I was first introduced to Maged Zaher—the poet and the person—via our mutual friend Jen Hofer. 2014, AWP, Maged’s adopted home town of Seattle, WA. But we did not meet at AWP, but rather a bar (whose name is utterly lost to me), over the promise of food, drink and temporary respite from the relative insanity of 10,000+ introverts crowded together in one convention center. And I liked Maged immediately: there was something bon vivant-ish about him, sure, but he also wanted to talk about real things, and not in an overbearing, will-you-be-my-therapist-for-a-minute way. If vulnerability can be generous, his was. And this especially illuminated when Maged confided to us, the familiar and the strange alike, how he was struggling to Houdini himself out of the plush handcuffs of his own “lyrical voice.” That night, he expressed great admiration for poets who could traverse registers as easily as some fiction writers cross genres, and who receive as much as they broadcast. At the end of the evening, with many questions still unanswered, and not a few aesthetic anxieties unallayed, he still offered me a ride back to my hotel.
I’ve followed Maged’s work ever since, and taken great pleasure in the remarkable manner in which it juggles practical considerations and deeper philosophical inquires. His latest volume—The Consequences of My Body (Nightboat)—reads to me very much like the kind of book a writer who has successfully reckoned with his own lyric habits would write. For these poems bow to an imperative from which they do not exempt themselves. “Look at all the ways we make each other lonely. Language, somewhat paradoxically, being primary among them.” Desire, of course, being another. The diaristic musings of The Consequences of My Body ask whether desire can be rehabilitated. Yet the libidinal odes that face (confront?) that quotidian theorizing suggest that the problem may be that we ever thought desire needed to be rehabilitated at all… if not what our historical attempts at such rehabilitation have wrought. The only resolution the book offers? Somehow, we all must go on living, individually, collectively.
Stoic but never impassive, acerbic while avoiding vitriol, sincere yet free of the saccharine or sententiousness, the persona who admits to the act of writing “love poetry” in The Consequences of My Body is not Maged Zaher. But that, on occasion, this persona sounds like someone with whom I’ve long been acquainted is enough for me to tell him his money’s no good here: the first round’s on me.
1) Flipping back through The Consequences of My Body again, I come to page 58 and find I wanted to remind myself of these lines (I marked them): “It can be fun / To be inspired by the world / But to improve the situation / There is only one way: fucking”. Does sex transcend mediation, or is sex a form of mediation that somehow betters or improves upon other forms of mediation?
This poem is an example of the trouble I get myself into. The poem’s style (the vulgarity of the word “fucking”) negates what the poem is saying. I believe here that sex is the best way to spend time, but it is not a substitute to being inspired by the world, which is something I believe is blocked by Capital practices. To answer the question more straightforwardly, sex is fucked within a Capitalist structure.
2) How much, or how uniquely, is the male experience of the body shaped by capital—if not capitalism per se?
The experience of the person who is the protagonist of the book is completely shaped by Capital. It is trapped within it. How can it not be, Capital is — by definition — everywhere. I am using Capital here as you do (more than Capitalism) as an anthropomorphic thing, a being on its own, with its own desire and logic, which is to annihilate all other desires except its own, which is to accumulate. C —> C’
3) In its multiplicity (plurality?) of registers and discourses, its lyric ejaculations and embrace of the humiliating, the poems in The Consequences of My Body often struggle to truly feel their ideas. Or, to put it another way: to banalize theory and aesthetics so that they lose their logic and become sensational. If to do so is to love, is that love chaste or erotic?
I wrote this whole book as an admission of my own lack of understanding — actually that is harsh — it is more like an attempt at an understanding of the word “love” — I know fear well — I know desire — I think I was just trying to explore love — so I am sincerely reading the book over and over to know what I found in the process of writing it.
My poetry upbringing came via reading chaste poets (the Udhri) — well they weren’t really chaste — they were more complex than that — but they were read as chaste by the critics of their poems — I am making peace with them again in this book, and I am showing them in the midst of desire poems etc…
4) The Internet appears frequently in these poems. While I hesitate to place the literal and the figurative in some sort of binary relationship, especially in a book which features borderline surreal imagery such as “Software dumps itself / On our skulls, in beautiful hexadecimals” and “Finishing the tea, I skype with a faraway copy of myself to talk about you,” I can’t help but interpret this Internet to be real, or at least very real for the persona in the poems. Much of the romance in the book is actually transacted over the Internet (e.g., via email correspondence), but the persona here is very much concerned with systems and infrastructure. How much have your own notions of the poetic been affected by the feat of engineering that is the Internet?
