“North American Poetry 2000-2020/2: Poetics, Aesthetics, Politics.” Conference, 29 June-2 July 2022, Paris.

From Wednesday 29 June to Friday 1 July, the conference will be held at Institut Universitaire de France. On Saturday 2 July, the conference will be held at Université Paris Cité.

To attend the conference at the Institut Universitaire de France, located in the Ministère de l’Enseignement Supérieur et de la Recherche, ONLINE REGISTRATION is REQUIRED. Please register by Friday 24 June HERE

 

Wednesday 29 June – Friday 1 July

Institut Universitaire de France

Amphithéâtre Gay Lussac

25 rue de la Montagne Sainte-Geneviève

75005 Paris  

Wednesday 29 June

Institut Universitaire de France, Amphithéâtre Gay Lussac, 25 rue de la Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, 75005 Paris

1:30 pm Coffee & Welcome address

2-3:30 pm Panel 1: National, Transnational, Moderator: Michel Delville
1. Elizabeth Brunazzi, scholar, editor, with Charlot Lucien, storyteller, poet and visual art artist, “Contemporary Haitian Performance Poetry in and around New York, Boston, the San Francisco Bay Area and Montréal”
2. Zoë Skoulding, Bangor University, “Cross-border Ecologies of Translation”
3. Aurore Clavier, Université de Lille, “Place, Site, Nation : Joy Harjo and the multiscalar poetics of ‘Living Nations, Living Words'”

3:30-4 pm Coffee Break

4-5:30 pm Panel 2:  Renewed Ecopoetics Constellations, Moderator: Jennifer Scappettone
1. Evelyn Reilly, poet, critic, “Lucretius, Extinction Rebellion, and the Poetics of Love and Rage”
2. Marta Werbanowska, University of Vienna, “African American Ecopoetics and Black Atlantic Ecological Thinking”
3. Joshua Schuster, Western University, Canada, “After the Last Avant-Gardes: Environmental Poetics as Extreme Writing”

 

7:30pm, Opening Reading

Atelier Michael Woolworth, 2 rue de la Roquette, 75011 Paris :

Sara Larsen, Srikanth (Chicu) Reddy, Lisa Robertson 

 

Thursday 30 June

Institut Universitaire de France, Amphithéâtre Gay Lussac, 25 rue de la Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, 75005 Paris

9:15 Coffee

9:30-11 am Panel 3 Rethinking Montage
, Moderator: Lacy Rumsey
1. Michel Delville, University of Liège, “Erasurist Poetics and Politics in North-America: 1998-2016”
2. Peter Middleton, University of Southampton, “The Politics of Repetition in Juliana Spahr, Layli Long Soldier, and Srikanth Reddy”
3. Steven Zultanski, poet, critic, “Genre and Process in the Poetry of Tan Lin”

11-11:30 am Coffee Break

11:30 am-12:30 pm Panel 4 Documentary Poetics, Moderator: Hélène Aji
1. William Dow, University Gustave Eiffel, “Metabolizing Genres: American Poetry and Literary Journalism”
2. Naomi Toth, University Paris Nanterre, “Poetic justice? Appropriating legal documents in contemporary North American poetry”

*

2-3 pm Panel 5 Queer & Feminist Interventions, Moderator: Sophie Seita
1. Claire Finch, University Paris 8, “Kathy Acker’s Cuntemporary – feminism, fuck you’s, and avant-garde literary technologies”
2. 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”

3-3:30 pm Coffee Break

3:30-4:30 pm Panel 6 The Poetics of Care and Health, Moderator: Daniel Katz
1. Adam Clay, University of la Rochelle, “Politics and aesthetics of care in Brandy Nalani McDougall’s poems”
2. Toni R. Juncosa, University of Barcelona, “‘Every day is a funeral and a miracle:’ Danez Smith’s Poetry, HIV, and 21st-Century Elegiac Genre”

Friday 1 July 

Institut Universitaire de France, Amphithéâtre Gay Lussac, 25 rue de la Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, 75005 Paris

9:15 Coffee

9:30-11 am Panel 7 Anthologies, Race, and Identities
, Moderator: Olivier Brossard
1. Maria Manning, University College Cork, “‘This anthology is meant to expand the idea of who a poet is and what a poem is for’: Identity and Action in Breakbeat Poetry”
2. Samantha Majhor, Marquette University, “Indigenous Rising: Native Voices in the 21st Century North American Poetic Landscape”
3. Patrick Durgin, Art Institute of Chicago, “Xenophobia, Cosmopolitanism, Our Heuristic Conditions”

