Healing the Social Body in Pain: Erica Hunt's Piece Logic
Dr. Keith B. Mitchell
In her recent collection of poems, Piece Logic, African American poet/activist Erica Hunt continues to explore issues of poverty, exploitation, environmental degradation and its link to the vicissitudes of American capitalism. Hunt's title and subject clearly point in two important directions: through her poetry Hunt exposes piecemeal political and social agendas in the United States that the majority of American citizens have been convinced are logical. In addition, her collection of poems offers an oppositional poetics that attempts to illustrate the logic of peace that is sorely missing from contemporary America's socio-political landscape.
The first poem, "A House of Broken Things," echoes Abraham Lincoln's words, "A house divided cannot stand." Hunt's poem elaborates further by pronouncing that not only is the (American) house divided, but it is also broken. The poem's speaker laments that we live in a country whose "logic" in selecting who deserves to pursue and to obtain the American Dream and who does not is fatally flawed, noting that in America, "a foreigner is welcome as long as s/he is generic. Or naturally naturalized and numbered." In short, to be an American today one needs to be assembly-line generic like the mass-produced consumer goods the United States effectuates. "House" speaks to our government's discriminatory immigration policies in which race, ethnicity, and nationality determine who is allowed within America's borders and who is not. A case in point is the policies regarding the West Indies. When seeking political asylum in America, Haitian immigrants, "coping in an open boat. Skirting the remote," are usually repatriated while (light-skinned) Cubans are generally welcomed into the country.
"Object Authority" expands upon tropes found in "A House of Broken Things." The speaker critiques American capitalism that "promises to ban objects offensive to good sense. Promises by the row what no money can buy, belonging." Even history has been commoditized and made generic: "History [is] not only written by the victors but revised and trade-marked by them and their revision happily bought up by the re-conquered as regurgitated shrink wrapped kente clothe toaster ovens, adhesive backed ikat on temperature control waffle irons." As long as money is to be made, America shamelessly mass-produces cultural artifacts as readily as it does other products.
"Household Gods" speaks to the inherent fetishization of objects in a consumer society. This poem describes a female factory worker who, "disassemble[s] and reconstruct[s]," small appliances on an assembly line. However, when she looks at these same items on display in store windows, she barely recognizes her handy work, "in their bright packaging and suggestively cut cardboard . . . They seemed coy, the way the naked body when clothed or partially clothed is coy . . . She is momentarily baffled and aroused by the come-ons of appliances in the market place, shudders in the shameless steel." Producer and consumer have become one and the same—libidinally seduced by the very products s/he produces.
Piece Logic's closing poem "(Parabola)" critiques Enlightenment thought and scientific absolutism that was constructed, "to test the order of things." The poem is an apocalyptic piece and describes how through humankind's unending quest towards perfection (godhood?) through science, we have lost, "the ability to see through masks, the ability to walk on shifting ground the ability to read between the lines." In other words, like a parabola, so-called logic has come to the same exacting point. All things have become logic-centered, leaving little room for the intuitive, the imaginative: "Parable met parable and devoured it." Those stories which sustained us, "our shared prehistoric past," for the purpose of "illustrat[ing] the unknown," have caused "the page [to lie] absolutely still."
Hunt ends "(Parabola)" and Piece Logic on a skeptical yet hopeful note by recalling what we might regain from the recesses of the past and a redefinition or resistance to today's often illogical logic: the ability to see beyond and behind what is presented to us as reality, which might, if we are brave enough, give us, "[a] courage to face what lies around the bend in the road."