Saturday, January 11, 2014



Kill List by Josef Kaplan 
(Cars Are Real, Baltimore, MD, 2013)


Every so often something comes along that riles poets up. Josef Kaplan’s Kill List is (at the time of writing) the straw that has stirred one of the most recent tempests. First, there is its title. Second, there is the text itself, which begins

Vito Acconci is a rich poet.
Gilbert Adair is comfortable.
Rachel Adams is comfortable.
Etel Adnan is a rich poet.

Chris Alexander is comfortable.
Elizabeth Alexander is a rich poet.
Bruce Andrews is a rich poet.
Maya Angelou is a rich poet.

David Antin is a rich poet.
Rae Armantrout is a rich poet.
John Ashbery is a rich poet.
Amiri Baraka is comfortable.

and ends

Stephanie Young is comfortable.
Matthew Zapruder is a rich poet.
Mande Zecca is comfortable.
Steven Zultanski is comfortable.

The omitted part of the poem consists of the rest of an alphabet of living poets (method of and reason for selection unknown) and, as in the example here, their purported economic status. There are only two possible statuses: comfortable and rich. Tho, for reasons I am unable to parse, the comfortable are merely comfortable, the rich are not only rich, they are rich poets. Maybe because it’s barely ok for a poet to be comfortable, but it’s a total disqualification for a poet to be rich??


The first provocation is obvious: the inclusion of the names of living people in a kill list. Living poets. Why? What? I mean WTF? Who could be more harmless than poets (much to poets’ chagrin, perhaps)? Well, if it’s not the poets per se (there’s not much these poets have in common, at least nothing obvious, except being Anglophone for the most part), could it be their economic status? The rich and the comfortable should be put on a kill list? And here we come to the second provocation: the economic status is often inaccurate. And, for some reason (for many reasons), to be ascribed an inaccurate economic status (especially one higher than one believes oneself to have) is (these days) indeed provocative.

I don’t know which provocation I consider more interesting. Each ramifies in a number of directions.


My first reaction to Kill List was: am I in it? No. Oh shit. What do I have to do to be “famous” enough to make a list like this? I felt the same as I did when I realized I would never earn a nasty Kent Johnson epigram. Slightly abject. Slightly bereft.

But that passed. My second reaction was: this says a lot about poets, that Kaplan would issue a poets-to-be-killed list. I thought: this could only happen in Poetry Land. I mean, if someone rolled into a bar around, say, 1 AM, or up to the corner in Pomona CA, near where I live, and said, “You people are on my kill list,” well, they'd be lucky if they didn’t get a cue stick broken over their head. Or a cap in their ass.

It turns out that for some, this second reaction is important. And an aspect of this work’s significance. For instance, Rauan Klassnik, in an article at HTMLGIANT, wrote, “This Kill List’s turned out to be a great litmus test, indeed.” We had an exchange in the comments section about this. Let me quote:

JBR: If it's a litmus test, what's it a litmus test of? Rauan, [in a previous comment] you say “humanity” but I don’t know what you mean by that. (I don’t know what anybody means by that in this kind of context) I can devise a justification for Kill List, and I can devise a condemnation. But if it’s just my devising I still have no idea what Kaplan might have been doing, or what you mean by test ... I’m seriously asking, what is this a test of?

RK: i appreciate you[r] comment here, John. and for one thing I’d say for sure is that the Kill List has proven to be a pretty good indicator of whether or not you’re a jackass. seriously. kind of. pretty much. really.

JBR [edited]: Hi Rauan. Without doubting you, I wonder if this discussion will ever get to the point where someone explains how exactly it does that. … this could only happen in Poetry Land. […] So I get that it says something about poets as a peculiar breed ... But I have no idea if any of this is what the author or you might be thinking, or ...

RK [edited]: hey John, that’s great about the bar and cue sticks breaking over heads,... i guess that’s what certain poets are doing,... and they're coming up Positive on my Litmus Test... (Positive as in you have Rabies, but that’s different)... […]. but for me (as for many others) the interest is in waves, the reverberations, the pool sticks and caps in the asses,... (and i guess it’s embarrassing that i'm such a gleeful voyeur, musing “hey, jackass, you’re no better than an angry guy with a pool stick in Pomona”. peace, man,...

