Ronnie Yates on his poem, “The Gentle Anarchist”

Ronnie Yates‘ poem, “The Gentle Anarchist,” appears in our Spring 2012 issue, guest edited by Nick Flynn. “The Gentle Anarchist” opens with these lines:

Everything recedes
With such grand effort. A morsel
On the winter palace floor. In the trees
Up ahead, a light goes out, asleep
In her summer arms. Hate is born
As a monument to our inattention and the blind
Greed of disbelief.

Here, Ronnie Yates describes his process (and photo):

I’m pictured here with painters Gabriela Vainsencher and Sarah Gamble. Gabriela and I are mugging for the camera, and I try to elevate such larking, such boyish and girlish glee, to an aesthetic idea—that is, to explore the notion, the practice, the rise of (an often humbling) excess.

My poems, at times, aspire to what I’ve termed as a “hysterical lyricism” in pursuit of a “pure” pleasure outside of old habits of mind. I’ve been quite influenced in this regard by the work and thought of Donald Revell (see his recent essay, “Purists Awake”). “The Gentle Anarchist” is the title poem of an unpublished MS., which I have described as an exercise in ecstatic vagabond refusals leading to, or being led by way of, a tender personal apocalypse. The poems take up, meditate upon, a kind of social suicide, by which I mean both a personal and political grief leading to a refusal (though not finally, I hope, one that ends in resignation) of cultural, social and economic conventions which rehearse the “motif of the impossibility of subjective novelty and the comfort of repetition” (Badiou). The poem is interested in the tender (in)action (which I take, in part, from the thought of Levinas) of “de-monumentalizing,” and the “forgetting” that takes place at the end of the poem is an attempt to see things anew, each moment, with the attendant political corollary of eluding the cycle of torture, terror, suffering, and revenge that human beings seem intent on preserving.

I’m interested in a kind of Passivity. A “passivity that does not mean resignation. . . an almost ontological passivity, one that changes your being as you are dragged away to depend upon an absolute elsewhere” (Badiou). Yes, I am interested in exploring the anti-confessionalism of the “inhuman” in order to witness that far shore, beyond the human, toward which a “pure” poetry moves so fast it seems to move in no direction at all. Revell has said that, of course, it would be “churlish” to claim that suffering doesn’t exist, but as opposed to a poetry of consolation the “pure poem wants to outspeed pain” as “velocity is a kind of wisdom an analgesic too” (“Purists Awake”).

Formally, the poem attends to an obsessive rhythmic pulse, which perhaps fades now and again, or staggers as lines seek to arrange themselves for the eye and the mind as well as the ear. I think a lot about the strange, shrewd cadences of Thelonius Monk, what he heard, and the way he coded that listening, coded rhythms which were so unpredictably beautiful, and troubling to those without ears to hear. I won’t lay any claim to the genius of his sonic imagination, my ear is wooden compared to his, but I, too, like to listen, and look, very carefully, to hear things in my own way, for my own reasons. Of course, subjective freedoms can be dangerous ones. Badiou, invoking Hegel, has written that the absolute freedom which is the object of our revolutionary longing is a subjective freedom, and so has no objective criterion and is thus under constant suspicion of betraying itself. The purifications that ensue may lead to destruction, and the Nothing to which absolute freedom inevitably returns.

My poems also humbly, and perhaps badly, seek to stand in solidarity with those, the poor, the oppressed, the lost, the mad, whose refusals may be beyond their control, even as they are as much refused as refusing. I myself have often seen my own refusals, my passivity, as a clear case of turning necessity into a virtue. But a collective witness to the “minimal difference” which recognizes both the “I” itself as an Other and the collective demand of the “each-not-one-without us,” might also welcome an anarchic knowledge which rises up to meet the fraternal cry, “Share it with us!” So, a gentle anarchy–a holy “inconsequence,” a “shiftless longing” in the service of the greater task of cultivating species being. A new kind of friendship, one made out of the hard work of forgetting old grief, and the sufferings and even consolations which memorialize them. I hope my poems help cultivate an ethics of ecstatic attentions, a gentle attunement to “the real,” a “pure gaze” sustained “without violation or advantage” sanctioned by an “ontological passivity” eluding the cycle of torture and terror (Revell). “People are amazed with matter,” Donald Revell writes, “and the peace lasts as long as the amazement.”