by Stephen Paul Miller
Marsh Hawk Press
Pageant for Every Addiction
Thomas Fink and Maya Mason
Marsh Hawk Press
Hedge Fund Certainty
[For Walter Benjamin,] allegory…is the umbrella term for the strategies available to the observer who metamorphoses the mounting debris of history into critique…
— Henry Sussman
I’m writing this article at a particular moment in time when it is no mystery that the haiku of history reads “plague / recession / white supremacy.” Societal authority is again being exposed for its throwing to the wolves of the essential workers upon which its survival depends. Marx would say that’s baked in the cake of labor’s surplus value, though of course that cake’s recipe was set before capitalism by the “one percent” of the nobles who ruled, three percent who “prayed,” five percent who fought, and everyone else who did everything else within feudal society. It is only during but not after World War II that America experienced its only downward distribution of resources through virtually guaranteed employment, living wages, and progressive tax redistribution. In the early forties, the nation’s central productive methods were redesigned to accommodate the workforce’s potential, and few were left out. Making capitalism palatable was an implicit aim of Simon Kuznets, a prime architect of the World War II production and economic “Victory Plan” that innovatively devised ways for the federal government plentifully to produce enough to course-correct capitalism. Afterwards, business propaganda denied government’s role in this prosperity. The benefits of growth were decreasingly shared. Increasingly thereafter fell the swamp: concentrated wealth, and the specter of balanced budgets to justify inhumanity.
I’m writing this article at a particular moment in time when it is no mystery that the haiku of history reads “plague / recession / white supremacy.”
Daniel Morris’s blank verse-based list poem, “In Praise of Official Verse Culture,” in his 2019 book of poems, Blue Poles, likens uncaring if non-profit “capitalist” “official verse culture” to what one might call the “suicide non-pact” of our present societal non-covenant (at worst this is a perhaps unconscious suicide pact):
A purposeful walk through a failing field.
A white-collar case of accepted defeat….
A conviction: I am a proud capitalist in
But Morris notes “trouble breathing” as an attribute of this “partnership.” The poet uncannily prefigures the 2020 concurrence of concerns of viral medical and police repression revealing conditions of racial and economic inequity.
The 2020 crises made it difficult to hide that every little thing is about nothing while Everything that matters gets sidestepped and overlooked. And what matters anyway? Obviously, Black lives do. Without the built-in assumption that white lives are systematically and unquestionably free to wallow in “dependent personality disorder”—a malady from which Mary Trump suspects her Uncle Donald suffers—it wouldn’t be necessary to say anything as obvious as “Black lives matter.”
Blue Poles opening poem, “In the brokerage business, there is a term called Churn,” shows all work and creation through the lens of neurotic repetition finding its apt metaphor in the illegal and fraudulent “churn” real estate scam of selling and reselling properties to stack up commission fees. The poem unrolls through the lens of Freud’s conception of neurosis—constantly, in effect, jumping to avoid being pushed, to paraphrase T.S. Eliot. Demonstrating Freudian neurosis, note the start of Blue Poles, and its first two long Whitmanian lines of interconnected overtones that at the same time are supported by a kind of Yiddish-influenced cadence and logic:
Turning off my support group because I fear abandonment
Is like asking my life coach if I may substitute deceit for indifference.
The speaker sabotages their “support group” and “life coach” resources, through different manifestations of acting out. But the speaker becomes desensitized to this acting out:
my mental illness has outlived
Its intended purpose, given the quest for shame no longer trips
Neural plastic circuitry.
Although the poem proceeds through a multi-subjective collage of push and pull forces, it eventually lands on the origins of the speaker’s neurotic framing as they mimic the rules guiding more general socioeconomic formation and production, until the end of the poem locates the speaker’s source of trauma and states it with a clarity and a power of expression:
In the season
Of her solitude, mother declared my transmission on permanent fritz.
Gears frozen. I’m stuck on consequences. Churn is an emotional
Although Morris wrote Blue Poles before the pandemic, his book speaks to the current crisis of governmental abdication of leadership more fully pronounced by Trump but consistent with it. Trump is no accident: if it’s broken, don’t fix it.
