Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Alpay Ulku on "Compensation," "Garage Sale," and "The Orange Sonata"


All of these poems are true, all of them really happened. One of them takes place a brisk walk from my condo here in Chicago, one of them takes place across the street. One of them takes place in another time line, that will merge with ours.  Which is which isn't obvious, isn't the one you'd think of first. I write this on my virtual keyboard, using finger swipes and predictive text, on my Kindle Fire. (My fingers fly, and I can type with two cats on my lap, so we all think this is cool.) Printing books is already becoming a thing of the past. You know that kills trees, don't you?  Think of the enormous savings to corporations if no one prints out documents anymore. You see the trend.

That incident a couple of years ago (July 2009) where Orwell's dystopian novels 1984 and  Animal Farm disappeared from people's Kindles, was of course a one time removal of an unauthorized edition, and not a "Proof of Concept," not a trial run of what could be done.

In 1984, the dictionary is constantly being revised so that there are fewer and fewer words, as Orwell believed that it was impossible to think a concept without the word for it. Orwell wasn't much of a poet, though, and he didn't give enough credence to the idea that knowing and vocalizing aren't the same, that people make up words to name the things they know already. But wouldn't it be interesting, in an Orwellian world, if predictive text simply didn't allow you to use certain words, was programmed to change them out from under your fingertips? If the Chinese government didn't like the character sequence "protest meeting planned." If typing the phrase "home-made bomb" triggered a script that sent a file to Homeland Security, or typing "Homeland Security" did, there are people who'd be ok with that. Just sayin'.

In Orwell' s world resistance is futile and is always utterly crushed, yet people resist. The rekindling of sexual passion between one man and one woman was an existential threat not only to the super state of Oceania, but to the entire dystopian world order, even though that possibility had been planned and accounted for. There are different resistances, even in the form of a token the oppressors themselves will let you have, or nostalgia, or a veiled comment about  "good flying weather," or anger, fear, or even, in a super surveillance super state, violence, bombs. We are one part "angel," one part monkey too clever for its own good.

Flattened affect is a form of resistance too. It's about survival, and survival is resistance. Ride the El at night, or even in broad daylight. Look and see. Other resistances: bonds spoken and unspoken between a nephew and his uncle, husband and wife, father and son. Expectations, written and unwritten. And trust. When a poem drops us into the unfamiliar turf of its landscape, how do we get oriented, where do we get our bearings? A poem that doesn't trust will fail, won't earn the reader's trust; the reader who never trusts will get nothing out of reading. Maybe that's why writing, art, has always been a form of resistance, a threat to tyrants, because it's built on trust, earning it and keeping it, and sharing a wild fragile hope for the human being in us and the humanity of which we're a part. What a shame to sell that for a bag of cashews, or whatever momentary gain you may earn by indulging your worst self instead of becoming your best.