Rob Halpern’s Introduction from Taylor Brady’s BathHouse Reading

If you couldn’t make it to Taylor Brady’s BathHouse reading last week, get a taste of what you missed by reading EMU Creative Writing faculty Rob Halpern’s introduction below:

Introduction to Taylor Brady’s Reading

BathHouse Reading Series 11/10/11

Rob Halpern

In the interest of full disclosure, I should say, before saying anything about him, that I count Taylor Brady among my closest poet-peers, collaborators, comrades, colleagues, friends.

More to the point, without Taylor’s work in the world, I wouldn’t know how to recognize my own, which is never my own, in any case. That’s how deep the ties that bind. That’s how deep the debt.

In mentioning my debt to Taylor, you may have thought I was sharing with you something intimate, something personal, but actually, my mention of debt is calculated, invested, interested, insofar as it becomes my bridge, the trope that’s going to transport me, to carry my subjectivity ever closer to Taylor’s theme, if not to the psycho-social impetus that motivates that whole enterprise we call “lyric poetry,” the irritant that shapes its very address? I mean, debt.

In his reflections on his recent chapbook For I Know Not What I Did Last Summer (Trafficker Press) Taylor refers to debt this way: “What the lover owes to the beloved in terms of fidelity and devotion; what lack in the lover is supplied by the beloved in the form of a ‘gift’ that nonetheless creates ‘debt’”.

Thinking of this now, we might recall the psalmist’s debt to God, Rumi’s debt to his beloved, Dante’s debt to Beatrice, and of course The barren tender of a poet’s debt in Shakespeare’s sonnets.

But there is nothing eternal, nothing outside history when it comes to debt. Indeed, reflecting on our own moment, we might rather activate “the critical engagement with debt as political economy and labor discipline:” finance debts, trade debt, mortgage debt, interminable student loans and credit—well, what bearing might this have on lyric? How might lyric turn out, unexpectedly, to be a poetic modality extremely well suited to making the interpenetration of banking and voice, of finance and love—perceptible?

Now this isn’t the Renaissance, and the love-debt that became lyric poetry’s way of reflecting on its own vocation can only become something else in a moment like our own of debt and occupation. Still, lyric poetry remains, despite profound historical change, indebted: not indebted in the sense I suggested when I began a bit ago by saying I’m indebted to Taylor’s work, but rather deeply implicated in real economic debt of the sort that shapes the world and shackles our sense of futurity to forces that indebt all of us.

Taylor’s recent lyric poetry is pre-occupied with this, and his poems ask how the very time of lyric, its music, registers the time of finance. How might a lyric poem—in its intervallic cadences and contrapuntal tunings—move the ear to hear finance working in the very fiber of our selves and relations—to one another, to the world, to ourselves?

If lyric poetry is about the construction of our persons, if lyric implicates our subjectivity in its musical intervals of sense and idea, then what happens when finance becomes you, becomes us all, even those of us who would have nothing whatever to do with financial instruments and trading, who oppose it fundamentally and occupy city centers as a way of resisting it? What must happen to lyric when it begins to register something critical about our contemporary personhood under conditions when daily life itself has been financialized—when we’re all sitting here together on borrowed time, literally: who are we? who are we becoming?—when our debts, both individual and collective defy reason, contradict our very lifespan, as well as our bodies that have been contracted to pay? What happens at the very core of so-called self-expression when the objective, measurable world of calculation, money, and exchange are no longer separable from the subjective fiction we call a self? These questions couldn’t be more critical for our contemporary moment, and Taylor Brady’s lyric forms begin the work of making the consequences of these questions audible in a new work from which he’ll read called In the Red.