The 2020 crises made it difficult to hide that every little thing is about nothing while Everything that matters gets sidestepped and overlooked.
No doubt I’m reading into Morris’ poem. But Morris himself invites this by using Walter Benjamin’s critique of allegory from The Origin of German Tragic Drama as the epigraph for the final poem, “mine cambium,” of Blue Poles:
An appreciation of the transience of things, and the concern to rescue them
for eternity, is one of the strongest impulses of allegory.
For Benjamin, allegory was a tool for registering what was passing and seemingly trivial by deconstructing (after Benjamin’s death, his theory of allegory played a crucial role in devising “deconstruction”) more seemingly timeless literary works into surreal yet insightful “dialectical images” of “petrified unrest,” critical interpretations, and creative responses. Julia Kristeva captured something of what Benjamin meant by “allegory” when she said the “flaring-up of dead meaning” generates “a surplus of” new and unusual “meaning.” Benjamin’s allegorizing would later allow him to redeem while seeing through popular capitalist culture through subtle if outrageous readings. As a critic, allegory gives us now, perhaps more than or as much as Benjamin then, air to “breathe.”
Allegory creates a space for addressing a dire need for critical, if critically distanced, Brechtian modes of interaction and playful course correction. Benjamin observes:
What matters for the dialectician is to have the wind of world history in his
sails. Thinking means for him: setting the sails (Segel setzen). What is
important is how they are set. Words are his sails. The way they are set
makes them into concepts.
A Benjamin allegorical mode is generative and not reductive. This is the opposite of what we normally think of as allegorical.
According to Henry Sussman, for Benjamin, “allegory … is the umbrella term for the strategies available to the observer who metamorphoses the mounting debris of history into critique….” It should not be surprising that this critique is at times predictive, since this kind of critique isolates a present flash tapped between its past and future. By adding varying degrees of perspective and imagination, Benjamin’s allegorizing formed historical haikus breaching status quos of history that joined its shards. Often this kind of allegorical thinking yields groundbreaking insight. It is protected from being delusional not by infallibility but rather by the implicit knowledge that it is always incomplete and open to being refuted if not entirely displaced.
Often this kind of allegorical thinking yields groundbreaking insight. It is protected from being delusional not by infallibility but rather by the implicit knowledge that it is always incomplete and open to being refuted if not entirely displaced.
For Benjamin, allegory brought literary “depth” closer as it scrambled fictional unities. Contrastingly, when, later in the poem, the blank verse of Morris’s “In Praise of Official Verse Culture” breaks down, so does the speaker’s ability to handle “depth”:
Meddling in big media deals as
A way to navigate many different economic theories.
Explorer out of his depth.
Blue Poles can be read as a narrative sequence in search of a usable depth or grounding functioning beyond temporal limits.
The first poem of Blue Poles, “In the brokerage business, there is a term called Churn,” uses allegory obsessively to “churn” commodity forms of neurosis. But the book’s concluding poem, “mine cambium,” salvages neurotic imbalances traveling through unresolved histories. In effect, “mine cambium,” functions as what Benjamin, in his last great essay, “On the Concept of History,” called a “weak” or minor “messiah” saving the dead by acknowledging their histories as the poem salvages transitory “present” moments of the past into Benjamin-like “flashes” of open-ended insight and depth.
