs

that spread delight until forgotten.

Insofar as calling on the forces

of the universe to cancel elections

did not prevent a restaging

of the Eighteenth Brumaire

as late at January 2005 we were right.

You could only maneuver around it raggedly.


I’ve been experiencing enormous pleasure reading his poems lately. There was another one of them I planned to write about that contained the word ‘dolmen’ and the fact that I didn’t know what it meant – I just pictured something like a stupa in the desert, brown, opaque, pensive only added to what for me is the poem’s easy mystique. If that sounds like a critique it isn’t. Poetry of course uses indirect skills often. The immense excitement surrounding the overheard, the partially gotten. Those are our ill-gotten skills. Poetry is gossipy. You may be being gossipy alone, but that’s the energy. This one here, the poem above I think is about poetry. Or the world of it. Schools suck members in helplessly like an earthquake in a cartoon. Putting out “stapled affairs” sounds French. There’s an inference about these notes becoming book and the sort of person who would be involved in such endeavor. There’s a sneer here. And the stylishness of the sneer is drawing me in. And the poet writing is complicit too. He’s part of the herd. There’s a weariness, a pastness to the description. And it all takes place in the sweep of history. Doesn’t the 18th Brumaire remind you of the French revolution – Thermidor, all those newly named months that captured time in a special way, however briefly, a fleeting exotic. Paul’s word choice manages anger, sadness, disappointment. All those things are coursing under these loosely tossed blankets. What moved him to write this could’ve been boredom at a reading perhaps. Sitting on a stool at the club. Like a dream that’s escaping, a poetry reading in full flight opens up all the files of a poet’s imagination while he or she is irritated and chagrinned: You used to be my friend. The poet is bored, hurt. Maybe even sex is involved:  “into your arms. /Off-kilter and feline, you worked…. That’s the poet moving his hips. Though as we know our minds have hips too. And failure is sexy. Look at the end. “Restaging…Brumaire…we were right…” and “we could only maneuver around it raggedly.” I think this poet’s loose gathering “ear” is open and closed and lands in a category of formalism I call sinewy - meaning he’s magnetic particles with minds of their own dropped casually on an ancient field by the Monsanto of his frustration.


Originally Published: April 28th, 2011

Eileen Myles was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1949, was educated in Catholic schools, graduated from the University of Massachusetts-Boston in 1971, and moved to New York City in 1974 to be a poet. She gave her first reading at CBGB's, and then gravitated to St. Mark's church where she...