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APRIL 2020

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Notes on The New Threshing Floor

And as you learn the magic, learn to believe it
Don’t be ‘surprised’ when it works, you undercut
your power. – Diane di Prima

We invite words into forms we fashion ourselves, as breathing, sustainable, not sealed off at every turn but rather remaining open and well maintained, how every line ends in the word “night.”. A pulse moving through the threshold. I’m sure it can be formed into frescoes, measured, timed for ultimate effect and then closed out. I like a bit of that but then also allowing for the light to linger (obscuring its source) and to wander back over the wreckage.

In one of the interviews included in There You Are, Joanne Kyger says she realized the Kamakura guardian figures placed outside of the temples were only frightening if you were afraid to go beyond them, that her passage was a matter of withstanding that pressure. “I think I had really understood that these were states of mind that were just holding you back. They were illusion.”

Poetry becomes a mapmaker’s game I think. These visions realized inside of writing can become permanent, as it is a form of half sleepwalk and half hysteria, as it becomes our duty to hand over first lines that become weightless forms. I mean those that move us to speak up and almost beg a bit of exaggeration and new tonality. These are pieces of ceremony that we can tweak and augment to gain a larger view.

“It was taken away from the people in a sense, and I don’t believe that’s where poetry belongs—it belongs to the people. Yes, you can take apart literature, separate it, and see how it works, but as with taking apart the human body, you can’t see the spirit, which is at the root of it. It is the same with a poem—you can’t touch the spirit.” – Joy Harjo

Better not to be bought out, better to see battles as constant, (the eternal war) knowing it is to the smallest networks that we must attend. I hear bits of William Blake dressed in Anne Waldman’s voice, “Pay attention to minute particulars, take care of the little ones…” Even keeping an archive is a revolutionary gesture, especially if you are one of those whose history it is in this country’s best interests to obscure.

“What does it mean, that a black, lesbian, feminist, warrior, poet, mother is named the state poet of New York? It means that we live in a world full of the most intense contradictions and we must find ways to use the best we have, ourselves, our work, to bridge those contradictions, to learn the lessons that those contradictions teach. And that is the work of the poet within each one of us, to envision what has not yet been and to work with every fiber of who we are, to make the reality pursuit of those visions irresistible.”Audre Lorde

Complicated emotions are forever awakened when you read Audre Lorde, her work (in part) is about why those emotions need examination, not erasure necessarily. It is not only the fact that poetry can be used to confront a public issue but that it might put its finger on conveying what systematic oppression looks, sounds and feels like.

Her writing has aided in dissolving some of my own deranged interpretations, thinking that I am in fact kept safe by not discussing aspects of my otherness and largely because these get paraded around, or instantly processed as a rare amusement. I sensed this after going away to college and was bored immediately and never wanted to see it again. At eighteen was already signaling (through the flames) against tokenism far into the future.

I prize the conviction and imagination it took for native activists (Indians of All Tribes) to occupy Alcatraz Island in 1969 and that at one point they thought of funding the whole concept by selling native art work. John Trudell set up his own station, Radio Free Alcatraz in one of the empty cells. “We will purchase said Alcatraz Island for twenty-four dollars in glass beads and red cloth.” Gathering at Standing Rock was an obvious extension of this energy and that already feels so long ago. As poets we rely on exactly these sorts of mind sets, literal places to go, whether we are about to give a reading to a dream audience we never imagined existed or we are about to begin co-teaching a workshop with an old friend. We are gears to serve the warp in the dream machine. We are the empty locks for highly specialized, magnetic keys.

February 3, 2020


Cedar Sigo

Cedar Sigo, the Bagley-Wright lecturer for 2019, has just completed work with Joy Harjo and several other poets on a new Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry and his recent 2019 poetry has appeared in Harper’s, Freak Fam, and Splinter. He currently lives in Lofall, Washington.


The Brooklyn Rail

APRIL 2020

All Issues