Ronaldo V. Wilson, Farther Traveler, Counterpath, 2015.
read it at Google Books
FARTHER TRAVELER by Ronaldo Wilson is an expansive, complex hybrid of poetry, prose, and memoir that engages with contemporary culture, race and sexuality.
“There’s a Fanonian trumpet Fanon couldn’t imagine, a dance all his own he could neither own nor step to, Ronaldo V. Wilson’s otherwise inconceivable graph, whose beauty and power reaches new depths and new heights in Farther Traveler, an erotic history of loss that is, therefore, an erotic theory of finding, its iridescent contacts, its eruptive grammars, its fluid, fleshly, aromatic loves. In the fabric of the general catastrophe, every silver and impossible daddy, every soft and possible father, gone further and farther away, Wilson works something new for us, an encounter of which we are made wonderfully aware—texture, scene, caress.” —Fred Moten
“The secret of the body, for Ronaldo V. Wilson, is that there are no secrets. As such, every drop of sweat in his new book refracts the overlap of the abject and the fleeting, the familiar and the anonymity of the body in sex and disintegration. Farther Traveler maps the fusion between losing a father who’s impossible to let go of and the excavation of what desire might mean for a life of radical possibility. For Wilson, the work of the poem—and our expectant pleasure—is to disclose what the self might become if thought could account for what the body seems given to need. And if it’s true that ‘You’ve become the body you’ve become,’ then that’s only the beginning.” —Joshua Marie Wilkinson
“Ranging with promiscuous brilliance across diary, dissertation, lyric, chasm, cinema, and dream, Ronaldo V. Wilson tracks ‘instances where my body touches language,’ a protean adventure in which violation and sublimity, de Sade and Serena Williams shimmer as spectacle and twitch like muscle. Fearless son of that demented, adored father who is history, the farther traveler is the self—‘a projected composition’ constantly renewed.” —Frances Richard
“Farther Traveler shows us, across its virtuosic pages, what the sear of queer desire and loss made legible in language feels, looks and sounds like. In reveries and elegies, including post-dissertation interventions; tributes to Daddies, among them his own father, suffering from dementia; recollections of popular culture and porn; and beguiling image-text pairings, Ronaldo V. Wilson offers a poetics capable of enacting his singular, profound blend of the creative and critical, proving yet again that he’s a lyric innovator to his sweat-matted core. ‘My oppression . . . I must make beautiful.’ A (self-)love game, superlatively won.” —John Keene
“In his triumphant Farther Traveler, Ronaldo V. Wilson writes toward a radical poetics of discomfort and defilement, trespassing boundaries of genre and desire, revealing unvarnished truths on race and sexuality that other skittish poetry collections will not touch. What makes Farther Traveler stand apart is that it dares to be ugly. Wilson engages the black body through a spectrum of disfiguring power relations from white daddy fetish to amateur porn, from academia’s microaggressions to racial profiling. ‘Farther Traveler’ is an alarm to the system; it’s tender elegy; it’s an uncompromising, self-searching foray into the ‘raging internal chaos’ of black consciousness. In his brilliant series of poetic statements, Wilson asks how to invent a language of racial identity. With breathtaking intellect, Wilson has invented that language.” —Cathy Park Hong
Desire and loss, mourning and fucking, the spaces in between, the crevices, the heartbeats and the waste, the trauma that belongs to someone who desires, the trauma that belongs to no one, love and weeping, nose hairs and stinging aggression. I wish I could articulate better what the writing of Ronaldo Wilson is and does, but more than existing, it moves and traverses, and more than doing, it complicates and enacts. Because the writing is so much more than simply being about something, the writing evades any label. Good. Labels are often so unproductive. I’ve admired Ronaldo Wilson for awhile. He is fierce and intelligent and witty and active in a way that seems transcendent. I remember one morning at a literary conference on my way to a morning panel, running into Ronaldo while on his morning jog.
