Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Ted Greenwald

Thinking of Ted Greenwald, great poet who passed away a few days ago. I remember CAConrad and Joey Yearous-Algozin and Jena Osman telling me I should read him. Then I did, and they were right, and it changed the way I listen and the way I write. And then I wrote to Ted, and he wrote back, and his handwritten notes on yellow paper became bookmarks like echoes in my Common Sense.

Here's Ted reading "Whiff" in 1979:

Text of the whole poem can be found here.

More recordings of his work can be found here.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

the problem of academic labor

Here are two moments from “The General Antagonism: a conversation with Stevphen Shukaitis” in which Fred Moten and Stefano Harney talk about their book The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study (2013). They mean “study” as a social activity that can take place anywhere, any kind of informal intellectual exchange, not necessarily confined to an institution. This is Moten talking about academic labor and study:

“When I think now about the question or problem of academic labor, I think about it in this way: that part of what I’m interested in is how the conditions of academic labor have become unconducive to study – how the conditions under which academic laborers labor actually preclude or prevent study, make study difficult if not impossible. When I was involved in labor organizing as a graduate student, with the Association of Graduate Student Employees at the University of California Berkeley I was frustrated with the way that sometimes graduate student investment in thinking about themselves as workers was predicated on the notion that workers don’t study. But this was more than just a romanticisation of authentic work and a disavowal of our own ‘inauthenticity’ as workers. It was that our image of ourselves as academic laborers actually acceded to the ways in which the conditions of academic labor prevented study. We actually signed on to the prevention of study as a social activity even while we were engaging in, and enjoying, organizing as a social activity. It’s like we were organizing for the right to more fully embed ourselves in isolation. It never felt like we studied (in) the way we organized, and we never approached a whole bunch of other modes of study that were either too much on the surface of, or too far underneath, the university. I think we never recognized that the most insidious, vicious, brutal aspect of the conditions of our labor was that it regulated and suppressed study.” (113-14)

. . .

“The prophet is the one who tells the brutal truth, who has the capacity to see the absolute brutality of the already-existing and to point it out and to tell that truth, but also to see the other way, to see what it could be. That double-sense, that double-capacity: to see what’s right in front of you and to see through that to what’s up ahead of you. One of the ways in which academic labor has become sclerotic, let’s say, is precisely because it imagines that the primary mode, specifically of a certain kind of left academic labor, is a kind of clear-eyed seeing of what’s actually going on right now – and that the work is reducible to that. Or, another way to put it is that, insofar as that’s what one conceives the work to be, one is only really doing the work when the work is absolutely in the absence of play, where play would be conceived of as pretending, as seeing what could be, as fantasy.” (131)

We labor to escape. We want to play to free the self, which is an isolation enforced by our capitalist, temp-work cities. To escape these conditions, we have to find a way to play, or study. As Moten suggests, to play/study, to feel our way through together, is to allow for prophecy, to allow for freedom. For another world to come. Can you imagine a labor movement that was also a poetry movement?

Here is Raoul Vaneigem from The Revolution of Everyday Life (1967):

“Revolution ceases to exist from the moment one must sacrifice oneself for it. From the moment one must lose oneself in it and fetishize it. Revolutionary moments are carnivals in which the individual life celebrates its unification with a regenerated society. The call for sacrifice in such a context is a death knell . . .

When rebels start believing that they are fighting for a higher good the authoritarian principle is bolstered. Humanity has never been short of justifications for giving up the human. In fact some people possess a veritable reflex of submission, an irrational terror of freedom; this masochism is everywhere visible in everyday life. With what galling ease we give up a wish, a passion, the most essential parts of ourselves. With what passivity, what inertia, we accept living or acting for something, or rather some thing — a word whose dead weight seems to prevail everywhere. It is hard to be oneself, so we give up readily, seizing on whatever pretext we can: love of children, of reading, of artichokes, etc, etc. The wish for a remedy evaporates in face of the abstract generality of the ill.

