Sunday, October 28, 2007

True tales of poetry & surveillance. In 1976, I rode the Bay Area Rapid Transit System (BART), then just four years old, writing down everything I saw into a single, run-on sentence as I traversed the entire system. Having grown up in the Bay Area, as had my mother & my maternal grandparents, this was to some degree a work about not being to look out a window without seeing through an overlay of personal & oral histories – I can still tell you something about virtually every block in Berkeley west of College, every block in Albany. My grandmother was born roughly kitty corner from the West Oakland BART station, tho that blasted urban ghetto was a different world in the 1890s. Much later, for a sentence that appears in Ketjak2:Caravan of Affect, I replicated the process with MARTA, the Atlanta commuter rail system. There the process was, literally, about seeing what was out the window & about only knowing what appeared on surfaces.

In Detroit on Thursday, Joel Levise, the editor of the Wayne Literature Review and a big bear of a poet not unlike John Sinclair in his day, told me and maybe two dozen others in Barrett Watten’s Poetics Research seminar, of his attempt to replicate this process locally. He boarded whatever the equivalent Detroit transit system is and was into his writing when he noticed that the train was being stopped and passengers on other cars being quickly herded off while transit cops boarded his car and were headed right for him. They wanted to know what he was doing. Writing down everything he saw, he said. “You look suspicious,” one of them added. “You could be writing down how many policemen there are guarding the trains.” I’m writing down that there are two policemen on this car, Joel replied. After further haggling, Joel convinced them that his intentions were literary and not details for the evildoers.