"I feel like a spectator
of the present. History, help."
- Kaia Sand, Remember to Wave.
That just about sums it up.
Does looking at the past make one feel like a spectator of the present? What is the point of looking at the past, if it doesn't enable/empower you to do something in the present? Is History the agent, or me?
Maybe I look at the past like a train wreck, disgusted but unable to look away (could Benjamin's angel of history have chosen to turn its back on the past? I don't think so.). I hope I am not merely a "history buff," building a Civil War ship in a bottle. In America, "history" is a hobby - hence, the present.
"To those who were held prisoner in the Portland Assembly Center, and to those whose lives were ended or rent by the Vanport flood - to you I acknowledge a responsibility," Sand writes. "Here is one small attempt at addressing that responsibility through committed inquiry, through pedestrian investigation" [in both literal and figurative senses of the word]
Notice that she says "addressing," not "redressing." It's not inquiry in the service of a larger goal to which she is committed (I don't think). And this distinguishes this approach to "docupoetry" [*cringe*] from other poets I admire a great deal, e.g., Muriel Rukeyser, Mark Nowak, Ed Sanders, or Craig Perez, all of whom envision poetry as doing cultural-political work. All of those poets have educated me, which I guess is cultural-political work.
But Sand's attitude is not dissimilar to Susan Howe's in this regard - a kind of psychological/ethical compulsion to "address" the past - acknowledge the dead were alive - but not necessarily to change it (or the present, for that matter). I guess that resonates with me, insofar as I'm trying to write a (poem? multi-genre monstrosity?) about history, personal and national. I have no idea what it will do. But it is an attempt to "address the past." Somehow, that seems apt.
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