By Zachery Wolf
On Tuesday, March 7, poet and theorist Fred Moten came to Willamette to perform a poetry reading. He is a cultural and literary theorist interested in art, especially jazz and modern installation.
He included stories and prefaces to his poems, and read through a few collections of his. The anecdotes were entertaining and very interesting. It was amazing to see both his interest in politics and art ingeniously combined within his own art.
One excellent poem from the reading was “Gary Fisher.” The poem’s rhythm was enunciated by the repetition of the word “doubles.” For example, “took me for doubles and doubles … long puppets and wild meat. Doubles and doubles of secret passage.” This repetition was almost dizzying, as the poem bounced the word “doubles,” off rhymes and the whole meter of the poem, circling around the rhythm of the repetition.
He told us afterwards that a man named Gary Fisher who took him around Trinidad inspired the poem. A “double” is a common street food throughout the island, and Fisher showed him his favorite spots for doubles in a very hospitable and nice manner. Later, Moten learned that this man was also the most brutal policeman on the island. Moments like these permeated throughout the poet’s work. Moten is inspired by both high culture and his personal life.
The poet is inspired by interesting concepts, and often finds two thoughts, themes or concepts that his mind has inexplicably linked, contrasting them together in his poetry. “Gary Fisher” exemplifies this thought; the warmness and hospitable nature of his host versus the brutality his host is known for. The rhyming and repetition, then, take on more than a sonic quality in “Gary Fisher,” it also takes on a double meaning.
Various people inspired the poet and not always directly. He read numerous poems out of “B Jenkins” (from which “Gary Fisher” is included), whom the audience learned is his mom. The poems may not all be directly about his mom, but his poetry connects several disparate ideas and puts them in tension with each other, not necessarily with any form of resolution.
Moten is soft spoken, and read his poems at a deliberately calm pace. But when talking about his life, he became excited and more expressive. He detailed visiting an installation in the Bronx of Italian Marxist theorist Gramsci with a fellow scholar. The two, both interested in performance art, wondered about a radical being mythologized in an area hurt by the system that Gramsci was against.
Moten’s poem, “Gramsci monument” goes, “we steal/ the project back and try and give it back to them.” Combining various ideas, Moten exclaims a love for “the projects.” The poem’s rhythm is once again excellent, with the same circling repetition of the word projects, emphasizing the subject of the poem.
The poems celebrate various cultural traditions and intellectual strains. Radicalism etches itself in all the poems he read, but they also contain something more universal. By pulling at various personal moments, people and things, as well as his scholarly work, the poems are neither personal nor academic. Rather, the poems become about the ways the personal and the academic aspects of the world reflect and shape each other in his own life.