The long poem Commonplace, by the Oakland-based Mexican poet Hugo García Manríquez, moves through aspects of the militarization of Mexico, but also through the process of militarization of poetry and life itself. In this treatment of instances of militarization, this process becomes analogous to museification in that it amasses and transforms, as well as in the life it converts into death. In order to render the process visible, without falling into it, the poem shows a careful avoidance of mobilization or gathering. Instead, it works through a logic of unravelling. The poem narrates itself backwards, untying knots, oiling what stands still, creating movement where roadblocks are enforced. The return of a few themes, aspects of reality, and phrasings leads to repetitions, circles, and cycles, and open onto a wider circulation.
The result is a book that is difficult to describe. Its cyclical advance evokes something like a tank, the joining of smaller cycles making forward momentum possible. The poem seems to be deliberately clunky, armoured against the threat of its adversary, giving names to things that are as heavy as weapons.
The translation by NAFTA (Whitney Celeste DeVos, Zane Koss, and Gerónimo Sarmiento Cruz) renders well what I can only guess at in the original Spanish. In the prefatory page, NAFTA translate the line “Aspectos reunidos y aspectos separados” by “Aspects gathered and aspects kept apart.” (15) This is a central line in the collection; it returns many times, serving varying functions on the different page, but it always shows the poem’s functioning, leaving no room for mystery or mystification. I am struck by the kind of movement this translation suggests. It points to the action of the poet, as if aspects of the world and history had to be actively kept apart or actively gathered. I get a sense of the movement of things here, a pull toward each other that cannot be realized – or perhaps the inevitable selection and piecing together of world and history by human agency. I was struck by this choice because my own translation, based on the French meaning of similar words (reunidos, réunis; separados, séparés) and so an entirely inaccurate one, would have led me to go toward “Aspects reunited and aspects separated,” where things have none of their own movement, entirely dependent on human action. NAFTA’s translation, which I prefer, shows a resistance within things themselves to their instrumentalization. This resistance is in line with Manríquez’s own practice of translation, which he describes in an interview with DeVos as a search for autonomy and independence in the context of neocolonial dependence.
Manríquez’s poem is by no means optimistic. It shows an ongoing struggle between liberation and collapse under the weight of violence and domination. Yet it also communicates a sense that something will remain after the operations of language, as it was present before it. It includes the knowledge that language is at fault for the struggle, the heaviness, the threat, and also any outcome. Various moments of the poems appear to be attempts to create a sense of possibility, to point out that within the collapse, there is something else. The dissonance of languages used in protests and riots are either equated or brought into proximity with the collapse of an order, sense and sound finding themselves bound in the present, within objects (71): “dissonance collapse / of a previous order // before after sound / before after sense.” Here poetry is on the side of matter and rises against capitalism, on the side of life as the walls and columns of the museum and its imitation of life also collapse (83).
Manríquez’s concern is for what is on the brink, not that whose imitation is being preserved: “The brink doesn’t vary / under the weight of the concrete / it varies in its liberation.” (91) And liberation here is that of life, of endangered animals: he is on “the side of the lifeforms / the side of the forms of language that / sprout from the riot.” (57)
And so we circle back to poetry, which does something else than simply take up these forms of language. Its basic operation, Manríquez suggests, “the interruption,” (65), the recording of a rebellion that goes beyond specific moments of protest – that of matter itself. What is recorded is then vital, since “When we read literature / we read the budget / of the Mexican army.” (21) Whatever reality books contain also includes military operations, even as we turn away from them; every moment is shaped as much, if not more, by military forces and the weapons industry as by the imaginary of writers and artists. Poetry then appears, like the oral apparatus of the howler monkey, as “forming a resonating chamber / that allows the powerful amplification of / the sounds, aspects gathered together / aspects kept apart.” (25)
Jérôme Melançon writes and teaches and writes and lives in oskana kâ-asastêki / Regina, SK. His new and third chapbook, Bridges Under the Water, follows Tomorrow’s Going to Be Bright (2022) and Coup (2020) at above/ground press. His most recent poetry collection is En d’sous d’la langue (Prise de parole, 2021). He has also published two books of poetry with Éditions des Plaines, De perdre tes pas (2011) and Quelques pas quelque part (2016), as well as one book of philosophy, La politique dans l’adversité (Metispresses, 2018). He has edited books and journal issues, and keeps publishing academic articles that have nothing to do with any of this. He is generally on social media, always in some form of @lethejerome.