Panel 1: National, Transnational
“We must make a new map together where poetry is sung” is the invitation addressed by Joy Harjo, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, the 23rd Poet Laureate of the United States (2019-2022), and the first Native American woman to hold this title. Conceived within the heart of the country’s cultural institutions, her signature project “Living Nations, Living Words” – at once a literary anthology, a counter-mapping operation, a sound archive, and an interactive history of Native American poetry – thus challenges the very myths on which “America” ’s national construction is built, by affirming the visibility of the first Nations which it has long attempted to exclude. What does being a poet laureate – a “national poet” – mean in the twenty-first century, and what nation(s) may they represent? By focusing more specifically on the unprecedented space opened up by Harjo’s project, and on the various scales it articulates, my paper aims at questioning what becomes of “American” literature as its lines are irremediably made to shift by a plurality of locales, cultures and languages. How do local, tribal, national or transcontinental boundaries intersect on the map? What various poetic communities may interact and what cultural and physical goods may be exchanged in the process? How does Harjo’s collective endeavor prolong and complexify American poetry’s movement “from place to site” (Lytle Shaw), calling for more fine-grained critical tools to assess Native authors’ engagement with various creative and discursive traditions? And how may they help us reassess the poetic and political configurations of North American poetry at large?
Panel 2: Renewed Ecopoetics Constellations
Last Fall, when COP26 was convening in Glasgow, Scotland, climate activists around the world poured out their general scorn for the proceedings. Every day my email was flooded with calls to the streets. Those sent by Extinction Rebellion often closed “With love & rage,” an apt description, I thought, of the state in which many poets find themselves writing these days. I had long been asking questions about what role poetry might play in countering the destructive alienation that has brought the human species to such a disastrous relationship with the planet we depend upon, and had recently turned to Lucretius’ The Nature of Things, seeking a language of material being and radical connectivity in this long poem about the natural world, which is also, famously, a hymn to love. My talk will consider the power as well as limitations of Lucretian love, as well as of Lisa Robertson’s notion of Lucretian “nilling” as an aspect of writing in an age of compound extremities. I’ll compare these with the “affection” Wendell Berry calls for in essays that pulse with both Lucretian ardor and environmental rage. Lastly I’ll look at how these varieties of love and rage might or might not cohere with Ed Roberson’s definition of “the ecopoetic” which, he states, “occurs when an individual’s sense of the larger Earth enters into the world of human knowledge.”
At the height of the movements of language poetry (1980-2000) and conceptualism (2000-2010), both declared themselves to be the last avant-garde. The two movements pushed language to its extreme ends and appeared to arrive at the limits of poetic experimentation. Language poetry claimed that dislodging traditional poetic signifiers from the signified – disrupting Romantic conceptions of the lyric self and modernist use of artifice as the signature of genius – allowed for poetry to take a self-critical stance towards the relation of form and history. Conceptualism pursued an extreme formalism by elevating mimesis and data transfer into master tropes that allegorized postmodern depthlessness and the spread of Internet culture. This paper argues that these movements are best understood not as last avant-gardes but as pursuing the extremes of certain formal poetics devices while abandoning other devices, which themselves still harbor avant-garde potentials. The multitudinous movement of ecopoetics takes up the avant-garde tradition in this other direction, pursuing a new panoply of extreme writing techniques and tropes as a way of making sense of the environmental extremes overtaking the planet. In particular, I argue that personification, a trope disdained by Language poets for its Romantic vestiges and only of marginal interest in Conceptualism insofar as it suggests a mask for assuming any identity on the Internet, has become a newly extreme trope. Recent ecopoetic work in the last two decades by Mei-Mei Bersenbrugge and Will Alexander presses personification to new limits in order to address and converse with flowers and stars (Bersenbrugge) and geological and cosmological forces (Alexander). These poets also draw from legacies of animism and personification in non-Western cultures. Such poetry shows a new direction for avant-garde poetics in finding a form of experimental address with the nonhuman and the planetary. Understanding environmental poetics as an extension and critique of past avant-gardes requires a new theorization of the relation of experimental poetic forms in connection to both social history and environmental history.
Panel 3: Rethinking Montage
After a brief general introduction to the history of erasurism since the 1960s, this paper adopts a hauntological perspective (via Jacques Derrida, Mark Fisher and Simon Reynolds) to investigate Ronald Johnson’s foundational erasurist experiment RADI OS, whose title (especially to a French or etymologically-trained ear) evokes medical radiographies, the caesura between RADI and OS in Johnson’s title implicitly stripping Milton’s epic Paradise Lost to the bone so as to lay bare its lyric ossature. It proceeds to consider recent examples of erasurist activism including Jen Bervin’s Nets (2004), Travis Macdonald’s 2008 The O Mission Repo (an erasure of the 9/11 Commission Report), M. NourbeSe Philip’s erasure of a late 18th century Middle Passage legal report ZONG! (2008), Jonathan Safran Foer’s un-representations of the Holocaust in Tree of Codes (2010), and Steve McCaffery’s Menippean repurposing of Shakespeare’s sonnets in Dark Ladies (2016).
- Peter Middleton, University of Southampton, “The Politics of Repetition in Juliana Spahr, Layli Long Soldier, and Srikanth Reddy“
I shall discuss three 21st century poets who have been redeploying new affordances made available by digital media to the more considered art of the poem. Juliana Spahr, Layli Long Soldier, and Srikanth Reddy, connect anarchic forms of petition by which social media users resist the corporate attention economy, back to earlier twentieth century modernist practices of repetition and dense intertextuality. Their poems provocatively reframe environmental audit, erasure poetics, extensive textual borrowing, and scrutiny of official documents. Spahr’s poetics emerges from concern that even the most radical “literature has been sequestered into irrelevance” by postwar American governments. Long Soldier imagines poetic repair to the legal linguistics of the text of the US government Congressional Resolution of Apology to Native Americans. Srikanth Reddy’s poem Voyager disrupts the algorithms of a deceptive record of historical violence, unexpectedly revealing complacent assumptions about authorship and copyright regimes. Like Spahr and Long Soldier, he wonders how a progressive politics can find semantically latent possibilities of hope within texts that enforce governmental sequestration.
