Red Epic, Joshua Clover’s third book of poetry, is written “for comrades.” A Dantean quest through one mind’s take on poetry as capital, the collection is directed as much towards those political “comrades” willing to “seize the fucking banks” as it is towards those erudite “comrades” in possession of the same expansive literary and historical vocabulary as Clover. For Clover, “the poem must be on the side of riots,” and these poems are riots against anyone who would criticize the book’s elusive allusion or distant intellectual “sobject.” It is a riot that eschews the Poetic but at its best achieves it nonetheless, often by way of its spectacular parade of language borrowed from Stein, Mallarmé, Benjamin, Dante, O’Hara, Arrighi, Debord.
In several exhilarating longer poems, Clover waxes Whitmanic:
I have heard late the chants
of the option-wallahs
and the end of days
traders and the armchair
Austrian fanboys singing
in the comment fields of the republic
Red Epic sees in the spectacle of the city a living hell, and the poetry written in that damned, glutted metropolis knows its paradox:
You know all too well
that the best poetry is not
the least revolution
you know also that poetry
is the best way available to you
to affirm this truth
Clover is proud of his colloquial abstraction, its “itch to make an account of… my century from dada to Prada,” its refusal to linger in the “local details so favored by poets chronicling the foot traffic of reality.” Clover’s is a poetry of disenchantment, a deliberate foregrounding of art’s systemic productions. At its weakest, this poetry after poetry only makes us wonder why we’re reading it, why we’re bothering to “see our boredom represented” at all. But more often than not, these poems succeed in both being enjoyable and decrying enjoyment.
“Haeccity” is the book at its clearest and most affecting:
If what you want is a national
moment of silence the indictment
of a single police officer
or two or three you are still
the enemy you have chosen the reverie
of law for you and your friends…
The poem – and the book – asks us not to pocket this wisdom, but to “sobject” it to the same gaze that created it, asking: What sorts of writing and what sorts of reading “have chosen the reverie/ of law”?