Two poems by
Heriberto Yépez from Transnational Battle Field (Commune Editions, 2017).
About Me: In English
I am possessed by the most powerful
Revolutionary force in the world today:
The Anti-American spirit.
But I am written and I write in English
I too sing America’s shit.
I am inhabited by imperial feelings
Which arise in my mind as images
Of pre-industrial rivers
Or take some technocratic screen-form.
My hopes are these wounds
Are also weapons. But they may be undead
I am colonized. I dream of decolonizing
Myself and others. The images of the dream
Do not match up. I am the body
And the archive.
A bomb is ticking in my old soul.
And the life of the bomb
Trembles in the hands of my new voice.
I am a professor in the Third World.
What do I know? Libraries in the North
Do not open their doors. I laugh at myself
Imagining what the newer books state.
Writing is counter
-insurgent. But the counter
Leaders want our body
Believing writing is freedom.
This is as far as my English goes.
Bad Tripping the White Dream Poem
June 2015’s issue of Poetry journal published “Beatitudes Visuales Mexicanas” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The piece is a series of journal entries—dated October-November 1975—containing poetic neomemories about a Mexican journey done by Ferlinghetti. The timing of this publication was a huge bad trip.
This publication shows how out of touch with non-North American communities many North American authors and editors can be even in moments when discussions about race are shaking the trans-national experimental literary field.
As a Tijuana writer both left of the Mexico City literary hegemony and North American experimental circles, I only have two options after reading Ferlinghetti’s piece. I can either let it go as one more (one more!) piece by a North American poet telling us how Olsonian he is Down There in Mexico or put in writing why such North American
lyrical fantasies are totally anachronistic and unacceptable today both in the South and the North.
In the following electronic performance paper I will first try to show how empire writes beautiful poetry and then I will show how showing empire writes beautiful poetry cannot be accomplished in the form of the sane essay.
At some point during this piece I may abandon common sense and most Reason. Reason is the way empire messes with your mind but not the way we experience empire. Reasonable essays are just as colonial (colonizing) as Eurocentric poetry.
I will begin calling our attention to the date and title of Mr. Ferlinghetti’s piece. (Please imagine you are seeing a powerpoint slide every time I quote Ferlinghetti and then imagine me speaking, not reading but speaking after each citation).
First I want to say something about the date:
By publishing this in 2015 under a 1975 date, the piece is conferred a sense of being a “historical” document, the unfolding of a “real testimony,” a poetic essentialist ethnography about “Mexico” from the point of view of a North American innovative white poet.
“Beatitudes Visuales Mexicanas” (“Mexican visual beatitudes.”)
This is how Ferlinghetti’s piece is titled.
“Beatitudes” alludes to this North American poet’s insistence on his literary affiliation and his validity today. It also adds a non-secular aura to the work.
Exactly why these are “visual” notes or why they are “Mexican” is not clear at all. The beatitudes part, again, is clear: it is asking the reader to feel these notes come from a saint-poet, a poet familiar to Heaven.
And because North American poets from this period try to resemble Jesus Christ, imagining the Poet as Celestial is easy for most readers. Poets initiate them into the Light [coming from empire]. “La Luz del Mundo,” as entry number 1 says:
“Bus to Veracruz via Puebla + Xalapa … Adobe house by highway, with no roof and one wall, covered with words: la luz del mundo.”
And then after reading the first three annotations, you understand you are reading exoticizing literary journal entries by a North American poet-saint-tourist who thinks too highly of his own clichés. But then a “White god” appears at the center of the “Mexican” landscape:
“Halfway to Xalapa a great white volcano snow peak looms up above the hot altiplano—White god haunting Indian dreams.”
“White god,” ok, Mr. Ferlinghetti, I get you. “White god haunting Indian dreams.” Which translated into decolonial English means the White god poet here is dreaming of Indian bodies dreaming of a White god. So the question is why does the North American neoromantic (beat) poet need to dream about that?
