about the author

Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the novel Here Is How It Happens (Ampersand Books, 2013), the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), the chapbook Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.

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Mount Carmel & the Blood of Parnassus
A Review of Mount Carmel & the Blood of Parnassus
by Anaïs Duplan

Spencer Dew

Anaïs Duplan, the efflorescently intellectual artist, poet, and curator, founder of the Center for Afrofuturist Studies and currently the joint Public Programs Fellow at MOMA and the Studio Museum in Harlem, is not idle. The questions she pursues through her work are not idle, either. When, in this chapbook, she asks, “What is this thing called poetry,” she’s not getting moony-eyed or doodling in the margins; rather, she’s questioning the system of measure that marks those margins, the inherited structures that invisibly set, say, “personhood” as “white / male Christianhood,” oppressive and exclusionary ideology passed off as natural, as “most reasonable,” wrapped in its own logic like an unlit oven enveloped in unseen but deadly gas.

Poetry, as I understand Duplan’s work here, is a thing involving perspective, for one—a distance, from self, from experience, allowing for consideration, an almost tactile turning over and over, a close study. Poetry serves as a device through which to scrutinize, for instance, moments in which the end of childhood was accomplished through the company of others. The book begins with an anecdote, a parable even, about how naturalized ideology gets up against and under one’s skin, the expectations of the group, the assumptions that vein their jokes. Poetry-as-gaze also allows focus on moments of transcendence, time turned crystalline image that the poet, rather than reducing, seeks to carefully frame in words that serve as gestures toward and homage of the experience, lost, like when “A single butterfly landed on De’Shawn’s back at the barbecue.”

The stakes of poetry are the stakes of all politics, which is to say all human action. Just as there are those things which must be lovingly whispered—moaned out, to use a verb treated with gorgeous attention in these pages—there are also those things that demand to be screamed, though, for sake of comprehension and due to the very strictures and blood-fed mythologies they call attention to, a wiser course might be to state them calmly, in the rhetoric of that vaunted rationality the center has long used to police the margins. Thus, here, Duplan addresses a turn of phrase that stands as something of a buzzword for critical intersections, a liberal darling. “‘[T]he black body,’” she writes, is a “misleadingly sterile construction, it violates and collapses the irreducible humanity of the person to whom it refers by decentralizing the faculties of thought and emotion and referring only to muscle and flesh. ‘The black body’ can be sold, enslaved, and killed without consequence. Black people, on the other hand, can’t be.” Analysis segueing on the final note into a tenacious declaration. Poetry as manifesto. I suspect Duplan would ask, not idly, if it can really be any other thing. Poetry as tool for actual survival.

Poetry is also, most especially, an action—not only in the sense of this book as the result and exemplification of a “conceptual exercise,” a process of self-examination (“Keep this page as a record” echoes as admonition from the authorial voice to herself) and investigation into the way self is shaped by the social (in “the majority of social spaces . . . I exist as the antithesis of who I claim to be”), but also, and foremost rather than finally, as prelude, as sketch toward and rehearsal of the coming work. Duplan is not interested in merely weaving pretty wreathes from experience. She’s invested in calling attention to pretty wreathes as already a mode of resistance against a hegemony predicated on “constant recourse to objectivity and the supposed lack of bodily presence, softness, tenderness, and of thinking and feeling mind.” Simultaneously and with the same urgency, Duplan is invested in using poetry—as way of seeing, as political action, as celebration of radical sensuality, and as such an object itself—“to locate liberation,” to imagine a goal for humanity other than the illusory freedom embedded in and offered for sale by the “capitalist system in which one used to exist as a commodity.” As Duplan puts it, “In order to locate liberation, one has to locate a third space. This alter-space is not ‘outside of,’ ‘away from,’ or ‘other than’ our present world. Instead, it is an intensification, or deepening, of mundane reality.” The ideological undercurrents veining the jokes of children at the end of childhood. A butterfly alighting, for one tremulous moment. That thing called poetry, necessary and revolutionary.

Official Anaïs Duplan Web Site
Official Monster House Press Web Site

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