Tan Lin’s writing occupies a unique position in recent-ish US poetry. Engaging with art, theory, fiction, and para-literary texts, his books Seven Controlled Vocabularies and Obituary 2004. The Joy of Cooking, Heath, and Insomnia and the Aunt are difficult to categorize because they dismiss familiar criteria by which literature is evaluated. Published as poetry, they ignore many of the generic characteristic of poetry and borrow from other media. Moreover, Lin produced variations and derivations on these works, releasing digital supplementary materials to Seven Controlled Vocabularies and a revised second edition of Heath, both made in collaboration with other poets and students. In this way, Lin’s work links genre to process and form to change. In this paper, I will catalogue various genre tropes (especially from fiction, theory, and memoir) that Lin adopts in his work and connect these to the open-ended collaborative procedures that continually reshape the texts.
Panel 4: Documentary Poetics
- William Dow, University Gustave Eiffel, “Metabolizing Genres: American Poetry and Literary Journalism”
In the spirit of the conference, I would like to focus on some of US poetry’s “current configurations,” particularly in the context of its “experimental traditions” and relationship to other genres. The poets Charles Reznikoff (1894–1976), Muriel Rukeyser (1913–80), Mark Nowak (b. 1964), C. D. Wright (1949–2016), and Claudia Rankine (b. 1963) did, or are doing, some of their best and most influential work in long poems that encompass a large documentary and literary-journalistic picture. These poets offer a range of versions of how poetry and journalism have evolved together and work together in narrative reporting while at the same time showing the variety of possibilities open to poets about the uses of journalism. Each poet specializes in reconciling the language of information with the language of art through their poetic discourses and each sheds much light on the question of what poetry is—or perhaps what it does or might do. In the tradition of American poets who employ literary-journalistic and documentary devices in their poetry and/or integrate distinctly poetic forms into their journalism (e.g., Walt Whitman, Adrienne Rich), these five poets show representative meeting points in an American tradition of experimental poetry and journalism.
As Andrea Pitzer has recently pointed out, “When people talk about journalism tottering off into quaint irrelevance, there is a tendency to compare journalism to poetry.” Alongside actual combinations of poetry and journalism, such comparisons, particularly in reference to twentieth century and contemporary American poetry, ask some hard questions for literary journalism studies. Can a poetic use of literary journalism create an ethos that might be arrived at in a fashion that strikes the imagination and makes observation a little richer than what it was? Can poetry be a more direct narrative mode than has been historically imagined for narrative journalism? How can scholars best confront the fact that contemporary American poets are increasingly writing “documentary” poems that “report” on events and that journalists are resorting to poetic prose in order to convey perspectives that cannot be presented in any other form? “Poetry seems unlikely to replace standard print narratives and even less likely to supplant the inverted pyramid,” as Pitzer argues, but “the future of poetry and the future of news” may be intertwined more tightly than critics have previously recognized. Not static or universal but situational, contextual, shifting depending on the other nonpoetry discourses engaged, poetry certainly deserves its place in debates on genres within literary-journalistic texts and on notions of representations and stylistic innovations in journalism.
I will do this by tracing the tradition of American poets who employ literary-journalistic and documentary devices in their poetry and/or integrate distinctly poetic forms into their journalism. (e.g., Walt Whitman, Melvin B. Tolson, Kenneth Fearing, Charles Reznikoff, Tillie Olson, Adrienne Rich, C.D. Wright), this paper will focus on representative meeting points among an American tradition of experimental poetry, literary journalism, and the depictions of oppressed and suffering individuals and communities. It will examine how such poets get the news into their poems and how they respond to journalism’s mimeticism, objectivity, and resistance to abstraction.
My argument is also a response to what I see as an inadequate taxonomy regarding certain “social forms” of experimental American poetry from the 1930s to present. The taxonomy that I’ll take issue with is the grouping of documentary or “modern mass media” poets (Kalajidian 1993: 201) as mere “extenders of the document” (Thurston). Although these poets were working out of a documentary culture that had infiltrated modernist fiction—especially following the economic events of 1929—their poetry is much more than “juxtapose[ed] snatches of discourse drawn from diverse registers and locations” (Thurston). Rather, there are hard strains of objective journalistic discourse in their work that resist the inclusive categories of “documentary style” or a “documentary modernism” to which their poetry is frequently assigned.
- Naomi Toth, University Paris Nanterre, “Poetic justice? Appropriating legal documents in contemporary North American poetry”
Pleas and trial judgements, title deeds, citizenship application forms, the last words of prisoners condemned to death: a broad range of documents from the legal system have been appropriated by poets and visual artists over the last two decades, an act that each time changes the political potential of the documents concerned. Such practices, in spite of what practitioners themselves might claim, necessarily engage with conceptions of justice beyond the law, and such extra-judical conceptions of justice are often called upon so as to underscore the absurdity of a justice system considered unjust. And yet, dependent as they are on official sources, their critical potential remains fragile. To what extent do such works actually reinforce the law as it stands? To what extent might they allow, on the contrary, for oppositions to the legal system to be formulated? And what kinds of concerns are addressed – property rights, the rights of women, prisoners, foreign subjects? To answer such questions, this paper will present a survey of contemporary practices along two axes. The first concerns the treatment given to the documents, including forms of reproduction, excision, erasure, selection, redistribution of elements on the page or canvas. The second considers the objectives of such practices: reprisal as a form of social analysis or history; reprisal as exposure of legal failings; reprisal as violence against the law; reprisal as reparation. Poets and artists that will be situated on this map include M. NourbeSe Philip, Vanessa Place, Carlos Soto Roman, Philip Metres, Tomashi Jackson, Luis Camnitzer, Nicole Cooley, Niina Pollieri and Jenny Holzer. These practitioners may be situated in relation to two historical forerunners, Charles Reznikoff and Muriel Rukeyser, who represent diverging positions concerning political engagement.