JBR: Thanks Rauan. So, then, this is kind of a pacifism test ... (I haven’t been in a fight since I was 12. Some guy was choking my little brother so I kicked him in the back ... not much of a fight, really). Peace to you, too.


My third reaction, which was much less immediate, and which took some thought, related Josef’s work to real kill lists, such as the one Obama uses to pick out drone targets. Perhaps Josef is critiquing that kind of list by filling his own list with obviously irrelevant targets, each of whom has had inaccurate “intelligence” attached. I liked, and still like, this interpretation. This list should no more be made “operative” than should Obama’s (at least 400 civilians in Pakistan have been killed in drone strikes, and there are those in the UN who feel that these strikes violate international law).

This kind of thinking also vibrated for Joyelle McSweeney, who published a piece at Montevidayo, 17 Oct 013, entitled “Some Comfortable Thoughts: Inger Christensen’s Alphabets Kill List”, though for her it didn’t go far enough. Virtually all human thinking can be considered some sort of kill list. I quote in full:

This new Kill List poem by Josef Kaplan is easily the best work of conceptual poetry I’ve seen in a long time. I’m an expressionist, not a conceptualist. But let’s face it, conceptualism, as Inger Christensen would say, ‘exists’. This particular conceptualist poem works for me because it invites us to consider an idea, and invites us to turn that idea over and over for as long as the idea interests us. Then it invites us to delete the idea. This is a great poem for FaceBook, for conversations heatedly engaged upon and then abandoned because other pressures such as the need to sleep or shop or nuke a burrito became more compelling. The deleting is part of the ‘reading’. This concept will self-destruct. Unlike a drone.

As for the concept: we are introduced to the phrase Kill List, which for most nice liberal American poetry readers will conjure ideas of drone warfare or revolutionary violence or the opposite of a no-kill shelter or some kind of fatal indexing. Then the poem presents us with 68 pages of alphabetized poets’ names, grouped in sets of four, each identified as ‘rich’ or ‘comfortable’.  Like, ‘Caroline Bergvall is rich’ and ‘Jim Behrle is comfortable’.

One senses that this ranking of the poets into the dubious bourgeois or ultra-bourgeois categories is the bait we’re supposed to gobble up. And yet. I just read Inger Christensen’s Alphabet, in Susana Nied’s translation, last week with some students, and I can’t help but focus on that ‘is’.

‘Kill List’ could be read as a litany, it could be reading off a library shelf. The indexical adjustments of ‘comfortable’ and ‘rich’ have a nice, well, ‘comfortable’ sixties feel to them, a now- out-of-touchness, a vagueness. Like ‘don’t trust anyone over thirty’– as expressions of acute political crisis, kind of sweet. In our current context, these could be financial terms or refer to perceived social assets or even how interested the author feels in these poets–or it could be random. As 2 goes into four (ie the binary of rich/comfortable into the 4 line stanza), there is also the alphabetical order itself. Sweet old alphabetical order. Humans made you, and humans love you. But nothing humans make is innocent. Not even orders of knowledge.  Moreover we are invited to read these 68 pages as a computer would, scanning for names (names are the only element that changes), data mining an index for names we recognize. Like a drone-operator or a drone. Attention or recognition here is itself weaponized.

This is where I link Kill List to Inger Christensen. Re-reading Alphabet, I was very taken by the poem’s smoothness. It has the smoothness of a big fat bomber high up in the strangelove sky. As it glides, we glide, we can see the whole horizon line of the earth, cities and species and chemicals all becoming visual in the reading-scape of the poem. [nb, I think Kill List is a very retinal poem, since consuming its well-designed pages, its nicely serifed, landscaped font, is so very easy. It's so easy to consume this book, to be an early adaptor of the predator's visual viewpoint. After all, computers as we know them were developed in the 20th c. for work on the H-Bomb, for calculating shock waves. The Internet, as we know, is a military installation]. As each noun in Christensen’s poem comes into view, the poem remarks it ‘exists’. But I also felt this word ‘exists’ could function as meaning the opposite–each of these things ‘exists’ at the exact moment it leaves the planet. Alphabet is as much a cold war poem, ‘existing’ in the split second between the dropping of a nuclear bomb and its impact, as Kill List is a drone war poem. Both invite us to think about how poetry ‘exists’ under the aeriel penumbra of war.  Both make us realize how puny ‘existence’ is, how puny ‘is’ is.  The incommensurateness between the title’s reference to the supposed ‘inhumanity’ of drone warfare (I think drone warfare is humanity itself) and the poem itself might be the point of this poem.

