Friday, October 11, 2013

ModPo 2013 # 31 The Fiction of "The People": On Taggard's "Interior" and Communism

Image of Philippine communist rebel from


Genevieve Taggard

(Published in Proletarian Literature in the United States [1935].)

A middle class fortress in which to hide!
Draw down the curtain as if saying No,
While noon's ablaze, ablaze outside.
And outside people work and sweat
And the day clings by and the hard day ends.
And after you doze brush out your hair
And walk like a marmoset to and fro
And look in the mirror at middle-age
And sit and regard yourself stare and stare
And hate your life and your tiresome friends
And last night's bridge where you went in debt;
While all around you gathers the rage
Of cheated people
Will we hear your fret
In the rising noise of the streets? Oh no!


I agree with those (in the video discussion of the poem) who thought that "Interior," at least in terms of form, was not that effective in delivering its message. I think it's an attempt to capture the absurd life (and language at the time) of the "uninvolved" middle class. It does deliver on the interior which is it's subject. However, it's not entirely funny nor is it ominous. It chooses the language of rhyme and meter (perhaps to capture a traditional rhetoric) but it is not really a call for solidarity. Rather, it seems like a warning but a half-hearted one, given its form and subject. There definitely is a tone of indignation and accusation. Was it meant to shame the middle class? Would this kind of form have engaged them? I'm not sure. Would the "cheated people" be happy with this accusation?

It made me want to look into the history of communist poetry in the Philippines too. So, below, I dug up a poem from Jose Ma. Sison, a writer and someone who is credited for reorganizing the communist party of the Philippines.

Jose Maria Sison

The guerilla is like a poet
Keen to the rustle of leaves
The break of twigs
The ripples of the river
The smell of fire
And the ashes of departure.

The guerilla is like a poet.
He has merged with the trees
The bushes and the rocks
Ambiguous but precise
Well-versed on the law of motion
And master of myriad images.

The guerilla is like a poet.
Enrhymed with nature
The subtle rhythm of the greenery
The inner silence, the outer innocence
The steel tensile in-grace
That ensnares the enemy.

The guerilla is like a poet.
He moves with the green brown multitude
In bush burning with red flowers
That crown and hearten all
Swarming the terrain as a flood
Marching at last against the stronghold.

An endless movement of strength
Behold the protracted theme:
The people’s epic, the people’s war.



There is a bit of a "pastoralization" of the guerilla, turning him into a poet, moving with nature. It doesn't talk of the violence and the armed conflict that the communist party espoused. It is sanitized and deodorized. There is an "enemy" but the enemy seems vague. The enemy of the people?

Like Taggard, Sison uses a traditional form, using a repeating simile of "the guerilla is like a poet" throughout the poem except for the last stanza, likening the movement of the people with the unstoppable forces of nature. Was his use of form effective? On the one hand, I like the unlikely pairing of guerilla and poet and I also appreciate the lyrical quality of the poem, drawing something beautiful out of strife. On the other hand, though, I feel that it ennobles the violent agenda of the communist party...that is after all the reason there are guerillas: armed conflict. The people's war does not involve "outer innocence" and harmony. It is about discord and sowing discord. This is no rousing "If We Must Die," nor does it use traditional forms to subvert them (as Lechlitner did with "Lines for an Abortionist's Office). He likens the guerilla to the "master of  myriad images," the "well-versed" poet. Except for "the ashes of departure" he does not hint at the poet as "keen to the rustle" of grief, as marked by bullets, blood and poverty.

Looking at this with 2013 eyes, I can see that the movement of communism in the 60s was largely idealistic. Communism as a concrete system has not answered that need. It was a wistful is Sison's poem above. I marvel at how the communist poetry above (by Taggard and Sison) make mention of the people. I see this now with critical eyes. Which people? The oppressed? The masses? Is the communist economic equality (as seen in the experience of communist countries of the past...or the failed project of communism around the world) which robs the uniqueness of individuals... any better than the vast inequalities (even among whole countries) spawned by capitalism? This is a false binary and the answers don't come easy. But I appreciate the criticality of each word and the assumptions that we make about them. "The people" can be a fiction that serves an agenda.

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