Craig Santos Perez’s work serves as a compelling introduction to this week’s theme: what is reclaimed after occupation, modernization, integration? Having just returned from a family trip in Hawaii, I found these poems wonderfully uncomfortable to read. They stick with you. They don’t ask, but rather demand, rereading. Experiencing Perez’s poems is much like hearing one’s voice replayed from a hidden and aged recording device: when it is played back, we are indicted by the content but intrigued by the rich textures in sound. Through verbal collage and appropriation, Perez shows that reclaiming is a reassembling of what has already been claimed.
If I could go back in time, I would have taken a minor in Biology. Why? Because biology gives us Latin, graphs, and specimens to understand the inherently incomprehensible: the otherness of other creatures. Kelli Anne Noftle’s poems could be called an enchanted science, seeking to reclaim the sense of wonder and weirdness lacking in more typical forms of scientific inquiry. Her work straddles a desire to know something absolutely and an equally strong reservation that no claim, scientific or otherwise, can entirely exhaust mystery from the universe. Noftle’s poetry is particularly enchanted with that moment of scientific suspension opening us into the infinite, if only in the form of distance. It is my empirical opinion that this is an experience worth reclaiming.
Because it usually takes its source material from another language, register, or dialect, translation is inherently an act of reclamation. But no form of translation excites me quite the way homovocalic translation does. The reason is that homovocalic translation preserves the vowel sound sequence in a line but permits a degree of openness with everything else; sound is reclaimed but it is used toward the construction of entirely novel lines. Gale Nelson’s homovocalic translations of Shakespeare should strike you as familiar and strange at the same time—Hugh Kenner once quipped that Shakespeare was the only poet whose diction could never be predicted, and Nelson’s poetry preserves that excitement. But Nelson’s work is also strikingly original, managing to address topics as varied as city and keel in the span of one line. What emerges is something borrowed and something new, poetry that reclaims one aspect of the past to reconsider the present.
Claim and Reclaim concludes with a selection from Travis Macdonald’s The O Mission Repo. This text takes as its source material the 9/11 Commission Report and might be more accurately regarded as a kind of sculpture or carving, effacing large sections of text and leaving only certain details legible. In this sort of “constraint” poetry (for lack of a better term), political critique coincides with form: the source text is altered and, in alteration, subverted. However, it would be a mistake to consider this selection merely a political treatise; works like The O Mission Repo begin with language’s materiality and play with its slipperiness. Listen to the music, repetition and lyricism it has discovered in the daunting and dry pages of a government report. Like any poetic form, its constraints demonstrate that claims don’t exist in the ether of absolute truth; instead, each claim is vulnerable in its materiality to the reclamations of other artifice. And, in this case, we are lucky for what Macdonald has reclaimed.