Poetry News

The Not-Fully-Seen Beyond of Collaborative 'Executive Orders'

By Harriet Staff
The president's hands

MobyLives breathes the executive order anew by interviewing three poets about "Executive Orders," a new project and "online collaboration in which a veritable sleigh-team of poets (more than twenty have participated so far) are creating some binding directives of their own." Started by members of the Organism for Poetic Research Rachael Wilson, Andrew Gorin, and MC Hyland, the project currently exists "primarily as a Google Doc, to which anyone can add, but has also been printed out in several 'editions.'” "Taken together, the executive orders are a kind of wild ride through a landscape deformed by the destructive prerogatives of an obscene government, but lush with wildlife from some not-fully-seen political beyond, some of it beautiful, some of it hilarious," writes Ian Dreiblatt. From their conversation:

ML: How do you see the relationships among different styles of executive order, here? What’s the overall goal of the project?
Hyland: Because the poem focuses on speech acts as potentially world-changing, both for better and for worse (and, specifically, came out of a time when speech acts from the executive branch of our government were daily changing our communities’ lives for the worse), it felt important to create a space for the broadest possible set of speech acts. What can be decreed? What does it mean to take apart the language of the state and just fuck with it, pun with it, over-literalize it? When the speech of a leader constantly forces you to react—to flood streets and airports and government offices always in response to his declarations—how can you mark out a space of assertion? How can you make a space for joy, for communal pleasure, for self-determination in this constant siege of language-as-executive-function?
Wilson: There’s a great deal of pleasure to be had in all this commanding, demanding, and countermanding, and there’s a powerful feeling in allowing oneself to imagine and phrase a utopian rejoinder to the supremely fucked political, social, ecological state we’re in. I want everyone to experience that pleasure and power, which is why I’m constantly encouraging people to collaborate on this project. Gorin: Another way to think about the importance of the absurd ones in particular is to say they recognize that making utopian political declarations is important and yet not enough on its own. This is noted at the beginning of the postscript at the back: “Performative speech acts have an effect on the world. But alone they are not enough to foment real resistance and positive change. Please consider taking the following actions as a means of realizing the orders executed above.” Following this is a list of more concrete actions you can take and donations you can make. The list and this project will always be unfinished and imperfect and I feel that it is important to recognize this.
Wilson: For me, it has been energizing to write these orders and to let them occupy the full range of utopian dreaming — from the dead serious to the gleefully irreverent to the blissed-out and beautiful. I hope that this tonal range isn’t perceived as diminishing the political force of the poem, but that instead we can make the connection back to the political from a line like “By the fleece vested in us…” Of course, political satire and parody are important elements here, too.
Hyland: I’d also add that I spend a lot of time thinking about Arendt’s take on politics as essentially a speech-based practice — that what “the political” actually is is a realm in which people speak to each other about ideas and ideals. Perplexingly, this leads her to the conclusion that the reason the French Revolution—like many subsequent revolutions!—didn’t ultimately achieve its goals was because it tried to use politics to solve problems of bodily need: bread for all! I’m still not sure what the purpose of politics is if not the distribution of resources, so her thinking is for me a real provocation to ask how else one might imagine the realm of the political. I feel like this project is trying to work through, in a real-world scenario, what an Arendtian political practice might look like: sometimes, even when speech is just speech, it may still mark out a new horizon of possibility.
ML: How do you envision the life of this project in a post-Trump world?
Wilson: Fuuuuuuuuck. I’m just trying to envision a post-Trump world.

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Originally Published: June 30th, 2017