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Poetry, at least since Wordsworth turned his back on the Revolution and looked toward Tintern Abbey, “makes nothing happen.” This despite its occasional outbursts of grandiloquent spleen. Decidedly irrelevant, the lyric “I” keeps going to the mall. Old news? Anselm Berrigan makes it new: “Blank is blank / is blank is blank. To be / scores and assumptions / an inked goddess did not / command, I bet against / my own aloof relations / with family, society, / labor and intellect.” Berrigan’s single-stanza, 65-page-long poem is a meditation not on the self, but on the self in its relations, its relevancies, to other people, media, solidarity, the “evil kitty,” language games, and, in the end, fellow poet Dana Ward—one half a dialogue, signed “Love, Anselm.” Throughout, however, Berrigan’s tussle is about resisting as much as connecting. His “game of resistance” manifests formally in catachresis, anacoluthon, and provocations such as “I don’t really see / the difference between / modernism and al Qaeda.” But he also puts it straight: “I am most / certainly engaged to a / dissolution of image, / even as I wield my own / anti-program in glossy / fashion. I’m a child / programmed to punish / the world.” Irrelevance, it turns out, is a fiercely held position, the development of “vicious profiles.” As a poem addressed to you as much as to anyone, these Notes from Irrelevance are in their fierceness finally, deeply relevant.
An Iraq War veteran, Roy Scranton is a fellow at the Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences at Rice University and author of Learning to Die in the Anthropocene.
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