Joshua Marie Wilkinson’s blurb for the book captures much of how I feel too, about the book: “The secret of the body, for Ronaldo V. Wilson, is that there are no secrets. As such, every drop of sweat in his new book refracts the overlap of the abject and the fleeting, the familiar and the anonymity of the body in sex and disintegration. Farther Traveler maps the fusion between losing a father who’s impossible to let go of and the excavation of what desire might mean for a life of radical possibility. For Wilson, the work of the poem—and our expectant pleasure—is to disclose what the self might become if thought could account for what the body seems given to need. And if it’s true that ‘You’ve become the body you’ve become,’ then that’s only the beginning.” - Janice Lee
POETICS STATEMENT IN THE GREAT AMERICAN GRILLE
The chubby son in front of me, cow-licked & hotel sleepy, asks his tall, muscled father, “Is it possible to start a fire with just your hands?” Not pondering in front of his row of French toast, he says to the boy, “No.” To my right, a flip-flopped teenage girl is the big daughter of a giant in flesh tone pressure socks. He’s thankful to have brought an extra pair of shorts after spilling syrup all down his front. He moans, “Son of a gun,” before wiping himself down with a busser’s towel. The daughter says, “I’m sorry,” twice, in the sweetest voice, before she adds, “The syrup’s more watery today.” On my left, in white New Balance sneakers, a fat and bald husband fills to stretch his marble bordered Florida Beefy-T. In my periphery are four buckets of Philly Cream Cheese, four sausages swimming in the mix of syrup and a pastry basking beside more French toast. The husband crumb-lipped, puffs, “I need some water.” “They’ll come, you have to ask,” the wife says, sucks a pineapple cube and tells her man, “This is good.” “It looks sweet,” he returns. For me, poetry is in these found places of being, discovered by taking notes, sometimes of the everyday drama in how a people consume, taking in what they want in some morning, while I do, too, in the clink of talk, fork and plate. I keep thinking of fire, the image of hands rubbing together, the sound of fingerprint skin on palms, the feel of fat, blood, and bone within. I find myself in the center of looking into shapes that surround me. I attempt to make patterns, layering one into the next, often with such questions: How to participate, to point, to pull back, to listen? Where do I fit in between these tables: eater, poet, judge, hungry person, floater? I want to tell the son, Yes! I return to the buffet—even after my omelet, two pieces of French toast, two strips of bacon, a bowl of fruit, a Refresh tea—to get more. My last plate is nothing but a few Honeydew melon chunks, two spoons of corned beef hash & a mini-muffin. As the couple is about to leave, I pull my laptop close into my body. The wife struggles to get up—the husband, standing, holds her hands and pulls, wedging her out. Walking, her body is bent to the left, partly collapsed, turning, exiting in the same direction.
Ronaldo V. Wilson, Poems of the Black Object, Futurepoem Books, 2009.
Winner of the Publishing Triangle's 2010 Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry and the 13th Annual Asian American Literary Award for Poetry. "I applaud Ronaldo Wilson's pathbreaking movement into what has never, never, in history, been said. About sexuality, in particular, these poems speak with incorrigible and raving clarity. And, always, they display intellectual curiosity, and an impatient, gorgeous readiness to make language new."—Wayne Koestenbaum
“Ronaldo Wilson’s Poems of the Black Object is a warning to anyone tempted to believe that in objectification lies freedom. Livid inside an apocalyptic negative capability, these poems are constructed through their maker’s deconstruction, and reading, I too, felt unmade. In this uncompromising book, Wilson negotiates the terrain of his individual and culturally constructed identity vowing ‘To identify with the fractured self, the process of the it forced apart by language.’ Though it is through the image, or ‘found photo’ that the poet locates a ‘forming poetic,’ it is in the transformative syntax of this fierce book, in the revision of a first language commonly called mother-tongue, that somewhere entirely new is made.” —Claudia Keelan
"Ronaldo Wilson's POEMS OF THE BLACK OBJECT turns the parenthetical inside out, contents kicking and alive, person, race and being: where fate is in store in you, not for you, out there; in consciousness, and barely conscious, where consciousness is the accumulation of the scarcely discernible experiences. Wilson's poems captures states of person, the thinking being, the being thinking, the being perceived, and all the slippage between stages of person, Black and on the page, folding and unfolding layers of social construction."—Erica Hunt
