Craig Watson: Secret Histories


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Secret Histories maps the nexus of history, language and political consciousness through the lens of a supposed but elusive present tense. The poems are interested in the way history is constructed as an active engagement with a non-negotiable future, as opposed to the passive receipt of past “truths.”

“Steppe Work” presents itself as recovered fragments from the height of the Mongol Empire, the largest land-based empire in history. “Last Man Standing” is offered in the classical form of a shepherd’s calendar, counting down the last 12 months of the last man alive on earth. Between and through these sequences, the poem “Pre/Science” attempts to inhabit a present moment that is continually slipping into the layered time-keeping of human consciousness.

In fragments and disjointed observations, the book tries to replicate and in fact become the process of “making” history.

“Craig Watson’s Secret Histories shares this exploratory quality, affected in part by his robust use of the aphorism…[It] bears a discernable pared-down logic that brings with it a force of truth…. We could call this truth a discrete one, emerging from and disappearing into lines on either side that do not bear this logic out in terms of its consequences but rather makes other, similar claims such that the logical moves themselves become the content of the lines… [and] act as a poetic rendering of thought in motion…. The lexicon of Secret Histories is often culling from the geo-political; Watson does not shy away from the questions of empire, conquest, and identity, language and war. In fact, each mode of syntax he takes up finds some consequence in the geo-political—what are the political ramifications of the “claim” or “truth-statement,” what is the relationship to poetry’s exalted and intrinsic spaces of uncertainty? Is it, as Watson suggests in part, a disruptive relationship? (The formal qualities of these poems suggest that this is probably so.) If the mind bends a bit reading these poems, I think Watson encourages and celebrates [this].

— Christina Mengert, Reconfigurations: A Journal for Poetics & Poetry /Literature & Culture 1

“At book’s end, this apparent equilibrium does not produce a still-point or stasis, but rather a single speculative verse that both questions all that precedes it and leaves the door open to further writing: “Maybe failure is not the problem.”

But then, neither is the significance of this book in question. In fact, Watson’s singular and complete oeuvre is long overdue for the attention. Perhaps Secret Histories will make it less of a secret that he is among our very
best and most original poets.

—Ted Pearson, Verse 25

“Secret Histories shares with Wittgenstein’s Culture and Value a feeling of aerial reconnaisance, but it offers a subtler critique of the interpersonal that comes out of the negative capability inherent in the poet’s framing. There is a real Blakean terror here that is finding the essential and primal imagery… I can’t begin to start quoting as I will never stop. It’s one brilliant scintillation after another… This poet is one of the darkest I’ve read lately (perhaps because he is possibly the most relevant right here with this book–these are dark days) but he is also hilarious.”

— Bill Keckler, Joe Brainard’s Pyjamas

Craig Watson grew up in New England and New York. He has been a theater technician, stage manager, managing director, dramaturge, literary manager and producer. During a decade with a Fortune 500 technology company, he was a marketing and public relations executive, and strategic planner for projects in Europe, South America, Asia, Africa and North America. He has also been a volunteer fire fighter, a visiting professor of poetry and drama at Brown University, Wheaton College and other schools, a U.S. delegate to the International Theater Congress, publisher of Qua Books, a husband and father to three children.

He has published ten books of poetry, beginning with Drawing A Blank (Singing Horse Press, 1980), and most recently Free Will (Roof, 2000) and True News (Instance, 2002). Burning Deck has also published After Calculus (1988) and the chapbook Discipline (1986). His poems, essays and criticism have appeared in numerous journals.