Toward a New Poetics of Witness: Juliana Spahr’s This Connection of Everyone with Lungs

Moberley Luger, University of British Columbia
Vol. 36, No. 1 (Spring 2017), 175-200

This essay calls for a reconsideration of what has been termed “the poetry of witness.” Typically, discussions of witness poetry have privileged a poet’s physical proximity to the events written about. Even after the 9/11 attacks, an event that arguably produced witnesses around the world, a poet’s authority has continued to rest on her having physically encountered extremity. This essay looks to the American poet Juliana Spahr’s 2005 collection, This Connection of Everyone with Lungs, for the rewards of re-assessing long held conceptions of witnessing and proximity. Spahr responds to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent war in Iraq. Her witness position is constructed not through proximity to extremity but through distance—both physical and critical—from it. Spahr’s project expands a definition of witness as it suggests that witnessing disaster is an inevitable and inevitably shared part of living in the globalized world.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]