- Martin Glaz Serup, University of Copenhagen, “To appellant, every woman is a bitch – a reading of Vanessa Place’ Statement of Facts.”
In court documents the continuous effort to sound the impersonal, objective, neutral and true is often being played out. From Charles Reznikoff and beyond, a literary tradition of appropriation, post-production, manipulation and investigation of these documentary legal documents have unfolded. Amongst other places in the work of Vanessa Place. In her Tragodía trilogy, Place, herself an appellate attorney, appropriates her own legal writing and republishes it as poetry. Transferred from the courtroom to the poetry book, the rhetoric of witnessing is no longer performative in the same way as before – but what is it then? Reading the first part the trilogy, Statement of Facts (2010), raises many questions; maybe first and foremost: What is a fact? And what does a fact actually tell us? When is it important and who is to decide? The language under scrutiny is the language of the law; the language and the ways of the court. Place’s poetry is also a reportage from Los Angeles, that bring stories and voices belonging to a marginalized group of society to the fore. This paper wants to show how the conceptual witness literature of Vanessa Place operates, and discuss some of its obvious political potential.
Panel 5: Queer & Feminist Interventions
- Claire Finch, University Paris 8, “Kathy Acker’s Cuntemporary – feminism, fuck you’s, and avant-garde literary technologies”
In this talk I focus on contemporaneity and avant-garde textual practices, and the kinds of feminist interventions that we can do in literary theory. Literary history and poetics have a way of forgetting where they intersect with feminism. The US-born poet and experimental prose writer Kathy Acker started writing at exactly the moment when feminism was becoming a legible social, academic, and literary presence in the United States and Europe. And she began writing at exactly the time—a time that still hasn’t been totally resolved or categorized—when what people were calling “modernism” was mingling with “postmodernism,” “avant-garde,” and “contemporary.” I propose that by tracing Acker’s early poetic text experiments and in particular those from the the early 70s, prior to her publications with The Vanishing Rotating Triangle Press, can reflect back the historical unease with which feminism and avant-garde poetic practices collided. While doing this, I am keeping in mind how feminism as a political, social, academic, and literary historical movement was a key driving force in the establishment of avant-garde technologies. Using Kathy Acker as a case study I’m looking at what theorists such as Peter Osborne and Terry Smith have called “contemporaneity”—focusing on what afab* and femme** people did with this contemporaneity, or in it, or against it. Instead of reading Kathy Acker into what Geoff Cox and Jacob Lund have called “The Contemporary Condition” (drawing on the translation of Giorgio Agamben’s Che cos’è il contemporaneo? into English), I want to talk about how Kathy Acker fits into a cuntemporary condition. I elaborate the cuntemporary through Acker, focusing on shifts in her writing from the late-sixties to the mid-seventies. Within these texts I follow two main threads: that of pornographic literary codes, and that of autobiographic literary codes. Following these two threads allows me to both refigure Acker’s position within current accounts of her contemporary – her contemporaneity – and to point out ways in which accounts of contemporary and avant-garde poetic innovations have largely downplayed the role of queer feminist literary technologies.
*afab: assigned female at birth.**femme: queer person who plays with cultural protocols of femininity.
- Héloïse Thomas, University Bordeaux-Montaigne, “‘It’s a poem I memorized to stay alive when everything in me screamed otherwise’: Poetry, Form, and Liberation in the 21st Century”
21st-century North American literature is, by and large, one of collapse and reconstruction, concerned both with excavating lost archives from the past in order to recover the voices from marginalized communities and with imagining new futures that take us beyond the fate that politics and media, saturated with apocalyptic rhetoric, have seemingly condemned us to. Contemporary poetry, specifically, echoes these dynamics and refracts them through its own aesthetic concerns. In this paper, drawing from a line in Lidia Yuknavitch’s novel The Book of Joan, I contend that the formal experimentations enacted by a major part of contemporary North American poetry, offer us a space to reshape historical consciousness and imagine worlds without hegemony, shaped by feminist, queer, and decolonial visions of futurity. Poetry, as a part of literature, becomes a space where one can outline and interrogate what constitutes subjectivity and selfhood (both national and personal) in the age of the Anthropocene; as a specific genre that questions the expectations of narrative or the claims to truth and authenticity of nonfiction, poetry is renewing with its highly politicized history that positioned it as a means of liberation. I will draw on Cathy Park Hong’s Dance Dance Revolution and Robin Coste Lewis’s Voyage of the Sable Venus as examples of how poetry is used to investigate the intersecting power dynamics of gender, sexuality, race, class, colonialism, and emancipation on a transnational level. I will also discuss such poets as Marwa Helal, Natalie Diaz, Maggie Nelson, and Claudia Rankine, who have been acclaimed in their work to subvert conventional forms and create new aesthetics, as well as the growing presence of poetry within non-poetic genres, such as the novel or the essay, and what that means for poetry as a space of radical reimagining of the future.
