At the last poetry reading at the Folger, they brought together three poets published by Graywolf Press: Vijay Seshadri, Claudia Rankine, and Matthea Harvey. Stephen Burt moderated the conversation that followed brief readings, where he was, to be generous, more of an enthusiastic rather than moderating presence (he was deeply interested in hearing what all the poets had to say, but in his excitement, inadvertently made himself the subject).
Claudia Rankine’s fiercely political collection, Citizen: An American Lyric, is the poet du jour and she did not disappoint. But I had already bought Seshadri’s collection, 3 Sections, a month prior.
3 Sections is an interesting collection. There is a gentle thread of politics that winds through it all. At the time, it was hard not to compare that more wistful scent of the political to Claudia Rankine’s, who writes far less gentle political poems (which is not to say strident; but they are fierce). Maybe that less parenthetical word is the key: he does not write fiercely, but with a touch of melancholy, a lot of gentle humor, and something approaching fatalism.
Rankine participates in the Other as a black woman born in America. Seshadrii participates as an Indian born outside of this country. The comparison made vivid two different kinds of alienation.
There were several long poems, including a long (over ten pages) prose poem. During the conversation, he resisted the term ‘prose poem,’ as being something belonging specifically to the surrealist poets of the 30s. But it will do as a shorthand.
It’s about fishing, with discussions of the character and prejudices of fishermen in the American northwest, and also Russian fishermen. And also the Cold War. And a journey onboard a Japanese fishing vessel and the narrator (is he?) getting debilitating seasickness. It could be read as a longform essay, but it is, in a way I can’t articulate, definitely poetry.
He also has an ambivalent view towards technology. Or jaded. He doesn’t believe it changes much.
Here is the fourth (of five) stanzas from a poem entitled New Media:
It’s not the thing,
there is no thing,
there’s no thing in itself,
there’s nothing but what’s said about the thing,
there are no things but words