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Intergeneric Fields of Erasure: Reading Philip Metres’s Sand Opera as Document-Poetry

Mahshid Mayar

Pages 233 - 243



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In the present essay, I engage with Jahan Ramazani’s notion of "inter-genre" to study the neoliberal whims of the U.S. empire through twenty-first-century U.S. poetry and in the context of the so-called “War on Terror.” Specifically, I concentrate on Philip Metres’s "Sand Opera" (2015), reading it as situated in the intergeneric fields of what I call “documents-poems.” As I argue, the most arresting qualities of "Sand Opera" are, first, how it grafts the documental and the historical into the poetic, and, second, how it tears at the aesthetic panache of poetry, thus generating documents-poems in the rough, bare image of the scripts of empire. Metres’s poetry thereby sketches the racial capitalist dimensions of black sites as violent, extralegal, globally spread, off-grid projections of the U.S. penalscape and maps the limits of our understanding regarding the consequent traumatic loss of agency and selfhood in spaces where the predominantly opaque, neoliberal rationalizations behind the “War on Terror” unfold off the map. Constitutive of a multivocal poetic soundscape, and inviting a set of synesthetic acts of reading-looking-listening-touching, "Sand Opera" thus reminds readers, again and again, of the uneasy proximations at work between war and aesthetics "and" between language and brutality.

Key Words: erasure poetry; document-poetry; scripts of empire; inter-genre; torture and text

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