Panel 6: The Poetics of Care and Health
- Adam Clay, University of la Rochelle, “Politics and aesthetics of care in Brandy Nalani McDougall’s poems”
This paper aims to demonstrate that reading Brandy Nalani McDougall’s poems through the lens of the concept of care yields insights into some of the subtle ways in which this contemporary Hawaiian poet and academic is able to intertwine politics and aesthetics. Care, I further contend, is a notion that sheds light on what poetry like McDougall’s achieves and calls for: a bringing to the fore of ordinary and neglected experiences, words, and world views. Indeed, McDougall’s caring in and through poetry, including through her frequent use of Hawaiian words in her poems, is as much an aesthetic move as it is a political one. I will put this argument forward by drawing on works by care ethicists such as contemporary French philosopher Sandra Laugier: just as the latter claims that “[t]he ethics of care draws our attention to the ordinary, to what we are unable to see, to what is right before our eyes and is for this very reason invisible to us,” I will contend that McDougall’s
poetry “has given voice to the ordinary” all the while putting care itself at the centre (“The Ethics of Care as a Politics of the Ordinary,” 2015). I will do so by analysing McDougall’s 2013 poem “The Second Gift” before turning to her 2008 collection The Salt-Wind and demonstrating how pervasive and effective the concept of care is therein. While Laugier has discussed ways in which Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau’s works testify to an interest in the ordinary (“Transcendentalism and the Ordinary,” 2009), I will argue that McDougall’s poems constitute a contemporary expression of a focus on the ordinary which pertains the ethics of care and which intertwines aesthetics and politics in ways that are perhaps just as significant for America nowadays as Transcendentalism was in its time.
- Toni Juncosa, University of Barcelona, “‘Every day is a funeral and a miracle:’ Danez Smith’s Poetry, HIV, and 21st-Century Elegiac Genre”
Danez Smith’s second volume of poetry Don’t Call Us Dead (2017) bears testimony to the complex social position, as well as intricate experience, of Black, queer, HIV+ subjects in contemporary US society. Smith’s portrayal of institutionalized violence against the intersectional body has owned the poet renown as one of the leading “contemporary African American practitioners of the elegy” (Lennon 193), but which loss exactly Smith’s verse elegizes is not clearly evident. Both Black literature and AIDS literature have been read as artistic responses to loss, and therefore as elegiac work (respectively, Cavitch, Muñoz, Tettenborn; and Fuss, Ramazani, Zeiger). Yet, can the experience of grief resulting from white supremacy be clearly separated from that of the AIDS crisis? And, most importantly, to what extent can HIV in the 21st century be said to continue to imply loss as it did in the 80s and 90s, now that antiretroviral treatment can be accessed? Further, may HIV equal experiences other than loss – even positive or constructive experiences – after the “pharmaceutical threshold” of 1996 (Pearl)? The aim of this presentation is to consider the persistence of elegy as a genre, with a specific focus on the contemporary experience of living with HIV. With this goal in mind, I will be reading Danez Smith’s work in light of scholarly approaches to the elegy as well as through the prism of queer theory (Castiglia & Reed, Cvetkovicz) and Black studies (Douglass & Wilderson).
Panel 7: Anthologies, Race, and Identities
- Samantha Majhor, Marquette University, “Indigenous Rising: Native Voices in the 21st Century North American Poetic Landscape”
In the introduction to the 2018 anthology of poetry titled New Poets of Native Nations, Heid E. Erdrich writes “‘Native American poetry’ does no really exist. Our poetry might be hundreds of distinct tribal and cultural poetries as well as American poetry.” Native American poets not only engage their own national and cultural legacies, but their poetry continues to influence and speak back to what we consider North American poetic movements. In my presentation, I argue for the recognition of a strong dialogue between Native North American poets and various movements in poetry in the latter half of the 20th century and the early 21st century. I specifically highlight a generative exchange of influence with regard to the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets and two theoretical turns, postmodernism and materialism. I argue that Indigenous North American poets express specific connections between language, landscape, art, and nations in dialogue with these schools and theoretical movements. My presentation will look closely at a selection of Native American poetry from three recently published anthologies, including Erdrich’s edited selection in New Poets of Native Nations, quoted above, When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through, edited by Joy Harjo, and Native Voices, edited by C. Marie Furman and Dean Rader. The last anthology of Native American poetry had been published in 1988, and so these three compilations that have been published in the last two years were long overdue and call for a fresh look at the continued vibrancy in Indigenous writing in North America. Now is the time to take a closer look at Native American and Indigenous contributions to the North American poetic landscape at the turn of the century and beyond.
In the mid-1970’s, Gilles Deleuze claimed “Anglo-American literature” was superior to its French counterpart’s “romanticism” because its “collective assemblage of enunciation” necessitated the “invent[ion]” of new logics. He feigned to take part in this “minoritarian becoming,” declaring, “We have painted ourselves in the colors of the world” (Dialogues II 46). Deleuze might have predicted a currently throbbing tug of war between North American cosmopolitanism and xenophobia. Witness Deleuze and Guattari citing Michèle Lalonde’s “Speak White” to exemplify the “rhizomatic” subject, or see Ronald Bogue’s recuperation of their “cosmopolitanism” in terms of what Deleuze, in his interviews with Claire Parent, called the promise of “universal migration.” How does anthologizing become responsive to this prediction, but also to Trump-era populism, authoritarianism, in short: xenophobia? (“Nature, Law and Cosmopolitanism” in Revisiting Normativity with Deleuze). What’s informative about an anthology is that it is a consequence of its heuristic conditions. One of which is the risk of cooptation in the desire to know. Can an anthology exemplify these conditions if its “innovation” is due to its power to alter them? The alteration and the exemplification, taken together, are what Deleuze meant by “painting.”
