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Fred Moten
Fred Moten

revision, impromptu

Recorded for Poem-a-Day, June 20, 2018.
About this Poem 

“Saturday, April 28, 2018, I had the pleasure of attending and participating in a conference at The Spectrum in Brooklyn called ‘Improvisation in the Age Beyond Mechanical Reproduction.’ I took some maniacal, non-mechanical notes, improvisationally revising as I unfaithfully transcribed. Then, I read them back to those who’d been playing all afternoon. It was sundown, at the end of a great day, in the wake of the passing of Cecil Taylor and James Cone, who gave us so many great days.”
—Fred Moten

revision, impromptu

with David Rothenberg, Nicola Hein, George Lewis, Dafna Naphtali, Andrew Drury, Tanya Kalmanovich, Hans Tammen, Sarah Weaver, David Grubbs, and Ally-Jane Grossan
 
Logistics sounds like a work song. The bottom anticipates and tills and then it’s time to turn over. This limbned, uncoordinated independence is anagnostic. Flesh touches. I am because we are is some bullshit. I ain’t because we share air lore, more notes on Auto da Fé’s blacking of the presence of an absence. The abyss between frames, that dehiscence, indicates this refusal either to fuse or choose between tearing and binding, a careful preservation of wounding. The whole fade in a shuffle it projects and prepares, a soufflé of angles, a palimpsest of snares and rides, some continually hidden h, a heft of air, a thievish shift carnival, a tufted shear, a shhhh of whirr and bookfan. We wear a fan of books, page over other kissing inside lip to disappear into another outside in coming into view. We all come from nothing to hard tone row and that cool move, chafing against the new phasis of the history of displacement, sound like it got a three on it to me. Blackness is the revelation of that which makes a people uncertain, unclear and awry in its action and knowledge. I think I been thinking ‘bout that for ‘bout thirty years, Krupa become Krupskaya having lost their aura, but when I get a chance I ask Scott La Rock why I start to think and then I sink into the paper like I was ink, like I was a Chinese painter in the hold of the beholding. The zero degree is what he says; she says nothing in reply, a festival, irreparable. The age of quantum mechanical reproduction is giving tune away to rise. Collaborate elaboration, William. Infinite consanguinity, Dumbo. Fleeta Drum came with us, brought something with him, brought a swing with her to fold the document. Can improvisation be documented? Has it ever been? Lemme ask Scott when I see him—see if improvisation can be revised. Scott, can improvisation be revised? That’s an arctic jazz question, regarding whales and, further inland, elephants, and saxophone kids, non-expert users, autodidactic squirrels in task decomposition. Is there an analogy between improvisation and optimization, affirmation and ingardenation on improvisational gardening? What’s the Greek word for “reading”?
 
 
Which is the point of all this rub and cyclone, when the eye falls into plenitude in a series of caressive abuse and kisses, oikopolitics and storms, good and bad time weather in a tore up propagation of clicks, which is when I realized you’d prepared the back of our throat for a speech about the tragic ship, the interminable line to it and the endless line from it, woodskin, wind’s skin, wound and drumbone, bowed, time to stay, string, till poise come back for poise, for our unsupported method and post-sculptural stuttering and non-purposive black massive hymn and sold, celebratory subcanadian scotchplain, plummets of bird patterning, the scotchirish hazarding of north ideas, habitually prenational birds, field recordings of syncrudescent birds flew down to tailing in the good and bad time weather, bird in the collective head of mama’nem at the blues university, Clyde’n’mama’nem and her and ask and think a digital conference of the birds, viola, ‘cause music is the fruit of love and earth and nobody gon’ buy it anyway, for there is nothing lost, that may be found in these findings, by these foundlings, driving ‘round vising and revisiting in the inescapable history of not being you. Our name is unnameable in this regard and miles ahead, feeling what you can’t see all incompletely. The half-fullness of your glasses makes you wanna make the word go away but you do have a capacity for massage that gives me hope. In the delicate evening software, I can understand Russell Westbrook. It’s ulmeric, oliveirian, in its unfirewalled all over the placelessness. We gig everywhere and it just makes me wanna giggle, or holler at you from way over here, party over there, if you can wait, we being behind the beat a little bit but right at the beguining, gynomonastically basic and maternal earth tones all out from the tone world, deep in the bass loom, twilight weaving morning in La Jolla/moonlight in Vermont someplace, some folks parking, some just getting dressed, everybody waiting with everybody for right now in right there, party over here.
 