I work in technology — which is an important thing to say — in order to fully negate its effect on the poems — the Internet seems to be the ultimate mediator for all our existence now — it allows transactions and relationships that were very hard to imagine otherwise. My relationship with the Internet is a necessity due to my being an immigrant. I have to skype weekly to talk to my family — for a Luddite (yes, I used to be one) — this came as a contradiction or hypocrisy — how can you be a Luddite while depending on technology — this changed me a bit — so I am less of a Luddite and more of a dim futurist 🙂 — it is a long way to say I am ambivalent about the world and technology in general and this must show in the poetics
5) Exposure appeals to me as an important theme in The Consequences of My Body. In fact, in section (V), the book exposes its own inner workings and history, via translations of predecessor poets (all men) from the Udhri tradition, memoiristic accounts of the persona’s linguistic life, and even what feels like the inclusion of “pre-poetry”: notes that, in documenting the ostensible project being worked out through the poems themselves, risk simultaneously totalizing and diminishing the reader’s experience (denying the reader a kind of satisfaction or, dare I say, climax). However, I think I can recognize this “pre-poetry” based on its casual tone and a fragmentary syntax that feels familiar within the context of my own practice of “jotting down.” Yet the poems themselves are rife with this same sort of language. Is there or can there be poetry in the perfunctory?
This is a terrific observation — but I would argue that the book was making an attempt to neutralize the exact distinction you are making — between pre-poetry and poetry — I work mostly with intuition but this aspect I “engineered” very consciously — there are multiple vantage points to see something — multiple textual and linguistic practices — so I would argue that you are right in seeing different types of discourse — but I would disagree in labeling them as: poems and pre-poems — they are all on equal footing in the book — intentionally I might add
6) What is the role of the olfactory—perfume, incense, soap—in these poems?
I don’t know — I am discovering it myself — someone said love is 99% smell — maybe that is it?
7) “And we gain one more day because of storytelling”: another of my favorite lines here, itself repeated within these pages. If narrative itself models consummation, how are these poems both complicit in and resistant to narrativization?
I think narrative as practiced in the classic way (the three act structure or the Joseph Campbell’s hero journey for example) suffers from severe abstraction of real life details — the book — as I read it — or as I thought of it — is pure narrative — but narrative that is mired in daily details — and the hero (if he is to be called that) is not an anti-hero (not Quixotian) nor a hero (Shakespeare—an) — the hero here is just someone who is experiencing the daily banality Capital needs us to experience while trying to bring some intensity to the daily via love or sex or smell — I view this book sincerely as narrative — simple narrative
8) On page 67, the reader encounters a poem in Arabic script. If this poem itself is translated elsewhere within The Consequences of My Body, it is not marked or identified in any way. Likewise, the reader is not privy to whether these Arabic lines constitute an original composition, or whether they are the work one of on those predecessor poets introduced later in the book. What hinges upon the un-translation of the poem on page 67?
So much hinges on this un-translation and its typeset — so much — I will leave it at that
9) Alain Badiou has written extensively on love as an event, and thus a site of actual (existential) revolution. The poems in The Consequences of My Body render themselves vulnerable to images of upheaval and radical social change: “I woke up and there was no proletariat”; “we are left to combat the middle class / With mere hands”; “You appear in the middle of the revolution / To comfort the radicals for nights and nights —”; “… The / community has disappeared, they burned a few things then / left to experience history”. In this book, does the revolution precede love, or is love—and, as Badiou would have, love’s disclosure of the previously unrepresented, the “excluded part”—a necessary condition for revolution?
I think there is a dialectic there — none is a precondition or precedes the other — I would argue that both are necessary and they can be encouraged or supported by each other — I would think freedom is a necessity before any love or revolution is practiced successfully — but I would absolutely not define freedom in personal liberal terms — I would probably rely on a different definition — this is a tough question for me to answer
10) If you had no other choice but to respond, how would you respond to a reader who deems the unabashedly male gaze, obsessions and privileged dolor articulated by The Consequences of My Body’s persona objectionable?
The book comes from a privilege to speak — but the phenomenology of the daily experience of the subject is not — to me — privileged at all — it is actually trying to negotiate love with other beings that some of them are more privileged — I think the book poses a different form of male subjectivity (I like to think so) — one that is not on sure grounds — it would be sad if this was missed in the reading of the book —