"To bring the poem into the world / is to bring the world into the poem."

Friday, December 2, 2011



"I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody's right to beautiful, radiant things." Emma Goldman

Materially the recession has not affected me greatly—I am middle class, whether I like that or not, and although I work in the public sector there have been no rumbles about my job disappearing. However the received news surrounding this issue has highlighted my distrust of and distaste for the political and corporate classes. It has re-awakened my personal political activism and I have written and argued much from an anarchist viewpoint, stressing the need for mutual aid in the tradition of Petr Kropotkin, the social value of work as an alternative to the monetary value, the necessity to liberate democracy from systems in which power devolves upwards at the scrawling of an 'X' and to devolve power downwards to its lowest possible level (see Murray Bookchin on 'Libertarian Municipalism'). The recession has driven me (back) into the arms of Emma Goldman and Durruti, back to Revolutionary Barcelona in 1936, back to the political works of Bakunin, but also to the words of Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, and even those of Thomas Jefferson, as I consider how the great movements of working people have been systematically destroyed. As another contributor to these Recession poems has said, working people now live in occupied territory. In the past, working people lined up to be imprisoned, exiled, and hung, for daring to struggle for their dignity. It has now been stripped from them again by a spiteful system that is dying but won't lie down. Our great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers spin in their graves.

Having said that I do not write agitprop poetry. It is as though I compartmentalise very tightly. However, this year I did write a series of very short pieces entitled 'I am an American'. They used public domain images by Dorothea Lange taken from early-mid twentieth century America, and drew on the idea of the migrant worker in the 1930s and the displaced 'enemy aliens' in World War 2. I used these as a metaphor for today's disadvantaged. I used the phrase 'I am an American' because despite the wealth of the United States it is a country of profound inequalities against which its cherished notions of freedom are impotent. I ask the question: Is 'freedom' what we like to think it is? I think I was saying that when it comes to inequality and to empty notions of freedom, we are all 'Americans' in that respect, products of a failed revolution that promised liberty but delivered the concentration of private wealth into the hands of the very few.



I am an American

I am an American
I’m an American coupe
an American coupe in the sunshine
in the sunshine with California plates
and I’m going to get towed…

I am an American 2

I am an American
I’m an American store
an American store selling potatoes
selling Johnny Appleseed
and I’ve been sold…

I am an American 3

I am an American
I’m an American corner
an American corner in your town
in your town in the sunshine
and tomorrow you’ll stand here…

I am an American 4

I am an American
I’m an American window
a window with ghosts of gables
gables in borrowed sunlight
and tomorrow week the clock will still tick…
and it won’t matter a damn.

I am an American 5

I am an American.
There are times when we are all American
– like when we’re short on shoe leather
and long on irony.

I am an American 6

I am an American
I’m a pea-picker
my name is the miles I’ve walked
my name is the horizons in my eyes
you don’t need a real name
to pick peas

(Photographs by Dorothea Lange and are in public domain. Where the poet has added words directly onto the image, copyright in this form are by Marie Marshall with photographs by Dorothea Lange.)


One drop of blood in the pool
and all the little fishes sing.
(Carmina Piranha
, Marie Marshall)

Marie Marshall, otherwise in Gaelic Mairi bheag nan oran (Little Mary of the songs): reclusive, agoraphobic, middle-aged, dysmorphic, gay, awkward, Anglo-Scottish poet and writer. Would prefer to be introduced by a paraphrase of Balthus’ famous telegram: NO BIOGRAPHY. BEGIN: MARIE MARSHALL IS A POET OF WHOM NOTHING IS KNOWN. NOW LET US READ THE POEMS, but life isn’t that simple. Started writing poetry in 2005 and since then has had upwards of one hundred and seventy poems published, including one on the wall of a cafĂ© in Wales and one etched into an African drum in the New Orleans Museum of Art. Associate Editor of Sonnetto Poesia and Canadian Zen Haiku magazine, also of the forthcoming anthology of modern sonnets The Phoenix Rising From Its Ashes. Editor of the zen space, an on-line showcase for haiku and related writing. Her macabre short stories have become a regular feature of the Winter Words literary festival in Scotland where they have been read aloud by professional actors. MM rejects all the Chinese walls of poetry that divide formal from free, product from process, whatever from whatever. Her first collection of poems, Naked in the Sea, was published in 2010.



John B-R said...

This is a wonderful post.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the compliment.


kloppski said...

I particularly liked these I Am An American poems with the images. Thank you!