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The prepositions you’re most likely to encounter after the title of a poem are “for” or “to” and sometimes “after”—“for my daughter”; “to Bobby”; “after Pound”; etc. They signify dedication, address, homage, imitation. In the recent poems of Fred Moten, we encounter “with,” a preposition that denotes accompaniment. The little difference makes a big difference, emphasizing collaboration over the economy of the gift, suggesting that the poet and his company are fellow travelers, in the same time zone, alongside each other in the present tense of composition. (Given Moten’s acclaimed critical work on jazz, the “with” is immediately evocative of musical performance, e.g., “Miles Davis with Sonny Rollins.”) Not all “withs” are the same—there is a different intimacy in the poem “fifty little springs,” which is “with aviva,” Moten’s wife’s Hebrew name (which means springtime), than there is in “resistances,” which is “with” a critic and an artist, interlocutors of Moten’s. (The poem “13. southern pear trees” has no preposition after the title, but is excerpted from another responding to the work of Zoe Leonard, and so is still a work of fellowship.) The scale of that “with” can be small (“with aviva, as if we were all alone”) or vast (“with everybody we don’t know”), but either way the poem becomes an instance of alongsidedness instead of belatedness; the poems request, with that subtle prepositional shift, that we think of ourselves as participants in the production of meaning and not mere recipients of someone else’s eloquence.

“As if we were all alone”—even at their most personal, Moten’s poems acknowledge and embrace entanglement. Everybody we don’t know is always with us in language, the stuff of the social, and Moten’s poems seek to refresh our linguistic materials through music, seizing what he calls in one poem the “small communicabilities” latent in sound. Sound helps a word make sense, but sound exceeds any particular sense; sound is always the sign that a new language and social order beyond this one is just possible. Perhaps that’s why “our slogans are baby talk”—the politics of poetry is less about issuing demands in the old language than it is about demanding a new language altogether; thus its slogans must flirt with unintelligibility, appear first as a kind of nonsense. When Moten makes and unmakes meaning through the rubbing of one word against another, I understand him, but what I understand is less a stable thing than a process, a movement, a feeling (“Resistance in poetry is how we feel”). What I understand is that I’m with him, that I’m with you.

These poems are from Moten’s sixth book of poetry, all that beauty, which is forthcoming from Letter Machine Editions this year. Three volumes of his criticism—Stolen Life, The Universal Machine, and Black and Blur—were recently published by Duke University Press. That said, Moten’s books challenge any stable division between poetry and criticism, are lyrical and critical at once, so perhaps it is best to say simply, or not so simply, that all that beauty is his eleventh book to date. He is a professor in the department of performance studies at NYU.

“Untitled,” 1989, by Zoe Leonard © Zoe Leonard. Courtesy the artist, Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne, Germany, and Hauser & Wirth, New York City


Reiteration won’t
account for the continuous
exacerbation of shimmer,
elements showing (through)
themselves as other than
themselves, falling in this endless
and beginningless rubbing,
rubbing off, rubbing raw,
bruising, bruising sound,
sound falling off from itself to
bruise itself in sounding, falling,
fallenness in foldedness, in
terrible fruitfulness, in
palimpsestic time, fallen off in
that or let to fall in rising, in time
piercing and terracing, wasting,
embracing, again and again at a
moment’s notice gone violently
unnoticed, in the brutal
overlooking of our looking with,
in savage neglect of our caring,
which had to have been shown,
and seen, and sewn, and seen
through, and demonstrated. Now,
here we are in memory of a
miracle of remembering, to prove
the miracle and reprove its
murder, both of which appear in
sustained decay, in living driving
diving in favor of evading diving
into equilibrium, as bobby says
erwin says, as zoe says lady says
zora says janie says, in sheaves of
high-low curacy and corrosive
blossom, of stitch and echo in
caress, of how to take care of loss
and its refusal, of how to let it
hum and fade in massage like a
symphony of open questions, like
a sea dragon in ashy pear, like a
leaning spring, like an everlasting
invitation to dance that can’t last
for david. 


“Untitled Aerial,” 1988/2008, by Zoe Leonard © Zoe Leonard. Courtesy the artist, Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne, Germany, and Hauser & Wirth, New York City