11-11:30 am Coffee Break

11:30 am-1 pm Panel 8 Xenoglossia, Accents, and Polyvocality, Moderator: Zoë Skoulding
1. Jennifer Scappettone, University of Chicago, Visiting Professor, Université Gustave Eiffel, “Glottal Stop: Xenoglossic Breathing and Poetic Transmutations of the Mother Tongue”
2. Andrew Eastman, Université de Strasbourg, “Listening with the body: poetics of accent in the work of Cathy Park Hong”
3. Shiv Kotecha, New York University / Rhode Island School of Design, “Side Kicks: Not White Fabulation in White Poetry”

*

2:30-4 pm Panel 9 Digital Poetics and Mixed Media, Moderator: Peter Middleton
1. Alessandro De Francesco, Turin Academy of Fine Arts, Bern Academy of the Arts, and Danny Snelson,  University of California, Los Angeles, “Immersive Poetry and VR Poetics”
2. Joe Milutis, University of Washington-Bothell, “Attack of the Vernacular: Internet Poetics, Platforms, Pedagogy”
3. Zsófia Szatmári, Université Paris 8 / Eötvös Loránd University, “Abigail Child’s ‘Foreign’ Poems”

4-4:30 pm Coffee Break

4:30-6 pm Panel 10 The Politics of Teaching, Moderator: Vincent Broqua
1. Hélène Aji, Ecole normale supérieure, “Modernist Hangover : Bob Perelman, ‘poet, teacher and critic'”
2. Chloé Thomas, Université d’Angers, “Revisiting the poetry workshop”
3. Michael Barnholden, poet, artist, scholar, “The Kootenay School of Writing: A political intervention more than anything else”

7:30 pm, Collective Poetry Reading,

Michael Barnholden, Alessandro De Francesco et Danny Snelson, Patrick Durgin, Claire Finch, Toni R. Juncosa, Shiv Kotecha, Charlot Lucien, Joe Milutis, Evelyn Reilly, Jennifer Scappettone, Sophie Seita, Zoë Skoulding, Steve Zultanski

Maison de la poésie de Paris, 157 Rue Saint-Martin, 75003 Paris 

 

Saturday 2 July

Université Paris Cité

Salle des thèses 580F

Bâtiment Halle aux Farines

10, 16 rue Françoise Dolto 75013 Paris

9, 15 esplanade Pierre Vidal-Naquet 75013 Paris  

La salle des thèses se situe au 5e étage de la Halle aux Farines (Hall F, accès par le Hall E, allée paire, ascenseur F, Salle 580). Vous pouvez y accéder par le 10, rue Françoise Dolto ou par le 9, Esplanade Vidal-Naquet.

The Salle des thèses is located on the 5th floor of the Halle aux Farines (Hall F, access by Hall E, allée paire, elevator F, Room 580). You can access the building at 10, rue Françoise Dolto or 9, Esplanade Vidal-Naquet.

10:30 am Coffee

11 am-12:30 pm Panel 11 Listening to Poetry, Moderator : Abigail Lang
1. Alexander Bell, University of East Anglia, “Lisa Robertson’s Prosody”
2. Lacy Rumsey, Ecole normale supérieure de Lyon, “Directions and Limits in Twenty-First Century Prosody”
3. Sophie Seita, artist, writer, researcher, “Poetry Live: A Playlist”

*

2-3:30 pm Panel 12 Poetics of Address

1. Paulina Ambroży, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, “The Unfindable Self and Poem-as-Habitat in Evelyn Reilley’s Echolocation and a. rawlings’ Wide Slumber for Lepidopterists”
2. Andrew Gorin, New York University, “Lyric Noise: The Phatic Subject of Poetry in the Mass Public Sphere”
3. Daniel Katz, University of Warwick, “‘These Feelings of Futurelessness’: Peter Gizzi’s Now It’s Dark

*

Colloque organisé avec le soutien de l’Institut Universitaire de France, des laboratoires LISAA EA 4120 de l’Université Gustave Eiffel, LARCA UMR8225 de l’Université Paris Cité, et TransCrit de l’Université Paris 8. Avec le soutien de l’association double change, de l’atelier Michael Woolworth et de la Maison de la Poésie de Paris.