If Ferlinghetti was totally aware of what he was writing in 1975 and aware of what he was publishing in 2015, the answer is that he has Eurocentric dreams about the Mexican-other (“Indians”). But my hypothesis is that Ferlinghetti was not completely aware of what he was writing then and is publishing now, as the writing shows: this series of notes are writing themselves and writing (reinscribing) the North American poetic subject as he romantically inferiorizes “Mexico.”
Ferlinghetti’s piece is the one dreaming of the “White god,” and as part of this dream, North American white-writing dreams Ferlinghetti himself. And the “Indians” are just psychopolitical projections of this complex lyrical subject.
(For practical purposes, I will call this military-complex lyrical subject here “Ferlinghetti.” But Ferlinghetti is not just Ferlinghetti).
Ferlinghetti is basically writing his Mexican journal (and Poetry journal basically is publishing it) under the influence of imperial substances. This is fundamentally a case of imperial possession.
And soon after its beginning, Ferlinghetti’s angelic gaze cannot stop itself from falling victim-victimizer of all the clichés from the White Racist Book About the Mexican Dead (including the “burros”):
“A boy and three burros run across a stubble field, away from the white mountain. He holds a stick. There is no other way.”
The “White god haunting Indian dreams” here replays itself in the form of a “white mountain,” which takes Hegemonic Whiteness from Heaven to Earth, spreading it onto the landscape and immediately telling the boy and the three burros “There is no other way.”
But there is another way. There are a lot of other ways, Mr. Ferlinghetti. It’s just that you need to question your own authority as a North American white male high saint lyrical subject.
The piece continues: “Deep yellow flowers in the dusk by the road, beds of them stretching away into darkness. A moon the same color comes up.”
Notice how by now, his representation of sublime nature has absorbed the White god mythology, and displays itself as a simultaneity of “deep yellow flowers” and a “moon the same color” (coming up). This is a sort of Zen poem used to say the lower and the upper worlds obey the same set of light-colored cosmic laws. This is how empire sings, how it sings while it encroaches itself into nature, and ultimately how one older imperial poetics serves a younger.
By now, of course, most readers will fall into imperial poetic arrest very nicely, because the operation has been seductively carried out and Western civilization simply does not educate its citizens to disengage themselves from imperial poetics. Bodies react and love the Poet’s words. But, Mr. Poet, I know what you are doing. I am a poet too. And I too sing “America” against my will. And now I am inside of your poem, because “America” has swallowed the entire world, and we are not sure if “Mexico” is real anymore, but I as told that in Your Poem my fatherland and my mothertongue are living now. But I don’t see them, Mr. Poet, I just see a delusion by a White god.
And you and me are inside this delusion. This is why I am writing in English (and not you writing in Spanish). This is why I came to North American poetics (and not you to Latin American poetics). Because you are in charge and we are tired. Some of us need to come and blow up this white North American delusion.
See that yellow bright in the night sky, Mr. White Poet-god? Well, that’s your fucking yellow moon and your fucking White god exploding. And the prose poem or whateva continues:
“As the bus turns + turns down the winding hill, moon swings wildly from side to side. It has had too many pathetic phalluses written about it to stand still for one more.”
But then why are you making us stand still for more North American pathetic phalluses?
Ok, let me guess.… You want us to listen to you telling us all this ecopoetic dogshit because here it comes! Here comes your next grand self-portrait down there in Mexxxi Co.:
“In Xalapa I am a head taller than anyone else in town—A foot of flesh and two languages separate us.”
