Occupy Wall Street and the Poetry of Now-Time

The reason the protests in Zuccotti Park are so powerful is that they are more about love than anger.

filipstephen e1319204585845 Occupy Wall Street and the Poetry of Now Time

Stephen Boyer and Filip Marinovich (Photo: Marinovich)

If you really want to understand Occupy Wall Street, you have to talk to the poets.

One night last week, late, after ducking out of a birthday party, we wandered down Broadway like we sometimes do now, looking to extend the evening a bit, see what was doing in the park.

Zuccotti was quiet, but charged with energy as it had been for a month and counting. Many of the sleeping bags were already lumpy and zipped tight. Some were moving gently. The library was closed, covered with blue tarps. But two of the librarians, who were also the poets, were still kicking it. They met three weeks ago and are now best friends, they agreed.

These were Stephen Boyer, 27, a former model and paid dominatrix, and Filip Marinovich, 36, a sometime associate professor of poetry.

Not that any of that really matters anymore. “Hierarchies are bullshit,” Mr. Boyer said. In the last three weeks, he had met celebrities, philosophers, politicians—then curled up under a table to await the next unknowable day. “I’m in the most uncomfortable situation I’ve ever been in in my life, and I have more access to the world than ever.”

Sometimes things are their opposites. Mr. Boyer learned this doing his other job, tag-teaming with his girlfriend, dominating people for money. This is physical work, no getting around that, but it’s also psychological. Mostly it’s about power and how to flip it. Good training, actually, for a member of a revolutionary movement.

Mr. Boyer and his girlfriend moved back to the states from London just a few weeks ago, and they were staying in a hotel overlooking ground zero, preparing for a trip to DC, a business trip. Lots of clients down there—all the doms know it’s the best place in the country to beat people and humiliate them and maybe fuck them with a strap-on for money.

When he reunited with his New York friends, they were going on and on about Occupy Wall Street. “I was like, ‘Let’s get a fucking drink. I haven’t seen you in forever.’ Like, whatever. I’ve been to a zillion protests. I really expected nothing.”

The next day, though, he wandered over to Zuccotti Park. After walking around for five minutes, he recalled, “I just started crying. I was like, This is not like anything I’ve ever seen. It’s what we’ve always wanted to be happening but never figured out how to do.”

Mr. Marinovich agreed. “I gave up on this a long time ago, and yet here it is,” he said.

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Of course we asked them about what everyone outside this movement—especially members of the media—seems want to talk about, and nobody on the inside is particularly concerned with: What do you all want? What are the demands? How do you know when you’ve won and can go home?

The poets were polite. They tried to answer. They were tired, as everyone is down there. Running on pure adrenaline. But these were the wrong questions, the ones you ask when you don’t yet get it. These were the questions of the world outside the park—the world of prose. Occupy Wall Street is actually, it turns out, occurring in the realm of poetry and spirit. It’s a sort of waking dream. Which is why it’s so strangely powerful and cannot be sneered away or shoveled over with cynicism (not that we didn’t try) or kettled into history, and may even survive the winter in New York.

“Demands will grow,” Mr. Boyer assured us calmly, with a patience we immediately envied, as we had not felt patient like that in a very long time. He was tall and young, and wore mostly black and didn’t seem very much like a sadist at all. “Demands will eventually come. But this is a space for learning. I’ve learned more here in the last two weeks than I have in all those years of college.”

That’s not a dig on the University of San Francisco, where Mr. Boyer majored in creative writing and sociology. The degree didn’t get him far, though, so he has done what he had to do for money, some good, some not so good. He walked the runway last year in London for Ziad Ghanem, for instance, the designer widely viewed as the creative heir to Alexander McQueen. Mr. Ghanem placed volumes of Mr. Boyer’s poetry on every seat in the front row, and Mr. Boyer’s picture turned up in British Vogue. That was the good job.

But it seems like a different life now. He no longer knows the person in those pictures.

In his 1985 cult anarchist treatise T.A.Z., Hakim Bey, aka the poet Peter Lamborn Wilson, described what he dubbed the temporary autonomous zone: “a guerrila operation which liberates an area (of land, of time, of imagination).” Which is as good a description of Occupy Wall Street as any.

occupypoetry Occupy Wall Street and the Poetry of Now Time

The library. (Flickr/hukdunshur)

Such zones have flourished, however briefly, around the world, often in secret, Mr. Bey wrote, but in in contemporary America he thought such a space would most likely emerge after three conditions were met. First, people needed to understand not only how the State (Wall Street, the One Percent, whatever) had enslaved them but also “the ways in which we are ensnared in a fantasy in which ideas oppress us.” When the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek showed up in the park a few weeks back, he compared this process of awakening to the John Carpenter movie They Live, in which the protagonist, Nada, finds a pair of special sunglasses which reveal that  the advertising billboards all around him carry hidden messages: submit, stay asleep, conform, consume. The dollar bill? This is your god. (And spoiler alert: the rich are all aliens.)

The second condition was that the internet would need to evolve into a useful tool of dissent and organization.