Morris’s “mine cambium” accomplishes this through a living and buoyant layering of poetic phenomena. By “cambium,” Morris alludes to a cellular plant tissue producing growth through division, resulting in a thickening, as in that displayed by cork’s buoyancy. It might be said that cork’s complexity of growth buffers it and everything it touches. Similarly, Morris’ poem “piles on,” one after the other, short phrases of about two metrical feet per line, finding life and breath within this piling process so as to literally “mine cambium.” In other words, the poem produces a beneficial buffering effect for the poet’s family members who appear in the poem. The poem thus goes on to reveal everyday paradises that transition from a flat “screen” to a “pleasur[able]” “mess.”:
can’t fix Netflix
my shaky focus shifts
from screen to mess
I “made” of X-tra crispy
frozen fries anticipating
snap Hannah demands
which is why I go
conventional oven over
microwave do I not
exist for my kids’ contentment
is not my pleasure
The “mine” of the poet’s impressions imbibe in a pleasurable self-effacement. This translates into a spiritual and selfless manner of “impression-lessness.” As the poem proceeds, it culminates soon after it refers to Bob Dylan’s song “Nothing Was Delivered.” The song concerns not making good upon a promised delivery, making amends, and ultimately coming to the insight that overpromising creates unnecessary stress since “nothing is better, nothing is best.” (I leave it to another allegorical stretching exercise to account for Dylan being born about nine months after Benjamin died trying to get to America.) The speaker of “Nothing Was Delivered” reconciles themselves to the transitory nature of fulfillment. Similarly, by Morris’ speaker letting go of a sense of both self-involvement and then parental selflessness itself, he is able to balance the satisfactions of what Benjamin called the mutually supporting artistic experiences of the “profane” and the “holy” in a kind of junk food sacrament that is nutritionally empty but semiotically full:
will kids still love me
tomorrow and tomorrow
“Nothing Was Delivered”
Nothing better nothing best
With these concluding lines of the book, “mine cambium” caps the book’s narrative arc by conveying the working through of co-dependency.
The proper use of allegory does not render a poem “dependent” upon some secret yet hard and fast meaning. Rather, allegory facilitates the intuitively wise and full experiential use and the brave exploration and processing of a literary work as it loops into a critique preserving and, in a sense, creating it. In this spirit, I discuss Blue Poles and the history it invokes and creatively utilizes. Morris’ title poem contextualizes his entire book. Blue Poles (Number 11, 1952) is the title of a painting from Jackson Pollock’s greatest post-classic drip-painting phase. After Pollock’s wildly, if controlled, allover postwar canvases of the late forties and early fifties, his 1952 Blue Poles is relatively hierarchical since the “poles” function as more pronounced figures and more apparent compositional devices than appear in Pollock’s iconic prior years. See Blue Poles https://theconversation.com/heres-looking-at-blue-poles-by-jackson-pollock-51655 as the painting compares, for example, with Pollock’s earlier Autumn Rhythm (Number 30, 1950) https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/488978.
The proper use of allegory does not render a poem “dependent” upon some secret yet hard and fast meaning.
Abstract Expressionism, of which Pollock is probably the most recognizable exemplar, took shape during World War II and peaked in the years after it. I would argue that Pollock’s celebrated postwar paintings are cultural analogues for America’s maximally productive/full participation World War II economy. It is necessary here to explain this hidden history because many forces have conspired to keep it hidden, but it retains a powerful unconscious “weak messianic” impact. Understandably, we lose sight of this in part due to the postwar military-industrial complex and imperial American perspective. But during the war, unlike after the war, government defense contracts guaranteed efficiency, workplace openness in terms of work process, living wages, and union rights while guarding against excess profits.
It is now important to understand how the war economy is a better New Deal model than the thirties New Deal. Though the thirties is more often looked to for progressive inspiration, the New Deal was realized more fully during a “Late New Deal” or ND2.0 from 1938 to 1945. During the thirties, government work-programs pulled the country through the Depression and remade the nation’s infrastructure. But this kept America afloat through minimum-wage level work programs and business and farm-friendly efforts to raise prices, whereas, during the war, America thrived through private sector jobs that the government funded. To understand how that new economy worked, we need to understand the wartime economy without its Disneyfied and simplistic depictions. The ND2.0 sweated out the details required to implement a Keynesian economy for the first and only time so as to far exceed Keynes’s conception of full employment.
The Roosevelt administration carried out a maximum production/full participation economy unbound by artificial fiscal limitations. “Now, what I am trying to do is to eliminate the dollar sign. That is something brand new in the thoughts of practically everybody in this room,” improvised Roosevelt in a 1940 press conference as he tried to express what he discovered within himself during two weeks of vacation and professional isolation. “I think—get rid of the silly, foolish old dollar sign.” FDR cut the Gordian knot of the Hobbesian choice of supposedly necessary austerity imposing poverty and a racial caste system. The wartime economy was the only time when an African-American person might have been less likely to be unemployed than a white one, breaking from the otherwise ironclad fact of an African-American person constantly being about two times as probable as a white one of being unemployed—a 2:1 ratio persisting to this day.
