Monday, September 29, 2008

Zachary Kluckman's "Exodus By Mass Transit"

Something unsettles me about Zachary Kluckman's "Exodus By Mass Transit", the first poem in Orgami Condom's recently completed eleventh issue. It begins with a description of a woman on a bus, the driver in fact, and, due to my experiences as a transit-dependent poet, it is easy for me to imagine the poet (or narrator) sitting on the bus scribbling down these details. With that beginning, when the poem moves into expressions of her thoughts and experience, it feels as though the speaker appropriates the woman's identity--makes her image his puppet--in order to get his ideas across. Phrases like "the cancer of cigarette glamour" drip with judgment; the narrator evaluates the woman he sees on the basis of what he imagines about her. He even manages to use her to embody abstractions: "It’s never about the stories, only the need to tell them." Not surprisingly, the stories she would wish to tell do not get told: only the poet's do.

This is, of course, what writers do: we see and reimagine. We are not seeking precise facts and truth. We may take the way you hold your head and make it mean the opposite of what it means to you. We choose which stories we tell.

What this poem does when the words of the author meet my personal experience is to create a reminder of the need for humility in the writer, especially when we write about subjects who may have less social or economic privilege than we do. To be or act otherwise risks using language in the service of an imperial gaze.

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