Juliana Spahr: this connection of everyone with lungs
New from poet and critic Juliana Spahr is the collection this connection of everyone with lungs (University of California Press, 2005), a highly personal and political collection of two long poems written in response to world events. The author of a number of works available on-line as PDF, including Gentle Now, Don't Add to Heartache, 2199 Kalia Road and Unnamed Dragonfly Species, her print works include Fuck You-Aloha-I Love You , Nuclear and Response (originally published by Sun & Moon in 1996, now available as PDF at Brian Kim Stefans' /ubu editions), which was also the winner of the National Poetry Series Award. Co-editor, with Jena Osman, of the international arts journal Chain, she recently moved from Hawai'i to Oakland, California. Built of two highly charged pieces that seem self-explanatory, the collection begins with "Poem Written after September 11, 2001" and continues with "Poem Written from November 30, 2002, to March 27, 2003."
But outside of this shape is space.
There is space between the hands.
There is space between the hands and space around the hands.
There is space around the hands and space in the room.
There is space in the room that surrounds the shapes of everyone's
hands and body and feet and cells and the beating contained
There is space, an uneven space, made by this pattern of bodies.
This space goes in and out of everyone's bellies.
Everyone with lungs breathes the space in and out as everyone
with lungs breathes the space between the hands in and out
as everyone with lungs breathes the space between the hands and
the space around the hands in and out
-- "Poem Written after September 11, 2001"
There is something even eerie about getting my copy in the mail on November 30, 2005, on the anniversary of the beginning of the book's second poem, that starts with this small note:
After September 11, I kept thinking that the United States wouldn't
invade Afghanistan. I was so wrong about that.
So on November 30, 2002, when I realized that it was most likely that
the United States would invade Iraq again, I began to sort through the
news in the hope of understanding how this would happen. I thought
that by watching the news more seriously I could be a little less naïve.
But I gained no sophisticated understanding as I wrote these poems.
September 11 shifted my thinking in this way. The constant attention
to difference that so defines the politics of Hawai'i, the disconnection
that Hawai'i claims at moments with the continental United States,
felt suddenly unhelpful. I felt I had to think about what I was
connected with, and what I was complicit with, as I lived off the fat of
the military-industrial complex on a small island. I had to think about
my intimacy with things I would rather not be intimate with even
as (because?) I was very far away from all those things geographically.
This feeling made lyric--with its attention to connection, with
its dwelling on the beloved and on the afar--suddenly somewhat
poignant, somewhat apt, even somewhat more useful than I usually
Political writing is difficult, and there is something deeply personal and abstract in the way Spahr writes her explorations of the world. I've heard poetry described both as an exploration of language and a process in which to try to understand the world, and Spahr's this connection of everyone with lungs certainly works to explore those connections. There are strange things going on in the world, and these two poems ache in their response to but a few of these events. They ache and they explore and they struggle to understand, opening questions that either have no answers, or have answers even too horrible to express.
Yesterday the UN report on weapons inspections was released.
Today Israel votes and the death toll rises.
Four have died in an explosion at a Gaza City house.
Since last Monday US troops have surrounded eighty Afghans
and killed eighteen.
Protests against the French continue in the Ivory Coast.
Nothing makes any sense today beloveds.
I wake up to a beautiful, clear day.
A slight breeze blows off the Pacific.
It is morning and it is amazing in its simple morningness.
-- from "January 28, 2003"