"The force here is in the erotic attachment between the human figures certainly—but also (and more surprisingly) between history and present-day experience. Ronaldo Wilson teases the reader with earnestness while he refracts event and experience. The effect is dazzling. The poems are panoramic. One part slave narrative, one part pillow book, POEMS OF THE BLACK OBJECT is a triumph of the social lyric: violent, tender, absurd."—G.E Patterson
"For all the disturbances examined in this intensely lucid book of bodily desire, dead porn stars, and the high art of human survival, the voice of these poems manages to maintain a kind of giddy composure. Perhaps the trick of it comes through his sense that, 'pattern organizes trauma, and so does speed.' It's not so fast, the pace here; we're made to look, to see, with shrewd intention. It's that Ronaldo Wilson's writing doesn't let you get too comfortable. It shifts experience and reckoning from poem to essay, theory to epistle, these intuitive modes of a person in search of a particular poetics, darting around sharp visions that could bloody or shine on the tempestuous landscape 'the black object' emerges from."—Tisa Bryant
Readers lucky enough to spend time with Wilson's uncommonly varied second book will find achingly self-conscious short prose essays, erotic verse about gay sexuality, demolition jobs directed at racial stereotypes, and plenty of genre-busting, metafictional, forward-looking hybrid forms. The Black Object Gets Kinky at Home shows my human// figure excised/ in the chest// of drawers, hole/ in my head// as I rope,/ asphyx to zero; The Black Object's Elasticity, a prose poem (or essay), finds ways to evade abuse, some of which have to do with finding a replica of your abuser. Admirers of D. A. Powell, or even of Dennis Cooper, should take note. Yet the book gets stranger still: with the sequence of prose poems and prose experiments in what Wilson calls a Vergelioian persona, giddy, disturbing jokes and textual games take center stage. Wilson zips back and forth between investigations of real rough sex (What does man A hope to touch? B wants me. C is the owner of a big fat hand) and postmodern investigations of images and empty signs, from dead porn stars to newsworthy disasters: Your skin is pink,/ then opaque, caramelized then burned. - Publishers Weekly
I was just teaching Ronaldo Wilson’s poetry (Narrative of the Brown Boy and the White Man and Poems of the Black Object), following a discussion of Aime Cesaire’s Notebook on a Return to the Native Land, and I couldn’t help reading Joyelle’s post but to see a connection between “the deformation zone” (a phrase Joyelle takes from Aase Berg’s book Upland, which is notably “set” in an airplane crash that never happens, instead hovering like a dragonfly in between life and death): a zone where the inside is outside, the outside inside.
From Narrative, we discussed the poem in which the brown boy fantasizes about Brad Pitt and Kevin Bacon being attacked by “a flaming couch section” and covered in gasoline and sperm, and the one in which the brown boy becomes sexually attracted/curious by an old white man who appears to be “dying”: accumulating bodily materials like “coral” or “rust,” his flimsy boxer shorts appearing to meld with his body, stitched up as if his interior was about to flow out.
This inbetween space (the swimming pool, the pool, the locker room) reappears throughout Black Object: The speaker in one poem goes with a white man to a hotel room where he discovered that the white man is bleeding profusely from the ass; a white man is stabbed in Brooklyn (“Welcome to Brooklyn,” says the speaker coolly); a black ex-army guy is disheveled in a public bathroom and the speaker fantasizes about pissing on his face. Strangers meeting sexually/violently in in-between spaces, generating grotesque bodies that are saturated with media, conducting media, swallowing media.
Not only do these instances recall Joyelle’s deformation zones but also Mark Seltzer’s idea of “wound culture,” where the public space is pathologized. These inbetween spaces – private spaces that are made semi-public – are distinguished not only by the violence, sexuality, fluid (media of swimming pool water, of gasoline, of semen), but also by the sense that these wounds create a kind of public space.
Also interesting how this model follows the one set up in Amiri Baraka’s seminal poem “Black Arts,” where the races met in violence (guns, cops etc) and homosexuality (the black leaders giving head to the white sheriff) resulting in grotesque bodies (something about Liz Taylor and “mulatto bitches”). Except that Ronaldo complicates things quite a bit: there is no search for “pure” heterosexual “love” in a “black world”, but rather the “love” is totally impure, the love is exactly in the grotesque body, in its wounds, in the public space where these interactions take place.