During World War II, when the economy produced everything it was capable of producing, the result was the only progressive redistribution of wealth in the nation’s history. Production doubled and domestic consumption grew 12% due to the consumer demand created by the rise of so many impoverished Americans into the working and middle classes. The incomes of the poorest 40% of the nation’s families rose by more than 60%. White life expectancy increased by three years while African-Americans lived five years longer.
African-Americans improved more economically during World War II than in any other period in modern American history, including the sixties. The War on Poverty was not the massive investment in eradicating poverty that some suppose. Beneficial as many of the War on Poverty programs were, those programs only directly affected about five percent of all impoverished Americans. Indeed, the entire sixties War on Poverty spent only $70 per person living in poverty. Like Reconstruction, the War on Poverty did not follow through with “programs on a scale equal to the dimension of the problems,” as the 1968 Kerner Commission deemed essential. When Secretary of Labor Willard Wirtz suggested fighting poverty with a New Deal WPA-style work program, LBJ registered an “absolute[ly] blank stare,” according to James T. Patterson’s America’s Struggle Against Poverty. “I have never seen a colder reception from the president,” said one presidential staffer. In the mid-sixties, neglected economist Charles C. Killingsworth bottom-lined the opportunity then being wasted when Democrats enacted a huge tax cut from which the nation has never recovered. “The recent emphasis on the virtues of [Presidents Kennedy and Johnson] tax-cutting,” he said, “will obscure the elementary fact that a new $5-billion job creation program would provide at least as much stimulation to aggregate demand as a $10-billion tax cut.” Killingworth’s point was not lost upon A. Philip Randolph, and then Martin Luther King, Jr. who [both?] died working for economic justice. The opportunity for economic and social justice was lost 50 years ago. If we do not act with more clarity of purpose now, the opportunity might not present itself for longer than 50 years.
In the forties, a mindset of plenty replaced widespread thirties’ assumptions of unending shortage. This would have been impossible if the industrial workplace had it not been proactively opened for the first time to African-Americans and other minorities, women, the elderly, the disabled, and others. This consequence was driven by a June 1941executive order that FDR negotiated with A. Phillip Randolph in exchange for Randolph postponing the 1941 “March on Washington for Jobs and Justice.” Although routinely underestimated, since it was initially loosely enforced, Roosevelt’s executive order established a new norm that greatly assisted wartime prosperity. The 1964 Civil Rights Bill modeled itself upon that executive order’s language. Ironically, it might be said that the 1964 bill passed during the aftermath of the 1941 march because, in exchange for the executive order, that march was delayed until 1963.
The opportunity for economic and social justice was lost fifty years ago. If we do not act with more clarity of purpose now, the opportunity might not present itself for longer than fifty years.
The ND.2 exemplar of economic progress, in large part affected by activists provoking the Roosevelt administration, inspired King’s growing assertion that “the ultimate answer to the Negroes’ economic dilemma will be found in a massive federal program for all the poor along the lines of A. Philip Randolph’s Freedom Budget,” a detailed budget that King helped craft and fervently advocated during his last weeks. After World War II, despite social gains, African-Americans lost their forties’ economic progress. “The economic plight of the masses of Negroes has worsened,” said King in 1966. By the sixties, most wartime wealth accumulated by African-Americans was exhausted in the face of widespread discriminatory practices such as redlining, near exclusion from the GI Bill, and the federal government’s discontinuing of its wartime anti-discrimination policy.
The World War II economy had and continues to have unconscious cultural impact. To achieve the Abstract Expressionist ideal of overflowing and equitable production, limitations of figure and ground were jettisoned. But with Blue Poles, Pollock reached out to the re-restructuring postwar society. Although the poles in his painting are unnecessary, America’s engines of societal equality and the productivity serving it were stalling, and Pollock sought a newly relevant balance and statement in figuration. Tellingly, Morris’ poem, “Blue Poles,” looks beyond the primacy of language and toward the supplement of context and more coherent reference. Morris’ prose poem, “Overheard at the Brandeis Library, Fall 1960,” reinforces this choice to complement language with “life” by satirizing Roman Jakobson’s notion that poetry is merely what calls attention to language. Morris’ poem ends in an exchange of dialogue overheard concerning Jakobson’s perceived, if exaggerated, self-reflexively linguistic boundaries of poetry:
“…I spend my live in the conditional tense.”