 
Well moled, old Grubbs! We all here in the ruins but we got something in our hands—an experimental bandcamp for news and flowers. And I appreciate y’all letting me sit in, being so far from virtuosity. I wanna be communicable from way back. I wanna be in your base community, grace abounding to the chief of sinners. Remember that song by the Spinners called “Sadie”? The one on Spinners Live! where he reverted—that contrapulsive, not just knee-deep conversioning he got caught up in? Soul Wynne was sewing that night. It was like he had a drum in his chest, just to let you know that nothing lasts forever. The improvisation of forgetting is redactive flow everyday with all these voices in our head. These are always revising herself. One said they told us to be Germanic so, with great surprise, we took a picture of your tech with yourself, our constraint, and it was undecidable between us but plantational, since we the police of different voices, to be your instrument in this sovereign fade. Go back and look at it again when we fade a little bit, when invention won’t let us come up on it from behind. I don’t know my own stuff well enough to mix it right now, but we been remixing it all along past the everyday fade. Mama’nem are the different voices in your head. Are you gon’ play me now? I wan be played with you. I wanna be down with you. My code voice is Stanley Clarke, rajautomatic mixive for the people’s quartet, no way to control it, can’t caul it, won’t be covered, some uncoverable cuvée, girl, some prekripkean cupcake, causally unnameable as that Krupa keep coming back, tense but casually anafrican. Scott says the Greek word for reading is writing. It could be, I don’t know. I’m undecidable between us but you can ring my bell. The night is young and full of possibilities, the only trace of which, when I go back, is how I sound for you from one diffusion to another, as if the room were our hijab, as if we were a roomful of people writing about Cecil Taylor, as if writing about Cecil were reading James Cone, as if I were Sharon Cone’s escort to Cecil’s going home, as if we were the temporary contemporary—air above mountains, buildings in our hands.

Copyright © 2018 by Fred Moten. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 20, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by Fred Moten. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 20, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

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collection

Classic Books of American Poetry

This collection of books showcases the masterpieces of American poetry that have influenced—or promise to influence—generations of poets. Take a look.

poem

Queer

Lie to yourself about this and you will
forever lie about everything.

Everybody already knows everything

so you can
lie to them. That's what they want.

But lie to yourself, what you will

lose is yourself. Then you
turn into them.

                 *

For each gay kid whose adolescence

was America in the forties or fifties
the primary, the crucial

scenario

forever is coming out—
or not. Or not. Or not. Or not. Or not.

                 *

Involuted velleities of self-erasure.

                 *

Quickly after my parents
died, I came out. Foundational narrative

designed to confer existence.

If I had managed to come out to my
mother, she would have blamed not

me, but herself.

The door through which you were shoved out
into the light

was self-loathing and terror.

                 *

Thank you, terror!

You learned early that adults' genteel
fantasies about human life

were not, for you, life.  You think sex

is a knife
driven into you to teach you that.
Frank Bidart
2012
poem

From the Desire Field

I don’t call it sleep anymore.
             I’ll risk losing something new instead—

like you lost your rosen moon, shook it loose.

But sometimes when I get my horns in a thing—
a wonder, a grief or a line of her—it is a sticky and ruined
             fruit to unfasten from,

despite my trembling.

Let me call my anxiety, desire, then.
Let me call it, a garden.

Maybe this is what Lorca meant
             when he said, verde que te quiero verde—

because when the shade of night comes,
I am a field of it, of any worry ready to flower in my chest.

