The Poetry Project

GLARING by Benjamin Krusling

Review by Saretta Morgan

Benjamin Krusling’s GLARING pushes me into a state that is both resonant and confounding. I still, after months, haven’t been able to read the poems out loud. In me the text produces a cadence of thought that, when tended to, can’t pass through my body immediately or with ease. While there is joy, there’s audible paralysis my mouth won’t override.

I get bound up in the “speechless romantic positions” acknowledged in his poem “lethologica,” where “... upset by my impressions / is that sense ? our sun ascends / in obscene silence”. A sister turns to stone. “...the syllables split roll open” like eyes under duress. The speaker gives off “black product” while language catalyzes the generative yet alienating time of disfigurement.

Back in 2017 Ben sent me dispatches from Mastry, Kerry James Marshall’s retrospective at Met Breuer. Spoiler Alert! he warned along with an iphone pic of “SOB, SOB” (2003, acrylic on fiberglass). In the image, a velvety-Black young woman foregrounds a bookshelf of literature and theory on Black history and experience from around the world. Her expression is still and ambiguous, two thought-clouds frame the words, SOB and SOB, as they drift upward from her head.

“SOB, SOB” is one way to illustrate my experience of GLARING. I read some lines like, “I become angry, move the anger deposits / And express its excess as the opposite of generosity. / I break into points and walk.” I raise my head and nothing else escapes from my body.

Speaking about his painting in an interview for the Smithsonian in 2013, Marshall referenced this quote from Cornel West: There are things that you cannot not know, which Marshall contextualizes as speaking to the necessity of situating oneself in relation to histories. (Let the church say Amen.) Another way to understand the statement is that there are things we know no matter what. Knowledges, running through our bodies, accumulating and discordant. Knowledges that are orientations. Impressions, which do not accommodate evidence.

GLARING opens with the poem “the artifact being thought the most beautiful thing.” Being thought, as opposed to being. Beautiful, as opposed to meaningful. The poem narrates an experience of desire for the evidence of Malcom X’s assasination. Audubon Ballroom, the scene of the crime. The speaker stands on the street looking from map to building facade, having arrived at an unintended spot. Not the site of record, but instead to the matrix of a particular experience, “then the historical feeling , thinking one is where something happened that one is thinking about . then not being there , but feeling that . ”

As our mutual poet-friend Asiya Wadud so well titled her most recent collection, No Knowledge is Complete Until It Passes Through My Body. (Amen.) If we consider that the knowledges we need in order to make sense of ourselves are historical-ancestral-geological, then we can sense that the knowledge is never done. Never here but accumulating when we touch. When we eat grapes at the grocery store. Graduate. Break cycles. With a hair bonnet on. When Langford went blind. When Sade drops an album (c’mon girl!). When it all shakes out and we die in prison. When our grandmas cuss you out. When they are cussing us out. When their blood pressure rises.

In both form and language, GLARING presents an invitation to respect what is always-unfinished, which I then take as an invitation to work out in and on the terms of my own body. Poems end mid-thought. Or mid-sub-thought: “(the referee lifts my fist up ”

Then GLARING continues when you don’t expect the text to… so if you’re one of those who dips out during the credits, you should know that.

Another note from Marshall with regard to the arts: there is a limit to what you can appreciate that doesn’t include you as a fundamental part of the value system. In other words, you can experience pleasure in an object even while the frame of it is trying to kill you. You can experience something so “sweet though it tastes like power over , / though it tastes like pistachio . ”

GLARING positions a telescope at the importance of context through supersized and many-layered titles, such as the poem titled:

xxxxxxxxxxwords seen in the sense of portals / the night makes compassion happen / in the sense of one narrow read of ethnic embitterment / wherein the amnesiac field is bled by visual data / where twenty chains dance in the mirror (don q) / in the sense of the voice as it were hopping the discontinuous turnstile / -as everyone knows I’m in love / the mind is filled / so one sees space occur visually between two people / space when there’s none there ? / in the night where black makes matter happen / where het love is a freaky war machine / & one’s psychosexual nightmare makes phantoms that stack sandpaper in the linen closet / as if the words could be seen doing that / there’s no one here but you / pure present and always tense (Hortense Spillers) / it’s night ”

And a microscope over the psychosocial construction of language and bodies, by stretching sentences apart. As if two hands held a line from opposite ends and extended just enough force to dislocate punctuation, magnifying the untended space between representations of thought: “ for example , I’m getting closer to saying : this is all you . ”

While I hate to bring a white man into this constellation, it feels important to my reading of GLARING that the stretched lines took me immediately to the opening scene of Foucualt’s Discipline & Punish, where having underestimated the elasticity of human flesh in their attempt to quarter a man by (four, and then six) horses, a group of executioners eventually resorted to hacking the man at his joints to facilitate the killing. The scene is a dramatic metaphor for the extent to which western discourse erroneously normalizes cohesion with regard to physical bodies. Shout out to Fanon and Sociogeny, because they quite literally don’t know what they’re fucking with.

In the fever of a voice aching to be, GLARING presents a poetics of radical disregard for inherited hierarchies of space and other orders. Disregard for the weapon of normalized het love. For any love that can be seen clearly from a distance. Manmade fantasy. Fantasy that doesn't come apart in your hands.

#264 — Spring 2021