And yet the impulse to freedom also knows how to make use of pretexts. Even a strike for higher wages or a riot in the streets can awaken the carnival spirit. As I write, thousands of workers around the world are downing tools or picking up guns, ostensibly in obedience to directives or principles, but actually, at the profoundest level, in response to their passionate desire to change their lives. The unstated agenda of every insurrectionary movement is the transformation of the world and the reinvention of life. No theorist formulates these demands; rather, they are the sole foundation of poetic creativity. Revolution is made every day despite, and indeed in opposition to the specialists of revolution. This revolution is nameless, like everything that springs from lived experience. Its explosive integrity is forged continuously in the everyday clandestinity of acts and dreams.” (Chapter 12, “Sacrifice”)

And here is Audre Lorde from her essay “Uses of the Erotic” (1978):

“The principal horror of any system which defines the good in terms of profit rather than in terms of human need, or which defines human need to the exclusion of the psychic and emotional components of that need--the principal horror of such a system is that it robs our work of its erotic value, its erotic power and life appeal and fulfillment. Such a system reduces work to a travesty of necessities, a duty by which we earn bread or oblivion for ourselves and those we love. But this is tantamount to blinding a painter and then telling her to improve her work, and to enjoy the act of painting. It is not only next to impossible, it is also profoundly cruel.”

. . .

“The very word erotic comes from the Greek word eros, the personification of love in all its aspects - born of Chaos, and personifying creative power and harmony. When I speak of the erotic, then, I speak of it as an assertion of the lifeforce of women; of that creative energy empowered, the knowledge and use of which we are now reclaiming in our language, our history, our dancing, our loving, our work, our lives.”

. . .

“The erotic functions for me in several ways, and the first is in providing the power which comes from sharing deeply any pursuit with another person. The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic, or intellectual, forms a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference.

Another important way in which the erotic connection functions is the open and fearless underlining of my capacity for joy, in the way my body stretches to music and opens into response, harkening to its deepest rhythms so every level upon which I sense also opens to the erotically satisfying experience whether it is dancing, building a bookcase, writing a poem, or examining an idea.

That self-connection shared is a measure of the joy which I know myself to be capable of feeling, a reminder of my capacity for feeling. And that deep and irreplaceable knowledge of my capacity for joy comes to demand from all of my life that it be lived within the knowledge that such satisfaction is possible, and does not have to be called marriage, nor god, nor an afterlife.

This is one reason why the erotic is so feared, and so often relegated to the bedroom alone, when it is recognized at all. For once we begin to feel deeply all the aspects of our lives, we begin to demand from ourselves and from our life-pursuits that they feel in accordance with that joy which we know ourselves to be capable of. Our erotic knowledge empowers us, becomes a lens through which we scrutinize all aspects of our existence, forcing us to evaluate those aspects honestly in terms of their relative meaning within our lives. And this is a grave responsibility, projected from within each of us, not to settle for the convenient, the shoddy, the conventionally expected, nor the merely safe.”

Sunday, March 20, 2016

dirty martini

it’s like drinking the ocean
w/out choking
if life ended now
it’s just time
ask me how
the whole city’s doing
edgar allan poe is fine
in moyamensing prison
they love him
in the deli corner
of acme, muttering
provolone til the parking
lot is buried in snow
you can dig your car out
next week
here’s a pack of tokens
and some scratch-offs
if you were born after
this day in 1912
you can bring the lovers
back together
one’s walking into ray’s
one’s walking home right
now, probably a different
lorraine than the one
you know but all motion
is a crab, snockey’s closed
and stays open
in my heart
which is late
to the tongue—take
my tongue and paint
their doors before
they’re home, paint
their steps like
the bruises
you return to
as if employed
by orange peels
to the curb
you owe nothing
to the taste of
the weight
of desire, the city flattened
by rent as the rent dies
for our sins and the roads
bleed out

chase scene

Tuesday, March 8, 2016


a factory makes facts
you show up
then you’re gone
red clouds eat
the snow
inside me
like a footprint
june is purple
drums are rooms
for infinite need
the lungs walk out
in four decades
52% of wildlife gone
where to park
that stone whale
in a moon of notes
i get by
like the news
under hums
in the shape of a squirrel
a man may form
and fall from a tree
an apple
flashing the sky
between our huts
fish teeth
are a secret
w/out a bus
to splash into
your eye in the skull
of a penguin
clocks out the city
like a dad who sighs
up the stairs
gray whir of traffic
underlining the past
it’s all for us
minus the job clown
on your shoulder

