By Will Bellamy
Image: “Ladder to Heaven,” by Julian Johnson.
They were packed together. In the row ahead of them two people were smoking and talking and the smoke kept slipping between the seats and coming into their own row and Mary Meyers hated that. She hated that they’d gotten these seats and she hated that her husband, Gary Cleveland Meyers, could sleep through the smell and all the talk. Well, no: she didn’t hate that. Hate was no good. Yes, come to think of it, she did not hate that both she and her husband were accountants, or that their boss had sent them in prime Christmas season to New York for a week-long conference at Navistar International’s prissy HQ on the company’s upcoming budget for 1961. Not her. She just knew that this is how it always was—certain events and things just had to be endured, thought about. And suddenly she remembered that they would need a cab when they landed, and she tensed up at the thought of waiting outside of the United terminal in the rain in the line for one of the yellows. Add it to the list, she thought. And in the warm and dimly lit cabin she sighed, thinking that she should, for maybe just the last time, get up to stretch in the aisle.
Liz Cettina: How did you begin writing ‘Dreams of War’?
Doc Polk: I was actually trying not to write about the military when I first came to Wesleyan. I wanted to put that behind me and write about these other ideas I had, but every time I started writing, it kept turning towards the military. Eventually I said, ‘Okay, well, maybe if I just write it once, get it out of my system, then I can move on to something else.’ So I wrote it once, tried to move on to something else, and it fell flat. Even now, when I try to write about other things, the military stuff just comes out. I figure I’ve got to get everything out before I can move on to something else.
By Mara Woods-Robinson
Penelope Spheeris’ 1980 documentary The Decline of Western Civilization opens on a boy talking about punk rock, followed by a montage of the various front(wo)men of the film’s featured bands reading a disclaimer that the shows and crowds will be filmed. As the opening credits roll, the frontmen continue speaking over the soundtrack, until one voice commands: “Dance!” As if cued by the word, X’s song “Nausea” bursts into the soundtrack over the title credit, and then Spheeris cuts to a closeup of thrashing bodies in the pit. Initially, the image is abstracted: bodies move too quickly and ferociously to be clear; all that registers is the chaotic, blurred movement of flesh and clothing in and out of frame. Sound and image are at odds: the crowd’s arrhythmic (or, perhaps more appropriately, anti-rhythmic) thrashing contradicts X’s hypnotic, steady beat. For all we know, the crowd could have been dancing to another song, at another show, by another band. On the soundtrack, Exene Cervenka screeches into the microphone, irreverently warning the crowd about their impending hangovers—“Today you’re gonna be sick so sick / you’ll prop your forehead on the sink / say oh Christ oh Jesus Christ / my head’s gonna crack like a bank”—and submerged in the tight, abstracted frame, we get a little nauseous too. Gradually, the camera zooms out, revealing the wider scene: a nightclub, chock-full of young white men colliding furiously against each other. Instead of cutting to the band, we linger on the crowd, watching the bodies thrash in a free-for-all medieval-style melee. Ironic or sincere, Spheeris makes her point clear: this is the titular decline of Western civilization.
Emma Raddatz: When were these poems written? Were they written together?
Justin Greene: Three of them were written at the same time, mostly in my advanced poetry class, which was a year ago, or so, and then one, “Mimesis,” I wrote in my intermediate poetry workshop two years ago when Ben Lerner came to speak. He’s my favorite author ever. He kept vomiting genius at me, and I wrote everything down and thought, ‘Why not turn this into a poem?’ So that happened.