Literarisches Events (in and around Lawrence KS)

  • PATRICIA LOCKWOOD. Lawrence. Thursday, September 11, 7:00 p.m., Spooner Hall, KU Campus.
  • PATRICIA LOCKWOOD. Lawrence. Friday, September 19, 7:00 p.m. Lawrence Public Library. Sponsored by Raven Bookstore.
  • DENNIS ETZEL, JR. & RACHEL CROSS. Lawrence. Thursday, September 25, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.
  • TONY TRIGILIO. Lawrence. Thursday, Oct. 2, 4:00 p.m., English Room, Kansas Union, KU Campus. FREE.
  • CALEB PUCKETT & JUSTIN RUNGE. Lawrence. Thursday, October 16, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.
  • BEN LERNER. Kansas City, MO. Thursday, October 23, 7:00 p.m., Epperson Auditorium, Vanderslice Hall on the KCAI campus, 4415 Warwick Blvd.
  • KRISTIN LOCKRIDGE & ROBERT DAY. Lawrence. Thursday, December 4, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Langston Hughes on the Limits of Poetic Speech and the Obduracy of the Physical

Johannesburg Mines

In the Johannesburg mines
There are 240,000 natives working.

What kind of poem
Would you make out of that?

240,000 natives working
In the Johannesburg mines.


The thing I like about this short poem is that it is a poem about when poets and poetry readers might be well-advised to silently pause and suck in their breath. Is this despair? A "social sublime"? Maybe. But it would be easy, in fact, to write about the mines and other injustices (as Hughes would do, at length, in the 30s), and it would be easy to pass over in silence. But Hughes does neither; here he simply takes a snapshot of the poet at a loss - or the poet framing the image by writing a poem about not writing a poem. And that's perhaps the most eloquent thing one could say. It's what George Oppen "said," in the 1930s, in a different way.

Quotations and Destruction, Curiosity and Despair

"This discovery of the modern function of quotations, according to Benjamin . . . was born of despair . . . despair of the present and the desire to destroy it; hence their power is 'not the strength to preserve but to cleanse, to tear out of context, to destroy'"
- Hannah Arendt, introduction to Illuminations (38-39)

"The contemporary who learns from books of history to recognize how long his present misery has been in preparation . . . [learns that which] does not cause him sorrow, but arms him. Nor does such a history arise from sorrow, unlike that which Flaubert had in mind when he penned the confession: 'Few will suspect how depressed one had to be to undertake the resuscitation of Carthage.' It is pure curiosité that arises from and deepens sorrow."
- Walter Benjamin, Arcades Project, N 15, 3.