Xenophobia’s guiding principle: even the unknown is already seen. I will discuss xenophobia and cosmopolitanism in light of anthologizing practices in 21st century North American poetry. After elucidating the changing problematics with a survey of USAmerican anthologies of the last two decades, I will offer a new collection of poetry by Legna Rodríguez Iglesias, translated by Katherine M. Hedeen, and discuss it as an exemplification of this problem of rubrics, xenophobia and cosmopolitanism. It is important to me that the author’s attribution is hyphenated: Cuban-American. She writes in Spanish from Miami, her home. It is important that it is a single author collection, not an anthology; but it is collaborative, refractory, and indexed to its context in time and space. This is in response to the implied dominance of English within North American poetries, a dominance that, while still felt, is really a collusion with and becoming of what David Buuck and Juliana Spahr have called “other Englishes” or the Antena collaborative call “language justice.” The unknown is unseen, and probably invisible, at least spectral. That is what anthologies in North American have been attempting, in the generations of “New American” poetry—to cast a light through that specter.
Panel 8: Xenoglossia, Accents, and Polyvocality
- Jennifer Scappettone, University of Chicago, “Glottal Stop: Xenoglossic Breathing and Poetic Transmutations of the Mother Tongue”
This paper explores the political and conceptual implications of translingualism in the poetics, both written and performed, of LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs. The talk begins with Diggs’s 2014 commentary on the album Albion Voice by the London-based musician of Bengali heritage, Bishi, and goes on to analyze a comparable register of “multiculturalism” present in Diggs’s 2013 collection TwERK that is laced with traces of its foundations in multilingual Harlem—yet which, unlike Bishi’s performances aimed at complicating Englishness, registers as global or better, planetary rather than localizably urban or national, in a geopolitically destabilizing key. The talk seeks to chart the repercussions of disrupted breathing in Diggs’s performances—namely the glottal stop—as introduced to a range of natural languages to which that technique of elocution does not “belong.” This virtuosic, percussive mode of punctuating a lyric comprising many tongues manifests Diggs’s study of Indigenous languages and, though laying itself open to charges of cultural appropriation, might be interpreted as a lyric proposal toward transcultural solidarity that implodes our common sense of both the mother tongue and of geopolitical belonging.
- Andrew Eastman, Université de Strasbourg, “Listening with the body: poetics of accent in the work of Cathy Park Hong”
“If you want to truly understand accented English, you have to slow down and listen with your body,” writes Cathy Park Hong, in her recently published collection of essays Minor Feelings: An Asian-American Reckoning. From Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to The Dream Songs, accent—in the sense of a distinctive way of speaking typical of a subgroup or locality—has been a notable preoccupation of U. S. writing and its representation of a multilingual America. Yet print-based poetry, as Charles Bernstein argues, has long tended to the suppression of accent. This linguistic feature comes to the fore when poems are voiced: “the artifice of accent,” notes Bernstein, “is the New Wilderness of poetry performance”. For what accent brings into play, is, of course, not simply the internal multiplicity of English, but the way linguistic variation is worked out as prosody, as specific reinventions of English articulatory behaviors. What is at stake, then, with accent and its representation, is orality in the sense in which Henri Meschonnic uses this term, as “primacy of rhythm and prosody in the way of signifying”: the accents of accent, or the poetics of accent, are central to its political thrust.
Orality, in Meschonnic’s approach, is paradoxically a production of writing and by the same token an identifying characteristic of literature (“literature is maximal orality,” he notes); given which, one might wonder whether “accent” is not more specifically in play through its written inventions than in oral performance. Bernstein sees performed accent as “that which marks our poetries with the inflections of our particular trajectories within our spoken language”—as a registration of the individual. But written accent is a fiction, writing accent a play with letters and rhymes, a play on verbal gesture as signifiance. The political stakes of accent are most acutely focused in the ways it is written down, which, whether they caricature or bear witness, are essentially fantasized language.
Perhaps no work in recent U.S. poetry plays more forcefully with the poetics of accent than Cathy Park Hong’s Dance Dance Revolution (Norton, 2007), a work composed largely of the fictive recorded-and-transcribed speech of a Korean political refugee working as a tourist guide in a sinister Las Vegas-like vacation destination called the Desert. Unequivocally inspired by Finnegans Wake in its dense and often hilarious punning, the guide’s written speech is an unlikely hodgepodge of nonstandard pronunciations, pidginesque grammar, and foreign words borrowed notably from Spanish and Latin, a quasi-English haunted with the ghosts of other languages. Its most characteristic effect is to make words indeterminate, such that “dim” might be determiner or adjective, “fes” equivalent to English “face” or French “fesse”; meanwhile blurring the borderline of the distinction between lexicon and grammar so essential to an English sense of language.
While we tend to think of accent as a matter of pronunciation, Hong’s poems make it a means of rhyming and rhyming a means of morphemic invention: mispronunciations build up their own discursive subsystems, effecting a reshuffling and redistribution of grammatical markers and categories characteristic of pidgins, as in the guide’s imitation of American vernacular pronunciation: “Many ’Merikken dumplings unhinge/ dim talk holes y ejaculate ooh y hot-diggity,/dis is de shee-it”—here discovering and associating in a vulgarity the feminine and neuter subject pronouns so basic to English gendering. Meanwhile, the references here to bodily functions and parts—“dim talk holes” presumably designating the mouth—connects with a description Hong gives of her writing practice in Minor Feelings, viz. that her aim is to “eat English before it eats me”: what is at stake with the writing of accent is how the body is mixed up in language.