No order of knowledge is neutral because it is tainted with human’s killer instinct. We like to call ourselves ‘sapiens’ because we draw up the very best kill lists and the very best robots or enlistees or acolytes to carry them out. As the very smart J. Robert Oppenheimer remarked, “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” Or, nuclear bombs exist. I myself am drone.

Maybe Adam’s MFA thesis in the garden of Eden, naming all the animals, was the first Kill List in western culture. Everything that can be brought into the order of human knowledge is also on the demolition list.


It is possible to consider this untitled poem by Brenda Iijima, (Facebook post, 24 Oct 013, called “ill list” by Maryrose Larkin in a FB comment) as a superb followup to Joyelle’s “Everything that can be brought into the order of human knowledge is also on the demolition list.” It too is an alphabetical list of poets, but it replaces economic status with a kind of exposure-to-toxins status. To quote a message from Brenda:

I purposely left the title blank or unaccounted for. Obviously, Ill List came to my mind as I generated the "ills" of each poet--the toxic stuff that swirls around us. Many of these chemicals are in household cleaners, make up, industrial food production, the weapons industry. The notion of “killing” also is pertinent. Ecological devastation is taking its toll on all of our bodies. So I left the title blank intentionally--also as an aftermath and hazy residual of the strong language Joseph employed. To make that space as implosive/imploded. This list is exactly the "same" as the one Joseph generated. I made one inclusion: Marcella Durand.

Since it is only available at present to Brenda’s Facebook friends, I am reprinting it in full here, with her permission:

Vito Acconci is being killed by p-dichlorobenzene and naphthalene.
Gilbert Adair is possibly being killed by hydrocarbons in motor oil.
Rachel Adams is possibly being killed by sodium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide.
Etel Adnan is being killed by warfarin.

Chris Alexander is immune to phenol.
Elizabeth Alexander is being killed by nitrobenzene.
Bruce Andrews is being killed by triclosan.
Maya Angelou is possibly being killed by linear alkylate sulfonate.

David Antin is being compromised by hydrochloric acid.
Rae Armantrout is possibly being killed by cesium 137.
John Ashbery is immune to carbaryl.
Amiri Baraka is compromised by petroleum distillates.

Stephanie Barber is allergic to atrazine.
Susan Barbour is fine for now.
John Barr is being killed by all triazine herbicides.
David Beaudouin is being killed by aflatoxin, patulin and ochratoxin.

Calvin Bedient is immune to biofilm.
Jim Behrle is possibly being killed by pizza.
Lauren Bender is symptom-free.
Jen Benka is being compromised by 6-Acetoxydihydrotheaspirane.

Steve Benson is symptom-free.
Caroline Bergvall is being killed by carbide gas.
Jasper Bernes is being killed by heavy metals.
Charles Bernstein is being killed by methane gases.

Anselm Berrigan is symptom-free.
Eddie Berrigan is symptom-free.
Star Black is possibly being killed by isopropanol.
Christian Bök is symptom-free.

Ana Božičević is possibly being killed by 3-Methylthiopropionaldehyde.
Kamau Brathwaite is symptom-free.
Brandon Brown is symptom-free.
Lee Ann Brown is being killed by oxybenzone, benzophenone, octocrylene, octyl methoxycinnamate, disopropyl adipate, retinyl palmitate and retinoic acid.

Laynie Browne is being killed by uranium.
Stephen Burt is being killed by 8-methyl-N-vannillyl-6-nonenamide.
David Buuck is being killed by DHMO.
Melissa Buzzeo is possibly being killed by NaCl.

Macgregor Card is symptom-free.
Anne Carson is being killed by p-dichlorobenzene.
Abigail Child is being killed by ethylene glycol and sodium hypochlorite.
Cody-Rose Clevidence is symptom-free.

Joshua Clover is being killed by carboxymethyl cellulose, hydroxyethyl cellulose, carboxymethyl hydroxyethyl cellulose, hydroxypropyl cellulose and guar.
John Coletti is symptom-free.
Billy Collins is symptom-free.