Oh, so you indeed are the White Mountain-god? How great of you, Mr. Ferlinghetti, so handsome and tall, to separate from us, but before you go on with your sweet hegemonic demonic lyrical quickie attack, let’s clarify something: it is not a foot of flesh and two languages that separate us, but five centuries of renewable colonial affects and
And by now, we can also see how the White Poet is insisting so much in putting himself in the upper world (“I am a head taller than anyone else in town…”), so thanks to you and your great merciful powers we know we are in the lower level, thank you very much, and now let me continue in the hot altiplano, with my three burro-amigos and the certainty (conferred by The Almighty) that “There is no other way.” But before I start crying under a palm tree and start drinking the coconuts and then the tequila and finally fall asleep wrapped in a tortilla under my big sombrero until the zopilotes eat me during the Day of the Dead, let me quote you once more:
“At a stand in the park at the center of Xalapa I eat white corn on the cob with a stick in the end, sprinkled with salt, butter, grated cheese + hot sauce. The dark stone Indian who hands it to me has been standing there three thousand years.”
You really like sticks, right? Don’t you think that so many sticks are saying something about the pathetic phalluses? And why are you dreaming that the “small” man raising his hand to try to reach your Highness is a “dark stone Indian”? Why do you need to see nonhuman dark stones instead of human foreign-inferiorized-brown bodies? And why do you fantasize him as having three thousand years? This is 2015, Mr. White Poet, don’t patronize your readers and don’t inferiorize and primitivize Mexican bodies. We are really tired of this. D. H. Lawrence already did it a century ago and we don’t want to read
one more Lawrence Mexplaining us again.
Please remember this has been happening for more than 500 years (do you realize how much your “Mexican” notes resemble Hernán Cortés’ letters?; the similarities are revealing, please read that), yes, for 5 fucking hundred years, but none of us has been here for the entire 500 years, each of us has died at 57, 14 and many at 3 or 9, so for you to tell us some of us are a three thousand year old dark stone handing you (Up There) some “white corn” is really insulting today, this kind of poetry is totally exhausted, offensive, absurd, openly imperial (also) today. Maybe some decades ago it was cool, countercultural or something, but now is totally unacceptable.
What? Are you saying I’m mad? Yes, I’m mad, I am angry! And what is your response? What? What are you saying now?
“I’m taking this trip from Mexico City to the Gulf of Mexico and back without any bag or person—only what I can carry in my pockets. The need for baggage is a form of insecurity.”
No, this is your mystical arrogance, your total psychic colonial inflation and your colonial baggage saying this. It’s because you were a North American upper-hippie poet-editor travelling to Mexico that you were able to do that. The Mexican working class that used buses then and still uses them now do carry baggage because they are not North American upper-hippie poet-editors travelling to Mexico who can enjoy the privilege of bragging only the insecure need baggage. I hope that by now you and your White Poet Friends understand some of us in the “underworld” are not going to take even one more line of your “Mexican” imperial poetics.
“Two hours in this town and I feel I might live forever (foreign places affect me that way). The tall church tower tolls its antique sign: pray.”
Yes, of course, foreign places affect you in “that way.” This happens because your body was trained in the us to feel hubris before brown bodies. Souths make you horny. Souths make you Godly.
Souths make you Who You Are.
That is why in your aphorisms or whateva you are reporting feelings of Greatness, Universality, and Eternity and your brain is producing poetic imagery in which your inflated Self is equated to a “tall church tower” that “tolls its antique sign: pray.”
Do you realize how colonial this is? How incredibly colonial it is to say “Oh this “Mexican” tall church tower tells us (and especially you Mexican/Indians): pray.”
“Pray” is not an “antique sign” but the Spanish Christian Colonial sign you are identifying with. The colonizer ideology you as poet have inherited.
One older imperial poetics serving a younger.
The Spanish Empire is one of the specters feeding the North American Empire. And its poets.
“In early morning in the great garden of Xalapa, with its terraces and immense jacaranda trees, pines + palms, there are black birds with cries like bells, and others with hollow wooden voices like gourds knocked together. The great white volcano shimmers far off, unreached by the rising sun.”
When you talk about those birds, who are you really talking about? O those birds are all over Colonial Poetics. And some of us know who those birds are.
“The great white volcano…unreached by the rising sun,” yeah, whateva, we get it, you, the White god, the white mountain, the white volcano, so great, so high, so unreachable, whateva, Mr., you’re just having colonial dreams, co-lo-nial dreams, this is what most North American poetry is about, what most Western Poetry is about, what most Poetry is about, fuck it.