Written accent, precisely because it opens up the possibility of multiple accentings (that is, stressings: as with “dim” determiner or adjective) would seem to be more charged with signifiance than the individual renditions of performed accent can be. At stake then in the inventions of accent is the sense of one’s own body engendered by linguistic activity and the way it inscribes one in a linguistic and political community. The grammars of Dance Dance Revolution show how the written medium engages the political stakes of accent, exactly because they allow for “maximal orality” in Meschonnic’s sense.The proposed paper will offer a reading of Dance Dance Revolution as a way of formulating a poetics of accent in contemporary U.S. poetry.
- Shiv Kotecha, New York University / Rhode Island School of Design, “Side Kicks: Not White Fabulation in White Poetry”
In “Side Kicks,” I examine how contemporary non-BIPOC North American poets and artists— among them, the filmmaker Todd Haynes, and the writers Brandon Brown, Andrew Durbin, Ben Lerner, Vanessa Place, and 2020 Nobel Prize Winner Louise Glück—fabulate the lives of “real” BIPOC in their respective works. I begin by offering a short reading of how the filmmaker Todd Haynes and the conceptual writer Vanessa Place address the subjugation of black women in popular historical narratives by providing a close reading that contrasts Haynes’s adaptation of Mildred Pierce (2011) with Vanessa Place’s ongoing “poetic” adaptation of Gone with the Wind for Twitter. I draw this connection so as to contextualize how I am thinking about “racial
fabulation” in the era of the racially inclusive auto-fictive novel. This paper does not aim to make an argument about the ethics of representation as much as it aims to articulate the various means by which race is fabulated within the historical narrative versus the autobiographical narrative. What are the poetic tools, devices, and conventions with which writers—like filmmakers and visual artists—articulate and/or document interracial intimacies, sympathies, and frictions? How may poetry offer forms of polyvocality that suggest a different representational register than those commanded by the regime of the visual?
Panel 9: Digital Poetics and Mixed Media
- Alessandro De Francesco, Turin Academy of Fine Arts, Visiting Professor, Bern Academy of the Arts, and Danny Snelson, University of California, Los Angeles, “Immersive Poetry and VR Poetics”
In this dialogue, we would like to explore several poetical and technical questions pertaining to our own respective practices and, more generally, to the rapidly evolving interaction between poetry and immersive environments. We will distinguish between virtual, augmented, and mixed realities and recount the questions and problems posed by these different digital configurations in relation to emerging poetry and poetics. We will also speak about expanded, immersive, sonic, and visual installations we have each realized over the years, such as Without Need to See and the Poetic Engines by Alessandro De Francesco and Doctored and Bricked by Danny Snelson. Confronting our two very different yet complementary practices, we will outline some current and future possibilities for this broad field of investigation and creation. Beginning with our own practices, we will open onto larger possibilities for newly expanded potentials for immersive poetic activity, tracing ongoing technological developments in relation to the work by a range of authors.
- Joe Milutis, University of Washington-Bothell, “Attack of the Vernacular: Internet Poetics, Platforms, Pedagogy”
If there have been very few clearly defined poetic “movements” in twenty-first-century North American poetics, it is because the presence of the Internet has both confounded coterie as defined by geographic, social and publishing networks, and extended aesthetic insight far beyond the mastery of just a few. Not only does experimentation more likely happen in swarms, but also “poetry” proliferates in a way more akin to Jean-Jacques Lecercle’s notion of the “remainder.” Language games in text-image combinations proliferate in counterpoint to official symbolic meaning, and any poetic scene emerges in ways that have been unprecedented.
To what extent, then, should we consider the specificity of “internet poetry,” not based on authorial personality and location, medium or file-format but upon branding, platform and cultural capital? The focus of my discussion will focus around work from the Internet Poetry Tumblr, an early attempt to brand internet poetry as a genre, connected to Alt-Lit and emerging from the Midwest United States. The Internet Poetry Tumblr’s use of text-image macros retained elements of irony, distancing, and concretism germane to the avant-garde while responding to the more general meme culture. But while it attempted a branding of “internet poetry” through a specific platform—a fraught and paradoxical maneuver—its failure seemed to coincide with an eclipsing of the communitarian ethos nurtured by Tumblr (a New York company) by the more hypercommodified lifestyle ethos of Instagram (a San Francisco company). Does this vernacularism of internet poetry, as it gains popularity, stage the return of the unformalizable, unruly remainder, or is it easily absorbed by corporate formalism? I will approach these questions not only as a practitioner and a theorist but also as a teacher of media-poetry, interested in specific ways that these more “pop” forms can enable experimentalism for beginning students, but also pose pedagogical challenges.
Coming from the field of cinema, Abigail Child’s Foreign Films series join a tendency in contemporary poetry of searching for new forms of expression in audiovisual works. As a United States experimental filmmaker and poet, Abigail Child (1948) refers by this title to subtitled non-English language films, and by then, to the experience of fruitful disjunction between image and text. She combines preexisting images with poetic text written by other poets. By editing texts, images and sound, the author creates new works, as she says, “in collaboration with” (living) poets and (dead) filmmakers. Collaboration is more of a word for recognition of others’ works than real cooperation: while Child chooses basic film material according to poets’ suggestions, she reinterprets original films and texts, often through a feminist critical point of view, and as a consideration of how language makes sense.
This ongoing series is composed of four films: To And No Fro (2005), Mirror World (2006), I’d Sing a Song About (Ligatures) (2009) and Salomé (2014). All of them arrange contemporary poets’ texts (Monica de la Torre, Gary Sullivan, Nada Gordon, Adeena Karasick) on the screen, and apart from I’d Sing…, they all use moving images (by Luis Buñuel, Mehboob Khan and Charles Bryant-Alla Nazimova). In every case, Child dynamically disposes on the screen words chosen from poetic text: new arrangements of text, emphasis in typography, variable length of projection of all of the words create a new poem. Multiple connections take place between image and text (and sound). Foreign Films draw their quality of strangeness from being foreign poems too, foreign to poetry, in an extended form of this genre at the junction of page and screen. I propose to analyze how the overlapping fields of film and poetry create meaning and a new reading dispositive by reconsidering poetic page through film medium.