Clark Coolidge is being killed by zirconium.
Karen Mac Cormack is being killed by chromium and antimony.
Cecilia Corrigan is being killed by aluminum phosphate-ester oil gels.
Alejandro Crawford is being killed by Agent Orange.

Mark Cugini is symptom-free.
Jordan Davis is symptom-free.
Tim Davis is symptom-free.
Barbara DeCesare is symptom-free.

Katie Degentesh is symptom-free.
Andrew Dieck is being killed by defoliants.
Tracy Diamond is possibly being killed by flame retardants.
Thom Donovan is being killed by industrial chicken production chemical off-flow.

Brandon Downing is symptom-free.
Buck Downs is being killed by phosgenes.
Rachel Blau DuPlessis is being killed by insecticides.
Andrew Durbin is possibly being killed by latex.
Marcella Durand is possibly being killed by polyurethane foam.

Kate Durbin is being killed by lead, cadmium, manganese and retinyl palmitate red.
Ryan Eckes is being killed by methylparaben.
Kenward Elmslie is symptom-free.
Laura Elrick is possibly being killed by D&C Red 22 Aluminum Lake.

Elaine Equi is symptom-free.
Ben Estes seems symptom-free.
Larry Fagin is symptom-free.
Ben Fama is possibly being killed by cocoamide dea and sodium lauryl sulfate.

J. Gordon Faylor is symptom-free.
Alan Felsenthal is being killed by acetone.
Farrah Field is symptom-free.
Mashinka Firunts is symptom-free.

Rob Fitterman is possibly being killed by benzaldehyde.
Adam Fitzgerald is possibly being killed by limonene.
Fitz Fitzgerald is possibly being killed by linalool.
Sophia Le Fraga is possibly being killed by a-terpineol.

James Franco is symptom-free.
Linda Franklin is symptom-free.
Jackqueline Frost is possibly being killed by carbon black.
Kristen Gallagher is being killed by aluminum.

Drew Gardner is being killed by superphosphate.
Jamie Gaughran-Perez is symptom-free.
Amy Gerstler is being killed by pyrethrum.
Alan Gilbert is being killed by tertiary butylhydroquinone.

Samantha Giles is being killed by bleached wheat.
Madeline Gins is possibly being killed by dextrose.
Judith Goldman is being killed by dimethylpolysiloxane.
Kenneth Goldsmith is being killed by dimethylpolysiloxane.

Lesser Gonzalez Alvarez is possibly being killed by acrylamides.
Johannes Gӧransson is symptom-free, possibly.
Nada Gordon is symptom-free.
Michael Gottlieb is being killed by aspartame.

Kate Greenstreet is being killed by cadmium.
Ted Greenwald is being killed by autolyzed proteins.
Jessica Grim is being killed by bisphenol-A.
Rob Halpern is possibly being killed by hexane.

Kaplan Harris is symptom-free.
Matthea Harvey is possibly being killed by sodium nitrite.
Jarell Hayes is symptom-free.
Ian Heames is possibly being killed by sucralose.

Jesse Heffler is symptom-free.
Mitch Highfill is being killed by GMOs.
Bob Holman is being killed by naphthenes.
Cathy Park Hong is possibly being killed by EDCs.

Jeremy Hoevenaar is symptom-free.
Eddie Hopely is possibly being killed by aromatics.
Fanny Howe is possibly being killed by reduced crude.
Susan Howe is possibly being killed by sweet crude.

Debbie Hu is symptom-free.
Langston Hughes is dead.
Erica Hunt is possibly being killed by bitumen.
Brenda Iijima is being killed by PCBs.

Lanny Jordan Jackson is symptom-free.
Jewel is being killed by antibiotics.
Joseph Kaplan is symptom-free.
Justin Katko is being killed by rocket fuel.

Ashlie Kauffman is possibly symptom-free.
Erica Kaufman is possibly being killed by norgestimate and ethynyl estradiol.
Myung Mi Kim is possibly being killed by parabens.
Dylan Kinnett is being killed by triclosan.

Shiv Kotecha is possibly symptom-free.
Jonas Kyle-Sidell is being killed by alkyds.
Dorothea Lasky is possibly being killed by Mountain Dew™.
David Lau is possibly being killed by NSAIDS.

Ann Lauterback is symptom-free.
Gregory Laynor is possibly being killed by alkylating agents.
Katy Lederer is possibly symptom-free.
Ben Lerner is symptom-free.

