Response to Jennifer’s Reply to Jacob and Tom’s ‘Letter (from Berlin) to London Poets in Oakland and Oakland poets, in Oakland’

by Militant Poetics in Berlin

Dear Jennifer, 

We apologise for the distress that our letter has caused you. It was written quickly, and with a sense of necessity that was felt by us to be strong. We did not intend to be overly aggressive towards you in particular, although we do realise that our tone may have been inappropriate. We talked a lot about how to address the piece, and whether to include your name. We found this particularly difficult as neither of us is used to writing collective statements, and we had some concerns about assumptions of familiarity in this context. It was our hope that by referring to you in a neutral way that we could in some way depersonalise our critique and avoid causing you personal offence. This was connected to our desire to encourage an open conversation amongst the readers of the blog. Again, sorry that we failed to do this. Likewise, it was not our intention to demand an immediate response, either from you or from others. We are sorry that our letter caused you to feel that compulsion. We would prefer for these conversations to take the time they need. 

We had, and have no intention of denouncing you. We had hoped that our letter would not perform this function. We have ourselves been concerned over the tone of previous denunciatory communications within the Militant Poetics community. We continue to be heartened by what took place at Revolution and / or Poetry, as well as at Militant Poetics,, and we don’t think that what we wrote broke dramatically with the tone of those discussions, both online and in the conference that we both attended in London. 

The letter was, and is, addressed to all poets in Oakland and London. This is because we consider the arguments which it makes to be vital for a thinking of both militancy and poetry. We are aware that there is a wealth of poetry and thinking in these places, and as a result of the generosity and hospitality of a few writers in the Bay we have been fortunate enough to read and experience some, although by no means all, of it. It was in the spirit of this thinking and of its demands for a better world that we sought to encourage a critical reflection on the idea of solidarity. We did also feel compelled by the possibility that Edward Woollard or anyone else severely affected by the repression of the student movement may view the post, and we wanted to offer something that may mitigate what we thought would be their negative reaction to it.

We do feel that the way in which you describe the situation at Millbank performs a move inherently similar to the moves made by bourgeois law and by mythic violence.  We realise that this was certainly not your intended aim nor do we believe that your paper was a defence of state repressions. The linking of the moment of the throwing of the fire extinguisher with the moments of solidarity which David Buuck mentions is one that is profoundly difficult and one which we feel that we need to reject publicly. We also believe that we cannot ever examine the values established by crowds and individuals in protest situations without at the same time examining the judgements made by the state, the judiciary and the press, and the actuality of people’s lives. This is the context into which our contributions today are thrown. You seem to suggest that we are unwilling to critique certain actions. We would only say that we do not understand critique to be the same as condemnation, and we do not believe the fruit of our critique ought ever to be exclusion. We do note believe that you meant to condemn Edward Woollard. However, it is the seemingly affirmative and uncritical notion of solidarity that we were concerned with in our letter. One of the reasons for our response is that we felt that in your paper the moment of solidarity, which it seems to us that you do affirm later, was explicitly one of group condemnation of an individual. We are deeply ambivalent about this.

This situation at Millbank, and the chants of that crowd, raises the question of how easily such a conception of radical solidarity can demand for its continuation something worryingly similar to an apotheosis of the State. Our concern is that this crowd whose behaviour is accurately described in the paper is performing something like a bourgeois mythic violence of exclusion, which is something we cannot accept as a “solidarity” that we would want. That this kind of community formation is experienced throughout the world, especially within radical or communist circles, is once again a reason for us to address the entire blog and its readership. We know several people and texts which deal with the problem of myth, community and violence, and we know that these writers live these problems daily. These are not new ideas, and we would encourage the authors and editors of various chap book, or texts, to post them on either blog and to continue this conversation. We wish to reiterate our encouragement for an open and critical reflection upon the categories of our gradually extinguishing existences, especially given the wealth of materials now at our disposal, and wish again to state the conviction that any community whose bonds of relation are founded upon violent exclusion is to be continuously rejected. 

We appreciate that you may not wish to continue this conversation in public, and also appreciate your gesture towards a correspondence regarding the chorus. If you still wish to do this then please email either of us or continue to post on the blog. Good luck with strike prep.  


Jacob & Tom