The Operating System

5th Annual NAPOMO 30/30/30 :: Day 29 :: Julien Raffinot on The Shame of Poetry / Last Revival of Kathy Acker

[box]It’s hard to believe that this is our FIFTH annual 30/30/30 series, and that when this month is over we will have seeded and scattered ONE HUNDRED and FIFTY of these love-letters, these stories of gratitude and memory, into the world. Nearly 30 books, 3 magazines, countless events and online entries later, and this annual celebration shines like a beacon at the top of the heap of my very favorite things to have brought into being. [If you’re interested in going back through the earlier 120 entries, you can find them (in reverse chronological order) here.]
When I began this exercise on my own blog, in 2011, I began by speaking to National Poetry Month’s beginnings, in 1966, and wrote that my intentions “for my part, as a humble servant and practitioner of this lovely, loving art,” were to post a poem and/or brief history of a different poet…. as well as write and post a new poem a day. I do function well under stricture, but I soon realized this was an overwhelming errand.
Nonetheless the idea stuck — to have this month serve not only as one in which we flex our practical muscles but also one in which we reflect on inspiration, community, and tradition — and with The Operating System (then Exit Strata) available as a public platform to me, I invited others (and invited others to invite others) to join in the exercise. It is a series which perfectly models my intention to have the OS serve as an engine of open source education, of peer to peer value and knowledge circulation.
Sitting down at my computer so many years ago I would have never imagined that in the following five years I would be able to curate and gather 150 essays from so many gifted poets — ranging from students to award winning stars of the craft, from the US and abroad — to join in this effort. But I’m so so glad that this has come to be.
Enjoy! And share widely.
– Lynne DeSilva-Johnson, Managing Editor/Series Curator [/box]

Julien Raffinot on The Shame of Poetry / Last Revival of Kathy Acker


[line][script_teaser]”GET RID OF MEANING. YOUR MIND IS A NIGHTMARE THAT HAS BEEN EATING YOU: NOW EAT YOUR MIND.” – Kathy Acker[/script_teaser]
Mallarmé longed to be an aristocrat. Burroughs liked to shoot guns. Acker openly fantasized about being a terrorist. A Black Tarantula. She wrote as if to set off a bomb in everything she learned about growing up and where she came from Her mother Her grandmother Her school Her education Her classmates Her culture Her Jewishness and Her father. And the absences left by the many ghosts.
Acker’s early stuff is like hard-knocking free jazz, lyrics in scatter form like a morse code operator with broken fingers, “poem-like” pieces she ambiguously refers to as “exercises”. Refusing to call herself a poet. Writing as if to spit out the words in the faces staring out from the audience.
Mallarmé is the house god of Deconstruction Acker is its Nietzschean executioner. The lattice work of the poet too preciously apolitical (what might explain her attractiveness to someone like Avital Ronell)
Books as a form of explosive. Mallarmé made the connection between Book and Bomb. A supreme figure of the misfit her writing-life defined by imbalance, discomfort and excess Kathy Acker is a giant amongst thieves A relation to writing as one between a schizophrenic and their “voices” attacking the novel as if from the inside, antagonizing it and making it strange again. Acker’s desires made flesh (through her various borrowing strategies and transfigurations).
Under the dry brush of her published fiction/ her unacknowledged debt to Olsen–her love for Leroi Jones.
An inexhaustible after-image of a postmodern high-priestess, at once prepubescent and fully grown, driven by an ecstasy with which she wrote herself in and out of existence, and emptied out her consciousness A method of writing and demanding of herself which was always also the measure of her strength, a measure of her determination The difficult art of truth A paradoxically abject expression of the Most-High
…neurotically entangled self-evaluations weaving in and between fact and fantasy Voids of signification adumbrated by an affirmative grasp of the unclear (debased yet gutturally exact) Ackers” poetry” explodes like a faceted stone Words gushing out in gobs of gleefully ejaculated prose Lace pushed up against dark painted glass reams of language distilled like alcohol, immersive and pleasurably delighted, like Turkish treats somewhat sticky and hard to digest. Difficult to read difficult to cut, difficult to undo.
The redeeming of female desire, and its darkness writing as if under a blacklight. Writing for the ugly, mangled, and crippled (body). Of what’s inside that make the cheeks flush and the body blue. Like a sickness. Which is to say, what others refused to write about. What didn’t dare to be called by the name of Literature.
At once with and against the classics at once with and against feminism at once with and against freedom. Before and after women’s lib, Acker remains a difficult writer/difficult person. Reading her is and will continue to be an acquired taste. One which a new generation of readers will perhaps also recognize and learn to integrate, as one gains an appetite for things previously assumed too disgusting to eat. The difficulty subsumed by fresh attraction, a strange sort of lust, like craving for blue cheese.
In the 1970’s Bodies both ill-fitting and beautifully adorned (Kathy’s also later decorated in tattoos) A masquerade of power in the face of powerlessness and dread, her poetry comes off both as Illiterate and dense, like muscle thrushing between sense non-sense, life and death Presaging herself, anticipating the future (re)definition and power of her body.
Acker in the end starts to seriously workout. Doing to herself, perhaps for the same reason as men had begun to do in the eighties, bulking up their bodies in stark opposition to the emaciated figures of men and woman dying of AIDS Like the sightings of deathly figures belonging to the Holocaust. Thickening the skin between past and present Literature as a form of armor a form of protection  Against the dying.
Acker’s unwillingness to assume the mantle of the poet. Her resentment perhaps of its alibis, her skepticism of poetry’s tactical tricks. Too withholding, and provisionally small, in the way that a poem like Mallarmé’s puts up a wall, through which the reader has to find a means to see through its little peep holes. Too weak to be used in the form of a weapon. Since what Kathy aimed for had to hurt.
If the shame of poetry is entering into camouflage. Acker disguised herself in the blood of a poet.

[textwrap_image align=”left”][/textwrap_image] Julien Raffinot is an artist and writer living in Brooklyn. A part time employee at The Dia Art Center and restaurant worker, he was a research assistant to Chris Kraus on a biography of Kathy Acker to be published by M.I.T Press later this year.
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