The Poetry of the Commonplace

By Josh Martin

Any serious poet knows to be attentive, to have an ear constantly open. Yet the question becomes: to what should the poet turn their attention? On the large sociopolitical issues that break and reshape the world? Or should the poet be possessed by the smaller, local issues that preoccupy the individual?

In a panel titled “Commonplace Live: A Reading Featuring Guests of Rachel Zucker’s Podcast,” I listened to Rachel Zucker, Ross Gay, Adam Falkner, Sabrina Mark, and Gabrielle Calvocoressi give their answers. Though each poet writes from vastly different experiences and styles- from the overtly political poetry of Calvocoressi to the more confessional incantations of Gay – each poet stressed a “poetry of the commonplace,” a poetry suffused with the common objects and actions that make us human.

Ross Gay’s creative nonfiction piece/prose poem titled “Loitering is Delightful” especially stood out. In the piece, Ross stresses “loitering’s” racial dimensions, arguing that loitering, for people of color, is considered a crime by white power structures that seek the removal of black bodies from public spaces. Yet Ross also argues that the act of loitering is fundamentally human and is, in fact, a means of subverting a capitalist system based on constant productivity: “[loitering] which leads to being, even if only temporarily, nonconsumptive, and this is a crime in America, and more explicitly criminal depending upon any number of quickly apprehended visual cues.”

Listening to Gay argue for the need for the “unproductive” day made me feel so damn good. There is a serious problem in this country based on the addiction to productivity. We are (especially people of color) chastised for being unproductive; one must only look at the myriad negative connotations given to one who loiters: a loafer, a slob, a dillydallier. What is absent is daydreamer and creator. As I left the panel and ventured out into a space that demands constant movement and energy (if you’ve been to AWP, you know what I mean), hearing Gay discuss the need to simply do nothing was incredibly reassuring. Doing nothing, like doing something, is inherently a political act. And in this fast-paced, twitter-drunk, Facebook-crazed world, being a “loiterer” may be the best thing to be.