Thursday, December 31, 2015

burnt turf

record is mint
it’s yours, somebody
in nebraska loves you
“the flower’s always
in the almond”, evaporates
steamboat willie on my street
w/ xylophone teeth
there’s infinite parking
put eyelashes on your car
and spit
i like that
ungentrified wink
unknotting my back
like an old lover
in that faded way
it’s contagious, the echo
of shadow coming off you
in sheets, hips pulled against
me in waves of houses
lie down w/ the ghost
wake up w/ the ghost
i was dead for a long time
but look, sunday, my clothes
on the radiator are dry
and my heart is public, ripe
for the cellar that goes on
and on so we can keep chasing
ourselves into the ground
in all directions twentieth
centuries, how these rotting
bridges can hold up train after
train of coal and death, steel
veins rusting out of concrete
each train a need to keep
pushing outward
you hear it at night
in the wind
three whistles
basic desire
the bouncing ball
keeping time
you can squeeze the benjamin franklin
house between two parking meters
and feed the art world for two seconds
and pretend the end of history
falling asleep convinced
that love is whatever can speak
for the emptiness and scribble it
down for permanence
and fall asleep again, trains for
some, cars for others
general motors for all
our grinding teeth and
walmart in the back
in the morning
no strike but a loose
dream of a circulation
that equals solidarity
instead of neighborhoods bumbling
w/ little yuppie kids
in halloween costumes
they are balloons
we must pop
open your books, children, to chapter
1: letting go of status
a motorcycle farts off the car alarms
and laughter becomes us, the street, vein of
endless transfer we celebrate
no state but the seed within
chapter 2: sell the moon for a seven-minute
cartoon called “fuck the boss”
which will grow roots that tunnel out
an extensive subway system
so people can get to pleasure
on time in every part
of town—this is my plan for the city
it already happened
it’s called “burnt turf”
record is mint
the cars pulled us all apart finally
we stopped stumbling out of work
and built new bridges from the corpses
of meter maids
i mean millionaires
and walked them
and walked them again
a million here, a million there
burnt turf
record is mint
i woke up in the back seat
of a car being driven across
grays ferry
by my dead grandmother
don’t worry, she said
tossed her cigarette out the window
it’s the future, she said, broke means
together now
and drove on in silence
for a long time
i stared out the window
we were there
and love ceased to be an escape

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Friday, October 9, 2015

secret service

you’re telling me dolphins
aren’t building cities
and killing everything
because they don’t have hands
the pope is in a jeep
w/ fins
waving to the dolphins
what’s amore?
says a dolphin in a pope
smoking in the sea
i got this at a thrift store
in kentucky
on a road trip
it was raining
do you like it
do you like me
do you wanna strangle the sea
w/ these fins and rain and t-shirt
and everyone you’ve ever loved
and look
no hands
no hands

Friday, September 25, 2015

Sunday, September 20, 2015

chase scene

we’re up 18-0, too bad it doesn’t count. i’m there in spirit,
someone says, clinging to his little piece of nothing. muted field
mown brown to the dead who swim underground. every passing
stranger hooks to every passing stranger—anger, the sea. history
of some “pure present” we can wave to in the window. both arms
are acceptable. the history of how to swim begins with drowning.
our mannequin comes up for breath, it's monday. we chase
fragments. we will never kill all of these fascists. we are a
they, looted, so go ahead and cheers with your water. that’s
the heart holding out. that’s some pete rosey shit, you say.
you whisper, without a contract, "i have no bosses in this room."
the room is hunger. we swallow.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

bad form

99.9 percent of people eat their own god
but there’s no word for it
because you keep checking your phone
how long have you worked
in this blue
who makes the decisions
in your blue
how much does the blue pay
why does your coke taste like
what disrupts the illusion
if not the word “illusion”
which lulls us to sleep
it’s all a bag of flowers
i grab a flower and brush the present
off my teeth
hillary clinton wants to be president
what are you going to do
you can’t recall a knockoff
it’s just a knockoff
in the united states of knockoff
you lost me at “i was born in . . .”
the block was blocked off
the cop said “i knew your dad back when”
and quoted us most of the collected everyone
“slavery is necessary,” he said, “that’s why
i’m voting for hillary”
then wiped his ass w/ a cat
and threw it at us
that’s the god of life
just like you
on may day working
for the national poem
called “isolated consciousness looks at a tree”
at 6pm i went to lucky 13
drank nine blue coats
put a five on the bar
and walked out
bad form
bad form
gina had my back
paid the tab
said read “a broken world”
by joseph lease
an elegy for a friend
the opposite of a scab
in trust of death
a blackout is a small strike
don’t make me make
don’t make me walk out
the blue
of all time
after eating love
i will eat love again
my skin will be water
as yours
faith in rain
as rain and rain
as more than
don’t make me
make words
for a solidarity
that works
so we all show up
as the tree yawning
down the isolated consciousness
of ernest hemingway
his knockoff armies
who will fight
for the wounded hero
in a pool of everyone else’s blood
waving a flag of dicks
until the box office explodes
and all is profile pic
“what’s on your mind?”
not you
and not you
and not you
and nothing
a bag of flowers
a block of us
talking to a hole
in the sky
the sky is scratched
nothing’s crossed out
the cd plays
disparate youth
it skips
it’s still good w/ the skips

