Getting the News from Poetry: Over the Roofs of the World

Today’s reading: Day, pp. 148-201 

...a New York not-for-profit organization located In Rochester, New York, and licensed by OMRDD to provide comprehensive services to adults and children with developmental disabilities over a geographic area Including Genesee, Monroe, and Orleans Countires... (155)

Lawyers who represent children Me her say they tend to stay in care longer than others. (185)

Ms. Bardinas, who was elected to the City Council last yea I said that many residents thought that the mayor, Bryan Christiansen, and his supporters on the Council were too eager to please developers. (189)

Typographical errors are one of the defining features of Day, pervading every page at a truly shocking rate. Yet these three particular errors—the errantly capped I’s in ordinary words, the interjected “Me” looming over “her,” the objective measure of time (“year”) split  into an almost Whitmanesque self-celebratory yawp (“Yea I!”)—stand out for what they have in common. It’s as if, through the impersonal medium of his optical scanner, the poet’s subjectivity were insidiously reinserting itself into the poem.

This is another fanciful, projected reading, of course. But that’s only because it literalizes the implicit effect of every typo in Day. Each obvious digression from the smoothly professional accuracy of the New York Times calls the reader’s attention back to the process of transcription through which the book was created: its haphazardness, its errancy, the idiosyncracy of its conception and the solitariness of its execution—all in sharp contrast to the veneer of objectivity, the seal of collective social agreement, that underwrites the authority of a massive paper like the Times. So even though Day is couched as a rejection of the old Romantic notion of poetry as the realm of isolated genius, it still acts out the Romantic positioning of poetry as oppositional, rebellious, scrappy, a solitary cry in the wilderness of conformity. At the same time, it also accomplishes an accepted goal of much poetry after modernism—it makes us notice mediation; by mediating our contact with the New York Times, it makes the normally effaced mediation of the paper itself more visible.

Of course, while the formalist in me is turning typos into tropes, the content of the actual New York Times is bubbling past “below the surface.” If it isn’t apparent from the quotes above, Day, especially in the B section (transcribed from the paper’s Metro section), is an intensely political, socially-conscious book, deeply concerned with making provisions for the most helplessly outcast members of society. The first quote above comes from a notice inviting public comment on a bond proposal to build housing facilities for the mentally challenged; the second is from an article about children voluntarily placed into foster care by their parents; another major topic in the section is a controversial court order compelling the school system to place certified teachers in failing schools. As all these stories accumulate, it’s difficult not to be moved by the portrait of a city struggling with its own bulk, straining to balance the needs of the unfortunate against the desires of the privileged.

Fittingly enough, however, what may be the most emotional story of all only acquires its impact through sheer accident. It’s a dry, mercantile story about private businesses bidding to take on a 99-year lease on a formerly publically owned structure—the World Trade Center. This kind of bizarre, upsetting dramatic irony come-to-life will probably be the central trope of Day’s upcoming sequel, The Day, which will undertake the same process of transcription for the New York Times of September 11, 2001. It’s a project that promises to reinject meaning and affect into Goldsmith’s work in a huge way, and in a way that will bring together these two strands—the superficial technique of poetry-through-accident, the subterranean current of poetry-through-reportage. Surely it will be a book that will need to be read, not just talked about.