And third, Mr. Bey wrote, “The State must progress on its present course in which hysterical rigidity comes more and more to mask a vacuity, an abyss of power.”

Check, check, check.

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It was windy. The blue tarps were whipping around. Mr. Boyer was asked another of those questions a reporter might ask, an outside-the-zone question. We were just visiting, after all.

“Ever have any famous clients?”

Comments

  1. i love this. thank you. 

  2. Stephenjboyer says:

    yes!

  3. Stephenjboyer says:

    contact me if you want to send poems to the anthology!

    1. Vbmagenta says:

      Hey , I have a poem I wrote almost 20 years ago when I first realised how the world really is, I would love to post it but i’m not sure how and I don’twant anyone to steal it…lol…don’t mind sharing but I wouldn’t want anyone else to take the credit. Thanks, One Love

  4. Wow, that has to be the most touching and heartfelt article about the Truth behind the occupations I have ever read.

    I went to Occupy LA last weekend and probably will again and I feel this exact same atmosphere. We’re breaking the cycle of hate, of greed, and replacing it with one of compassion, love and care for all.

    We can make it! We’ve already reached critical mass, we shall only continue to grow. If they think winter, or brutality will stop us they are dead wrong. We’ve already formed enough of a matrix of communal support that we can effectively create our own safety net for any sort of action they could take to break us up.

    The 99% are too big to fail…and really, when you have 99% of anything how can it be anything else? :)

  5. This is a well-written and thought-provoking article, but I wish the author would have considered writing about any of the other poets that are occupying or have been to Zuccotti. Primarily, poets that aren’t only 1. male and 2. members of elite-status groups, such as models and professors. Articles like these only perpetuate the stereotype that the Occupy Wall Street protesters are entitled, able-bodied, and comfortable enough in their status that they have the ability to protest. 

    What do the female, elderly, disabled, poets of color have to say? That’s an article I would love to see in the New York Observer.

    1. Adamboyman says:

      Queer, female, elderly, disabled, poets of color have to say have much to say! They’re in the anthology and coming to the Poetry Assembly! If anyone wants to help me with the anthology I am more than open to suggestions and help! The Occupation as a whole is a very inclusive space,  it’s open to all, one must only step forward and propose ideas and then people either support the ideas or not.  The anthology has gotten a lot of support. And it’s not about me or Filip, it’s about the vast amount of people that have sent poems to be included into the anthology. It’s a collection of dissent compiled by all walks of life! 

      And when did being a sex worker or a part time poetry professor mean you’re privileged?

  6. Betsy Fagin says:

    with respect, Littlest Ice Age,
    unpaid model/sex worker + sometime professor (read as unemployed) don’t equal “elite status.”
    even if they are white guys. so say I, queer female poet of color.

    in solidarity,
    blizf

  7. Tsobon3ooo says:

    AN ODE TO
    OCCUPY WALL STREET
    By Noboset
     
    Rebellious youth cannot you see …What is to be your destiny …You rail against your elder’s ways …Which you’ll adopt in later days…From chaos order you would make …Your brother’s thirst you’d toil to slake …Corruption you’d not tolerate …And men enslaved you’d liberate                                                                   
    And there’s much more that you would do …To gain just ends that you’d pursue …But have you heard of worldly ways …They’re like a maze within a maze …The ways of life that you demean …Are variations on a theme …The strong and rich exploit the weak …In ways that often are oblique
                                
    And ways in life are mostly fads…Like striped clothes instead of plaids…Though elders each is thought a sage…He’s just a child advanced in age…Ideals were meant for saints and gods…Who’d change the world must buck the odds…These odds aren’t merely one in ten…They’re more like one in ten million
                                         
    Look back in time and count the men…Who lived among us denizen…And changed the course of history…By more than just a small degree…If you’d not compromise ideals…Nor sell your souls in devilish deals…You’re going to have to fight like hell…Rebellious youth, I wish you well

  8. TheAtheist says:

    Er, a dominatrix saying “hierarchies are bullshit”?  Who does that make sense to?

  9. “The 99 percent”

    You have staged your protests to complain about the rich. With your smart phones and your I-pads, you moan, and gripe, and bitch. You scream and carry signs that say that it’s not fair. You say our Nation’s wealthiest aren’t paying their fair share.

    Well, what are you accomplishing with your bitter, angry mobs? Have your tirades in the streets created any jobs? This is the land of opportunity; a place where you can live your dreams. I think you’ve all forgotten what freedom really means.

    It doesn’t mean that you sit back, and let others pay your way; living on the coat-tails of those who work hard every day. It doesn’t mean you step aside, arm stretched with open hand; hoping for a handout because your life is not as planned.

    Freedom isn’t free but, you don’t want to pay. So, get the hell out if you don’t want to live the American way. If you want to be a socialist, then just go live in Greece. Let the rest of us pursue our dreams and live and die in peace.

    by Bradley A. Perainohttp://perainopoetry.blogspot.com

  10. Chuck says:

    I was thrilled to see some of these readings. So many great writers took part. And I agree, wrong questions