Poetry News

Anne Boyer on Riots, Contestation

By Harriet Staff

Poet Anne Boyer, based in Kansas City, has posted some food for thought on the UK riots on her blog. "If only we had some riots, we say, not-quite-joking, sitting in a bar together or in the living room not rioting, or if only we had the capability of rioting, like the capability of belief in some necessary but impossible God," she writes. It's an honest conversation. She notices, as Jane Jacobs would note the social uses of a sidewalk, the different social humans, some falling into place, others not. Boyer continues:

But isn’t a riot also an order? Isn’t the chaotic expression of youth mostly also the order of expression entirely? Who could help, if human, but riot? Shouldn’t there be riots every moment or if not every moment on useful occasions a kind of riot ritual to remind us that under one street of the city there is another street of a city or under one kind of social human there is another kind of social human?

In Kansas City there are things that are not quite riots. There are no politics in Kansas City. In Kansas City, instead of politics, we have two things: money and race. We have a third, children, and the way the children are hated and feared here has mostly to do with the two other things.

In Kansas City there are the weekend gatherings of mostly poor youth in the areas the city has devoted to the wealthy. These youth are called “mobs” — they may know nothing about riots, but their being certain bodies in a place not intended for their bodies is enough to be close to a riot. There are threats of curfews; in response, youth or almost youth then shoot each other and the mayor Sly James gets pushed into a flower bed in front of the Cheesecake Factory. The youth are there on the Plaza where the shopping and fine-dining is supposed to be, but the youth do not study the riots in London otherwise maybe they would break the window of Armani exchange and get new, finer clothes.

We know probably it would not be good to have riots. It would not be good to be afraid, or to be a rioter and be dumb and fearless. It would not be good to be a cop on the other side of a riot, angry or afraid or dumb or fearless. It would not be good to be a politician or blusterer during a riot. It would not be good to have a riot, but a riot, from a distance feels like a natural human act, like just breaking something that didn’t work. To see a riot far away when living in a city without politics is at least an outlet of generalized dissatisfaction with a world where the fact of being a certain kind of body at all, in a certain kind of space, is close enough to a riot to bring down upon those bodies the force of law.

Read the entire piece here; and for poems from Boyer, check out a recent issue of Typo.

Originally Published: August 22nd, 2011