*

This is the closing conference of a 5-year research program on the history of US poetry and poetics, in relation with the Poets and Critics program in Paris.

What has been happening on the US poetry scene over the past twenty years? According to what criteria and principles can the field of US poetry be read today? In the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, the scene was structured and defined by poetic, aesthetic, and political tensions: is this still the case today? Or should it be approached differently, by inventing new categories? How is poetry as a genre defined today, and particularly in relation to other genres, and other forms of art? How have the internet and digitization changed the production and distribution of poetry? Who or what authorities legitimize poetry? What relationships do poets develop with institutions? With academia? How is poetry taught? How does poetry redefine the uses of language? How does it incorporate languages other than English? How important is translation in North American poetry today? What privileged connections are being established between the poetry of the United States and the poetries of other countries, especially its North American neighbors (whether the Caribbean, Central America, or Canada)? Are the local and regional poetry scenes as active as in the 1960s? Or do poets tend to associate on a larger scale based on professed identities? How do gender, race, and class call for and enact redefinitions of the poetic spectrum? What are the sociological specificities of North American poetry today? What are the preferred forms for poetics and the critique of poetry? What forms does formal exploration assume?

The ambition of this conference is to explore the field of contemporary poetry in North America over the past twenty years and to identify the relevant notions and concepts that will allow us to map its current configurations. We invite papers which focus on English-language poetry as well as bilingual or multilingual works including English as one of their languages. We welcome submissions that question and recontextualize the term “North American.” We are particularly interested in groups, poets, and works that stem from the modernist and experimental traditions even as they may question and overturn this legacy. We also invite submissions focusing on poems and poetics, groups and distribution networks, the geography and sociology of North American poetry, with the hope that they will contribute to sketching a recent history of North American poetry.

Proposals for papers (English only) should include a brief abstract (300 words) and a short biographical note and be addressed to northamericanpoetry2020@gmail.com by January 8, 2021.

North American Poetry 2000-2020/2 Conference Abstracts

North American Poetry 2000-2020/2 Conference Abstracts
 
 
 
 

Panel 1: National, Transnational

  • Elizabeth Brunazzi, scholar, editor, with Charlot Lucien, storyteller, poet and visual art artist,“Contemporary Haitian Performance Poetry in and around New York, Boston, the San Francisco Bay Area and Montréal”
“Blue, blue blue of the bright blue tarps
We call puelas
Quilts together our fractured selves
Puela puela blues patch the rubble of our lives with shards of sky
Set into the canyons of fallen things
Where dessicated corpses are still trapped”
From: “Post Quake Blues”, Boadiba Oakland, California
 
“Wave after wave after wave
An infinity of salt Was it your voice
Brought me back Like a net
Laying me bare upon the shore
Burnished By the sun reversing its ebbing in the sky
Was it your voice that brought me home”
From: “The Edge of the World”, Michèle Voltaire Marcelin, Lost and Found, 2009 Brooklyn, New York/Port-au-Prince, Haïti
 
Our proposal responds to several of the questions raised by the themes set for the colloquium, as a priority: “Connections between poetry of the US and the poetries of other countries, the Caribbean, Central American and Canada.” While the extended Haitian cultural, poetry and art community is one of several currently contributing to the lively, diverse, rambunctious, moving mosaic of the scene of writing and poetry in major urban settings and their surroundings across the US and Canada, it represents a uniquely multilingual, French, English and Haitian community of writers and artists reflecting the long-term development of Haitian poetry and culture as an influential international cultural diaspora. Haitian poetry evolving over the past twenty years as it is represented in multiple locales extending from Haiti across regions of the United States and Canada, is notable for both its range, from expressing historical and socio-political commentary and giving unflinching voice to suffering, to an exceptional and hardy celebration of life in its most sensuous and, in the most profound sense, erotic terms. A measure of the most characteristic of Haitian poetry is expressed in the work of Haitian performance poets and artists, in their creation of a text performed through the medium of the voice and body, linking it with the actual sounds, rhythms, and tonalities of Haitian life; of its streets, its fiestas, its spiritual practices and geophysical setting as an agricultural island surrounded by the sea. These performance poems, as practiced and exemplified by, among others, Boadiba, Michèle Voltaire Marcelin, Denizé Lauture and Charlot Lucien, are currently enacted in multiple settings, centers and schools as well as galleries, museums, cafés and cabarets across North America, the US,  Canada, and Haïti, inspiring, enlivening and influencing the culture and poetics of each time and place.
 
