Murat Nemet-Nejat

 

Thoughts On the Shutting Down of Big Bridge

What is the function of poetry in a time of war? Is it to be remembered, to be acted on, to be meditated on? Is the function of such a poem to elicit action —a call to the barricades? Or is it to achieve an aesthetic perfection to be read and remembered through time? Or is it to elicit reflection, to achieve a clarity of thought or conscience —a long term, rear-garde action against obfuscations and the garbage of lies thrown every day on our way, particularly in war or in fascism whose ideal state is an emulation of war?


Step One: Interferences

I'll meet Christ in the shape of a bullet
When morning dew comes
Oh, I fear the hour
when horizon stares.

My loved one is away like starlets
I poke the ground.
I'll be soon dead, oh,
like the wood in my hand.

Night folds the eyes of bullets
But my fear wakes,
I'll see you in the eye oh lord
when the dew comes

On July 20, 2006, at the beginning of the Israeli-Lebanese War, Michael Rothenberg, the editor of the e-zine The Big Bridge, sent the following post to the Buffalo Poetics List:

BIG BRIDGE WILL SHUT DOWN
 

FROM JULY 20, 2006 THROUGH AUGUST 20, 2006
 

TO PROTEST ALL WARS
 

AND TO DEMONSTRATE OUR SADNESS AND HORROR
 

AT THE TRAGIC LOSS OF HUMAN LIFE
 

IN THE MIDDLE EAST

The reaction to it was immediate and some of it surprisingly negative. Here are a few responses:

"01:10 PM 7/21/2006:
Quel horseshit. Now is the time to open up, not shut down. (Except, of course, for summer vacation.)
Hal"
[Halvard Johnson]
"Because liberals value engagement and communication, some na´ve liberals figure that they are punishing people when they disengage and fall silent. What those na´ve liberals fail to understand is that the haters are happiest when the reasonable people who want to engage and communicate fall silent. That's when the haters can do their best work, unimpeded by the thought process.
Good work, Halvard.
Marcus"
[Marcus Bales]
"exactly, never heard a journal shuts down (exactly for one month ???) to protest against wars. I thought bridges were meant for commu(nica)ting to places that were never quite reached."
[Aryanil Mukherjee]
"As to impact, since I don't know what Big Bridge is and I'm probably more up on these things than anyone at whom the protest is presumably aimed, this is pretty much a tree falling in the forest.
But in the spirit of solidarity, I'm not going to start up the web page that I wouldn't have started up anyway for at least a month.
Mark"
[Mark Weiss]

The angry intensity of the responses suggests, to me, the lancing of an abscess throbbing in the back of consciousness for a while, bursting from much deeper than the immediate occasion. Bales uses the word "liberal" as if a curse, ironically, adopting a choice word from the demonology of the neo-conservatists, the instigators of the colossal folly of our time. The references to the bridge also, strangely, have overtones of neo-conservatist demonology -the "Alaskan Bridge to Nowhere," the emblem of "government waste." What exactly in Rothenberg's post, on the surface so gentle, provokes such reactions, re-enacting, mimicking the language of the ideology both sides are clearly against?

The answer lies in Rothenberg's post and the responses being a single, continuous act, emerging out of responses to an implicit, alien power, swift and brutish, against which the participants feel powerless. The process starts with Rothenberg's weak, insufficient response to the Israeli-Lebanese War, eliciting angry responses in the others. In their anger, they mimic the wider world, weaving a an x-ray fragment, both ideological and unconscious, of our national psyche in a time of war.

The weakness of Rothenberg's act is deceptive, the riffs of language it elicits deriving from a misreading. When Bales accuses Rothenberg of disengaging and falling silent, his interpretation is that for a month any visitor to the Big Bridge website will find a blank page or a note in simple text stating that "the site at the moment is unavailable." That is not what happens. The visitor to the site during the month encounters repeatedly the same announcement, "Big Bridge will shut down/ from July 20, 2006 through August 20, 2006/ to protest all warů"

The act is an interference, an internet installation. It is a gesture. Its alluring, deceptive weakness points to the relationship between action in the field of power and act as gesture. They move in different time frames. In the frame of power, time is direct, swift and amoral. Gesture starts in weakness, is slow, fragmentary, full of despair; it is germinal, in it time following the meandering cadences of yearning, through it, hoping to transform weakness into power.


Step Two: Empathy

        Bushrose

I suck you.
The blushrose.

The wind blows, blows.

What is a civilian? In Iraq or Lebanon or Haifa, etc., it is having bombs drop on your head or tear you apart any moment. In The United States it is not being in the army. It is this schizophrenia, the human disjunction which haunts the question of writing poetry in our time of war. The responses by Halvard, Marcus, Aryanil and Mark are all torn by the paralysis, the injustice of being in this situation, the impatience with the impossibility of adequate response. Halvard, in another Poetics List post, points to the same moral dilemma, sense of powerlessness:

Anybody notice the CNN (I think it was) report that schoolchildren in one Russian town are protesting the Iraq war by giving up Snickers and chewing gum? No joke.
Hal
┐Quien es mßs macho--Saddam Hussein
                o George W. Bush?

Maybe, a solution is buried in Antonin Artaud's preface to The Theatre and Its Double1:

And if there is one hellish, truly accursed thing in our time, it is our artistic dallying with forms, instead of being like victims burnt at the stake, signaling through the flames.

In other words, the most important is an imaginative act of empathy, to imagine oneself as the receiver of the bomb. This transformative gesture must be total, not as understanding or commentary; but a new state of being:

        Windrose

Twisted
round,
destroyrose.

Twisted
round,
back
squeezer.

Marten worships rose
sitting on my face,

Mattress turned
upside down.

"Bushrose" and "Windrose" belong to a series called, Rosestrikes, derived from the Turkish poet Seyhan Erozšelik's The Rose.2 The rose is the connective link in this imaginative chain of beings, also the word for the absolute in Sufism. In this translation, it gets transformed into bullets, bombs (rosestrikes), both maintaining its identity as victim and also mimicking acts of terror.

Translation, for me, is a poetic response to the collision which occurred at the Twin Towers on September 11, and to its ensuing insanity. In a translation the two texts are each others' doubles, closed to and open to each other. On the one hand, the poem is locked in the subjectivity of its own suffering; on the other, it opens to any reader through a gesture of empathy:

poetry becomes performance in solitude.

        Rosethroat

Magpie in my larynx,
marten in my heart...
females jump

i jump
right & left,
screaming
screaming...

but now I'm hoarse.
Rosedusts escaped to my throat.
A thorn pricked my heel...
At my most delicate spot

Magpie in my larynx,
marten in my heart...

I looked at the moon, hit at the heel
This pain has no relief.
No one likes the moonstruck...

if it's getting light.
That is, if it's getting light.

Now my larynx a magpie,
marten my heart,

rose petals pricked my veins.

While the marten's squinting
petals swim in my blood.

The marten's pumping blood to its thighs,
to my eyes.

And my heartflesh dry like a rose.

It's beautiful rose.


1. I was alerted to Artaud's quote by David Baptiste-Chirot.
2 Rosestrikes, along with Seyhan Erozšelik's poem Coffee Grinds, will be published by Talisman House in 2007.