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Scores of Poets Report on Occupy Oakland

By Harriet Staff

In anticipation of the General Strike tomorrow, we’d like to play some catch-up with Occupy Oakland, which has at its helm–or at least from here–a lot of motivated poets. To start, check out David Lau’s report in The Los Angeles Review of Books blog (as part of their continuing coverage), and then head to his journal Lana Turner; issue 4 is just out. It includes work from Rae Armantrout, Tom Raworth, Alli Warren, Elizabeth Robinson, William Fuller, and Josef Kaplan and Douglas Piccinnini of Tea Party Republicans Press; essays by Tariq Ali and Ben Lerner; drama from Juliana Spahr and David Buuck; and, well, MUCH more.

Lana Turner’s blog has become an unofficial site of reportage about the occupation–Oakland poet Brian Ang has just posted “A Report on Occupy Oakland: Part 2” to follow up on a post he penned at the very beginning. Ang notes that:

…The Mayor issued an apology about the immense police repression but maintained demands declaring that the occupation cannot exist at the plaza: the logic of the State still cannot accept the occupation’s defiant existence even as disfavor has temporarily discouraged the State’s repression.

Tomorrow is the general strike and no one knows exactly what will happen. People will improvise consciously and instinctively. The State’s logic as such is in a certain sense limited and its responses automated to certain stimuli, such as intolerance of defiance to its injunctions yet sensitive to disfavor. It seems apparent that the particulars of the occupation’s defiance resulting in the police raid and the people’s resistance to rounds of flash grenades, tear gas, and rubber bullets produced potent new conditions that were developed upon favorably by the occupation. The methods of engaging the police, from attempting to defeat them to maintaining restraint, need to be deployed based on producing more favorable conditions. This stance encourages an imagination exceeding the contracted abstractions of “non-violence” and “violence,” and an agency to draw from either in situations to stimulate desired responses from the State.

Also on the blog is a piece from Anne Boyer, “From Occupied Kansas City,” and “Notes from an Occupied New York City, after October 14th,” in which Josef Kaplan writes:

The core, internal logic of the protest is this: seize property, then communize it. As long as that core holds, I’m not sure you could ally with the police even if you wanted to. How do you co-opt a mandate whose basic, operative function is the revolutionary transformation of requisitioned property, especially in a city like New York, where property takes on an almost mythic, totalizing appeal?

You should also check out poet Andrew Kenower’s A Voice Box (we pointed to this amazing “storehouse for Bay Area recordings of the recent past” a few months ago). Kenower gives us some context, having just posted a short audio history of the last two general strikes in Oakland, in 1934 and 1946. He’s also included a collective audio diary of the occupation, writing:

In the last 8 days I have been at occupations in Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco and Los Angeles. On day 1 in Oakland I hatched the idea of creating a collective diary of the struggle, in order to allow further dialogue and representation of the multitude of voices in circulation. But I was too scared and nervous. Yet after a week of General Assemblies, group meetings, and simply meeting so many people I have said “goodbye to all that.” Today I began recording conversations with friends, recent acquaintances, strangers and the formerly strange.

For too long our media has privileged the experts and ideologues who bloviate their trivial differences, their false dichotomies while everything else burns. While my conversations should not be seen as journalism they seek to create another outlet for the voices that have been waiting to speak to a wider audience but have not had the chance to do so and hopefully those not ready to address the assembly directly. It’s high time that we honor the messy process that is required to resolve in shared understanding. By presenting the conversations in full (with some compromises in sound quality in deference to expediency) we honor that shared goal.

He’s also recorded a group poetry reading at Oscar Grant Plaza from Oct. 16, and snippets of conversations with people at Occupy SF. Listen to “I am here because…” here. Also a photographer, he’s got plenty for us visual learners, too. (The photo at top taken by Kenower on Oct. 25.)

And there’s more! San Diego poet and Huffington Post contributor Feliz L. Molina has an in-depth interview up with poet and publisher David Brazil about the occupation. They touch on, importantly, the history of activism and poetry in the Bay Area:

How are poets active and involved with Occupy Oakland?

David: Bay Area poets have always been concerned with politics. Those of us alive & active today are lucky to partake of a lineage unparalleled anywhere else in the country. “America,” by Allen Ginsberg, was written in Berkeley. Among San Francisco’s poets laureate are Diane di Prima and Jack Hirschman, intransigent radicals both. Oakland-born poet Robert Duncan, who was a moving spirit in both the Berkeley & San Francisco Renaissances, wrote powerful and visionary poems denouncing the cruelty and horror of the Vietnam War — poems which read like they could have been written yesterday (if you replace the name “Vietnam” with “Iraq/Afghanistan,” and the name “Johnson” with “Obama”). More recently, poets have organized the Poetic Labor Project, which for two years running has invited poets & writers to talk about how they make a living and how that interacts with their writing work. Political discussions are a staple of all our gatherings and parties. We’ve convened many reading groups around books like The Coming Insurrection & Call, and around the works of both classic authors like Marx and contemporary political thinkers like Francesco “Bifo” Berardi. Most recently, in association with the BART protests against fatal shootings by police aboard Bay Area Rapid Transit, area writers formed an affinity group we call “Writers Bloc.”

All of this political work among local writers was good preparation for Occupy Oakland at Oscar Grant Plaza. Poets were down there participating in committees and assemblies, organizing the free school library, cooking, dishwashing, serving food, riding the mobile bike which powered the generator that ran the computers, and even grading papers for their classes.

And, of course, like New York, we joined to gather for a Poetry for the People reading, twelve noon on Sunday, which combined readings from the radical tradition of our revolutionary forebears and elders (including work by writers like Percy Bysshe Shelley, Bertolt Brecht, Diane di Prima, Amiri Baraka, Carol Mirakove, Hakim Bey, William S. Burroughs, Aime Cesaire, Claude McKay, and Richard Lovelace) and presentations of original work, some of it composed on the spot, by both published local writers and also plaza occupiers who had something they wanted to say. It was beautiful, and we pledge that despite state repression it will continue.

Read the full “HELLA Occupy Oakland: What’s in the Mind Is Indestructible.” And follow Lana Turner on Twitter for more updates: @ltjournal. Now back to your regularly scheduled occupying.

Posted in Poetry News on Tuesday, November 1st, 2011 by Harriet Staff.