Anarchist Poetry, Fourth Installment: Loaves and Fishes
November 20, 2011

In Day’s account of the Catholic worker movement in Loaves and Fishes, the element of her political thought that made her stand out among the anarchist thinkers I have read was the centrality of religion to her social movement.  Day’s Catholicism was the driving force behind her humanitarian approach to social engagement, and it is her religious faith and dedication to love that I get at in my poem.  Specifically, I was inspired by her statement, “Jesus is the fat lady.  Jesus is this Jackie who is making advances.  Jesus is Baby Doll, her cellmate.”  During her time in a women’s prison, Day dealt with individuals who made it difficult for her to adhere to her personal ethic of indiscriminatory love, and her belief that Jesus lives in and through everyone is what reminds her that she must try to continue to love even those individuals who seem unlovable.  Her constant striving for an egalitarian, universal love for all is without doubt the defining feature of her particular form of non-hierarchical communal living (i.e. anarchism).  She tells us in her book that “young people say, what good can one person do?”, and she answers “we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time; we can be responsible only for the one action of the present moment.  But we can beg for an increase of love in our hearts that will vitalize and transform all our individual actions and know that God will take them and multiply them, as Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes.”  This miraculous multiplication of love through individual action is what I have tried to draw out in my poem.

“Where there is no love, put love and you will take out love.”

Love is patient but
mostly love takes patience
it is greedy like a child
who you cannot give up on
always asking to be held to be
fed to be tucked into bed at night
and you comply and you bite your tongue
when the grape juice is spilled for the seventh time
because patience you are cultivating it
like a slow-growing garden planted
when the ground is still frozen
it takes patience and you know this
and still you love still you bite back
every word you could say that would
end conversations and drive people to
the brink of hatred to the brink of all
falling-outs and cold stares because love
takes restraint and it is something
you might have completely one day
someday love will flow like a stream
down hill and you will love like a river
love like a spring breeze in the country
but now your love is like a faulty train
starting stopping starting lights flashing on
off on sometimes you are in the dark and
you reach out and feel for someone to love
anyone who will have your imperfect
manifestations of divinity of loveliness
and that is all there can be
all you can hope for and have faith in
and that is all you need

 

Anarchist Poetry, Third Installment: Wobblies and Zapatistas
November 20, 2011

In Wobblies and Zapatistas, the need for Marxism in anarchist movements and the idea of accompaniment in social engagement are in my opinion the most important things to highlight.  Staughton Lynd’s unique perspective on anarchism comes from his having been involved extensively in labor movements across the US, and so his critique of anarchist idealism focuses on the fact that it does little to speak to the working class.  He describes anarchists as “well-intentioned individuals [who] drift in a sea of vague idealism, but with little conception of how to get from Here to There.”  He feels that by incorporating a Marxist focus on the material status quo and the concerns of the working class, anarchists (who often come from social positions of greater privilege, at least as Lynd seems to suggest) would be able to get past what is presented as a naive idealism. “Most of humanity is in a different situation than footloose students and intellectuals, and is necessarily preoccupied with economic survival,” Lynd explains, and this is the problem with which he believes anarchism is faced.  Most people, rather than being inspired by abstract ideals, are concerned merely with their own day to day existences.  “How can we expect people to hunger and thirst for something new and different if they have never had even a moment to experience it, to taste it, to live inside it?” Lynd asks the idealists.  In discussing social engagement on the part of “footloose students and intellectuals,” then, he asserts the need for a policy of accompaniment.  Based on his own experiences of being of an upper middle background and setting out to become involved in working class communities, he observes that rather than entering the community with your own plan of action that the community should undertake, you must instead come with a skill that will be useful to the individuals in that community.  In other words, instead of imposing lofty intellectual ideals on individuals, you must simply offer your services and work towards a common goal.  “Accompaniment,” Lynd explains, “is simply the idea of walking side by side with another on a common journey.”.  It requires not “uncritical deference” of one person to another, but equality.  This tension between intellectual, idealist anarchists and the immediate economic concerns of the working class is what I took as the inspiration for the poems based on Lynd’s discussion.

