a few good words (PoemTalk #29)


Our poem is Kit Robinson’s “Return on Word,” collected in Robinson’s 2002 book, The Crave, which was published by Lyn Hejinian and Travis Ortiz at Atelos Press.

Rae Armantrout was in from San Diego and joined Linh Dinh, Tom Devaney and host Al Filreis for our conversation this time. At turns the group interprets the poem as a satirization of the referentially super-confident language of marking; as a critique of Language poetry (an aesthetic gathering with which Robinson has long been identified); as an expression of skepticism about the monetization and militarization of American rhetoric. Linh wishes Robinson had pushed the poem’s anti-marketing tendencies a bit further. Rae, who is a fan of Mad Men and herself knows a thing or two about poetically torquing flattened idiomatic speech, admires the way “all we need is a few good words” plays upon military linguistic merchandizing. Tom is positively devastated by the notion that thought might take “a contract out on” words.

Finally, the group agreed that the poem is about words’ value, seen through the dystopia of their devaluation at the hands of economic sectors in which referential certainty is guaranteed to get carried away – in which a good (profitable) year is anticipated by, maybe even determined by, the right people in the room thinking up just the right dead language for the moment.

If we look in the direction
these words will have to do
adding to the enormous burden of words

The entire concept
is entirely too conceptual
all we need is a few good words

Anybody can relate to
to declare an identity
no one can take away

But which ones
a handful of interest
several people in a room

For several hours
couldn’t come up with
the point is to decide

Then move as one
up and down
in an altered state

This is easier said than done
we are getting close, very close
we are getting better

We are going to have a great year
there is going to be hell to pay
it’s gonna be a fuckin bloodbath

Then the return to words
thought has taken a contract out on
in order to move them around

PoemTalk’s engineer for this episode was Steve McLaughlin and, as always, Steve was also our editor. We happily recommend to all Kit Robinson’s wonderful PennSound author page, which features readings dated from 1978 through 2009. The recording of our poem is here.


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stormnemesis said...

Perhaps the "return" keyed on a "word" document…

in any event…there is no there here.

How about a real political moment?


Vladimir Mayakovsky

Scarce night’s transformed into dawn,
with the same daily sight I’m beset:
folks go forth to their offices – each to his own:
to glav,
to com,
to polit,
to prosvet.
Barely passing the establishment porter,
they’re piled with papers like snow;
selecting some fifty –
the most important! –
to conference people go.

You peep in:
“Couldn’t So-and-So see me, eh?
I’ve been coming here God knows how long…”
“Comrade Van Vanich’s gone off to confer
on a merger of Theo and Gukon!”

The umptieth staircase.
You’re done for, you think.
Yet again:
“You’re to come in an hour.”
“They’re in conference:
the purchase of a bottle on ink
for the district cooperative association.”
In an hour:
neither secretary
nor clerk!
Great hell!
All under 22 –
blonde or dark –
at a conference of the YCL.

Again, perspiring, already towards dusk
to the top of the seven storey building I come.
“Has Van Vanich arrived?” I ask,
“No – in session
at the a-b-c-d-e-f-com.”

like an avalanche in full might,
I tear in,
wildly cursing.
Only halves of people in sight!
“Where are they,”
I holler,
“the halves that are missing?
I rush about roaring.
Horrendous, the picture’s driving me nuts.
Then I hear the secretary’s calmest voice: “Sorry,
they’re attending two conferences at once.
At ten sessions daily
we have to appear,
so willy-nilly,
in half we tear –
down to the waist
we’re here,
and the rest of us –

The shock brings insomnia.
Yawning and yearning.
I meet the dawn with a dream of bliss:
Oh, for just one more decisive conference,
the abolishment of all conferences!