Alice James Books
$11.95 / 69 pages / ISBN 1-882295-28-5
Claudia Keelan's Utopic delivers complex yet accessible lyrics
of the political imagination. In these poems, Keelan cries out for
change. Full of linguistic unrest, formal disobedience, and a thoughtful,
rigorous silence, these poems perform an ethical stance from the uneasy
territory of betweenbetween such dangerous concepts as self/other,
Keelan enacts her inclusive politics with a kind of radical linguistics
that, among other things, permits a high level of ambiguity. In these
poemsand in society, Keelan suggestsambiguity must be
tolerated. Here, an ideology has been conceived of the utopian and,
paradoxically, of sustained indeterminacy. Moments like the title
express such a complex vision Utopic as "you topic"a
pun that suggests both the ethical necessity that we imagine ourselves
as "the other," and that our selves may not be so easy to
pinpoint, perhaps are "no place" to be found.
Shifting meanings and possibilities portray what Keelan seems to
imagine as the most moral turns of mind. Highly resonant titles divide
the book into its four sections and develop a take on utopia that
includes both longing and skepticism: "Zion," "Bluff
City," "Bro. Ken Fac.Tor.Y," "The Meadows,"
and a discursive page or so of "Debts" tacked on at the
end. Just a look at the way "Bluff City" undermines the
idealism invoked by a title like "Zion," or the "brother"
and "kin" cut off from each other by capitals and punctuation
in "Bro. Ken Fac. Tor. Y," gives a picture of Keelan's restrained
stance toward idealism.
For a writer like Keelan, this self-doubt that is a kind of political
action, begins with a self-conscious relationship to language. In
the first section "Zion," an epigraph by Simone Weil states:
"We must take the feeling of being at home into exile. We must
be rooted in the absence of place." In many respects, this could
be read as Keelan's ars poetica. She is a writer who both seems
to feel at home in language and forever fallen from naive usage:
I is not
serve language the cause of language.
The language I knows
While self-consciousness, hesitation, and self-critique are a part
of Keelan's vision, a dreamer sings in these poems. She wants to find
a language enjoying freedom from any history of domination, imperialism,
or genocide, a Natural pre-historical English:
bowels of the earth"
womb of the earth"
You can see in this example the highly competent and conceptualized
way in which Keelan employs the stanza; she will often times justify
her lines in ways which not only permit, but beg, readings in directions
beyond the traditional left-right-up-down. These poems do not have
marching orders; they wander on the page, dwelling in uncertainty,
abiding in silence and consideration. Set on the page parallel to
one another, the stanzas seem to share equal emphasis:
A pilot's broken radio
Inside animal shadow inside
To subvert linearity and reification of hierarchy in this manner
is a recognizable and laudable accomplishment. However, one discovers
with gladness that Keelan resists conforming to her own devices. Throughout
the book, she remains willing to keep herself abroad in possibility.
The stanzas range from the prose block to the one-line fragment as
simple as the assertion "of Being."
Keelan's poetics is her politics is her poetics. Insightful speculations
give rise to emotionally invested expressions, and I am grateful for
the combination. I have found the book a place to go for both development
and consolation in a time of political crisis. Read Utopic
and embrace an ethical stance that responds to the question: How can
we act in concern for others when we are so isolated in ourselves:
P/ity Merc (I) (Y) Peace
alone in our boats