“I wish more poets would talk about money,” writes Susan Briante, assistant professor at UT Dallas, in an essay called Notes Towards the Poetics of the Dow. And some do, certainly. Philip Larkin listened to it sing. Howard Nemerov dissected a nickel (figuratively). The poets of Occupy Wall Street seem to be unstoppable. But Briante has approached the poetics of the economy with a singular focus in the past few years, adopting the stock market as an inspiration, a character, and a poem generator.
At first, the stock market hovered in the background of her poems, a specter troubling the ruins of America’s recent economic woes, which Briante explored in her collection Utopia Minus. Raised around the abandoned warehouses and factories of suburban New Jersey and educated in Austin, Texas, where a hulking half-constructed Intel building provided a constant skyline reminder of the city’s dot-com boom and bust, Briante has always been interested in these kinds of physical relics. “There’s an idea of the U.S. as a place of newness and Europe as a place of ruins,” says Briante. “But we have ruins recording a more recent history.”
Next, inspired by nightly news reports in which the economy “stuttered” and “rallied” and seemed to possess an agency all its own, Briante began to imagine the stock market as a person – more precisely, a melancholy, fumbling baby-boomer, not exactly malicious, but deeply unaware of the consequences of his actions all the same. In one poem from The Market is a Parasite That Looks Like a Nest, the market peers into a shop window and sees a coffin, then grows nostalgic “for shop windows on crowded city streets / where men made picture frames, repaired / television sets, piled tools in doorways, nursed / machines to roast and grind coffee, / a press to print newspaper.” But it seems like he’s had some hand in the dissolution of what he misses.
Now Briante’s at work on a web-based project that will feature a series of poems that she began to write in 2009, inspired by the daily ups and downs of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Recording the closing number of the Dow, she then plugs it into various search engines like Google, Project Gutenberg, and Bartlett’s Quotations. The searches surface fragments of text and poems that Briante weaves, explicitly and implicitly, into her work. While the focus of the poems varies, touching on the political and intimate alike, all are titled with the date and the Dow’s closing number on that day (“October 14 – The Dow Closes Up 10015,” for instance). The market becomes a frame for everything the poems contain.