I read the opening lines’ reference to “our own” as saying that we look at our history within our own context, as part of our own meaning making process within that context. This can be interpreted in two ways that inform one another. First, our world is so different from historical worlds that we, to some degree, can only accurately view it within its own context. Second, this worldview that ends at the boundaries of our own context is itself the form of myopia through which we usually approach reality, which requires continual reframing or complicating of context..
The poem then sets out to consider the aspects of our world within the context of various “moments” of “the world that produced us.” This sounds a lot like a very abstract description of a lyric poem: We are, ourselves aspects of the world, considering other aspects by separating them from one another in discrete poetic moments. However, Manríquez then moves into “discussions about poetry / that are in the end discussions / about politics”: “in those moments / the poems intonate aspects // Aspects gathered and aspects kept apart.” It’s difficult to imagine a poem approaching poetry itself from any more detached, more objective position and language, and it creates an affect toward poetry itself that is distinctly unsentimental and rational. This succeeded in making me curious about why someone would open with such an unexpected tone and perspective, and I wanted to read on. Hence, it was a successful first page.
Continuing, it becomes clear that the objective meta-poetic position is essential to establish because the reader will be asked to question assumptions about the role of literature in our culture and politics. We are often required to think through connections between the parts of an assertion and question its validity for ourselves: “When we read literature we read the budget / of the Mexican army (21). Here we see an early glimpse of the connection the poem will elaborate between the aesthetics within which power shrouds itself and the violence that enforces it. A similar construction invites the reader to connect this constellation of power with what we think are “our private lives” – and the poem’s potential role in them:
In order to interrogate this aesthetic-military complex, the poem invokes the Dantean moral quality of guiding the reader through its hellscape, the process modernized by focusing on litanies of documentary evidence. The sardonic aside to “something / about our private lives,” which are constituted by the defense budget, is perhaps a modern echo of “abandon hope all ye who enter here” that evokes the voiding personal meaning by a culture based on subordinating heterogeneity. In this context poetry serves to document not hope but the truth of the hollowness of lives constructed and defined by arms sales and the power they underwrite.
However, this recognition of emptiness is foundational, not nihilistic. The empty space previously assumed to be “our private lives” becomes one in which peoples and cultures previously silenced might approach voice and listening, perhaps a more polyphonic world – or at least an approach to the world that understands that it is polyphonic already: