026.4: Travis Macdonald:: from The O Mission Repo 026

Claim and Reclaim concludes with a selection from Travis Macdonald’s The O Mission Repo. This text takes as its source material the 9/11 Commission Report and might be more accurately regarded as a kind of sculpture or carving, effacing large sections of text and leaving only certain details legible. In this sort of “constraint” poetry (for lack of a better term), political critique coincides with form: the source text is altered and, in alteration, subverted. However, it would be a mistake to consider this selection merely a political treatise; works like The O Mission Repo begin with language’s materiality and play with its slipperiness. Listen to the music, repetition and lyricism it has discovered in the daunting and dry pages of a government report. Like any poetic form, its constraints demonstrate that claims don’t exist in the ether of absolute truth; instead, each claim is vulnerable in its materiality to the reclamations of other artifice. And, in this case, we are lucky for what Macdonald has reclaimed.

Macdonald uses two “chisels” in this selection: the first is a tool that makes the surrounding text out of focus; the second renders the surrounding text a light gray. These visual effects create very different reading experiences. The first makes reading the surrounding text very difficult if not impossible and forces a more intensive gaze upon the text for fear of missing a word in-focus. This effect contributes to slowing down the consumption of content. The repetition of “time” also registers this forced slowing and elicits the sense that we are witnessing, historically and poetically, the deliberate construction of a watershed moment.

The second chisel allows the more anal-retentive of us to track the source material, to know that a handsome phrase like “limits…revealed…failures in imagination…and man” derives, at least in part, from the sentence: “We believe the 9/11 attacks revealed four kinds of failures in imagination, policy, capabilities, and management”. If the first chisel deliberately smudges the complexities of past and present, the second immerses itself in a hyper-pluralism of information, an identity constructed by virtue of being bolder than its surroundings. The concluding phrase of this selection, “in…reference”, radiates with the double-faced notion that “reference” has an equal power to elucidate and confuse; that it might be a vehicle for authority as much as democracy. Given this split concept in relation to the source material, Macdonald has accomplished one of those rare moments where the pat relationship between content and form has grown complicated. How we read a report that claims to be the definitive source on a perceived intelligence failure will say as much about who we believe as how we believe, and this arbitrary assent is reinforced at every turn by a word in-focus or a few words in bold. Ryan Winet