Theory and Practice

we are footloose students
dreaming intellectuals living
between bookshelves
occupying the empty spaces
between ideal worlds and status quos
between nows and thens
heres and theres
because our feet can find
walkways that will not exist
until we seek them out
we are building our own ways forward
in darkness in unknowing surety
we are perfectionists of the boldest kind
we pitch our tents on moral high grounds
and the smoke from our fires
burns everyone else’s eyes
we are running ahead
refusing to wait for the world
to catch up because they
don’t understand
the lofty way we hold
our existences together
the way we get drunk
on manifestoes to forget
we are alone

The Accompanist

I came to you with an ideal
held out like a peace offering
and it was all I had to give because
all I am made of are
the things I have gathered from books
from years of sitting still I know things
I know things about things
I know things about knowing things
and I thought I knew what was called for
thought I knew the dark corners
where light needed to be shed and
so I came with a flash light
I came to your home while
your children whispered upstairs
I drank your coffee I used words
I no longer know the meaning of
and you took my gift and
after I left you put it in your hall closet
between winter boots and broken umbrellas
and it sat there and changed only
the place where your husband put
his shoes when he came home in the evenings

 

 

Anarchist Poetry, Second Installment: Anarchy Alive!
November 19, 2011

In Uri Gordon’s work, the central elements that I gleaned from the text were those concerned with the culture of domination that perpetuates the state, Gordon’s theory of power, and his opinion regarding technology.  What first struck me in Anarchy Alive! was the assertion that “the state is a condition, a certain relationship among human beings…We are the state.”  In other words, the domination and hierarchical nature of our society is not perpetuated by some overarching, removed State against which we can fight; there is in each of us, rather, a personal tendency towards domination.  Gordon says, “Regimes of domination are the overarching context that anarchists see as conditioning people’s socialisation…, explaining why people fall into certain patterns of behaviour and have expectations that contribute to the perpetuation of dominatory relations.”  Following from this, then, while it is possible to fight against the “overarching context” which leads to the perpetuation of detrimental social relations, it is better and more meaningful to engage in personal liberation at the individual level.  In other words, “the only real liberation is self-liberation.”  Gordon’s discussion of power is also notable, in that he distinguishes between power-over, power-to, and power-with.  The first is “power through domination,” that type of power that anarchists strive to reject, but power-to is a “power-from-within,” a power to do things, to create things, a positive power.  And power-with is the power to be an individual acting with a group of people as equals, the power “to suggest and be listened to.”  In my poems, I tried to grapple with Gordon’s differentiation between positive and negative powers and how domination is involved in this differentiation.

Gordon’s views on technology are also intriguing, and I engaged with them to a certain degree in my poems.  His vision of an anarchist, decentralized social structure would not allow for the sustaining of “modern industrial society as we know it”; it would be impossible that “the levels of coordination and precision needed for high technological exploits – from biotech to space exploration – could ever be achieved in a society that lacks centralised management and, moreover, the kind of motivations supplied by a profit economy and the arms race.”  Through this assertion, Gordon links technological progress and the hierarchical and dominatory state structures currently in place, and so in my poems, I attempted to allude to this relationship between technological advancement and the power-over of the state.

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we are perpetuating ourselves
past our own finitude,
building ourselves up, building
our cities up, carving our
names into rock, shouting
our insignificances across
oceans, we are making ourselves
magnificent, we are gathering power
around our beings until we are
too charged to touch
but we push past our own
limits, we reach our muscular arms tattooed
with “DOMINANCE” across borders,
across lives of men we will
never know, we pull the entire world
to us and we drink it
up, we grow fat from it and fall
asleep in the sun we have claimed for
ourselves and snore in a
complacency so loud that
others cannot sleep, others cannot
hear themselves sing
their own liberations

“the only liberation is self-liberation”

we are the violence inherent
in our own nervous systems
the state we tear down lives
through our own bodies our own
beings and we are fighting against
our own worst natures we must
shatter our own dark reflections must
turn and turn and turn in on
our selves turn on ourselves
rooting out the hierarchies nascent
in our skin cells in our muscles
behind our own heartbeats
we are power full awe full
wonder full
if we could shift the patterned
way we move our feet across the floor
disrupt the doorways to power-
over again over against
our own ways of seeing
we are the hinges on which
all the gates are swinging

Anarchist Poetry, First Installment: The Dispossessed
November 19, 2011

As part of a course I am taking this term called Anarchism: Religion, Ethics, and Political Obligation, I am writing a collection of poems.  In this collection, my goal is to explore the key ideas in four texts about anarchism: Dorothy Day’s Loaves and Fishes, Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, Uri Gordon’s Anarchism Alive!, and Staughton Lynd and Andrej Grubacic’s Wobblies and Zapatistas.  After reading each of these books, I identified what I saw as being the unique and most interesting aspects of the author’s conception of anarchism and used these central concepts as my primary inspiration for the poems I then wrote.