It seems that “pure” love – defined against an impure (gay, kitsch) love – might be related the the oldfashioned sublime, while Ronaldo’s impure love and grotesque bodies might have something to do with a deformation zone sublime. - Johannes Goransson
In this review, I discuss Ronaldo V. Wilson’s Narrative of the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Man (University of Pittsburgh Press 2008) and Poems of the Black Object (FuturePoem Books 2009). Wilson’s first full-length poetry collection might be more specifically described as prose poetry, as implied by its title. There are really no formal line breaks throughout the collection, so one is forced to consider what makes such a work poetry as opposed to prose. This genre-defying work’s title also clearly derives inspiration from two canonical African American literary texts: Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. In Wilson’s title, there isn’t any mention of the word “slave,” but the impulse to explore the conditions of subjection and domination are still very much there. Wilson’s work thus seems to enact a neo-slave “poetic” as derived through the queer racial minority’s subjectivity. The reference to the “brown boy” and the “white man” in the title also helps situate what actually occurs in the prose poetry blocks throughout the collection. “Brown boy” suggests that the lyric “I” is a mixed-race subject and likely an adult, but clearly one who does not have much access to economic resources. He is engaged in a homosexual relationship with “White Man,” someone likely older and with clearly far more money than the “Brown Boy.” Racial difference, class difference, and age difference, among other such distinctions, generate the rubrics of power and domination that mark the tension between “white man” and the “brown boy.” Wilson’s work is raw, dense, and does not shy away from difficult topics, as demonstrated by the following excerpt, which is fairly indicative of the stylistic impulses of the collection:
“Go Shower. This command reveals [the brown boy’s] relationship to the white man. He follows his lover’s orders like a slave without anything but the promise of being fed and shown a movie” (64).Poems of the Black Object continues the project that Wilson starts in Narrative of the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Man. Again, the central issue at stake is a kind of enslavement, mediated by the intersections of race, sexuality, and late capitalism. One stylistic approach that Wilson employs masterfully is the juxtaposition of “high” and “low” cultures: references to Shakespeare appear alongside references to Little House on the Prairie. Wilson also continues to use the “prose poetic” aesthetic that appears in his first collection, but also branches out and explores a variety of different styles, some more avant-garde in approach and others with a more traditional lyric quality. Yet
In a box, my father’s torso isWhat I find especially interesting here is Wilson’s use of abrupt breaks. Does the shortness of these lines sonically and metrically augment the sense of rupture suggested here? Wilson’s focus on skin is particularly instructive in teasing out his exploration of race, but the racial identifications at work in this excerpt seem to operate asymmetrically. The lyric speaker finds the father’s body more tangible, something that can be explored, but the mother’s body is something in flight, running away.
in a white thermal rib top
own face leaning in to find
in his black shiny skin)
between my mother,
a then fattish Filipino girl,
with a cinched waist is
at which she trained
to run off
excess flesh (58).
A poetic of mixed-race seems to emerge here alongside the asymmetrics of parental lineage.
One of my favorite excerpts in this entire collection comes from “The Lesson”:
“Side B: aesthetic theory—Your skin is pink,As always, Wilson is able to engage provocative juxtapositions—in this case, generating a kind of poetics of the grotesque. The reference again to skin reminds us of the thread of race and racial formation that moves throughout the collection. What I appreciate most about this passage is the way in which global politics infests and infiltrates everyday activities such as cooking and consumption. The lyric speaker is aware of his unique privilege, one that does not let him prepare foods without thinking about how the act engages him in a type of metaphorically-inflected cannibalism.
then opaque, caramelized then burned
if you are one of the drumsticks
stuffed in a bowl, as in a holocaust.
NY Times, East Timor. A blown-apart leg unskinned,
a shoe’s sole ripped back to bone, synonym
for torso in a soccer shirt.
This is ours. We are pickled,
you with me this strange leg.
Should I turn the chicken over?
See your life as screenic,
ethnograph—He is your brown body.
the bone and scrape out the marrow
for marinade” (94).
