Arts & Culture / The Reading Room / Vol. 2 No. 1-2

Poetic Citizenship and Negative Dialectics

Susan Bee, Votes for Women

Image Credit: Susan Bee, Votes for Women, 2018, 30″ x 40″, oil, enamel, sand, linen, Courtesy of the artist

Poetry is best that governs least.

No it isn’t.

Poetry and citizenship are inconsolably incommensurable, conjoined at the heart but beating time to different drummers.

From time to time.

Aesthetic justice is symbolic and dwells next to, not in, the world of political action.

Give me a break!

The politics of poetic form is averse to the form of political prose.

In your dreams!

The kind of poetry I want is precarious and extreme, the kind of citizenship I want is neither.

As if you can have it both ways.

Accessibility is to prose what opacity is to poetry.

As in: a long walk is better than a short peer?

The dollar value of poetry can be calculated as the square root of the sublime times the negative sum of utopia divided by the excess derivative of anoriginality.

You wish!

The kind of poetry I want questions norms of identity by rocking and roiling. It traffics in error and errancy. It’s a querulous query. But that’s not to the only kind of poetry I want.

You could fool me, buddy.

When language grapples with the unfamiliar or repressed, it will more likely sound strange than familiar.

The strange is pretty familiar to me.

Politics speaks truth to power. Poetry speaks truth to truth.

Poetry is necessary plural, its strands are inimical to one another.
Poetry is just as a vital when it is refused by public space as when it occupies public space. The question is not why discomforting poetry (to use a phrase of Tonya Foster’s) doesn’t have a public voice in America in today, but why that voice is cast aside.

The question is not “Is Poetry Dead?” (again) but “Why are you dead to poetry?”

Poetry is not an export product of suffering or beauty, solidarity or despair, but a domain of freedom shrouded in veils, an unextractable aesthetic ore.

Poetry is a form of lamentation not, to split cares, an expression of lamentation.

Aesthetic justice turns an otherworldly eye to family, nation, community, and rationality. Poetry so conceived is of the earth, not of the world. This is how poetry matters in the world.

Aesthetic privilege is a negative market force, an active agent of loss.

Poetry emerges from difficult life in spite of as much as a result of.

So much depends upon spite.

The promise of a poem, the kind of poetry I want, is that it refuses reality.

But is it good for the Jews?

To be a poetic citizen is not to act as a citizen but to perform as a poet. But there can be no citizenship without poetry. Even citizenship is symbolic. Citizenship that refuses dialog with the delirious, wanton, discomforting possibilities of poetry approaches nativism.

Get off your low horse.

If citizenship is the first language of the democrat, then poetry is a second language that, out of love and deep need, refuses to obey its mother tongue.

Poetry has no purpose and that is not its purpose.


Presented at the Center for Humanities, CUNY Graduate Center, on November 16, 2017 as part of a forum, organized by Kyoo Lee, on “Poetics Citizenship Today.MP3.”

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