MotenPoet & Cultural Critic
Fred Moten was born in Las Vegas, Nevada in 1962 and raised there and in Kingsland, Arkansas. He is author of In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition; Hughson’s Tavern, B. Jenkins, The Feel Trio, The Little Edges, The Service Porch and consent not to be a single being. He is co-author, with Stefano Harney, of The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study and A Poetics of the Undercommons and, with Wu Tsang, of Who touched me? Moten lives in New York with his partner, Laura Harris and their children, Lorenzo and Julian. He teaches in the Department of Performance Studies at New York University.
Photo by Bettye Miller. Courtesy of University of California, Riverside.
It’s not that I want to say
(originally published in 2010 and then republished in 2016).
It’s not that I want to say that poetry should or can be disconnected from having something to say; it’s just that everything I want to say eludes me. But if I caught it I wouldn’t want it and I imagine you wouldn’t want it either. Maybe poetry is what happens on the bus between wanting and having. I used to think it was what happened on the bus between Oakland and Berkeley. And it was, too, like violet and Texas in peoples’ voices, a whole bunch of subtle transmissions broken off by stops and bells, the percussion of riding, mobile contact, slow symposium. But now, even in the absence of my private office, I still want to move and so I have to move but never get there in this whole extended region of not being there, of stopping and saying not there, not there, and of that being, in the end, pretty much all I have to say. What I want to say is that having something to say is subordinate in the work of being true to the social life in somebody else’s sound and grammar, its placement in my head, my placement in the collective head as it moves on down the line. The itinerant ensemble arrangement of the 40, and sometimes of the 15, is also where I began to learn to move and live and think in poetry. Now I want to transfer what I’m learning as a practice of revision on the edge where ethics and aesthetics are in parallel play. Some kind of homeless shift between reading and writing that emerges in a class or set as our cut-up schedule, a diverse list of things, point to point restlessness, interlocking schemes of material breaks, the constantly renewed syllabus of a new composers guild in the middle of enjoying itself. What we will have come together to try to do would start to look like what we were doing when we came together to enjoy ourselves, handing over saying what we want for one another, to one another, in and out of words.