“The tense of never having lived.”
Similarly, Morris structures “Blue Poles” thematically as a museum trip “To share what I/ Once loved with my two sons.” Unable to accomplish this mission of sharing, the poem digresses into an email exchange with another professor about art. But this sets up “mine cambium” and the end of the book’s familial sharing as a referential act outside poetry itself, yet nonetheless poetically satisfying, reflecting Benjamin’s merging of the sacred and profane.
Like Blue Poles, Thomas Fink and Maya Mason’s A Pageant for Every Addiction concerns parent-offspring sharing. The poetic surfaces of this father-daughter team are often remarkably seamless. Of course, Fink and Mason’s structuring of the book’s opening poem, “First Date Questions,” so that it continuously answers questions with questions (calling to mind the Jewish joke: “‘Why do Jews answer questions with questions?’ ‘Why not?’”) assists in this aim. For example:
a picture spit
at you when
it’s talking? How much weight
do you shed when you sneeze?
The ekphrastic (i.e., language about visual representation) first question bleeds into the second connoting the shed[ding] of a droplet—a familiar phenomenon in the times of Covid-19.
Although these lines were written before the coronavirus pandemic, through similar modes of allegory, they illuminate life in its shadow. Although Benjamin developed his primary allegorical concepts before he wrote work conjoining Marxism and Judaism, the notion of allegory laid a ground for this merging. Within Jewish thought itself, the Alexandrian Jewish philosopher Philo provided an allegorical framework that is particularly useful in appreciating Fink and Mason’s work. In order to appreciate the Bible, Philo suggested an allegorical interpretation drawing out the faculty of intuition when literal readings are found to be wanting. Philo’s goal was not fetishizing the Bible, but rather grasping it as providing useful law and philosophy. Similarly, our goal in allegorizing A Pageant for Every Addiction is to fully experience it as a literary event and provide insight into our own circumstances.
Although these lines were written before the Coronavirus pandemic, through similar modes of allegory, they illuminate life in its shadow.
While the ekphrasis associated with “picture … talking” customarily unifies perceptions and sensations, here it “spit[s],” reflecting the violence implicit in forms of neglect and control practiced throughout America. The responding question asking to quantify the “weight” of a “sneeze” reduces individuals to carriers. As we cannot identify whose questions are whose, Fink and Mason convert what William Burroughs called the “viral” nature of language into a more positive kind of chain reaction overriding our society’s devaluing of neglected/targeted subjects and offspring.
The next long poem in the book, “Substitute Fossil,” posits a possibility of better American teamwork by playing off the 16 times President John F. Kennedy used the imperative command “let.” For example: “Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans” and “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” Fink and Mason provide a “substitute fossil” for JFK’s rhetoric:
every nostril blow, and we shall
spray any lice, bare any
melt any hardware, pose with any felon
to assure the success of
Though the politician portrayed here is tangentially corrupt, the poets ultimately seem to do a public service by commanding “every nostril blow.” Again, reminding us of Burroughs’ insistence that “language is a virus,” the poem cherishes “charismatic librarians” as essential to survival. “Substitute Fossil” also suggests that most pandemics are caused by ecologically reckless misuse of wilderness bringing humans into contact with novel parasites. A charismatic librarian would presumably know of these perils. The poem’s first lines prefigure our current need for a solution to the quandary of modern development: “We swerve/ today—from the germs of a statue.” These lines thus forecast the twin historical phenomena of a pandemic that exposes inequality and thus increases the questioning of Confederate statues’ legitimacy.
Let all our
neurotics know that we shall
joust with them
to oppose agony.
Whereas the president addresses and “joust[s] with” a half-imaginary foe, the poets supply harmless ones providing neurotics with a cathartic outlet. This kind of poetically good governance gives Fink and Mason credence when, in their closing poem, “A Few Promises,” the book’s third long poem, they decree terms for maximum production and full participation in times of viral lockdown by guaranteeing, “A disco/ for every/ shut-in.”