 
  • Zoë Skoulding, Bangor University, “Cross-border Ecologies of Translation”
The work of Forrest Gander, in its close engagement with ecopoetics, exemplifies an important area of post-millennium poetry of the USA, though its equally close engagement with translation is less well represented. Yet these aspects are necessarily interrelated, and while Gander’s poetry draws on an inheritance from Objectivism, a nationally-focused lens does not provide an adequate means of discussing its transnational and cross-cultural commitments. I will consider his poetry in the context of his work as a translator, particularly of Mexican poets Coral Bracho, in Firefly Under the Tongue (New Directions, 2008), and Alfonso D’Aquino, in Selected poems: fungus skull eye wing (Copper Canyon, 2014). In discussing these works alongside Gander’s Core Samples from the World and Pulitzer-Prize-winning collection Be With, I will examine a planetary notion of ‘world’ in its cultural, political and ecological dimensions (distinct from the generalising assumptions of the global),  as inextricably bound up with the process and materiality of writing and translating. Disputing formulations of world literature that reinscribe national boundaries or undermine the value of translation, Birgit Mara Kaiser and others have in recent years drawn on Jean-Luc Nancy’s articulation of singularity, Édouard Glissant’s poetics of relation and Karen Barad’s posthumanist perspective to describe the process at work in reading across cultures. Barad’s description of ‘a dynamic process of intra-activity’ proves particularly useful in locating poetries of the USA and Mexico in a North American configuration, revealing that the poetics of poet and translator are also subject to the destabilizing of boundaries and properties, and similarly enmeshed in material and discursive practices. In reading them together, I will consider what is at stake in reading writing and translation diffractively, as forms of enacted knowledge in their articulation of the non-human world.
 
 
  • Aurore Clavier, Université de Lille, “Place, Site, Nation : Joy Harjo and the multiscalar poetics of ‘Living Nations, Living Words'”

“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

  • Evelyn Reilly, poet, critic, “Lucretius, Extinction Rebellion, and the Poetics of Love and Rage”

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.”  

 

  • Marta Werbanowska, University of Vienna, “Living while Black: Contemporary African American Ecopoetics”
In the editor’s introduction to the 2008 anthology Black Nature – the first collection of nature poetry devoted entirely to the work of African American authors – Camille Dungy remembers her childhood in rural California as a time when she “felt immensely comfortable moving in and through the natural world” (xx). She then observes how moving to Virginia as an adult evoked in her both the sense of comfort in nature she had remembered from her childhood and an increased awareness of the complicated historical relationship of Black people and natural environment in America, marked by the history of forced labor, violence, and dispossession. Far from idiosyncratic, Dungy’s understanding of the environment as a site of both potential comfort/rootedness and actual violence/exclusion is representative of the longer tradition of African American perception of nature as a paradoxical site of (non)belonging. Along with poets such as Nikki Giovanni, Lucille Clifton, Wanda Coleman, Ross Gay, and Danez Smith, Dungy continues to shape the tradition of Black ecopoetics, or an ecologically-minded poetic practice that explores the interconnections of human and nonhuman natures in search of practical, responsible, and creative modes of simultaneously inhabiting North American landscapes and Black bodies. This presentation will offer an overview of this previously understudied ecopoetic tradition in African American literature, with a focus on the works of contemporary Black poets who illuminate the connections between systemic racism and environmental degradation and advocate for ecological thinking as a path toward Black survival in America.
 
  • Joshua Schuster, Western University, Canada, “After the Last Avant-Gardes: Environmental Poetics as Extreme Writing

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

  • Michel Delville, University of Liège, “Erasurist Poetics and Politics in North-America: 1998-2016”

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 Joan Retallack’s critique of scientific discourse in the context of HIV in her elegiac sequence “A I D /I/ S A P P E A R A N C E” (1998), 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), Steve McCaffery’s Menippean repurposing of Shakespeare’s sonnets in _Dark Ladies_ (2016), and Joshua Bennett’s effacement of the Florida’s Stand-Your-Ground law in _The Sobbing School_ (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.

 

  • Steven Zultanski, poet, critic, “Genre and Process in the Poetry of Tan Lin”

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 CookingHeath, 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.

