The Dust, Michael Gottlieb
From Against Expression, Edited by Kenneth Goldsmith and Craig Dworkin:
Without hypotaxis, narrative, or discursiveness, “The Dust” (Lost and Found [New York: Roof, 2003]) depends on a reader’s knowledge of its context: the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001. Not a strict transcription of objects pulverized or recovered from the site (some of the items included are the products of Michael Gottlieb’s imaginative speculation rather than research), the poem nonetheless evinces the power of the detached and flatly unexpressive catalog to access emotions—through strategies of obliquity and indirection—without courting blatant sentiment. The catalog at play here is not just the organizational form of the list, of course, but also the style of the wholesale product brochure; the language of the poem is closer to commercial accounting than to the traditional lyric elegy. The defamiliarizing specificity and descriptive detail of Gottlieb’s litany slows the reader and helps forestall—if only momentarily—the stock, reflexive, or scripted responses to the strongly mediated spectacle of the attacks. Where September 11 has become a symbolic event of shared cultural reference, “The Dust” reduces the monumental status of both the towers and their demise to a scale of concrete and individual particulars.
From Publisher’s Weekly:
“The Dust” is a list poem, one that tallies, in trade catalogue language (“Interior Concepts workstation T-base for non-raceway panels”), some of the things that got compacted when the World Trade Center towers fell. When Gottlieb finally, and with extreme care, transitions from products to people’s names, the juxtaposition of financial, bureaucratic and personal losses seems to make the ground fall out from under everyday life. The poem is sad, frightening and extraordinary, and while it honors the dead, it also refuses to separate them from the things with which they lived.
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