I will definitely be teaching either or both of these collections in the future. I appreciate their inventive formal aesthetics and their dense, politically complex lyricism. And I always, always appreciate any collection that stretches the bounds of Asian American poetics. - Stephen Hong Sohn
In the opening circle of the 2009 Kundiman poetry retreat, Ronaldo V. Wilson was thinking about the texture of his mother’s sewing room. At close we danced to top 40 singles, each break and pop a release, as if we’d both been waiting to beatbox our bodies. Later we leaned on a ramp railing in a campus parking lot, letting night slick our sweat. Soaked, I sat next to Myung Mi Kim, whose laughter had punctuated my diva glam. This is part of it, too, she said.
Am thinking about the moment between feeling and the written text, action and the ‘said’ thing, the ‘felt’ thing, the grasp is the point, but then what is the gasp or the breathing... (46)
PRINT //: SPACE (47)
Borrowing Ronaldo’s curve I use it as a gate, a leant equivalence, an “as to” askance. “//:” = the gasp, the moment when Eileen Tabios “tears up the book,” when limbs fling out, guttural burst.
PRINT //: )SPACE( (47)
At a Small Press Traffic reading in San Francisco on March 13, Ronaldo showed up in an impeccable dress suit and shoes, reading from Poems of the Black Object and talking about cock. His voice cut and slammed words into small crevices, then the corners fell out and air whistled through the letters—I sensed a luminous, dirty, sparkling, pulsating precision of something completely uncontrollable. And then he sang some.
...singing taught me a little something about blackness and being as a collective sight... (43)
As I think of him standing before the microphone the angle was indeed “//:”; I think of the word “gleaned,” the consonant ‘g’ sliding off and into the water below, descending slowly to what we wait and hope to be an end, teasing us in its claim to incompletion, in not letting us see.
To go under, to go down, to avoid, to sink, to slip, to see the idea of confronting the head-on collision in being found. (45)
PRINT //: SPACE
While reading Poems of the Black Object I bookmark the page with a metal clip. Not my usual library checkout receipt, it’s a sloped leaf or back gashed that dips to a bulbous bitten stem. Bent to eat the page, nudged between its teeth until it breaks.
I write notes to Poems of the Black Object on recycled paper with a red uni-ball vision fine point whose tip leaks. A found pen, not my usual blue or black generic 99 cent store purchase. I skim the excess ink off the nib and write “it //: memory (97).”
I think of the composition of Poems of the Black Object as a series of poses, “...breaking apart language and pointing us in new directions and modes through which to spear space. SPEAR!” (46)
COMPOSITION //: POSE
In a bookstore I find a copy of Narrative of the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Man, but not Poems of the Black Object, which I brought in my bag to read bits of on the train before the onset of motion sickness—“The Breaker’s Pose” inbound, outbound through “Vergelioian Space.”
And now, what would a thematics after (gas p) loss, silence, hiding, hindrances, gaps, cuts, slits, vacancies, holes, (ga sp) desecrations, ah-loves, olives pose or manifest or re-pose or (g asp) anti-manifest? (44)
I wanted to hear the gasps between Ronaldo’s words in unpredictable spaces, see the text in motion. A friend and I skirt Union Square and hunker through North Beach to the Poetry Room in City Lights, late. We read Dorothy Parker, Nathaniel Mackey and Audre Lorde out loud, my friend is thinking about Caliban, I pull Aime Cesaire’s A Tempest and Notebook of a Return to the Native Land from the shelf—)“‘I have wandered for a long time and I am coming back to the deserted hideousness of your sores.’”(—and I think about breaking the image.
NARRATIVE //: FOUND PHOTO (57)
Ronaldo’s very tiny Filipino mother throwing a very big, expensive bag at the lead dancer of a Swedish avant-garde version of the Nutcracker (44) made me laugh. It’s one of the reasons I wish my Thai mother and his mother could meet. I imagine them like old junior high BFFs watching tennis on television together, riled and emphatic. Like Ronaldo’s mom she doesn’t have any fat on her either. She stopped eating meat, sugar and carbohydrates. She likes 100% fruit and vegetable juice and Kashi, but only if it’s on sale for $2.25 a box at Big Lots.
NOT TO LOOK AT //: BUT TO THINK OF (57)
In an interview with Bookslut (http://www.bookslut.com/features/2010_03_015753.php), Ronaldo asks, “...what are the ways that one imagines a revised self that detaches into pieces whose embodied fragments mark the process of its own new becoming?”