 

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

  • Maria Manning, University College Cork, “‘This anthology is meant to expand the idea of who a poet is and what a poem is for’: Identity and Action in Breakbeat Poetry”
This paper will explore the aesthetics of the Breakbeat Poets, an ever-expanding collective of poets of the hip hop generations based primarily Chicago, seeking to consider and explore identity and the function of poetry through their work. Since first anthologised in 2015, the poets featured as a part of this movement are described by the editors as poetry that is written (and at times performed) for the “next and now” moment (Marshall et al). Inextricably linked to a world and generations who have been influenced by hip hop as a phenomena, the Breakbeat Poets seek to represent the people and politics of a New American poetry scene in a new and fresh way, whilst paying homage to the poets who have preceded them, such as those of The Black Arts Movement or the Harlem Renaissance. In this paper, I will examine how poets such as Evie Shockley, Jamila Woods and Angel Nafis locate their work within this collective of voices, in the ways that identity is depicted and created through poetry, as well as the ways that poetry has been and continues to be a call to action. In examining the work of these poets, I will also connect their writings to a larger movement of Black writing in 21st Century America, often termed “New Black Writing”, as identified by critics such as Ewa DuMeta Jones and Jennifer Ryan-Bryant. This paper will examine this poetic movement in light of its links to American society at large, the way that identity informs these poetics and the political intention and potential of such writings.
 
 
  • 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.

 

  • Patrick Durgin, Art Institute of Chicago, “Xenophobia, Cosmopolitanism, Our Heuristic Conditions”

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 keyThe 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.

 

  • Zsófia Szatmári, Université Paris 8 / Eötvös Loránd University, “Abigail Child’s ‘Foreign’ Poems”

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.”

 

  • Chloé Thomas, Université d’Angers, “Revisiting the poetry workshop”

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

  • Alexander Bell, University of East Anglia, “Lisa Robertson’s Prosody”

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.

 

  • Sophie Seita, artist, writer, researcher, “Poetry Live: A Playlist”

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

  • Paulina Ambroży, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, “The Unfindable Self and Poem-as-Habitat in Evelyn Reilley’s Echolocation and a. rawlings’ Wide Slumber for Lepidopterists”
My aim is to examine the interchange between contemporary ecosophical and new materialist discourses and the most recent reconceptualizations of the lyric self. For my analysis, I have selected two recent experimental volumes – Evelyn Reilly’s Echolocation (Roof Books, 2018), and a. rawlings’ Wide Slumber for Lepidopterists, (Coach House Books, 2006) whose innovative practice articulates the need to expand the notion of the lyric voice and address. Both books are deeply informed by posthumanist philosophy and environmental science and both interrogate onto-epistemological as well as ethical implications of the “unbound” personhood and species-hood. Using new materialist concepts of the transversal and ecologically-bound self as well as the related notions of porous habitats, diffraction and biosemiosis, I would like to examine the American and Canadian poet’s uses of animal poetics and scientific discourse, with a special focus on spatial and phonic metaphors. What I would like to propose is that both poets are deeply interested in materiality of forms and both envision poeisis as a process that permeates and interconnects all species. Their experimental engagement with non-human spaces, voices and forms is a response to the world of accelerated environmental change and the attendant sense of crisis informing all conceptual paradigms, including the concept of the souverain lyric self. As aptly put by Reilly herself in an essay “Environmental Dreamscapes and Ecopoetic Grief” (OmniVerse), poetry needs to search for ever fresh dictions capable of “articulating unacknowledged darknesses” of our post-utopian reality.
 
 
  • 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.

 

  • Andrew Gorin, New York University, Lyric Noise: The Phatic Subject of Poetry in the Mass Public Sphere”
This paper takes the image of the noise-filled television screen that appears as a visual refrain in Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely as the starting point for a discussion of phatic language in her work and in the work of the poet Lisa Robertson. Phatic expressions are signifying acts that indicate merely that a channel for communication is open, that signification can occur. Analyzing Robertson’s and Rankine’s uses of noisy phatic pronouns—pronouns which, in being reduced to a deictic potentiality, gesture to their own function as indexes of a virtual and noisy mass of possible subjective projections—the paper argues that a phatic mode of subjectivity and address can be understood as typical of lyric poetry’s response to the communicative situation of the mass public sphere. Comparing Robertson’s and Rankine’s uses of the phatic pronoun “you” in their respective books Cinema of the Present and Citizen, it observes in Robertson’s work an affirmation of subjective indeterminacy that is countered by Rankine’s tendency to show us scenes in which subjective interiors are, rather, overdetermined as a result of racialization. There is, furthermore, a racial and affective dimension that accrues to Rankine’s reduction of lyric interiority to its phatic ground, one that represents a limit to affective exchange that is nonetheless the means by which an experience of shared affect becomes possible. The paper concludes by locating Robertson’s and Rankine’s uses of the phatic mode on a historical trajectory that traces back to midcentury critiques of a dominant conception of lyric.
 
