23.2-sum-1994-cropJuliana Spahr


this is a place without a terrain a government that always changes an
unstable language. Even buildings disappear from day to day.

[gendered pronoun] wanders in this place

the condition of bearableness is the constant state of mind for all

we read all day in the village square during the rule of [name of major
historical figure] a book that is so subtle
[its political content goes unnoticed

what is its political content?

[the question or the statement

[generic pronoun] create

[a reader culture

[possessive pronoun] prefer both


realism’s authenticities are not the question

the question [role of art in the State

we know art is fundamental to the [New State] as is evidenced in village
scenes, majestic ancient views, masses and masses of [generic human
figures] marching in columns, swords coded as plowshares, image as


we know [name of city], [adjective], [name of major composer] to recode [reduce] it: Linz, ambiguous, Wagner

we know [name of major historical figure] calls, authentically, for a more
total, more radical war than we can even dream of in the language of
the avant-garde

we know a commercial promises to relieve plaque more effectively in this
same tone

but sometimes we exceed our own expectations to surprise even ourselves

something encloses the impossible in a fable

an unreal world called real because it is so heavily metamorphic

we can’t keep our fingers of connection out of it

it is a ride in the country, the car crowded with children
[each child represents a different ethnicity of [name of

it is a moment of standing with light resonating around [major historical

it is a guiding of the child towards the right path

it is a picnic field, the spread is bountiful [the spread of [name of
nation] is represented through the arrangement of the food on the
checkered table cloth]

it is [name of major historical figure]’s Art Collection:

figure after figure
each carries spears, lunges, draws the arm back to pull tight the bow

a ruined plaza has a [gendered human form] in front of it

a [generic child] draws a sword under the guidance of [generic possessive
pronoun] [honorific denoting reproductive role]

a [generic human form] raises [generic pronoun] arms and four horses
turn away

another plays a lute

an eagle holds a symbol

fake [name of nation used as an adjective] heads

while the end of lunacy in art was explicit in [name of major historical
figure’s] rhetoric

while when nation turns to art, art loses its divergence

while the [generic human figures] come back from war, their legs in fog

while a [generic human figure] sculpts, small against the expanse of marble,
giving into the monumental human form that symbolizes eugenic

while another [generic human figure] pedantically draws postcards of
village centers, opera, mountain vistas

while overwhelmed by an opera [name of major historical figure] plans genocide


we know we respond resistantly as faked children’s books of realist
adventure tales have turned into military instruction manuals

of [name of major historical figure] hails a cab, his hands raised, beckoning
as the red flag with [name of fast food chain] waves behind [generic
human pronoun] and the red star on top of the [name of cultural
landmark in major city] twinkles.

many people raise their hands for different purposes all day long

we are always waiting for our cab to come

the question here is the same as that of a relationship where does art define our vocabulary

the margin declares

[it is impossible to speak about something

it is only possible to speak beside it

[a film with a voice over of nonsense

to act in the unsecular forbidden margins [claims a certain

[generic human pronouns] cast a colonizing eye

a scripture of space / a place where

a [generic human form] twists in space [follow the body] getting you to
recognize yourself in [generic possessive pronoun] work

in the space of this question some emigrate or lapse into total silence

some co-opt this language and paint a series of meticulous and beautifully
colored monumental images of people imprisoned and alone at the
edge of a tedious despair

some [refigure [refuse] respond] call out for an end

rewritten, the goal of the artist is to prevent reality in a true and concrete


[generic human figure] claims I can get more information at home than
going to the war scene

what [generic pronoun] sees is [gendered naked bodies] in news photos—
dead bodies, discarded bodies, junk

I SAW THIS written on the bottom

[a way of testimony

the poverty of image among the people of [name of nation]

the continual increase in the amount of image a viewer can tolerate

returning again and again to images to torture

covert activities depicted            [blown up

[to show power

details of photographs or Xerox
degradations of photos on
Duraclear hang loose are vul-
nerable and fragmentary and
images are seen through images
and/or viewers

[call this] the fate of Madame Bovary, the fate of Anna Karenina

a dog with a [generic human face] has slogans coming out of its mouth as
angels hold its head back suckle at its tits

taped to a [gendered hand, adorned with a ring] is a photograph of
[gendered naked torso], gagged

[generic human figure] infects computerized images with digital viruses
and then transfers them to canvas with a robotic device

[possible responses to what is seen

in [name of nation] at another time another set of responses:

a [sexual category withheld] cuts hair and cameras circle around while
[generic human pronoun] is dragged out of the room

another [generic human figure] sans impassionedly we express ourselves in
a language of regulations. Symbols and numbers best convey our

another [generic human figure] makes an enormous painting of a massacre
victim, mutilated and bloody, and hangs it by night on a pedestrian

what a nationa gives us is the image in [name of major weekly news source] of the [generic human figure] standing before the tanks with a white

[generic pronoun] painted on house, streets, stones, trees

[generic pronoun] covered [name of island] with strange marks in chalk,
oil paint, and dye

[generic pronoun] wished to reduce writing to the zero-level where it is
without meaning. When culture invades private life on a large scale
[generic pronoun] said the individual cannot escaped being raped

another [generic pronoun] made a font that was scrated into paper by a

this font made each letter into a single scratch

[generic pronoun] scratched the other [generic pronoun]’s statement on
rape into a banner and hung it outside

[my zero-level writing
[generic pronoun] said
protest rape
[generic pronoun] said
my zero-level writing
[generic pronoun] said
dangerous cultural rape
[generic pronoun] said
my zero-level writing
my zero-level writing


a voice stutters in the background of our waking mind

[generic pronoun] stutter is our stutter

or it is the way we define our difference

stutter is nation

beneath an image of human figures the words [you] [have] [nothing] [to] [lose] [but] [your] [chains]

at times two voices talk to one another

[generic human] faces [tired]

we know we are all constructed

when it comes down to it we don’t believe in

the social always holds us back

while the ways that we encounter relation are various

we remain

searching [searching

we question, respond

[deny we [move forward


Juliana Spahr edits the book series Chain Links with Jena Osman and the collectively funded Subpress with nineteen other people and Commune Editions with Joshua Clover and Jasper Bernes. With David Buuck she wrote Army of Lovers. She has edited with Stephanie Young A Megaphone: Some Enactments, Some Numbers, and Some Essays about the Continued Usefulness of Crotchless-pants-and-a-machine-gun Feminism (Chain Links, 2011), with Joan Retallack Poetry & Pedagogy: the Challenge of the Contemporary (Palgrave, 2006), and with Claudia Rankine American Women Poets in the 21st Century (Wesleyan U P, 2002).