Rachel Levitsky is being killed by ifosfamide and melphalan.
Andrew Levy is possibly being killed by streptozocin and lomustine.
Emily Liebowitz is symptom-free.
Tan A. Lin is symptom-free.

Tao Lin is being killed by altretamine.
Eric Linsker is being killed by thiotepa.
Dana Teen Lomax is being killed by Temodar™.
Astrid Lorange is symptom-free.

Patrick Lovelace is symptom-free.
Trisha Low is being killed by platinum drugs in waterways that enter her cellular membrane.
Joe Luna is being killed by amtimetabolites.
Natalie Lyalin is being killed by vinca alkaloids.

Kimberly Lyons is possibly symptom-free.
Nathaniel Mackey is possibly being killed by N-dimethylphosphoramidocyanidate.
Magus Magnus is possibly being killed by Coke™.
Chris Martin is possibly being killed by methylphosphonothiolate.

Chris Mason is symptom-free.
Steve McCaffery is being killed by asbestos.
Luke McMullan is possibly being killed by isoamyl acetate.
Megan McShea is being killed by benzylideneacetone.

Joyelle McSweeney is being killed by hydrogen peroxide.
Maria Mirabal is being killed by miscellaneous.
Kasey Mohammad is symptom-free.
Thurston Moore is possibly being killed by nicotine.

Marianne Morris is being killed by strychnine.
Yedda Morrison is being killed by tabun.
Anna Moschovakis is symptom-free.
Jeff Nagy is symptom-free.

Melanie Neilson is symptom-free.
Mel Nichols is being killed by VX.
Geoffrey G. O’Brien is being killed by non-peptide based chemicals.
Robert Michael O’Brian is being killed by carbon monoxide.

Sharon Olds is symptom-free.
Jeni Olin is symptom-free.
Mary Oliver is symptom-free.
Jena Osman is symptom-free.

Eugene Ostashevsky is being killed by strontium-90.
Jon Paetsch is being killed by tritium.
Tim Paggi is symptom-free.
Michael Palmer is possibly symptom-free.

Bob Perelman is possibly symptom-free.
Emily Pettit is possibly being killed by caesium-137.
Guy Pettit is being killed by Red No. 40, Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6.
Douglas Piccinnini is being killed by mercury.

Robert Pinsky is being killed by lead.
Nick Piombino is symptom-free.
Vanessa Place is being killed by lead.
Alicia Puglionesi is being killed by palm oil.

J.H. Prynne is possible being killed by MSG.
Vitcoria Redel is being killed by transfats.
Joan Retallack is being killed by wheat.
Adam Roberts is being killed by peanuts.

Adam Robinson is being killed by nitrates.
Kim Rosenfield is being killed by olestra.
Jocelyn Saidenberg is possibly being killed by propyl gallate.
Cynthia Sailers is symptom-free.

Jerome Sala is being killed by butylated hydroxytoluene.
Mary J Salter is being killed by acesulfame-K.
Michael Scharf is being killed by chloropropanols.
Robert Schreur is being killed by caramel coloring.

Sophie Seita is being killed by saccharin.
Lytle Shaw is symptom-free.
James Sherry is symptom-free.
Ara Shirinyan is being killed by azodicarbonamide.

Ron Silliman is being killed by Hungry Man frozen dinners™.
Justin Sirois is being killed by Synthetic Growth Hormones.
Matthew Smith is being killed by arsenic.
Patti Smith is being killed by Sugarless Bubble Yum™.

Rod Smith is being killed by Fruit Loops™.
Danny Snelson is symptom-free.
Juliana Spahr is possibly being killed by PVC.
Mary Austin Speaker is symptom-free.

Chris Stackhouse is symptom-free.
Brian Kim Stefans is fine.
Andy Sterling is being killed by high molecular weight oligomeric flame retardants.
Keston Sunderland is being killed by brominated epoxy oligomers.

Cole Swensen is symptom-free.
Stacy Szymaszek is very much ok.
James Tate is being killed by the coating on his laptop.
Mathew Timmons is being killed by the internal wires of his laptop.