  • 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.


 

 


 



 

 

 

North American Poetry 2000-2020/2 Conference Participants

North American Poetry 2000-2020/2 Conference Participants:
 
 

  • Hélène Aji

Hélène Aji is Professor of American literature at the Ecole normale supérieure in Paris, and Vice-President of the Institut des Amériques. She was Visiting Professor at the University of Texas at Austin in 2017 and has been a regular Guest Professor at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece. In addition to articles on 20th- and 21st-century American poetry, she is the author of Ezra Pound et William Carlos Williams: Pour une poétique américaine (L’Harmattan, 2001), William Carlos Williams: Un plan d’action (Belin, 2004) and a book-length essay on Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier (Armand Colin, 2005). She co-edited several volumes among which an issue of online journal IdeAs on small presses and avant-garde poetry in the Americas (http://ideas.revues.org/1832, Summer 2017), an issue on “records of contingency” in literature and the arts for comparative literature journal Synthesis (https://ejournals.epublishing.ekt.gr/index.php/synthesis/issue/view/1280/showToc, November 2018), and a collection of essays on the poetry of John Ashbery (Ashbery Hors Cadre, Éditions Rue d’Ulm, 2021). She co-directs the book series “Intercalaires” (Presses de l’Université Paris Nanterre) and the book series “Seminal Modernisms” (Clemson University Press).

  • Paulina Ambroży

Paulina Ambroży is Associate Professor and Head of American Literature Department at the Faculty of English, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland. Her research centers on American ­(more recently also Canadian and Polish) avantgarde and experimental poetry. She is interested in intersections between poetry, literary philosophy, science and the visual arts. She is the author of (Un)concealing the Hedgehog: Modernist American Poets and Contemporary Critical Theories (Poznań, 2012), which received the 2014 American Studies Network Book Prize for remarkable research in American studies, and which focused on Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, Gertrude Stein, William Carlos Williams and Mina Loy. With Liliana Sikorska, Joanna Jarząb-Napierała and Marta Frątczak-Dąbrowska she has authored Between the Self and the Other: Essays on the Poetry of Paul Muldoon (2018), a study which fuses four perspectives: autobiographical, geopoetic, postcolonial and intertextual. Her current book project is devoted to intermediality and provisionally titled Turn of the Sign: Crisis of Representation in American Poetry and the Visual Arts. Concurrently, she is working on a comparative project involving posthumanist approaches to the North American and Polish lyric.

  • Kasper Bartczak

Kacper Bartczak is an associate professor of American literature and Head of the Department of North-American Literature and culture at the University of Łódź, Poland. He is the author of In Search of Communication and Community: the Poetry of John Ashbery (Peter Lang 2006), Świat nie scalony (Biuro Literackie, 2009), Materia i autokreacja (słowo/obraz terytoria, 2019). He is also the editor (with Jakub Macha) of Wallace Stevens: Poetry, Philosophy, and Figurative Language (Peter Lang, 2018). As a poet, Bartczak has published seven collections, one of which has been a finalist for two major Polish literary awards. As a poetry translator, Bartczak translated and published as volumes of selected poetry by Peter Gizzi, Rae Armantrout, and Charles Bernstein.