Panel 10: The Politics of Teaching
- Hélène Aji, Ecole normale supérieure, “Modernist Hangover : Bob Perelman, ‘poet, teacher and critic’”
How to recover from the Modernist past? How to carry on once the do’s and don’t’s of Modernism have been assessed, decentered, and reinvested, producing poetic gestures and a form of poetic activism over a period of some 50 years?
If one looks at Bob Perelman’s beginnings in San Francisco in the 1970s, coming of age with the Language poets, working with them but also sometimes against the grain of some of their more radical experiments in composition, one witnesses the progressive outlining of the personal field of energy that unfolds in Modernism The Morning After (2017). This collection of essays expands further from the initial canon of The Trouble with Genius (1994). Where Perelman’s first book of essays added Gertrude Stein (and to some extent Louis Zukofsky) to the more conventional Modernist pairing of Ezra Pound and James Joyce, the second collection contributed to the self-definition of a poetic group: in The Marginalization of Poetry (1996), the declared goal was to cast light on the lineage of Language writing, its relation to “literary history,” but the main effect remained to underline the meshing of poetics and pedagogy in Perelman’s own vision of poetry. In the 2017 collection of essays, the “wild party / regret scenario” underpins the overall discourse questioning all dogmatic stances in poetry. It advocates a continuous rewriting of the narratives that attempt to account for poetic changes and decisions: by reformulating their rationale, the poet builds diverse responses to the deadly crystallization of Modernism as tradition.
The main purpose of this paper will thus be to underline the specificities of Perelman’s poetic practice in terms of a commitment to teaching and to a radical questioning of assertive and coercive theoretical statements. Seeing the “glass half-full” (Jack and Jill in Troy, 2019), Perelman posits the poet amidst the chaos of wars and disasters as “that fun-loving nobody, / born like us // in the midst of the alphabet.”
In the past ten years, MFA programs in creative writing have been the object of close scrutiny, starting with Mark McGurl’s The Program Era (2011) and its important echo beyond academic circles which triggered a reflection on the weight, power and impact of these programs on American letters. A number of much talked-about pieces followed, from Chad Harbach’s “MFA vs NYC” (2014) to Junot Diaz’s “MFA vs POC” (2014). Interestingly, these essays focused on fiction writing. That the novel is a bigger money-maker than poetry probably explains the relatively weaker public attention granted to “verse making classes” — this being, interestingly, the name that was given to what would later become the Iowa Writers Workshop. “Workshop poetry”, although not analyzed in book-length studies, has been enough of a concept to be derided as such by some avant-garde movements since at least the 1970s, leading to the creation of “anti-workshop” programs such as, in 1991, the Buffalo Poetics Program. This paper would like to consider the current situation of “program poetry” in the United States: how the phrase “workshop poetry” has been used negatively to dismiss writing that was regarded as too instituionalized by a budding avant-garde; how the anti-workshops became, in themselves, institutionalized and what it says of the relationship between poetry writing and academia; and to what extent the conclusions of McGurl and Harbach’s essays can be adapted to poetry, especially in a context where “post-genre” pieces have themselves become an established genre.
- Michael Barnholden, poet, artist, scholar, “The Kootenay School of Writing: A political intervention more than anything else”
The Kootenay School of Writing ended in 2015 after 30 years in Vancouver BC. KSW was founded in 1984 in Nelson, British Columbia by students and faculty when the Social Credit Government closed David Thomson University Centre under the proto-‐ neo-‐liberal cover of “restraint”. This rollback in government spending was pitched as a cost savings policy that attacked human rights legislation, the social safety net, education and arts funding.
The Kootenay School of Writing moved 400 miles west from the isolated sparsely populated resource based interior of the province to the Coastal city of Vancouver that was busily preparing for the 1986 World’s Fair. The largest city on Canada’s west coast was dreaming of becoming a world class city: a move that would require a shift in the economy from a tightly regulated union based work force to a deregulated and privatized cog in the global economy.
As part of a contingent coalition fomenting a general strike the Kootenay School of Writing Collective found its footing as a class based writer run collective. Exploiting the few remaining gaps in social and arts funding, the school was aggressively opposed to compromises with capital while insisting on an aesthetic that was collective and radical.
After thirty years of organizing, despite much criticism and little support the organization has gone into “deep hibernation”, with ex members taking on important roles in writing, teaching, publishing and social organizing, while continuing to develop and present a radical critique of capital and its analogs in the arts.
I will present a necessarily personal but hopefully historical accurate reading of the end of the formal phase of KSW’s existence while speculating on the legacy of the work done by the collective and its possible future.