Mónica de la Torre is symptom-free.
Rodrigo Toscano is being killed by formaldehyde off-gassing.
Natasha Trethewey is sym

The poem ends midstream with the Natasha Tretheway line, as if it’s already over for us, as if those who are symptom-free are only thus for the moment, as if we (humanity, and by extension, all life) are just waiting for the other shoe to drop.

From today’s headlines: The Arctic is warmer than it’s been in 44,000 years.

(It gets harder and harder for me to believe that the death-drive is some sort of fiction ... to quote Frederic Jameson’s review of Slavoj Žižek’s The Parallax View (LRB, v.28 no.7), The death drive is what lives inside us by virtue of our existence as living organisms, a fate that has little enough to do with our biographical destinies or even our existential experience: the Thanatos lives through us (‘in us what is more than us’); it is our species-being; and this is why it is preferable (following the later Lacan) to call it a drive rather than a desire, and to distinguish the impossible jouissance it dangles before us from the humdrum desires and velleities we constantly invent and then either satisfy or substitute.”)


Speaking of humdrum desires, etc, this brings me to speak of the second provocation, an inaccurately ascribed economic status. Perhaps the best spokesperson for having been provoked by this is Jim Behrle. He posted the following at his Tumblr The Poetry Foundation: 

I’m Not Comfortable, by Jim Behrle

The first time someone mentioned it on facebook I didn’t pay too much attention. The second time someone tweeted about it I actually took a look and felt puzzled. What did it mean that some young poet I’d never heard of thought that I was “comfortable?”  Then all these poets started asking me for money. The day I had been dreading my whole life had finally come to be.

I really felt upset by my inclusion in the recent pdf poem “The Kill List.”  I have been accused of many things I am guilty of. I had never been accused of being “comfortable.” I would argue that most poets who meet me on the internet or in person would not find me “comfortable.” And yet, there it was, chiseled forever in glimmering pdf form. The conceit of this litany was that poets were identified either as “rich poets” or “comfortable.” Poets were placed in alphabetical order. “A is a rich poet. B is a rich poet. C is comfortable. D is comfortable.” And so on. It was quite long and a recorded version of it gives it a little more angry pep than the page.

People who actually know me in real life, know that I am not “comfortable.” The truth is I am a rich poet. A very rich poet. Way more rich than John Ashbery. Way more rich than Billy Collins. My butler Steve has more money than Billy Collins.

Yes, I shudder to admit it. I am the richest poet in America. By far. Ruth Lilly? I make her look like a sad hobo. I have created a massive ruse. I know how rich poets are seen in this community of artists. They are sneared at. People write pdf poems about them! If you’re rich you can’t possibly any good. Your work will never be given the praise, no one will ever link to you. We poets can be so petty. As if being poor ever made anybody a better poet. Like poets chose to be poor to be better poets. Ask any poet if they want some money and they will all say “Yes!” Even the richest ones, like me. This is why, to further my ruse, I work full-time at a bookstore for $10.50 an hour. And I have a part time job at the library. So no one will suspect just how rich I am. I’m beyond “comfortable.” I pay “comfortable” poets and use them as throw pillows.

I shouldn’t have given into the social pressure. But I was afraid! We’ve mistreated poets like Leonard Nimoy and Ally Sheedy. Because they were rich actors they were howled at! Marginalized. Their work tragically overlooked. I couldn’t bear to share their unfair fate.

So I invented a past for myself. Was I really raised by a librarian and an IRS agent in the suburbs of Boston? No, I hired those people to give me an acceptable middle class upbringing. If poets knew I grew up on a yacht, constantly yachting, always just doing donuts around rich islands I also owned, being so rich, would they ever publish a pdf of my poems on their press? I seriously doubt it. This is what I craved. To be accepted by other poets as a peer. A comrade. I thought there would be a revolution and I wanted to be on the winning side. With other broke poets!  That we would rise up and change the world with our weird poems.


For the sake of my lie, me and Ben moved from our place in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to Jersey City, New Jersey. It seemed like the perfect place to hide our obscene wealth from nosy poetry graduate students. Alas, I knew we would be found out sooner or later. I figured poets would find out how tremendously wealthy I was and I’d never be able to volunteer at the Poetry Project again. People would constantly be hounding me for money while I helped work the sound board during the New Year’s Day marathon or while I was cleaning up puke in the mens bathroom. There’s nothing as exciting as the first puke puddle of the new year! It holds such promise! I imagine a baby chick being born out of all that vomit.  