  • Michael Barnholden

Michael Barnholden was born in Moose Jaw Saskatchewan on Treaty 4 territory. He has worked in construction, agriculture and forestry, as a child care worker and disability advocate. He worked at the Native Education Centre, UBC and finally Emily Carr, as a Teaching Assistant and Sessional Instructor.  He has also worked in publishing at Talonbooks, NewStar, Tsunami, West Coast Line and Line Books. He has written 10 books of poetry and several non-fiction titles such as Circumstances Alter Photographs, Reading the Riot Act, and translated Gabriel Dumont Speaks. He has recently completed a translation of some of Louis Riel’s Montana poems: Flat Willow Creek and is working on a biography: Louis Riel: Poet. His editorial work includes Writing Class: The Kootenay School of Writing Anthology and poetry collections such as Roy Miki’s FLOW and Garry Thomas Morse’s Lexicon Standoff. He began attending The Kootenay School of Writing in 1990 where he purchased a Masters Degree as part of a fundraising drive.  Barnholden is also a photographer, painter, and carver. He has recently worked on 360riotwalk.ca, an interactive walking tour of the 1907 Anti-Asian Riots in Vancouver, and is consulting on the movie Stanley Park.

  • Alexander Bell

Al Bell is completing a PhD at the University of East Anglia on Constraint in Contemporary Poetry.

  • Elizabeth Brunazzi

Elizabeth Brunazzi’s articles and reviews have appeared, in among other publications, the journals Les Lettres modernes, James Joyce Quarterly. European Joyce Studies and French Cultural Studies; The Languages of Joyce; and in the collection of essays Culture and Daily Life in Occupied France, eds. Elizabeth Brunazzi and Jeanine Plottel. Her original poetry and translations in English and French appear in Le Nouveau recueil, La Traductière, and the online poetry review Recoursaupoème.fr. Recoursaupoèmeéediteurs.com published her bilingual ebooks The Beginning Ends Here/Le Commencement prend fin ici, English and French texts, Elizabeth Brunazzi; rpt Lambert Academic Publishing, 2019; and Baby Pictures of Famous Dictators/Photos bébés de dictateurs célèbres, original English texts by Charles Simic, French translations, Elizabeth Brunazzi. Her most recent article on “Tourmente sur l’Afghanistan, Grand Reporter Andrée Viollis and Civil War in Afghanistan, 1929,” appeared in the February, 2019, issue of French Cultural Studies, UK. A PhD in Comparative Literature, she accepted an appointment to teach at the University of New Mexico in the Fall 2019 and currently resides in Taos, New Mexico. She is the organizer and co-editor of a new multilingual anthology of contemporary Haitian poetry featuring the work of thirty women and men from regions across the US, Canada, Haïti and France, expected publication in 2022.

  • Aurore Clavier

Aurore Clavier is an Associate Professor at the Université de Lille (CECILLE/UR 4074), where she teaches North American literature. Her research bears on twentieth and twenty-first century poetry and the relationships between form and tradition and the spatial and historical constructions of “America.” She is the author of a forthcoming book on the work of Marianne Moore (Marianne Moore ou la Tradition Singulière: Réinventions Américaines, Honoré Champion, 2023), and of various articles on William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, or John Ashbery. She has recently launched a research project on anthologies of Native American poetry, centering on Poet Laureate Joy Harjo’s signature project “Living Nations, Living Words.”

  • Adam Clay

Adam Clay is a tenured tutor and lecturer in English studies (professeur certifié) at the University of La Rochelle where he is also an associate member of the Centre for Research in International and Atlantic History (CRHIA). A Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, Adam completed his PhD in English Literature at the University of Edinburgh in 2019 after having both studied and taught at universities in France and in New Zealand.

  • Alessandro De Francesco

Alessandro De Francesco (Italy, 1981) is a poet, artist, and essayist. Among his books: And Agglomerates, of Trees Or (Mousse Publishing, forthcoming), ((( (Uitgeverij / punctum books, 2021), Pour une théorie non-dualiste de la poésie (MIX, 2021), Remote Vision. Poetry 1999-2015 (punctum books, 2016). He has exhibited and performed internationally (Centre Pompidou, Fondation Louis Vuitton, Kunsthalle Basel, MAMCS Strasbourg, Kelly Writers’ House at U-Penn, Brown University, Babycastles Gallery in NYC, Brussels Museum of Art & Design, Kunsthalle Mulhouse, Der TANK Basel, Biennale Gherdeina, Personal Structures at Venice Biennale, etc.). Graduated in Philosophy from the University of Pisa and with a doctorate in Literary Theory from the Sorbonne in Paris, he has been teaching poetry and fine arts studio practice in several universities and art academies, among which the European Graduate School, the Ecole Normale Supérieure, the ENSAV “La Cambre” in Brussels, and the Basel Academy of Art & Design. He currently holds the professorship in Creative Writing at the Turin Academy of Fine Arts in Italy and is a visiting professor of interdisciplinary studio practice at the Bern Academy of the Arts, Switzerland. More information on www.alessandrodefrancesco.net.

