Anarchists in Graduate School

Clinton Smith

I
I’ll dream of fucking and foreign travel.
I won’t be gay or straight.
You’ll smoke and talk of Entourage or other, worse television shows.
We won’t know each other’s identity crises.
Yours, 10 at night, mine 1 AM, rotating every three hours.
And I ring the doorbell, a prayer contraption
that talks to someone, hoping you will not see my unease.

II
encircled by the
non-
establishment. Don’t
ask after
plans, read books (very
long) about dead women. I can’t
justify

myself. Debt, 3 cats, children.
Philip Berrigan’s
daughters loved him
even as he was
hauled like canned food
to jail when face-making with
those
big nukes.

III
The corner took
bullets to its skull.

One person
poets worship
is Joan Didion, another

is Louis K.

IV
Working? God’s curse.
You could have stayed.

Where? Eden. Something like.
I was preparing new miracles.

Sex with love, digital piracy,
Can you believe it isn’t enough?

V
through the
streets and

houses, finding Schmidt’s cans,
the only one to see
the wild Kodiak bear
in Mifflin Park, imagine my
alcoholic

grandfather, as a child squeezing
the skeleton action figures
until they cackled out
ad slogans for
buying a new heart. A U Penn

graduate
slumps over on the
fire
hydrant,
status epilepticus, men advancing
everywhere.

VI
mind stays inside. Obsessions with
board games and horses. With weekends
making granite bombs in the country.
Obsessions with ruin, moving. Touch

the bullets I pull from myself, fearing church,
the women saying ‘it’s the unshaven
guy’. The rap artist riffs

on Japan’s forgotten cities, they don’t
take Rap City seriously enough. Music, radio chow,
Chicago Bulls & The National, falling asleep
in a halter top. It doesn’t look good,
interloper
through the sporting
events and into the
light.

VII
impossible men saying sexy time to empty rooms hoping
the immaculate, viscid word combos shake their lives
like tintinnabuli. the men and women all write, hurting ears
amidst the purple hair Moog blast, the dance-athon radio
show. Outside, black teenagers were killed by the mayors
of the postapocalyptic city.

Clinton Smith has been published in journals such as The Petrichor Review, Upstairs at Duroc, and (most recently) Confrontation, among others.

Before the Razor
A look inside the creative process of “Anarchists in Grad School”

“Anarchists in Graduate School” was part of the time when everything was written in very small letters in a sequence of college-ruled (and they had to be college-ruled) notebooks. Poems would often surround things like drawings of buildings (I’d draw settings for stories or novels I was working on), or simple pictures of animals. See the first picture of a few poems and a building somewhere in Washington DC, in Congress Heights. I tried to find the original draft of the work, but it has vanished.

I’d started this ‘super small text writing’ or ‘microtext writing’ (I’ve always called it that but do not know how my concept of it relates to ‘microtexts’ in the way a literary magazine might use the term) to keep people from reading things over my shoulder when I was just starting out writing in high school (I was writing some things then that I, for good reason, didn’t want read… my ‘juvenilia’ can’t lay claim to much). By this time the writing had become inexplicably small. What this does do is allow someone to explore with the appearance of something on a page… should one be composing in a private, quiet area.

That’s not where I did this. Rather, I was out at a party in South Philadelphia, in what was historically the ‘Southwark’ section–at a party with a lot of people who were a little younger than I am, whom I didn’t really know. Most of them were in fact in graduate school, but it lacked the veneer of certain types of parties that have people at them who may talk about ‘ideas’, lofty or not. A lot of the discussion was where to get more of this or that, or whether there was somewhere else they could go later, whether certain people were attractive. Several people sat in corners of the sticky-floored apartment, smoked one after the other, and drank and didn’t talk to anyone while the extroverted people debated each other’s attractiveness, or who was doing what with whom …

I wrote one stanza each on a set of small sticky notes while sitting in a corner with a large stein of some PBR and then later typed up the composition with the indents. For me, this type of layout has become quite unusual, though I remain willing to try anything to accommodate what sort of ‘input’ I get from the world, and however that gets placed into words. It’s rare that I’ll try to stuff anything into my ‘template form’, or that I even have one … let the content dictate it.

I think reading and learning how words work as assemblages is probably mostly where the turns of phrase come from, and the more you have, the more you will be able to write. I don’t know where the phrases’ inception is, though. I always feel by the time I’m sitting down to write they are already there. Something has been working a lot of it out while I’m walking around, doing everyday things. You can brush your teeth and think about stanza four, or make coffee and recite lines to yourself, though, and refine them as a sort of ‘pre-revision’. A lot of times, what I’ve got on a page has already been ‘examined’ at length by saying the words aloud and rearranging them.

Reading keeps the mind active and working in the sense that we’re always examining the phrasing of others, how they construct their sentences or make words form music… and at some point you’re always struck after a lifetime of reading also of the degree to which language is making that ‘music’, if you will, and that certain types of writing are unpleasant to the ear. This can happen while you’re reading anything, by which I mean, someone writing a real estate ad can write a real ‘knockout’ block of text. Or, someone writing a novel might use a sort of ponderous or leaden prose, as I can attest from all the horror novels on the ‘Zebra’ imprint I read in my youth… those books that had all the yellow skeletons on the cover and promised lots of blood and death…

I digress. The second picture (of the ‘STAY WOKE’ truck in West Oakland), mostly explains why I decided to seek publication for this again… When I was in West Oakland, something about it reminded me of West Philadelphia, which in turned reminded me of this poem … While the poem was written at one party in Southwark, it’s always struck me as a poem about West Philadelphia, and the assemblage of people working for social justice, U Penn students, wealthier individuals of a liberal persuasion, long-time residents being driven further west by the encroaching tide of money and the lack of affordable housing … There’s a sort of ‘safe zone’ (or perhaps a ‘safe mirage’ is a more accurate coinage) for many of these divergent groups there (if you can pay for it) because they are to some degree united by a liberal ethos. The complication is that one privileged group is driving out another group of less privilege … raising the question about this problem, whose problem is it, is there a solution, etc. It would be inaccurate to say, though, that the poem’s focus is this problem, as I don’t write to a topic. Whatever guests arrive, we greet them.