When the twenty-five-year-old you moves from Belgrade to Prague at the end of the 20th century, you depend on the kindness of friends to find a place to live and a place to earn a living. Your circle of acquaintances spreads quickly, and, contrary to what you naively expected, almost none of them are born Prague folks. Most are not even Czech. Most are fellow Yugoslav immigrants, or they are various transients from North America, Australia, and Western and Eastern Europe. (It will turn out that you and many other Yugo immigrants will also be just transients, but you don’t know that quite yet. As we’ve established, you’re naive.)
Sixteen years later, your sleeping brain films an absurdist feature of you going to the Adriatic seaside for a reunion with everyone you even vaguely knew in Prague. There’s a street of crumbling apartment buildings, and in their midst a brand new luxury hotel: a cross between something you’ve seen in pictures of Dubai and a state of the arts sports facility on a US campus. Of course you take a shower there in a public bath. Wet and soapy, naked bodies everywhere. Afterward, you get dressed up (you still have the dark green-silk crochet top you had back in Prague), and you go to a party. You’re one of the first ones to arrive. It’s a large house mostly empty of furniture, but full of all kinds of lenses: magnifying glasses, telescopes, glass devices that create trippy concave and convex images, and still cameras from all eras.
When you wake up, you do a quick comparison. The one life-dream overlap? The presence of a being called Dragana Jurisic.
J.Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive, Radiohead’s Kid A and Jericho Brown’s The New Testament are currently engaged in an unlikely but lovely menage a trois in my dorm. Last week, writer (or more accurately I think: curator and creator) Claudia Rankine came to campus and described her process as one that is not only intertextual but interdisciplinary. She is constantly watching lectures online, carrying what sounded like at least 10 books in her bag at a time, debating with fellow artists, staying fervently engaged in the goings-on of the present and hunting for music and visual art she likes. She said that one must “interrogate history first” and called these interdisciplinary engagements “pathways”. Rankine seemed very concerned with how much the eye can hold, with redirecting its perspective. I don’t want to ruin Citizen for you but there’s an instance in which Rankine uses a found image and omits what would be previously perceived as the subject of the image in an attempt to “redirect the gaze” of the reader. Both Citizen and Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, both categorized with the subtitle “An American Lyric” challenge the reader to rewire themselves and eschew the way they would typically engage with a book of poetry. Whether it’s the recurring image of a static television screen or a transcription of a news report, Rankine directs us toward questions like “How does the accepted definition of “All-American” ostracize non-white Americans and/or Americans who have immigrated?” or “How much of the threat of blackness is born in the White imagination?”
I’m commanding you to read Citizen. It’s remarkable and it is so important that it exists for this time more than any other.
I’ve just started the Jericho Brown but so far I am SCREAMING. It is just beautiful. I love the juxtaposition with religious text that the “new testament” structure presents.
Anyway, love from Vermont. Have a lovely day! (Also please tweet your AWP selfies to @PTReditors so that I can pretend I’m there while I’m stuck in school.)
Larry contributed graphic napkin poems to our Volume 4 back in 2012. He says, “I’ve been known to leave drawings on bills and receipts for favorite waitpersons, but the problem there is that they couldn’t keep them, even if they wanted to; so now I’ll draw on napkins. Napkins are great because they have a finite space in which to work, and because they are thought of as disposable, I like to recommission them as canvases.”