Lynn Crawford’s Paula Regossy may be viewed as a creative allegory concerning a spy “agency” designed to help prepare for a “post-collapse world.” This central, if loosely outlined, premise holds the narrative together and functions as a unifying metaphor and symbolic umbrella condition covering us all. Conversely, the novel’s thinly connected story is told in sections by 10 different narrators, conveying the sense of a world in the permanent isolation of a lockdown resembling our Covid-19 situation. Adding to this ambiguity, the world’s collapse, post-collapse, and how to adapt to it seem shrouded in secrecy, even to the spies and agents themselves working to adapt people to them.
These lines thus forecast the twin historical phenomena of a pandemic that exposes inequality and thus increases the questioning of Confederate statues’ legitimacy.
Hoss, the agency’s head supervisor, stresses that the “covert” nature of the work necessitates that its agents live within a constant condition of “NRP [No Relations Possible].” Since Crawford writes an afterword to the novel situating it within artwork and the art community, it seems pertinent to note that an artistic analogue to NRP would be a work of art eschewing composition and design, as the painter and sculptor Barnett Newman theorized and practiced so as to create an experience of singularity beyond divisions between ground and figure.
But the extremity of these aesthetic and interpersonal stances is balanced by the “personal practice” of agent Paula Regossy, who professes a strong impulse not to describe her life while contrastingly seeming to find sharing with her readers so irresistible that she cannot help recounting the granular details of her daily regimen. For instance, Regossy says:
Inside the metallic vessel is a visual surprise: white and silk-lined with a
range of pinks and reds. Days where I am required to appear attractive, I
repeat a toned down, blended version of the color range on my cheeks and
In effect, Paula renders the ordinary extraordinary with strings of resonant descriptions such as, “Back to the long metallic strand ending with a cluster of tiny barbells.”
Paula Regossy includes a “Key” giving “names of artists and [exhibition] spaces that launched” Crawford into writing each chapter. But knowledge of these details is primarily conceptual. Readers do not see the artworks or their ekphrastic connections. Therefore, the book generates a world of pure inspiration devoid of its sources.
For instance, the section narrated by “Agent Jennifer” was “launched” by ceramic sculptor Marie T. Hermann, who creates small handheld works. But it is unclear how Hermann’s sculptures relate to the chapter it initiated. Agent Jennifer is a robot who does not seem any more programmed then a stereotypical female figure who acts in response to a man’s gaze. Although she is ambivalent about this, she is at least partially complicit in assuming a feminine identity serving masculine projections. Her character brings to mind the complex dimensions of Kim Novak’s layered role in Vertigo. Does this connection to Hermann’s artwork suggest that Jennifer is a kind of cup that a man handles? Obviously, this is indeterminate and ultimately overridden by Crawford’s masterful play of narrative and descriptive tones and textures.
In a Brooklyn Rail-sponsored interview with art critic and poet Barry Schwabsky, Crawford cherishes writing as a way to preserve the transitory, echoing Morris’ use of Benjamin’s statement, “An appreciation of the transience of things, and the concern to rescue them for eternity, is one of the strongest impulses of allegory.” Crawford writes a reflexive allegory often describing itself, and Paula Regossy is remarkable for Crawford’s ability to frame ordinary experiences, such as Paula exploring the Detroit art world, in a living and sui generis manner:
The paintings respectfully and buoyantly take over, grow into, and perhaps
dig into the gallery’s floor and walls like bulbs, roots, or limbs. At the same
time, they suggest an astral conspiracy. Are they about to take off? Or get
sucked up? And one more thing: they exude the potential to come to life like
a doll or stuffed animal.
Crawford fulfills the heights of allegorical purpose through a vital and cutting-edge fictive poetic prose rooted in the artistically “found” and the always already givens of our cultural lives.
