Benjamin Hollander offered one of the more productive responses to my “Preliminary Notes”. Pointing to the final quote from Landauer, he asked whether or not poetry can help us rethink our relationships between others, suggesting that history is but one element. And of course, if you know Benjamin’s superb work, you will know that this is often his own project, particularly in RITUALS OF TRUCE AND THE OTHER ISRAELI. It’s a piece of prose essentially, what might be called creative non-fiction, with biographical elements. Benjamin Hollander as born in Israel and frequenty goes back. He has a book of creative non-fiction called THE RITUALS OF TRUCE AND THE OTHER ISRAELI. It kicks ass, and from the title alone suggests he will take on specific, political content. He does so with what a more pretentious thinker might call Radical Humility, a call really for multiple types of listening across cultures. It’s a very powerful challenge and nuanced addition to the question of who gets to speak.
Benjamin turned me onto Semezin Mehmedinovic, a Bosnian exile now living here. In NINE ALEXANDRIAS writes about traveling across America from the exile’s point-of-view. It’s subject centered work, but in contrast to the techno-confessionalists—those who vomit back the worst of our culture, the very language of domination—the experience of reading it is more truly challenging to our comfortable, privileged point of view. His characterization of our banal and insensitive notions of violence seems particularly distinct from those who merely appropriate for us that which is unfortunately already ours.
ESSAY ON TATTOOS
When the guy sitting across from me straightens up
I catch sight of a guillotine with a lightning flash
Against a bluish knife blade sketched
Hyper-realistically across his throat.
In the culture of poverty I come from
Tattoos are always and only the result of dull needles
Taken up in solitary.
In spite of the pain, I yearned
To inscribe messages on my body
But I never took the plunge before the needle,
Something I attribute to the
Cause of antifascism:
In a society still sensitive to the tenderness of the skin
Memory of the holocaust still lives on.
And here is one of this responses to 9/11:
AFTER SPICER (L.A. 9/22)
I’ve already been sitting in the garden at the café
For hours before I spread the book out in front of me
Jack Spicer’s Language
So I can transmit what I’ve just read like it was
News, not something that
Happened half-a-century back:
“The 50 penny German postage stamp
Depicts a small chapel and an oak:
If you look real closely
You can see Hitler’s face come together in the crown of the tree,
And at the Bundespost the Reichmeister says:
We know what it is we’ve designed and it doesn’t represent Hitler.
It doesn’t speak very well for the German people
If they see Hitler everywhere.”
I particularly like the “We know what it is we’ve designed” line as it is sort of beside the point. Whether or not the big H is really in the image, he will be perceived there. That’s a line I take as possibly ironic, one that goes to questions of intention, and one that adds some nuance to the basic question of perceiving evil as total.
I have to say that what attracted me to writing, to becoming a writer was the way it seemed to lend me a new subjectivity, what I've called temporary autonomy, but which is perhaps better called "becoming exile."