What I’m Reading Now… by Jennifer Mackenzie


Recently I’ve felt an intense nostalgia for Damascus, where I lived until September of 2012. It’s partly the confluence of anniversaries—nearly eight years since I moved there, six since the Syrian uprising began—within the American present, fractured and uncertain. Maybe more than nostalgia it’s an awareness of traumas enveloped by silences. In Syria, the methodical devastation and depopulation of the last opposition areas, still ongoing and mainly absent from the news. In the US, the likewise methodical and continuing “accumulation by dispossession,” as David Harvey puts it, challenges to which are also besieged by a doubling-down of predation and denial.  I go to poetry, I think, to find new ways to attune to those silences as well as to language that will  intersect with each of them.

Hollywood Forever by Harmony Holiday: I bought this at AWP and fell into it, read straight through and since then have kept going back into it to be opened and tipped akimbo by its virtuoso nonchalance with its own range. Bravura fluency. How sure and right its music is. Nimble nimble kinesthesis of violence, power, vulnerability, wrong. Palimpsest as a mode of flight. Flight as knowing when to stop so the maximum resonance keeps pouring. Just, wow. “We knew our father’s push them but sometimes we wonder if it was us if we’re in cahoots with every oppressor on every side because I am that powerful that ruthless that abiding that ambivalent”. And also, “Turns out all my heroes beat their wives”: yeah.

Women, Money, Children, Ghosts by Emily Bludworth de Barrios: where the ephemera of consumer capitalism become substantially human and tendered with humor. The lines feel artless, transparent and totally grounded in their pacing, but also burred with affection like the voice of a friend who loves you enough to call you on your bullshit. “My husband fidgets with the inner mechanism of the country/By which I mean he works inside a financial institution/Like a man inside a gray metal factory or tinkering in the bowels of a deep ship/By which I mean he makes the country work/And which you probably think is cruel, evil, selfish, insulated, or unconscionable/To which I would suggest that you are ignorant of the way reality functions…”

The Service Porch by Fred Moten: so much clear pleasure in lingering a spell, permeable to the overheard as interstices of a relaxed spaciousness. A kind of virtuoso trust in negative space and the meander of negative capability. The enjoyment of rubbing the knap of philosophy the wrong way to pull all kinds of textures from it, the way the material existence of the body somehow exceeds, is lop-sided of, its pre-scripted meanings. “Laura, in the theory of the diptych, let them have a thing about their thing you like, that you can say keep doing, so they’ll always do it differently. That’s the general principle of stereo.”

The Devastation by Melissa Buzzeo: The best way I can explain my relationship with her work is the hopeless crush I had on a trumpet player my freshman year in college. I was intimidated out of my ability to speak by his habit of breaking into sung runs of jazz improvisation. “What are the rules for this?” my overachiever’s social dread kept asking, very threatened by music’s core spontaneity and the absoluteness of pure sounds. Buzzeo’s work weaves along that edge, notating its respiration of embodied consciousness as constant liminal dissolution and reformation. And I am a little braver now so I follow better. “You begin to waver. You access your gamble. You prayed in the garden you removed your life vest. In the garden you were naked in your secret as it drowned.”

Time in the Shadows: Confinement in Counterinsurgencies by Laleh Khalili. When I want to more sharply perceive the infrastructure of power, I turn to Laleh’s work, which traces with such satisfyingly accurate sharpness the fluid dynamics of neocolonialism and resistance. This book is a fairly dense tracing of law codes back to their roots in colonial precedents, and I have something like the opposite of a legal mind, so I read it in small bits. But its intellectual clarity on all levels of scale saves me from the airless, humorless leftist pathos about empire that I sometimes spiral myself into. An antidote to solipsism.