An Introduction to Hannah Brooks-Motl by Henk Rossouw


In “Capitol” Hannah Brooks-Motl turns the conventions of the pastoral inside out, as if the poem’s gravity were being warped by the black hole of late capitalism. I am drawn to the poem’s tender regard for all things—from “yellow mint” to “children / in apparatuses”—caught in its gravitational pull. The ambiguity of place, which could equally be the fading carousel of a post-industrial mill town in Massachusetts as the “carousel + empty / pyramid” of an imagined, internal Vegas, speaks to the power of the extended lyric to ask uncomfortable questions. “Place is question,” Timothy Morton writes. Brooks-Motl enacts this ecological inquiry with a rare combination of poetic skill and fierce intelligence, as “Capitol” unfolds with its brilliant interplay between image and line: “the earth // plunged in / into rooms”. The poem’s floating landscape, rife with fractured language, with recurring “heaps of stuff being sold,” and its “motif of garden or pocket / while the fog rolls in,” becomes the unstable site from which the speaker interrogates the collapse, the collapse we are living through, between “capital” and “capital city.” At the same time, with the title spelled “capitol,” suggestive of the legislative building itself, Brooks-Motl speaks of this collapse by telling it slant. Hannah Arendt thought of speech as political action. If so, I consider the hard-edged playfulness of “Capitol” to be a form of action—a refusal to participate in the serious business of economic and ecological self-destruction—and so the poem delights me with its juxtapositions, where “metal barricades, old country baroque” could equally refer to street protests as to the barricades I have constructed in my mind to avoid the obvious, namely a social landscape in which “the narrative gathers power” and “people remain.” Ultimately, it is the superb ending of this poem, with its tone that oscillates between critique and a careful hope vested in the idea that “the future is hidden,” that impels me to read it over and over.


Read “Capitol” by Hannah Brooks-Motl >>