“Untitled Aerial,” 1988/2008, by Zoe Leonard © Zoe Leonard. Courtesy the artist, Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne, Germany, and Hauser & Wirth, New York City

with aviva, as if we were all alone

the turned origin in leaps and unreliable sources
the way your fold in grace in gutenberg or göttingen
the unset jewels in a fable of broken bread
the beautiful blackness of your kids in moonlight
the way nobody fucks with them out of fear of love

the way you hit me in the eye in the car that time
the way you can’t hide even when you want to hide
the way you elegantly sip that warm, woolen sweater
for the hip, upsetting straight edge of your hipcurve
the funny things you do with your leg sometimes

the mutual resistance of arthur’s encroachment
the various modes of elliptical pain relief
the archive of archives in your pocketbook
the wind curls tapestries on your corner, too
the echo of it hisses vertically in the music in

the mess you make with a collage of delicacies
the unending way we be all up in your way
the sounding reticence of your publicness
the mirepoix you fuse from my various egos
the black and red valentine as you wander

the new worn trace of analog in your hands
the way you shape their familiar incursions
the way you been waiting for fifty till fifty-one
the way of silt and the way of silk and the way it’s
the other way in the breathing density of the lit

in the way you go your ways, pondering their air
the way you share the way you changed my life
the way oh no they can’t take that away from me
the way of the book is lonely, now, as you see
the answer is to get us some land somewhere

the need for nine pressure cookers is common
the caramel and burnt ends and thin crispiness
the way miss mattie has become your memory
the up-to-the-minute forecast of your touch
the ray’s a desolate condition till it turns

the way our waywardness has gone awry
the way you welcome all our mutant visitors
the way your name brings blur inside
the lost notes we keep folding and taping to
the raised canvas of all that beauty wasting away

the lore of early courtliness that we now relay
the way old friends do to their oldest friends
the actual enactment of intimate gathering
to return to the source for the weapon of theory
the way you pray through exiled pleasures and

the way you wind through cities like a little spring
the way little springs can sing to themselves, relaxing
the way the origin of spring is ritual june,
the turn of original frisk to invisible string,
the insensible, the sensible, and the sprung

with everybody we don’t know

We correspond in terror. It makes us happy when we hear from you. We try to live by fighting. You try to fight by living. In the dust of your weddings, it makes us happy when we hear from you. Our slogans are baby talk. Someday we’ll be together. For now, can you survive, which we can’t protect? We look for you in our relative absence. How have you been in the general absence? Don’t you know we’re teachers of sadness? When we’re good enough to all but disappear we’ll let you know. Is solidarity all but this all but disappearance? Then, underneath the show, it’s a violent service. Our bruise is how we’re mesmerized by distance, not knowing who we are or why we fight. The fade into who we are is far away from one another; we’re further away from what it is than you. We’re this placelessness out of mind and can’t quite deal with it. We forget them before you forget that. We forgot, and pleasure and beauty are optional. When there’s nothing left to fight I won’t have nothing left to give. I’m just like an American; I wouldn’t bullshit you for the world. When you see me seeing you will we know what to do?

with Fernando Zalamea and Tania Bruguera

When we reverse-engineered the movement, we found the moment it became the movement was the moment we stopped moving. A body politic for newly born political bodies in the drawing of one last breath by one. Pear trees full of rivers all tied up in sugar ditch; pulpit gutbucket molasses still in still, strong and good, but gone. I was born in friction, alabama. I voted for drone chalkline. I died in fraction, california. I remain a posthumous citizen.

So, resist the reduction of non-meaning. Resistance in poetry is how we feel. Grammar striding to divine this weave in not quite seeing. When he says, “To resist is to become a conductive thread,” that’s what she throws: signal’s disruption of itself and code in the common feel. What if we could slice lived experience off the bone? Failure is life, which death achieves so we can five or six mo’gin. There’s a black poetics of integrative biology, baby, and it bends like wine. Way too good to be a little bit above what the people say.

We still don’t know how many choruses gonsalves gon’ take. Give in take is scale off scale: pedagogical riots, transitional institutions, experimental bands. But why does the problem of scale always swerve into the problem of audience? Why does the need for institutions always show up as the problem of scale? Why is showing up always scaling up them lonely streets? What if what the people suffer ain’t large absence but small noncommunicabilities? Let’s say, with regard to poetry, or music, that small communicability is sound. Then find one and find another one feel good next to it. Put one next to another and sound is beside itself. Line that verge out animal, mantic, anamathematical bruise, subdermal popularity.

Yeah, they are liquidating the national endowment for the arts and scientists need to freak out about that. It’s like a breeze holed up in greenblatt’s basement. Will the class break up into small, self-taught classes? Space-time is just an echo of mutual aid. To renew our habits of assembly we need renewable assemblies, like langston’s multiverse. Welcome to cuernavaca. Welcome to callahan. Indirectly act to welcome. They can’t stop us; they can’t even hope to contain us. People in the public better find someplace sufficient for poetry in the market’s outer depths. Better make it plain as noplace.

A divan with a double S and a bridge with a blur and a single stanchion. A calatravan bird where bird play jimmy lyons playing bird. In general, an airborne science opaque in motion, motion all but still, till linda come sing her eyeball off the man. Her method against method is a baby bjorn, gray-blue in a blue-black dive. I can’t not get next to you, she says, in rubbed breath, whose expiration politics demands, to which the arts and sciences aspire, as resistances.

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January 2019

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