Panel 11: Listening to Poetry
In 1989 Rita Felski’s Beyond Feminist Aesthetics accused experimental writing of valuing literature’s formal resistance at the expense of “the necessarily more determinate interests of an oppositional politics.” This paper will consider the poetry of Lisa Robertson as indicative of one way in which contemporary North American poetics has sought to suture this gap between the erotic pleasures of pure textuality and the determinate situations of worldly utterance. It considers how certain instances of language use, familiar, quotidian, and regularized might nevertheless contain the potential for innovation. Robertson is attentive to organizations of language and gesture in which the unthought constraints and protocols which govern verbal conduct can become objects of pleasurable identifications and expanded perception. Robertson is distinctive in that, while she is critical of the confinements of gendered identity—the postures which one is constrained to reiterate and by which one becomes intelligible as a subject—she searches for agency within, rather than before or beyond, these constraints. Far from a post-feminist capitulation, her effort involves detaching the gestures, expressions and rhetoric which have historically underwritten gendered subjectivity from the hierarchical order of value in which they are bound up. Prosody is the category of this enlivening potentiality, where the contours of speaking become sensible as evidence of a history of collective expressive capacity. Those contours and constraints are not revealed and disavowed in favour of an unfettered, a priori self-constituting energy, but change their function or modality once we become aware of them, generating new possibilities within even hackneyed and generic speech. Robertson’s writing provokes us to think about the embodied animation of institutionalised techniques. It emphasises the capacities of the speaker in the moment of utterance, and therefore differs from the way in which Language writing located its politics in the excesses of textual materiality.
- Lacy Rumsey, Ecole normale supérieure de Lyon, “Directions and Limits in Twenty-First Century Prosody”
To what extent is the contemporary English-language poetry of the United States able to build the prosodic resources of that language – its rhythms and intonations – into sustained aesthetic structures? My talk does not aim to answer this question, but to posit it as a central line of inquiry for any poetics that seeks to account for, and valorize, the aesthetic. It points to the descriptive tools that are currently available for the study of poetic prosody, and offers short readings that suggest a contrast in prosodic practice between some older poets still active in the period 2000-2020, notably Clark Coolidge and August Kleinzahler, and younger writers such as Kevin Davies and Terrance Hayes. These poets’ attempts to move beyond the micropoetic may be indicative of certain limits: Davies as regards the extension of intonational structure across the long poem, Hayes as regards a largely post-metrical era’s appetite for sustained rhythmic patterning within lyric.
This paper, which we could call a playlist, emerges from one of my current projects—provisionally titled Literary Live Art—which explores writing and text in, for, and through performance. I’m using ‘literary live art’ as a poetic placeholder or new generic descriptor for something that doesn’t quite fit either under the usual banner of live art on the one hand and straightforward poetry readings on the other. I look at and also experiment with explicitly literary movement-based work, multi-media performances, sound recordings, and hybrid formats like the lecture-performance, the video essay, and performance writing. Part of this work is scholarly in the conventional sense (there’s analysis, there is probably an argument), another part is practice-based, that means I’m trying to address my research questions performatively (through performances, lecture performances, performance writing, and community workshops), in order to figure out new imaginative, collaborative, and embodied ways of producing knowledge. For the conference, I will share some of my recent work on live readings and sound work, responding to and inviting in: Cassandra Gillig’s poetry mixtape, Montez Radio, Bricks from the Kiln’s sound-based magazine contributions, Wayne Koestenbaum’s Instagram video-poems, and some poetry readings that happened over Zoom during the pandemic (the Annual New Year’s Day Poetry Marathon organised by the Poetry Project; Edwin Torres’s Body Language Series, one of which included KJ Holmes dancing in response to the live poetry readings). Much of this work requires new forms of listening and listening-writing on my part, perhaps through a more ‘sensorially charged prose’, as Dylan Robinson puts it, or by embodying the affective charge of the subject in question. Given the nature of this project and welcoming excess, failure, and silliness, the form of this paper will probably diverge somewhat from a conventional conference paper.
Panel 12: Poetics of Address
- Kasper Bartczak, University of Łódź, “Voice as figure for ‘more life’ in Peter Gizzi’s psycho-political poetry”
This paper discusses Peter Gizzi’s renewal of the lyric voice as a mode of vitalist opposition to the pressures and crises of psycho-politics. Critics such as Olivier Brossard or David Herd have discussed how Gizzi renews the lyrical voice by utilizing the discovery of the loss and artificiality of the self toward building politically and civically viable positions. Building on such discussions, I would like to show how Gizzi’s constructed voice is also a form of vitalist rethinking of the concept of life. Gizzi’s complex engagement with nature and biosphere leads the poet to experimenting with the figure of “more life” which is a form of post-secular messianic vitalism, as discussed in the work of the Polish philosopher Agata Bielik-Robson. I am going to argue that the variety of vitalism that informs Gizzi’s politically active artificial selves is the poet’s strategy for protecting life as a medium of creative experiment in the times of constant political crisis, a pernicious and corrosive climate that the late Bernard Stiegler characterized as psycho-politics.
- Daniel Katz, University of Warwick, “‘These Feelings of Futurelessness’: Peter Gizzi’s Now It’s Dark”
Peter Gizzi’s Now It’s Dark is a book about death and about time, about what disappears and remains, about corpses, ghosts, voices and printed words. That there is nothing new about this is part of its point. And yet, this is a book that consistently scrambles the articulations which habitually govern those elements. In Now It’s Dark, the corpse walks through life, ghosts speak for the living as much as the departed, voices sing in ink, on paper. Throughout the book, one finds a distinctly Whitmanian (reinforced by echoes and allusions)
consideration of the ever-replaying cyclical in relation to other modalities of non-futurity. When the book mentions “These feelings/of futurelessness” is this futurelessness due to an ultimate ending, or to the idea that there is no future if everything has already returned and will only return again?
Notably, the book pursues these problems in its formal organisation also, consisting of three sections and a “coda”—an element which by its very definition comes after that to which it is appended, and by that token, also renders the completeness of the prior object problematic. Where does the book, or a life, or a moment, actually end? When is the “now” of “Now it’s dark”? These questions are mirrored in that each of the three sections proper operates with a very different formal economy in terms of linearity, seriality, or circularity. For these reasons, the book is able to discuss “the way / the technology of an I/ is filled with the dead” with unique complexity, constantly showing how “we,” whomever that pronoun encompasses, also feed others as we disappear.