To identify with the fractured self, the process of the it forced apart by language, again, is where the self explodes out of the text not by narrative as story – one act – but more simply as found photo – another act – as forming poetic. Becoming through narrative, or becoming by reaching lazily under a bed to find something valuable, or again, more simply, digging under one object and stumbling on meaning asks: Does this narrative begin in a black hole? Does it create another diasporic space? Is this space black? Is it a black? (57-58)
Ronaldo’s lines break like the space between frames in a film, where the image breaks into another image similar to but not exactly like it, as in a photograph of a transgender person of color’s brutal murder, published as news, the body misgendered and shadowed again in death. Or the space between pornographic nakedness and a desire for that image to come to life, to fulfill you.
Poems of the Black Object writes itself into a flow as in a dream, where one thing (wet walruses) replaces another (bloody boxers). In “Dream in a Fair” one line replaces the next—Ronaldo writes “one layer of sense into another” (58)—his breath breaks the lines across the gap, after the gaps, becoming lucid—as in the pause between exhale and inhale—as you would between breaths—that turn, that shift, that erasure, that reveal. Like Kazim Ali in Bright Felon—“...one line after another, one thing and then another disappearing.... obliteration. What I want to do now is find myself somewhere or to disassemble into air.”
Each shot (photograph, point, poem, sentence) my memory, truncation, embrace, deferral, a poetics, is not writing out of or into, but through the center of whatever I mark to be the current state of what is the deliberate gesture in:
It is impossible to say who I am. (59)
Through the center. Through.
Spear it. - Jai Arun Ravine
CA Conrad Responds to Ronaldo V. Wilson’s “The Black Object’s Elasticity”
Ronaldo V. Wilson, Narrative of the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Man, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008.
WINNER OF THE 2007 CAVE CANEM POETRY PRIZE Selected by Claudia Rankine
Prose poems that profile the interrelationship of the two central characters, looking deeply into their psyches and thoughts of race, class, and identity.
Prose poems that profile the interrelationship of the two central characters, looking deeply into their psyches and thoughts of race, class, and identity.
Narrative of the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Man is a riveting interrogation of two men in relationship. Ronaldo V. Wilson's prose poems are alternately tough and tender probes into the underbelly of their psyches. With audacity and wit reminiscent of the work of Hilton Als, bell hooks, Frantz Fanon, and James Baldwin, Wilson decodes sociopolitical narratives around race, sexuality, and class. Identity, Wilson seems to say, is only a collection of stories-the ones told about us in battle with the ones we tell ourselves. What we have here is palpable consciousness: a stunning achievement.”—Claudia Rankine
“An audacious gem. . . . It relies on a placid, though often humorous, descriptive tone and sophisticated narrative framing. On the surface, a plain, almost artless, language belies the complexity and psychological rip current of the brown boy’s life.”—Southern Review
“An exquisite series of meditations about love’s undertow.”—Multicultural Review
Brad Pitt, Kevin Bacon, and the Brown Boy’s Mother
Joyelle McSweeney: Ronaldo Wilson’s Radical Femininity; or, the Muga of South Bend; or, TEAR-E AVATAR as 바리데기
Ronaldo Wilson with Andy Fitch
An interview with award-winning poet Ronaldo V. Wilson
An Interview with Ronaldo V. Wilson
Jonathan Regier and Jennifer K Dick discuss Ronaldo V. Wilson's Poems of the Black Object
Ronaldo V. Wilson is the author of Narrative of the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Man (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008), winner of the 2007 Cave Canem Poetry Prize; Poems of the Black Object (Futurepoem Books, 2009), winner of the 2010 Asian American Literary Award and the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry; and Lucy 72 (1913 Press, 2015). He has held numerous fellowships, including the National Research Council Ford Foundation, The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Yaddo, Cave Canem, Kundiman, and Djerassi, and served as an Artist-in-Residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts, and the Center for Art and Thought (CA+T). Co-founder of the Black Took Collective, Wilson is currently an Associate Professor of Poetry, Fiction and Literature, and Core Faculty of the PhD Creative/Critical Concentration in the Literature Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz.