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Our Occupations (after the Occupations): Stein and Vitale

Photo courtesy Sara Kennedy

Suzanne Stein and Anna Vitale are next up in a series of posts for National Poetry Month regarding how writing and art practices have changed in response to the occupations. Previous respondents include Stephen Collis and Steve BensonRichard Owens and Brian Whitener; Brian Ang and Ana Božičević; and David Buuck.  The following two paragraphs contain part of the prompt that I provided to participants:


Something I am wondering about kind of broadly is how your practices might have changed since the beginning of the occupations, if we can mark this beginning in the fall of 2011 (the occupations obviously having their immediate precedent in the Middle East and Europe).


Do you think it may be possible to speak to this a bit? […] Succinctly, in a paragraph or two? Maybe it has had no perceivable effect, which is fine of course, and in which case you might talk about why it is important to maintain what you are doing parallel to (or beyond?) current social movements and political events.





I’ve been reflecting so much on this very question, handling and examining the ways the occupations, since September, have affected me, or, “my” work and me. One of the things I’ve been turning over and over is a question about how I thought of myself and my work as a poet previously—before Occupy—as being a sort of ‘occupation,’ as we are using the word currently – my daily labor an occupation of, an occupational intervention in to, the institution I work for, for example; or my treatment, engagement or refusal of other structural, institutional (art, poetry, community, publishing, performance) demands.  First, Occupy makes me feel both how rich and how horribly impoverished my attempts have been. Next, it causes me to wonder what is the next right thing to do in our changing context. A poet who before wished for every work to be taking place in some sort of amplified—and often frenetic, if infrequent—relationality, I find myself withdrawing to ever-quieter, ever more distanced forms of solitude.   I find myself struggling with ever greater difficulty in uttering sentences or phrases, let alone write or organize them. Or utter or organize actions. I am not in any fray. I’m watching and listening more. I’m slower to know or judge how I think or feel, I’m tenderer and more cautious with myself and with others than I was before. My sense of compassion is deepening and growing. Six months isn’t a very long time, so it is difficult to say if my practice will invite or sustain any structural change, or if it should. Maybe I feel responsible to slowness, to gentleness, to caution and care?




I’m uncomfortable with my relationship to politics. I hardly know what it is (politics and the relationship) except for this discomfort. Growing up in an atmosphere that was unbelievably nostalgic for almost all failed revolutions, especially the October Revolution of 1917, continues to produce in me an enormously confused relationship to social political action. How did Occupy change my writing? I want to keep asking: what is my relationship to the idea of politics? What is my relationship to living. And then I want to look around and read what you wrote. These concerns have a new context. You who have been involved (I haven’t), especially my close and not-so-close friends, are showing me that these questions are necessary to ask not only because of my own past (crucial), but also because there is so much pressure inside these questions in the present. (That pressure was palpable in Madison last spring when I couldn’t avoid going to the capitol because of the flow of bodies heading there daily). So, in my writing, I’m trying to push the past and the present together in order to see how distinct they are (without denying their connection). Like The Smiths' song, “How Soon Is Now?” It’s usually sooner than I think, so I’m trying to include that in the writing more than I used to.

Originally Published: April 19th, 2012

Thom Donovan lives in New York City where he edits Wild Horses of Fire weblog (whof.blogspot.com) and coedits ON Contemporary Practice with Michael Cross and Kyle Schlesinger. He is a participant in the Nonsite Collective and a curator for the SEGUE reading series (NYC). He holds a Ph.D. in English...