Ursula K. Le Guin’s science fiction novel, The Dispossessed, presents to the reader an anarchist society on the planet Anarres, contrasted with a capitalist society on the planet Urras.  One of the ideas brought up in the novel that I wished to explore was the main character’s assertion that brotherhood begins with shared suffering.  Throughout the novel, it is unclear as to what is holding the anarchist society on Anarres together; the many scattered communities rely on each other for resources, necessitating a complex exchange of goods and workers between the widely-dispersed enclaves of civilization on the barren planet, but aside from the necessity of mutual aid, the characters of the novel seem to be dedicated to each other in a solidarity that goes beyond materialistic incentives.  Shevek (the main character) asserts that this solidarity comes from a profound and deep existential suffering: “In pain, which each of us must suffer alone, in hunger, in poverty, in hope, we know our brotherhood.”  His belief in the universality and ineradicability of Pain is the idea upon which I based my first poem.  The second poem draws on the appalling excess and consumption of the capitalist culture to which Shevek is exposed on Urras.  In his anarchist society, having vast amounts of personal property and being unwilling to share with others is seen not only as wasteful but simply as morally wrong.  On Urras, though, he is faced with a culture in which the amassing of property is a sign of wealth and personal worth.  This capitalist obsession with luxury, in stark contrast with the anarchist ethos of sharing and near-asceticism, is what my second Le Guin poem draws out.

“the sunlight differs but there is only one darkness”

brother sister partner tell me
tell me you feel it too when you are out
watering the hollum plants in the middle of
nothing in the middle of dust
and it is settling on your shoulders
in your hair in your lungs and
you cannot stop coughing up
all the things you do not want to see
tell me tell me I am alone but I am
not alone tell me I am like nothing
you have ever seen and that
frightens you and tell me you are afraid
of the revolutions I am acting out
in my own chest in the space of my own skull
tell me you can see the explosions
behind my eyes my pupils glowing my
blood rushing so loud you can hear it
across the room tell me you can see
my heart beating through my clothes
because here is my secret pain here
is the wound I hide from the world
my masked blindness my last weakness
my first failing but tell me
tell me it is yours too tell me you
have known it in the darkness when
you think the world is sleeping
brother we are alone we are alone
in our own being in our own
boundaries the world is outside of me and
I can never hold it but hold my hand tell me
tell me you know who I am

“acres of luxuries, acres of excrement”

Full hands full hands!
We are holding onto everything onto
boxes in our rib cages in our basements in
our attics sealed shut never opened never
used never given up.
Things are collecting dust
but we keep it all.
It is our insulation against disappearance
against lowering against falling away
into obscurity into nothingness because
we are distinguished! We are POWER
full with things we wear
on our sleeves see them
see them here? They are HERE we are
in this and this and this and this and
THIS and all of it! OURS and ours and
ours!  And money is for spending for having
for surely we deserve it all all and
all and we will take six yards of cloth and
spin it around our shoulders and we will be so
warm and glowing and GREAT and we will eat
dessert twice twice four times even because
how can it not be good taste good feel good?
Our jewels on our necks on our fingers and our
names are scattered across the world when
the sunlight hits them and we are reflected
in it all! Can you see us? Aren’t we
blinding? Aren’t we
lovely? Yes?
Yes?

 

seven haikus for seventh week
October 26, 2011

It is seventh week.
I am afraid of the end;
it approaches fast.

Anarchism is
radical autonomy.
Can we live that way?

God is just ourselves
held apart from who we are.
Let’s take ourselves back.

I #occupy this
space surrounding my body.
I am a protest.

Disposable cups
are filling up my mind with
caffeine.  I can’t sleep.

My dreams are screenings –
films filled with chases, sex scenes.
Nighttimes are lucid.

Here between the lines
is a cozy place to be.
Inconspicuous.