I feel bad that I pretended to be so broke that I couldn’t afford to go out to readings. I have gone to elaborate lengths to pretend I’m not rich, I’m not proud of it. I feigned homelessness a few times, sleeping in the back room of an employer when I could have easily just rented out all the rooms of the Plaza for myself. I’ve slept on people’s floors for months at a time because I wanted to give the illusion that I had no place else to go. I would get cat-sitting gigs to keep up the front that I needed places to stay. Under my raggedy pillow was always a stash of delicious caviar. I lived in my friend’s basement when I first moved to Brooklyn, allowing myself to sleep on a hammock when it would have been easy to make a delightful bed for myself out of the feathers of endangered eagles. I’m here today because the lies have to stop. I don’t care if I never get reading at Segue! I will be accepted as a poet, even if I am insanely rich beyond all your wildest imaginings!

Which is why I found being called “comfortable” so puzzling. I reached out to the poet. What was his criterion for calling me “comfortable?” “If you’re comfortable,” he replied. I thought I’d ask his publisher. Could they comment on any efforts they made to fact check the poem? What exactly was the criterion for “comfortable?” They referred me back to the poet. I expected some kind of clever dialogue, but perhaps they sensed that I could have my legal team shut down their small press with some kind of giant writ of habeus corpus. I would never do that to another poet or a small press. This is art, not something important like winning the war in Afghanistan. And clearly, although they’d gotten their facts wrong about me in their pdf poem, there was still a lot that poem had to offer. Like other people’s names. And whether they were “a rich poet” or “comfortable.” Anthologers of the future, make room!


Meanwhile, poets, ignore my ridiculous wealth! I ask you to treat me with the same col[l]egial disdain you’ve always treated me with. I’m not a better or worse poet than you just because I am so rich. I’m a better poet than you for lots of other reasons. 

Clearly, for Jim, as for Josef (and for many others; see The Real Kill List, at Troll Thread, where this and many other issues are discussed), economic status is a vexed issue for American poets. I think that there are many ways to parse this:

First, we are 30-40 years into a neoliberal hegemony, in which money becomes the measure of ALL things just as it becomes available to fewer and fewer of us, and inequities between the few and the many become practically unimaginable – and we don’t know how to talk about this or do anything about this in any meaningful way – we meaning poets – just look anywhere and you will find heartfelt and despairing discussions under rubrics such as “Poetry and [or is it “or”] Revolution” – and I mean just look anywhere.

Second, and this has been true much longer – centuries longer – than the neoliberal hegemony has been in place, there has been class war between the rich (the bourgeoisie), the comfortable (the petit-bourgeoisie, always afraid of falling back into the proletariat so torn between what it knows is right and siding with the bourgeoisie), and the proletariat itself, which is never comfortable or rich. Who wants to be on the wrong side in this war, I mean, who wants to be taken to be on the wrong side of this war? Often times it’s more dangerous to be taken as something than to really be it.

Third, and this is one of the strangest of phenomena, really, there’s such a thing as street cred. The rich and comfortable have no street cred. So to be inaccurately described as rich or comfortable is – and I ask no pardon for the gendered language – is to have one’s street cred cut off.

Plus, and Jim, whatever else he does, makes this clear: who wants to have their history taken from them?


Conclusions? I have none. Except it’s good to get people thinking and talking. It’s good for poets to think and talk. About kill lists. About violence. About the death drive. About capitalist economics. About what we are. About what we as poets have to do with all that. I doubt very much that Kill List will be read in 50 years (if there are still people in 50 years they’ll have their own new set of problems to deal with). But there are more important things a poem can do. One is to wake us and keep us awake in the present.


John Bloomberg-Rissman has about a year and a half to go on In the House of the Hangman, the third section of his maybe life project called Zeitgeist Spam. The first two volumes have been published: No Sounds of My Own Making (Leafe Press, 2007), and Flux, Clot & Froth (Meritage Press 2010). In addition to his Zeitgeist Spam project. The main other thing on his plate right now is an anthology which he is editing with Jerome Rothenberg, titled Barbaric Vast & Wild: An Anthology of Outside & Subterranean Poetry, due out from Black Widow Press autumn 014. He's also learning to play the viola and he blogs at (Zeitgeist Spam).

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