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scully 9 James Scully Scratching Surfaces (the social practice oftendency poetry) clandestine poems Two selections ofRoque Dalton'spoems are aboutto come out intranslation.' Appropriately, money to helppublish one ofthem was raised through a community activists' dance in the Mission district ofSan Francisco. Dalton was a Marxist-Leninist militant of the Salvadoran Communist Party and of the People's Revolutionary Army (ERP). His poems, especially in POEMAS CLANDESTINOS (source ofmost ofthe poems in these collections) arediscursive, politically explicit. They are what poems are not supposed to be. Worse, they're encouraging: heartening rather than consoling. They raise gritty issues with brio and devastating humor. Their clandestinity is a function oftheir out-spokenness (the public, or eminent, domain being claimed by social silence ). I'm not about to address the articulated issues, however, nor the translations themselves. I'm concerned with the aesthetic ruins scattered about the feet of these resurrected, transfigured, unbowed poems. They so unsettle our aesthetic presumption that we have to ask what, in our notions ofpoetry, we have refused to admit. What poetry have we buried under our own dust. And why? The answer, or a clue to it, may be found where most are found: just beneath the surface of what seems too obvious for words. In this regard what seems selfevident is the incompatibility ofdidacticism and/or ideas, historically specific ideas, with what is designated 'poetry.' preaching, didacticism, etc. For many contemporary poets the injunction against preaching makes good aesthetic sense. It is also a moral imperative. It must be wrong 'to tell people what to think.' To believe otherwise will lead you to violate art and humanity. Will make you cold, hard: a hammerhead. That anyways is the conventional wisdom. It makes sense. But how much, and whose sense is it? What for now I'll call preaching (didacticism? sloganeering? pamphleteering ? poetically indecorous prosiness?) is catch-all for a range of social practices , written and spoken. When 'preaching' is charged against texts that are direct and impassioned, explicitly engaged with politics or social justice, we might ask what then is recommended: indirection? not saying what we think? 10 the minnesota review notaddressing certain aspects oflife?2 Butattractive as they might be, even such questions as these, with their transparent effort to pass as answers, only deepen the mystification. Their terms are like those of a formal debate: the options share an internal logic which is sustained by a sea of exclusions and suppressions . The seeming alternatives are no more than variations within an effectively monolithic social set. Here, for instance, by momentarily putting the conflict in terms of 'content'—saying or not saying 'what we think,' talking or not talking 'about certain things'—we have raised a pressing issue, but with it we have papered over what is more profoundly, more problematically, at issue. Because more troubling and crucial than the isolable issues of 'content' or 'reference ' is the undissociable matter of conduct. In fact the provocation may be less what preaching is about than what it does. Any so-called preaching, especially within the precincts ofthe 'aesthetic,' may be condemned for reasons having less to do with subjects of preaching, encapsulated themes or contents, than with preaching as social practice. And that is the problem. Preaching is discourse constituted as unembarrassed social practice . It is confrontational, troubling the hegemony ofsocial silence. Even status quo preaching is met with ambivalence—because it strains the status quo,, and in raising ideology (which is by definition unconscious, pervasive, a way ofnaturalizing and living the web ofsocial relations, and doing so in the self-serving terms of class interest) it mortifies ideology, laying it open to critical analysis. The distinction ofpreaching is in the degree to which it admits its own condition as social practice. saying As we ordinarily use the word, preaching patronizes. But the opprobrium cast on such preaching also smears poetries that are discursive, explicit about the social values that inform them. It would be more appropriate to call this poetry, not preaching, but saying. Saying is what this is about. What is the moral or aesthetic flaw in saying? Who says? Why? Must poetry be only symptomatic, a social function rather than social practice...


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