By June Tang
June Tang is Running Dog’s poet in residence for August and September.
Each month, a poet produces new work, which is distributed via Running Dog’s monthly newsletter—Stray. If you haven’t already, sign up to our newsletter.
When corners in the sculpture pose problems we find a new way of making that is round, and
all one thing, without interruption, without decision points, where the inside becomes now
the outside becomes the inside once more, as we turn or are turned
off sidewalks towards the highway, where
one current of traffic
surrounds another, and usual exits begin
losing their distinction. All around
different densities of speech make their own eddies
in the air. I’m waiting for my inside
to meet your outside to meet it shrugging singing shouting seizing
starting stalling spraying here the signals have no limits
to be read. What is a poem? Nobody asked
In the margins of a flyer I watch you scrawl:
an encounter becoming event becomes encounter twice more
June’s thoughts on SIGNIFICANT OTHERS
Writing about this poem is proving to be much harder than last time—in a way, it feels both more and less abstract than the first. The human capacity for abstract emotion is something I’ve always been interested in, and, like my first poem, after trying a variety of stronger, more immediate voices, it seems I still come back to this particular kind of voice, or tone: one with an ambiguous distance. Maybe this merely reflects my own relation to politics at the present moment…
In any case, I initially wanted to do something entirely different from the first poem. It took some time to realise, and then accept, that I couldn’t unsettle these thoughts—they demanded to be pushed further, both in form and in concept. I think this is also what political engagement should look like, both at an individual and collective level: something that is always remaking its form, concept and contents. This is something Micah White really draws attention to in his book, The End of Protest, which has kept me company most of this month. It has reminded me how complex it is to even think about protest, in all its states: its historical status, its intentions and executions, its failures and futures. However, it has also reinforced my interest in the peripheries of protest—moments that may lie out of view, or are still emergent in their meanings.
Earlier on in the writing process, there were two other sections, or verses, that I was working on. One was a playful phone conversation (about a protest), and the other was a scene centred around an electrical pole crammed with protest posters. The final poem was going to be either the second or final part out of three sections, all to do with peripheral views. I kept imagining how these two disembodied voices might find themselves in an encounter with a protest scene. Perhaps it would be the first time, at least for one of them. In any case I never figured out how to get them from the phone call onto the street. But I was thinking about this interview with the Hong Kong painter Firenze Lai, who described how, until the Umbrella Movement, she’d always felt politics was something separate to her own life. She went on to say that during the protests, she would go home every night and read about the Hong Kong government—its policies and promises across the last ten years. I thought a lot about that image of privately reading and learning as one of the inadvertent effects of a protest. You may not become an activist, but you begin to see in a different way. And perhaps there’s still a trace of that in the final part of the poem, in the between-space of encounter and event. An event comes with a certain locus of expectations, while to encounter means to come upon or meet with, especially unexpectedly.
I think the gestural quality of the poem can be traced partially to Lai’s paintings as well, which often depict private moments within the anonymous atmosphere of a public space. However, the lucky trigger for starting the poem was an interview on YouTube with the sculptor Richard Deacon; the first line-and-a-half of this poem is a paraphrase of something he said. I transplanted it into a way of thinking about protest that might be less of a crossroads/decisive moment, and more as a process, or an undergoing, which blurs inside and outside, and which has half its vitality in the ability to detour the everyday. I thought about all this circling, and the two oppositional meanings of ‘revolution’—one as dramatic change, and the other as a kind of rotating return or repetition. I thought similarly about the word ‘movement’—‘a movement’, in contrast to ‘movement(s)’, as minor, undetermined, and more private gestures. But the two kinds of movements are entwined, and perhaps this poem is an attempt at showing these continuities.
Which goes back to the notion of event and encounter.
In hindsight, the final line of the poem could be seen as a moment of private observation within a moving crowd, but on another level it’s more imagined than real, since it responds to a question that was never asked. I hope it can be seen as a potential response to many other questions: what is a crowd, what is a protest, or even, what is a sculpture?
Unintentionally, my previous poem also ends in an ambiguous answer, to a question that wasn’t asked. Perhaps I’m interested in that slippage, and the kinds of thinking it can generate. And what it might say about our relations to one another. Certainly, in this second poem, there is an undefined distance between the two figures and how they each relate to the present situation… Maybe a third poem would provide the answer to that!
Beyond all this, the final line also describes the process of writing, which begins as an encounter before attempting to become an event, then dissolving into an encounter again. Hopefully the reading process (for this piece as well as the previous one) is a similar, open-ended experience.