Thomas Fink’s Hedge Fund Certainty also furnishes a valuable allegorical resource. Its title makes it difficult not to think of America’s current economic situation in which the Federal Reserve prevents the financial markets from going into freefall by creating for them trillions of dollars whenever necessary. Though still possible, it is much less possible for markets to tank. As Chair of the Federal Reserve Jerome Powell recently observed, working class Americans require similar financial guarantees of security during the current pandemic. Unfortunately, Congress provides none of the “hedge fund certainty” in the form of the “automatic stabilizers” for the American people that the government is organized to offer markets. Fresh off the lessons of the New Deal and World War II, the Full Employment Bill of 1945 would have established a system that funded jobs and government projects improving living standards whenever under- or unemployment threatened. After resoundingly passing the Senate, however, the House deleted the word “full” from the bill’s name, and it was enacted as the 1946 Employment Bill, which was limited to instituting monetary mechanisms that primarily feed and protect big business and markets.
Hedge Fund Certainty is a kind of poetic Full Employment Bill reaching back through generations. Its first poem, “Yinglish Strophes,” melds a sense of generational wealth with Benjamin’s mission of generational reclamation that this essay previously described in regard to Blue Poles. Through short clipped lines ingeniously doing double duty as both broken Yiddish syntax and a poetic attention to language as language, Fink presents a one-of-a-kind linguistic experience that inserts the character of an apparently older relative squarely into the center of a younger generation’s poetic culture represented by the poet. If the poem’s character is a fictive creation, the poetic effect is nonetheless realistic if humorous. Intriguingly, the character’s colloquial voice carries more authorial agency than the putative poet’s voice. Although the poet casts the speaker within a living culture, the speaker’s seemingly extra-textual voice seems to fulfill the function of a conventional author:
On that fever, scarlet,
near portal, from mortal.
Never did I ago
expected now being, almost
later 60 years. Every
wrong proof doctors: happy
our family wrong, cast
down to miserable was
all my (now) departed,
sudden on jubilant amaze.
After when I’ll come to go
final, they’ll everything topsy scoop inside
out, noodle about for guts, for
bolts, for plenty organ not humming
barely yet, while they wonders I
hung such lengthy, lengthy, long in.
Perhaps a grandmother, the addresser bequeaths the addressee with a literal “hedge fund certainty.” The value of “such lengthy, lengthy, long in” longevity “hedges” and reduces to nothing her past ordeals of nearly fatal “fever, scarlet” and “wrong proof doctors.” Even when juxtaposed with “all my (now) departed,” the soliloquy’s speaker delights “sudden on jubilant amaze.” Though speaking to one perhaps not assured of a long life, possibly a grandchild, the fact of being alive stands in for a long life because the speaker holds out the possibility of a full, if not long, life in no way tainted by what happens “after when I’ll come to go.” After all, “they” will “wonders” about her long life as “they” “everything topsy scoop inside/ out, noodle about for guts, for/ bolts, for plenty organ not humming.” This conveys a psychological self-reliance in contradistinction to what, in “Yinglish Strophes 26,” perhaps the same speaker describes as another’s “fever of/ neurotic nowhere.”
Through a more linguistically “allover” manner of speaker in “Dented Reprise 16,” Fink conveys a similar self-sufficiency parodying the schmaltzy song, “The Impossible Dream.”
One hunch that will stock me now.
An unwritable song,
the impassible scheme.
the impossible theme.
Fink’s strong and assured poetic flow would be undermined by a too literal statement unnecessarily hedging in the energies that the poem supports. Fink overrides and partially cancels clichés to idiosyncratically vitalize them and “to meme/ the impossible theme.” Indicative of the substantive tone underlying Fink’s wordplay, the “hunch that will stock me now” conveys the act of being stocked and becoming whole in contrast to the spectral investment one might associate with buying a “stock.”
Fink’s hearty poetic rhetoric assumes a full linguistic and representational range of surprising poetic effects. For example, “Dented Reprise 17” opens with the speaker, “Vying to sail the arc of satiety,” but ends with images prefiguring a coming pandemic merging infection, vulnerability, and economics:
with bling that you can spew for free.
Same damn slime
that’s oozing through the pore.
I hunt a sieve
In this liminal world.
And yet Hedge Fund Certainty also locates a wormhole express, what physicists call “a cosmic thread,” or, as Fink puts it, a drastically hopeful “sieve/ In this liminal world.” In “Questioning 1,” Fink presents the internalized feedback systems and subtle communal links a lockdown may develop. The poem asks:
Is cave vacuum?
