Invisible Cities

An open zine collects the manifestoes of street poets, single dads, and itinerant academicians

Sawyer doesn't know exactly how people find out about the zine. He simply makes 350 copies of each issue, dispenses them for free at places like Ruminator, Let It Be Records, Arise! Resource Center and Book Store, Hard Times Café, Eclipse Records, and Mississippi Market Food Co-Op, and comes back in a few weeks to find they've disappeared. ("They all go. We don't know where they go, but people pick them up," Sawyer notes.) In the meantime, the submissions roll in. In addition to his own work, which is published under the name Enemy of the People, there are a few regular writers whom Sawyer depends upon. Asian-American activist Brian Somnouk Thao Worra, legal editor Hydie Fettig, experimental poetry teacher and Unarmed father figure Michael Mann, and critical theory scholar Kimball Lockhart.

But word about the zine also seems to circulate among some invisible community. One imagines the people who pick it up passing the issues around with the secret enthusiasm of college kids with Noam Chomsky pamphlets, or a group of junior high school kids with a dog-eared copy of Playboy.

There's a sense that Unarmed exists in some imaginary metropolis, a psycho-geography suggested by an anonymous selection from the zine's 16th issue:

I, anonymous: 'Unarmed' publisher Michael Sawyer
David Kern
I, anonymous: 'Unarmed' publisher Michael Sawyer


When your feet are on the ground and the sky is above, like coming up for air the water is below and there is nothing but air above. To come to light out of the trench here and expect as much, right then, in 1973, he is reminded of what he was to say to an amazed student who, in 2001, wanted to know where downtown Paris was.--There Is No Downtown. --How Can There Be No Downtown? --Downtown Is All Over The Place. The Whole Thing Is Downtown, There Is Nothing That Is Not Downtown. And it isn't. Down just means South. But the nature of the orb is that there is no superior position: everything on the surface is always and by definition more or less exactly equidistant from the same spot, and this equidistance is a uniform defining aspect that precedes and precludes like a ground anything else. To let "up" and "down" stand means to agree to say that you are standing with your feet on an upside down ground.


Anonymity appeals to Sawyer. In fact, he blanches at the possibility that an article written about Unarmed could promulgate any cult of personality. Sawyer wants people to concentrate on the writing itself. He's serious about the project surviving as an independent work of art, as a channel for counter-cultural currents, as a forum for other people's expression. His personality is irrelevant. The words are more important: the cut-and-paste poem submitted by a street kid who will hitch a ride to Seattle next week, or the haiku sent on a postcard from some New Orleans scribe, or the symphony of haphazard letters and numbers submitted by someone Sawyer will never meet.

Some of the work is good. Some of it is not. Which doesn't matter, because the writers go by a certain mantra: Write for yourself. Because you won't be edited. Because chances are you won't get feedback from readers. When your words are printed, they're out of your hands. And once that happens, they might become something you never intended them to be. It doesn't matter if people understand your work. What's important is that they have access to it.


Somehow, it doesn't seem strange that someone would devote so much of his life to handing out writing by people he's never met. But it is surprising that along with all of these stray voices, Sawyer publishes the work of a former professor. Still, one supposes that it makes little difference where the writer comes from, as long as the ideas are there. Where kids like Louis Prokop develop their ideas about counter-cultural writing from Sylvia Plath poems or cult novels, others happen to nurture them in graduate school.

That's where frequent Unarmed contributor Kimball Lockhart first overheard the anecdote he included in a section of "Second Hand." This short prose piece, featuring a salacious cameo by French cultural theorist Michel Foucault, can be found in Five, a collection of various writers' prose that he edited and published.

"At the scholarship house where I was...staying in the mid-Seventies," Lockhart writes, "faculty members could then as now enter the building at will and approach any door, and knock on it unannounced." Lockhart goes on to quote the experience of an unidentified source: "We knocked and said, Monsieur Foucault? The door is open, he said, so we let ourselves in. He was lying on the bed, naked, masturbating, watching Mick Jagger on t.v."

This story is the truth. But as Lockhart notes in Five, it is not the whole truth. And even if it were, that wouldn't much matter. For the local poet/essayist/translator, there are more important questions to ask about such a text.

"The idea is to take material that is patently autobiographical, [which] is essentially fodder," says the former University of Minnesota instructor, sitting at a table in his meticulously clean Minneapolis apartment. "[The stories] are not necessarily autobiographical, but about autobiography as a subject. The fact that they happened to me is of absolutely no consequence or interest to me. They're just materials, like paint."

« Previous Page
Next Page »