investigative poetics 2421

acts of violence while still honoring the aesthetic
joys of poetry, investigative poetry can say what
cannot otherwise be said, it can cut through
stultifying genre expectations to interlace perso
nal horror and historical fact, first hand reports
and philosophical flights of fancy.
Investigative poetry is more than just the
expression of front line reporting in poetic
forms, however, for the works cited above by
Sanders, Forche, and Scott also offer compel
ling meditations on the role of poetry as a survi
val mechanism in an age of mass produced
terror (Hartnett 1999; Kaplan 2006). As argued
by Terrence Des Pres (1986) in a roundtable
discussion on the possibilities of political poetry,
we turn where we can for sustenance, and some
of us take poetry seriously in exactly this way,
as a daily practice of making meaning. From this
perspective, investigative poetry offers not only
a creative vehicle for offering political criticism,
but also a heuristic model of how to live, of how
to take a critical stance against what Des Pres
calls empires in endless conflict while not
giving in to despair or quietude, all the while
maintaining a daily commitment to producing
art (see Hartnett 2003).
For example, after chronicling the horrors of
the US aided genocide in Indonesia, the clos
ing section of Scotts Coming to Jakarta advises
readers to cherish the small moments that make
each day precious:

As for those of us
who are lucky enough
not to sit hypnotized
our hands on the steering wheel
which seems to have detached itself
from the speeding vehicle
it is our job to say
relax trust
spend more time with your children
things can only go
a little better
if you do not hang on so hard.

For Scott, investigative poetry includes ven
tures not only into international intrigue and
bloody political crises, but also into the micro
logical mechanics of daily life. This inward turn
is framed, of course, as part of a political
response to empire, as an experiment in living
an ethical life in the shadow of so much plenty
earned largely through the mass produced pain
of so many others (Scott 1992, 2000; Hartnett
Whereas Sanderss work concerns US his
tory, and whereas Forches and Scotts contri
butions explore international political intrigue,
a third major strand of investigative poetry
includes work clumped loosely around a notion
of ethnographic or anthropological poetry. Of
the early practitioners of this genre, Jerome
Rothenberg and Gary Snyder are perhaps the
best known. The term ethnopoetics was coined in
1967 by Jerome Rothenberg and Dennis Ted
lock and gained prominence via the work of
Alcheringa, a magazine Rothenberg and Tedlock
founded in 1970 (Statement of Intention 1970).
Merging a fascination with premodern and
developing cultures with a stinging rebuke of
western modernity, ethnopoetics offered ecolo
gically sensitive, culturally comparativist poems
full of both wonder and anger (Rothenberg &
Rothenberg 1983; Prattis 1985; Rothenberg
For example, Snyders Turtle Island (1974)
moves from a celebration of the Anasazi, a
Native American tribe living in the sun
drenched Southwest, to The Call of the Wild,
a bitter poem attacking All these Americans up
in special cities in the sky / Dumping poisons
and explosives. Published amid the war in
Vietnam, this clear reference to the saturation
bombings sanctioned by President Nixon invites
readers to think about the deep historical con
nections among Indian genocide, environmental
destruction, and the butchery under way in the
name of defeating communism. By thinking in
this multi temporal manner, by holding the
Anasazi and the Vietnamese in ones mind at
the same time, Snyder gains historical and poli
tical leverage for his claim in Tomorrows
Song that The USA slowly lost its mandate
/ in the middle and later twentieth century / it
never gave the mountains and rivers, / trees and
animals, / a vote. / all the people turned away
from it. Reading these lines in light of another
set of US triggered wars in Afghanistan and
Iraq, one is struck by the commonsensical argu
ment that there is an intimate relation between
the violence used to demolish nature and the
violence used to murder our fellow humans.
Indeed, in the face of the well oiled machinery
of death that slaughtered the Indians, that