The Poetry Project

Jonah Mixon-Webster’s Stereo(TYPE) (Ahsahta Press, 2018)

Review by Adam Malinowski

Jonah Mixon-Webster’s first book, Stereo(TYPE)—selected by Tyrone Williams as the winner of the 2017 Sawtooth Poetry Prize, and published by Ahsahta Press in February of this year—sets out to “Write a poem that will keep you out the grave.”

Writing through an appropriation of state documents, medical records, field recordings, and dream sequences, Stereo(TYPE) positions itself forcefully as an inversion and critique of “the great intellectual tradition of the white man.” This is a poetry of consequence, which seeks to invert white supremacist and colonial structures—the very same conditions that produced the disaster in Flint and the ongoing emergency of being black in America. Mixon-Webster interrogates identification in these pages, and invites the reader to enter a space of radical solidarity—or perhaps complicity, depending on your subject position—with those whose lives are at stake within the racial power structure that produces these disasters.

Stereo(TYPE) subverts the official registers of dominant discourse and places blackness at their center—not as casualty but as a kind of powerful heroism that inverts the values and language of white supremacy. In Black Hauntology No. 5, Mixon-Webster writes, “A body thronged / hard and buried / in the open light.” For Jacques Derrida, according to Colin Davis, hauntology refers to “the figure of the ghost as that which is neither present, nor absent, neither dead nor alive.” Through these poems we recognize blackness as erasure, the hauntology of dominant historical narratives, the black figure being that which is never represented—”buried in the open light”—yet precisely whose labor and life have laid the brickwork for the dominant narratives of the West—”Inexorable meaning / through erasure,” he writes. In fact, Mixon-Webster draws our attention repeatedly to the “zombification” of black people: “We is walkin’ dead around here.” However, it is precisely blackness which exceeds dominant forms of cultural representation, and these poems find themselves in this space—writing around and pointing toward the thing that cannot be said— “is the ordinariness of color / is dirty money // is the blackish rat he spit up // is the phantom object // is the dead wail of a red siren.”

In the poem “Frequently Asked Questions,” Mixon-Webster draws our attention to the Flint water crisis as a state-sponsored assault on black lives. This is Mixon-Webster’s hometown, and through these poems, “Flint” becomes a metonymy for a whole host of racialized disasters: police violence, environmental degradation, and rampant state border securitization. In other words, Flint becomes a figure for the racialized violence that takes place there. Similarly, “lead” becomes the material figure for white supremacy: “The contagion carries itself into the host.” Mixon-Webster writes. And in the epigraph to the last section of the book, he quotes Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a Flint pediatrician: “if you were going to put something in a population to keep them down for generations to come—it would be lead.”

Although Stereo(TYPE) was written under precisely the conditions which produced the disaster in Flint, the poems here forcefully imagine a space outside the white supremacist power structure by way of their radical critique. These poems ultimately allow us to touch, if only momentarily, a space where “…two black birds collapse into the hem of this horizon.”

#258 — Spring/Summer 2019