Type
Essay
Category
Marx
Poetry
radical history

Looming poetics

Marxist-feminist poetics, I have argued elsewhere, requires a preoccupation with social reproduction – as a theme and as an object of inquiry and critique – while at the same time being invested in the temporalities of women’s work. Time itself has been shaped by capitalism in relation to how we work and live. By being invested in the temporalities of women’s work, a Marxist-feminist approach can trace a historical materialist understanding of how a poetics’ is conditioned by temporality, while also observing the cycles of feminist temporalities on a larger historical scale, with the benefit of decades of hindsight. Marxist-feminist poetics is interested in probing the modes of work that women do, the structures and spaces where this work takes place (home, office, online, in organising) and temporalities inhabited and invoked through this work. How does Marxist feminism appear within and shape poetic production? How can poetry be a means to critically animate the spaces and temporalities of Marxist-feminist poets, and their often-invisible labour and histories?

When Hannah Ryggen first wove The Procuress in 1950, after Vermeer’s stunning painting of the same title, it was, in monographer Marit Paasche’s words, ‘a paraphrase.’ The tapestry is a reframing of the original. It is more tightly framed around the top half of the woman and cuts out most of the other figures (leaving parts of one floating). In Ryggen’s typical style it is like a painting, though flattened and more brightly pigmented than Vermeer’s. Her yellow dress and a blue goblet remain, along with the woman’s droopy-eyed smile and apple cheeks. It is a renewed palette.

A paraphrase suggests truncation. Ryggen’s tapestries tap into an aesthetic mode of, if not Marxist-feminist poetics, then one rooted in antifascism and materialist critique informed by folk art. There are potential sites here to activate; multiple cross-sections.

My cat is sprinting through the house. It’s not quite five am. In between bounds she emits little mews of excitement or frustration.

A paraphrase as critique // a formal device.

I recently watched Stanley Kubrik/Steven Spielberg’s A.I. The ending bothered me (it is very saccharine compared to the otherwise tense emotional temperature of the film). The whole thing was unsettling. Teaching a robot to love seemed like the wrong question to be asking. Or at least, to me, it seemed easy enough to program a robot to mimic love without giving it the capacity. In the caring and domestic and maternal process each day, the parental love could be manufactured. It is a film begging for a Marxist-feminist reading. The robot child was not to eat. Wasn’t allowed to eat (it would damage his internal mechanics). How could a mother love it if she was unable to feed it? How would this love and care grow without the dependency component?

Studs Terkel opens his introduction to his comprehensive oral history, Working, thus: ‘This book, being about work, is, by its very nature, about violence – to the spirit as well as to the body.’

How being and doing poetics is an antidote to the violence of work. The poetics of looms.

A critique as paraphrase // or even: ‘filamentous magic carpets’ as Mayer might say.  

Poetry as critique of capital i.e. …

My cat left the bottom half of a mouse in the corridor. I picked it up thinking it was a dried flower tracked in from the front path.

Thinking about the ways we read Marxist-feminist poetry. The quotidian and the poetics of the everyday formally and aesthetically & reading Utopia which was originally written in 1984 by Mayer but look at these titles of the poems inside: ‘The Arrangement: of Houses & Buildings, Birth, Death, Money, Schools, Dentists, Birth Control, Work, Air, Remedies, and so on’. It is a list of capital // of human existence under capital // of capacities of human exploitation.

Of all the art forms, poetry offers the most concentrated form of radical critique. It is both practice and encounter.

Capitalism in Brecht’s words ‘impoverishes, dehumanises, mechanises human beings’.1

Poetry for Brecht is inseparable from his communism. Poetry for Mayer is inseparable from her communism and Marxist feminism.

My cat often sleeps upright, her head facing the room’s exit. Awake in every other way except for the closed eyes and rhythmic breathing.

It’s called Utopia which tells you everything you need to know.

Barley, beans and rice / snakes, sneezing, snow, socialism2

Between Brecht and Mayer, how do we begin to form outside ourselves? What is the contemporary tapestry made of these threads they each began … ?

We lost Sean Bonney so what even happens now.3

Poetry for the coming decade is a space for us. It is not the streets or offices or warehouse floors or domestic homes or forests as sites of struggle but … but, poetry to come creates the psychic and material space to sit beside those sites and with those who organise. The catastrophes of the coming years are unavoidable. It is disorienting to write poems now but thinking of the future (what future is there? What is poetry for as we enter the next mass extinction and/or the end of human life as once known) … Or perhaps like in Spielberg’s A.I., will our poems be read by the mechanised humanoids who have achieved consciousness.

 

 

 

 

1 ‘Against Georg Lucaks’, Aesthetics & Politics: Debates Between Bloch, Lukacs, Brecht, Benjamin, Adorno, Verso, London, 1980, p.68.

2 From the index in Bernadette Mayer, Utopia, United Artists Books, New York, 1984 (reprinted by Yale Union in 2019)

3 In an interview for BOMB, Sean Bonney describes the antifascist work he was involved in: ‘We’d find out where the fascists, who were still a small group, were holding their meetings, and we’d make it impossible for them to hold meetings.’ (Interview with Jeffery Grunthaner, 11 December 2019, accessed at https://bombmagazine.org/articles/sean-bonney/) There is room for a whole other essay on antifascist poetics and lines to be drawn between Bonney and Diane di Prima (both poets were fiercely leftist and engaged with epistolary forms in their poetry). Bonney’s death was a huge and sad loss. I don’t know what else to say about this apart from that.

 

 

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Elena Gomez is a poet and book editor living in Melbourne. She is the author of Body of Work (Cordite) and a number of chapbooks.

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