8TH ANNUAL NAPOMO 30/30/30 :: DAY 22 :: CHRIS CAMPANIONI on WALTER BENJAMIN
Welcome to the OS’s 8th Annual NAPOMO 30/30/30 Series! This year, contributors far and wide were gathered by five incredible curators, who are also our 2019 Chapbook Poets — to learn more about this year’s amazing curators and their forthcoming chapbooks, please click here! You can also navigate to the series archive, of over 200 entries, here! This week’s curators are Kristina Darling & Chris Campanioni, authors of the forthcoming chapbook, RE: Verses.
I want to begin by revisiting my own letters to Walter Benjamin, written as if he were still alive, as if I were responding to his letters, written on or at or near — some variable point on the vanishing horizon — the same locations we were each traversing in France and Spain. In my memory, we’re still there together, talking across time and space. I begin on the correspondence — on the nature of corresponding, but also of forming proximity and similarity, of forming or forcing an association with another — because The OS has given me the same opportunity this year, in its publication of my poetic correspondence with Kristina Marie Darling: Re: Verses. What are we in this world except performers? — and I mean that in the way that performance marks the devotion of being for another. Or, as Francis Ponge once wrote: “Our paradise, in short: will it not have been the others?” In my memory, too, I like to add the word for between the last two words of his Soap-washed revelation.
“Dear Walter,” one letter began, dated on July 5, 2017, postmarked in Lourdes. “The dream you had some time ago still fills me with hope.” In the dream, Walter Benjamin describes being examined by others on the basis of his handwriting. He is unable to remember the opinions expressed; he only remembers the fear of examination. The only thing he recalls very well, in fact, is something he says, at some point, before he wakes: “It was a matter of turning a poem into a fichu.”
And so I wrote to him about the fichu. “Dear Walter,” I began again, always thinking about beginnings and most of all, how to begin again, but from a different beginning. “What else could that mean but that poetry could be anything, could be anywhere, and that it is only a matter of re-training our eyes to consider the power of transforming one thing into another; imagination, memory, and the call for inclusivity, to include everything, to stick in, throw on, fichu, from Vulgar Latin, figicāre. Dear Walter, it is always the hybrid form and figure that has the most power; that which is unexplainable because it warrants no explanation. It only demands more space to ask the question, to fill the space, to leave it open.”
HERE LIES A GERMAN POET, reads the inscription, in Catalan, at the gate of the community cemetery of Portbou, where Walter Benjamin is buried. Benjamin’s greatest aspiration was to be nothing less (and nothing more) than Germany’s foremost literary critic. But his processual, roundabout, indirect and fragmentary essays are equal parts poetry and prose, straddling the liminal spaces made possible by both, and moreover, by the gaps created when they intersect, overlap, cut into each other.
Walter Benjamin was an essayist; today people read him as a cultural critic, as well as a philosopher. But he wrote literary essays as if they were poems, fractured and penetrating lyrical observations, stripped of context and sometimes even citation; his well-known concept of translation, too, is positioned midway between poetry and theory. In short, his way of writing — his way of thinking about writing — allowed me to understand something fundamental about the hybrid, genre-less poetics I’ve been working toward, an attempt to overturn the generic conventions of genre but also their hierarchical aspirations — to separate and order is another kind of marginalization, another kind of protracted exclusion. In my hunger for form what I needed was a form for hunger … a way to write poetry like theory and theory like poetry; to write, then, toward the indistinguishable. Walter Benjamin taught me that, or allowed me to forget the reductive binaries we’ve been taught to espouse, the ones we continue to hold up in the literary and publishing world.
— Chris Campanioni
Chris Campanioni’s new book, the Internet is for real (C&R Press, 2019), re-enacts the language of the Internet as literary installations. His selected poetry was awarded an Academy of American Poets College Prize in 2013, his novel Going Down was named Best First Book at the 2014 International Latino Book Awards, and his hybrid piece This body’s long (& I’m still loading) was adapted as an official selection of the Canadian International Film Festival in 2017. He runs PANK and PANK Books, edits At Large Magazine and Tupelo Quarterly, and teaches Latinx literature and creative writing at Pace University and Baruch College.