My mind in the dark is una bestia, unfocused,
             hot. And if not yoked to exhaustion

beneath the hip and plow of my lover,
then I am another night wandering the desire field—

bewildered in its low green glow,

belling the meadow between midnight and morning.
Insomnia is like Spring that way—surprising
             and many petaled,

the kick and leap of gold grasshoppers at my brow.

I am struck in the witched hours of want—

I want her green life. Her inside me
in a green hour I can’t stop.
             Green vein in her throat green wing in my mouth

green thorn in my eye. I want her like a river goes, bending.
Green moving green, moving.

Fast as that, this is how it happens—
             soy una sonámbula.

And even though you said today you felt better,
and it is so late in this poem, is it okay to be clear,
             to say, I don’t feel good,

to ask you to tell me a story
about the sweet grass you planted—and tell it again
             or again—

until I can smell its sweet smoke,
             leave this thrashed field, and be smooth.
 

Natalie Diaz
2017
Stonewall National Monument
poem

Twenty-One Love Poems [Poem II]

I wake up in your bed. I know I have been dreaming.
Much earlier, the alarm broke us from each other,
you’ve been at your desk for hours. I know what I dreamed:
our friend the poet comes into my room
where I’ve been writing for days,
drafts, carbons, poems are scattered everywhere,
and I want to show her one poem
which is the poem of my life. But I hesitate,
and wake. You’ve kissed my hair
to wake me. I dreamed you were a poem,
I say, a poem I wanted to show someone . . .
and I laugh and fall dreaming again
of the desire to show you to everyone I love,
to move openly together
in the pull of gravity, which is not simple,
which carries the feathered grass a long way down the upbreathing air.

Adrienne Rich
2016
collection

The Letter Q

The Letter Q (Scholastic, 2012) is a collection of letters written by queer writers to their younger selves, making imaginative journeys into their pasts, and addressing the often difficult coming-of-age experiences of LGBTQ individuals. Inspired by its strength, bravery, and heart, Poets.org asked several poets to respond with their own letters to their younger selves.

AASL Best Website for Teaching & Learning
poem

Dirt Being Dirt

The orchard was on fire, but that didn’t stop him from slowly walking
straight into it, shirtless, you can see where the flames have
foliaged—here, especially—his chest. Splashed by the moon,
it almost looks like the latest proof that, while decoration is hardly
ever necessary, it’s rarely meaningless: the tuxedo’s corsage,
fog when lit scatteredly, swift, from behind—swing of a torch, the lone
match, struck, then wind-shut…How far is instinct from a thing
like belief? Not far, apparently. At what point is believing so close
to knowing, that any difference between the two isn’t worth the fuss,
finally? A tamer of wolves tames no foxes, he used to say, as if avoiding
the question. But never meaning to. You broke it. Now wear it broken.

Carl Phillips
2017
collection

Teach This Poem: The Classics

Teach This Poem is a weekly series featuring a poem from our online poetry collection, accompanied by interdisciplinary resources and activities designed to help K-12 teachers quickly and easily bring poetry into the classroom. The following lesson plans from this series feature poems by classic poets, including Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and more.

 

collection

A Poet's Glossary

Read about poetic terms and forms from Edward Hirsch's A Poet's Glossary (Harcourt, 2014), a book ten years in the making that defines the art form of poetry.  

Spring–Summer 2018 issue of American Poets
poem

It Is Important To Be Something

This is like a life. This is lifelike.
I climb inside a mistake
and remake myself in the shape
of a better mistake—
a nice pair of glasses
without any lenses,
shoes that don’t quite fit,
a chest that always hurts.
There is a checklist of things
you need to do to be a person.
I don’t want to be a person
but there isn’t a choice,
so I work my way down and
kiss the feet.
I work my way up and lick
the knee.
I give you my skull
to do with whatever you please.
You grow flowers from my head
and trim them too short.
I paint my nails nice and pretty
and who cares. Who gives a shit.
I’m trying not to give a shit
but it doesn’t fit well on me.
I wear my clothes. I wear my body.
I walk out in the grass and turn red
at the sight of everything.
Joshua Jennifer Espinoza
2018