Don’t worry. We are almost saying goodbye. We will be in this bus together just a few more minutes. I just need to quote you a couple of times more to show how North American poetry systematically produces colonial golden shit.
“Brown men in white palmetto cowboy hats stand about the fountains in groups of three or four, their voices lost to the hollow-sounding birds. Along a sunlit white stone balustrade, student lovers are studying each other, novios awaiting the day. The sun beats down hot and melts not the mountain.”
No, of course not the mountain. No, how could the sun melt the White Mountain? No, of course not, how delirious of us to think The White Mountain is Not Eternal.
“On the bus again to Veracruz, dropping down fast to flat coast. A tropical feeling—suddenly coffee plantation + palms—everything small except the landscape, horses the size of burros, small black avocados, small strong men with machetes each still saying to himself Me llamo yo.”
“Everything small except the landscape,” oh, my White God, I see you have been playing too much with the stick, right? Too much colonial masturbation, man, too much “you are so small, you and everything are small, except Me and the Landscape, everything else is the size of burros and small avocados, even the small strong men with machetes,
each still saying—after three thousands years of stone primitive existence—‘Me llamo yo.’”
Me llamo yo? What? My name is I? I’m called me? Why do you need to end your bus “Mexican” ride with a chorus of small strong “Mexican” men with machetes saying this nonsense? Me llamo yo, Me llamo yo, Me llamo yo, what?
Now let me tell you and the Poetry journal editors something: the appearance of this piece precisely in June 2015, a few days before the Berkeley Poetry Conference and right in the middle of the crisis of North American experimentalism represents another event of imperial synchronicity.
And it’s about imperial nostalgia. The us empire is crumbling and similarly to how Kenneth Goldsmith and Vanessa Place are all about nostalgia for crumbling White Supremacy, we are going to witness all kinds of poetic events from whites and white allies trying to hold on to the melting empire.
This is stereotypical nostalgic white-countercultural Americana. This is totally Whitmaniac, totally Poundian, totally Steinian, totally Olsonian, totally Beatnik, totally Conceptualist, totally Il Gruppo, totally poetics still clinging to the imperial.
This is about how North American poetics has historically decided to innovate poetry, to only renovate itself, obeying White Western Supremacist Values.
Some central aspects of the North American lyrical subjects are constructed through conscious and unconscious (d)emotions of Being Larger than Others. Imperial Poetics is the spiritualization of Inequality.
And this myth is directly involved in the formation of the North American lyrical ego and was particularly crucial for the formation of the New American Poets’ spirit, that’s why both Olson’s and the beatniks’ travels into Mexico fueled a whole period of North American innovative poetics. Their fantasies about Mexico consisted, on one hand, as a combination of colonizers identifying with elements of the colonized through (Romantic) mythology and, on the other, these same colonizers reiterating their superiority through intercultural poetic imagery.
Ferlinghetti’s 1975-2015 vintage “Mexican” postcards are just another version of the imperial poetic gaze dreaming about South of the Border inferior-worlds. And this is the 21st Century and we are still trapped inside this colonial pantopia, this mad imperial hubristic seizure.
This mad imperial hubristic poetic seizure creates an upper gaze that looks down to Southern human and non-human bodies, and it does so in a beautiful lyrical manner. It is precisely through poetry that the imperial gaze is justified, sublimated, aestheticized. Beauty is what Empire Sees, what Empire Feels, what Empire thinks. Beauty is What
The White Poet-Mountain: The Poet as OverSeer. The Poet of Superiority.
In my book Empire of Neomemory I questioned how Charles Olson’s imperial imaginary created pantopias, that is, spaces of poetized totalities under colonial control.
And Pantopias are all about retromania, my friend.
Now we have arrived to the end of our travel together. Let’s step outside this Greyhound.
What do you see?
No white gods, no white mountains.
Yes, amigo, no white gods, no white mountains. Even this cold empire