Thursday, July 9, 2015

chase scene

we’re driving down washington ave, listening to “wonderful tonight.”
do i feel all right? i feel the dumpy heat, red light every fifty feet.
sad horns from the corners dismember the clapton, cluck-u-chicken.
cluck-u-seven eleven. cluck-u-a-plus mini mart. i remember, right
around here, losing my breath once from heartbreak, out of nowhere
just walking along here, at night. frozen music. architecture is frozen
music. people were drinking in the scoreboard, which is closed. we
closed it, remember, to drink inside and watch people kiss and turn
off the lights and be washington ave.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015



Monday, June 29, 2015

chase scene

we’re doing unpaid work in the courtroom while temple university’s
lawyer attacks us for being poor. his tongue is a wet dollar. you
have no power, he says, it says so right here in this poem you
didn’t write. therefore, you should have no power—you can just
home. but we just sit there and we can’t be fired for just
sitting there, for being a poet, which is a union. which is an army
of lovers. the lawyer’s tongue is then a wet piece of toilet paper.
part of it tears off and falls to the floor. pick it up, the judge
says. the lawyer picks up his tongue and hands it to the provost,
who puts it in his own mouth and begins to chew. wet shit runs
down his chin, dribbles onto his tie. the judge orders a five-minute
break. outside the provost tries to shake my hand, so i hand him a
fish, which he begins smacking on the pavement, smacking the fish
on the pavement over and over and he begins to choke, choking on
the poem we didn’t write. and we stand there and watch the provost
choke and choke and then, finally, die. then, on his forehead, we
write a big fucking F.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

chase scene

we’re playing chess on the unfinished concourse to nowhere. you
take off your gas mask and look at me. a train slides under us,
the heart flutters, the homeless who sleep in waves around us.
are we homeless, you say, the city unridden in your face, the
lines unbuilt. you want to organize the ocean. unwrap the fish,
i say. you unwrap the fish, and the fish squints. we begin where
we are. the king is dead, and the queen is dead, and the night
is fat with pawns.

Monday, June 15, 2015

chase scene

we’re in old city unsnapping the horses’ shitbags. freedom is free,
the street buckles like empties. the tourists, white, turn red as gum—
it behooves them. corona pony for you, corona pony for me—cheers
to brick wall, full dues paid against which i smash myself into our
empties—openness, then, salt on the lips. whims of higher ups just
pissed into cups, beer pong for the board of trustees who buck
like starved cunts in a jar of nothing. in a jar of fake history. it
rolls down the street, halts at a fence of paul revere droppings.
shhh, shhh! let the sewer speak.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

tempus fuckit

i hate the word “vision”
as meaning anything
but eyesight
somebody w/ money
will build something
stupid here
and that’s that
the pilot hid his depression
locked out the captain
and flew 200 people
into a mountain
we’ve got tv and internet
chicken salmon steak
crime and punishment
we never finished it
my life was spared
at moment of execution
when two men w/ bats
emerged from sunoco
to chase them off
the news will die later
it’s april again
acme bags bloom
in the dead trees
like prayers
i write three poems
at once
to hedge my bets
outside of sex
i have never lived
“in the moment”
what is “the moment”
another name for
a propulsive need to
be turned inside
i sit still in my car
the only
thing is a trash
truck we’re stuck
behind on 9th street
one way
all the way
all is lost
but the radio
which is blind
i look down at my phone
retweet the common squirrel
scratch scratch scratch
run run run

the eighties are oldies now
i’ll stop the world
and melt with you
you’ve seen the difference
and it’s getting better
all the time

Sunday, May 3, 2015


photo by Pattie McCarthy