Does this glass
Ultimately, the “contagious questioning” that the poem encounters reconciles with a “caving in to truth,” something we, the world, and our nation are experiencing. Hedge Fund Certainty, like Blue Poles, Pageant for Every Addiction, and Paula Regossy are vital allegorical resources for our time and what lies beneath it.
STEPHEN PAUL MILLER is the author of The Seventies Now: Culture as Surveillance (Duke University Press), There’s Only One God and You’re Not It (Marsh Hawk), The New Deal as a Triumph of Social Work: Frances Perkins and the Confluence of Early Twentieth Century Social Work with Mid-Twentieth Century Politics and Government (Palgrave Macmillan), Being with a Bullet (Talisman), Dr. Shy (New Observations), Fort Dad (Marsh Hawk), Any Lie You Tell With Be the Truth (Marsh Hawk), That Man Who Ground Moths into Film (New Observations), The Bee Flies in May (Marsh Hawk), Art is Boring for the Same Reason We Stayed in Vietnam (Domestic), and Skinny Eighth Avenue (Marsh Hawk). He has also co-edited Radical Poetics and Secular Judaism (Alabama University Press) and Scene of My Selves: New Work on New York School Poets (National Poetry Foundation). Venues in which his work has appeared include Best American Poetry, Publishers Weekly, Salon, boundary 2, The Paterson Literary Review, New American Writing, The Columbia Review, Barrow Street, The St. Mark’s Poetry Project Newsletter, American Letters and Commentary, The Wallace Stevens Journal, The William Carlos Williams Review, Poetry New York, Scripsi, Lit, Posit, Pataphysics, Telephone, Jacket 2, Zeek, Sagetrieb, Jewish Currents, and The New York Daily News. He was a senior Fulbright scholar at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, and he is a Professor of English at St. John’s University in New York City. (Cliff Fyman photo.)
Novelist and arts writer LYNN CRAWFORD is a founding board member of Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, a 2010 Kresge Literary Arts Fellow, and a 2016 Rauschenberg Writing Fellow. Her books include Solow, Blow, Fortification Resort, a series of art-related sestinas, Simply Separate People, Simply Separate People, Two, Shankus & Kitto : A Saga, and her latest novel, Paula Regossy. Her work appears in various anthologies (Oulipo Compendium, Fetish, Detroit: The Dream is Now, Fence) and journals (Art in America, Infinite Mile, Detroit Research, Hyperallergic, Tema Celeste, McSweeney’s, Lilies and Cannonballs, Parkett, Bookforum, Metro Times). Crawford earned an MSW from New York University and has worked in various psychiatric, community, hospital, museum, and school settings. She lives with her family north of Detroit.
THOMAS FINK has published 11 books of poetry — most recently A Pageant for Every Addiction (Marsh Hawk, 2020), written collaboratively with Maya D. Mason, Hedge Fund Certainty (Meritage and i.e., 2019) and Selected Poems & Poetic Series (Marsh Hawk, 2016) — as well as two books of criticism, and three edited anthologies. His work appeared in Best American Poetry 2007. His paintings hang in various collections. Fink is Professor of English at CUNY-LaGuardia.
MAYA D. MASON, co-author with Thomas Fink of Autopsy Turvy (Meritage, 2010), as well as A Pageant for Every Addiction has published in Otoliths, BlazeVox, ditch, EOAGH, Helios Mss, Marsh Hawk Review, Offcourse, and Set. She teaches fine art at various institutions, and her artwork is featured in various collections in New York and Europe. Visit her website to learn more about her work.
DANIEL MORRIS‘ poetry has appeared in Agni, Colorado Review, DENVER QUARTERLY, Western Humanities Review, Southern Humanities Review, River City, and other journals. Professor of English at Purdue University, Morris has published scholarly books on William Carlos Williams and on how contemporary American authors have responded to modern painting. He is the author of four poetry collections published by Marsh Hawk Press: BLUE POLES (2019), HIT PLAY (2015), IF NOT FOR THE COURAGE (2010), and BRYCE PASSAGE (2004). (Stephanie Ayala-Chittick photo.)