ANTIPOETRY

Stacy Szymaszek

A few days after I wrote my last post, I was doing my best to relax in a recliner at community acupuncture. With needles in my head, arms, and ankles my mind kept moving back and forth between imagining the crane at Arcosanti and, of all things, the clock tower at St. Mark’s Church. They have about the same reach into the sky, both have religious meaning (the way Soleri talks about it – “religare” (Latin), to bond together) but my mind was connecting them because at some point both the clock and the crane stopped functioning as intended and started functioning in other ways.

An aside: it has been comfortable territory for me to write about The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s in the context of being its director, and even more so as its most recent former director. Something about being at Arcosanti opened a window, a circular one of course, for me to think about the Project as I am now – an autonomous poet. I don’t have to (try) to represent it for everyone. It exists for me as it never has before.

The clock hands at St. Mark’s were stopped at 6:20 for the thirteen years I ambled the grounds. Right before I moved on, there were enormous pieces of its face on the floor of the sanctuary balcony waiting to be sent out for repair. I assume it tells time now (all the time and not just twice a day). I would often have the title of David Antin’s book I Never Knew What Time It Was (2005, the year I started working there) stuck in my head. The subject of how time is felt, remembered, and recounted is underlying the three books I wrote in NYC. It suited me well to live with a broken church clock. It worked for me as a marker of an alternative relationship to time. And a reminder that there is standard time and human time – the way our bodies mark time.

The crane at Arcosanti is meant to represent that Arcosanti is in a continual state of being built (people who reside there are still working on it) and is an example of a living system (by definition humanistic). I crave any sort of structure that doesn’t get logistically bogged and therefore can be responsive to human beings – in the way Robert Duncan defined “responsibility” so profoundly in his poem “The Law I Love is Major Mover”:

Responsibility is to keep the ability to respond.

It’s emotional work in practice, because you are encouraging what is rarely allowed – the space for people to have a range of response ability – anger and sorrow included.  As a young person who was marked as “overly sensitive” I came to believe that overly sensitive people are the enemies of bureaucracy, and by extension, the state.

When I called to make reservations at Arcosanti, the woman who answered the phone took down my name and my phone number and that’s it. When we arrived (after hours) the room key was left in a plastic bag in a stairwell. I was given directions that began: park here, walk across the bridge… . The next day in the visitor center a woman asked “do you want to pay now?” creating a very relaxed relationship around transacting their modest nightly guest fee. The room we stayed in was as rudimentary as can be, but radiated beauty through its caring construction.

How can a project that doesn’t value progress and expansion last for many decades? Can you generate power from being small, and response-able? Paolo Soleri talked about arcology as miniaturization, which occurs when active processes are made more capable by becoming frugal (a creative virtue). This actually clarifies the complexity of dynamic life. One of the things I’ve learned to appreciate about my experience of small western towns is the number of small businesses that have been around for a long time, often specialize in one thing (vacuums, air-conditioners), and have hand painted signs, and weird hours. They don’t answer to the needs of the consumer in the way I am accustomed to, but they are, I surmise, answering the needs of their daily lives.

“Life is by definition experimental,” Soleri said. If true, what happens when we make things that deny or defy this?

Last June, I wrote a poem called “Antipoetry.” I always start a poem with the title so this word was… an intense foray. The first three lines of the poem quote antipoet Nicanor Parra’s piece “The Last Battle,” as translated by Miller Williams. What’s an “energumen?” It’s a person who is being worked upon by an evil spirit.  Oh! I was also reading from Dante, Boccaccio, and Baraka’s The System of Dante’s Hell. Thinking about good and evil as a binary is a safe place for this Catholic to lapse back into, but I have made a life for myself where I want to and can find nourishment in paradoxes. I think this is part of antipoetry. What is antipoetry? Before the Chileans Parra and Vicente Huidobro, Alexis de Tocqueville, “the farsighted French observer of the nineteenth century, employed the word “antipoetic” in 1840 in reference to the “petty,” “insipid” life of democratic America” (Dave Oliphant). Huidobro said “THE GREAT DANGER TO THE POEM IS THE POETIC.”

Antipoetry isn’t realism nor does it extoll the everyday in the democratic sense. It says that the poetic belongs to the everyday, therefore we don’t need to add more poetry to it. To the poets who think poetry isn’t enough, it says poetry is already there and enough.

You can spend your life serving poetry, and sometimes it lets you down. It’s not unfair or fair. It’s antipoetry, and there for anyone who asks, how can I be relieved of my obligations and be fearless.

ANTIPOETRY the whole thing began with a NIGHT MARCH OF ENERGUMENS through the center of the city the dachshund I was walking turned into an iguana I tore through piles of wool then in a fast food break room my temper startled two friends how many times do I have to quit this job? it’s a marathon march through the harshest elements on earth ::: monsoons haboobs a boiling sun the energumens spied on us at the aviary/buffet laureates among them THE FIELDS OF SOUND LEARNING DEVASTATED scrapbooks passed off in succulents my dress a janky silk shirt and drawstring pants my brimmed hat smelled of a grandfather wired the same to make a penny per button are you shocked to discover someone in the arts has a blue-collar job? celebrity city afford me anon- ymity observed us from armored car to figure out robotic simulacrum a skeletal hand emerges from the abdomen to sense cash and rake it in [their gaze was calm during rush hour draining words dry as the river’s bed] but our prosody is sound in time + our history the practice of space in time THEN I was satisfied that I had seen and been seen ENOUGH Petrarch to Boccaccio ::: such is the period in which we live and are growing old - after three lines by Nicanor Parra