  • Michel Delville

Michel Delville teaches English and American literatures, as well as comparative literature, at the University of Liège, where he directs the Interdisciplinary Center for Applied Poetics. He is the author or co-author of ca. twenty books including The American Prose Poem, J.G. Ballard, Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, and the Secret History of Maximalism (w. Andrew Norris), Food, Poetry, and the Aesthetics of Consumption: Eating the Avant-Garde, Crossroads Poetics, Radiohead: OK Computer, The Political Aesthetics of Hunger and Disgust (w. Andrew Norris), and Undoing Art (w. Mary Ann Caws). He has (co-)edited several volumes of essays on contemporary poetics, including Postwar American Poetry: The Mechanics of the Mirage, Sound as Sense: US Poetry &/In Music, L’œuvre en morceaux: Esthétiques de la mosaïque, Boucle et répétition: musique, littérature, arts visuels, Le dégoût: histoire, langage et politique d’une émotion plurielle, Le thriller métaphysique, and Literature Now: Key Terms and Methods for Literary History and The Edinburgh Companion to the Prose Poem (w. Mary Ann Caws).

  • William Dow

William Dow is Professor of American Literature at the Université Gustave Eiffel (Paris-Est) and Professor of English at The American University of Paris. He is an Associate Editor of Literary Journalism Studies (Northwestern University Press) and has published articles in such journals as Publications of the Modern Language Association, Twentieth-Century Literature, ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance, and MELUS. He is the author of the book, Narrating Class in American Fiction (2009), and co-editor of Richard Wright: New Readings in the 21st Century (2011), Richard Wright in a Post-Racial Imaginary (2014), Latitudes Unknown: James Baldwin’s Radical Imagination (2019), and The Routledge Companion to American Literary Journalism (2020).

  • Patrick Durgin

Patrick Durgin is the author of PQRS and, with Jen Hofer, The Route. A poet, scholar, and art critic involved with performance and poets theater, Durgin has also published text-sound works and three artist’s books: Daughter, Singles, and Zenith. From 2015–2017, he co-curated the Festival of Poets Theater in Chicago. In 2019 he translated French Unpublished Poems & Facsimile 1958-1960, by Miyó Vestrini. For over twenty years, he has been at the helm of the independent literary press Kenning Editions. He currently teaches in the Visual and Critical Studies, Creative Writing, Art History, and Liberal Arts programs at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

  • Andrew Eastman

Andrew Eastman is maître de conférences in the Anglophone Studies Department at the University of Strasbourg, and is the author of numerous articles on poetic practices in modern and contemporary United States poetry.  Recent work includes “Me, After Me :  Whitman’s Rhyme” (Whitman Feuille à feuille, Editions Rue d’Ulm, 2018); ”Hearing Things:  Voice and Rhyme in the Poems of Elizabeth Bishop” (Elizabeth Bishop and the Music of Literature, Palgrave McMillan 2019), and “The sonnet sequence as speech sound continuum:  how we read Shake-speares Sonnets” (The early modern English sonnet: Ever in motion, Manchester UP 2020).  He also participated in the translation of A Henri Meschonnic Reader (Edinburgh UP, 2018).  He is currently working on a study of rhythm and voice in Elizabeth Bishop’s poems.

  • Claire Finch

Claire Finch is a doctoral candidate in Gender Studies at the University of Paris 8. She recently wrote the introduction and editorial notes for Kathy Acker 1971-1975 (Editions Ismael, Paris/Lisbon 2019). She has presented her work on Kathy Acker at Badischer Kunstverein Karlsruhe, the ICA London, and the Seminary Coop Chicago. She is part of the Parisian-based dyke, nonbinary and trans author’s collective RER Q.

  • Andrew Gorin

Andrew Gorin (he/him) is a poet and Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow in the New York University English department, where his work focuses on the intersection of poetry and poetics, media studies, and theories of the public sphere. He is the author of Someone Like You (Gauss PDF, 2017) and the forthcoming chapbook Simple Location, and the creator and co-editor of the collaborative writing project Executive Orders (The Operating System and Organism for Poetic Research, 2016-2020). His critical and creative writings have appeared or are forthcoming in journals and periodicals including Chicago ReviewCriticismBoston Review, and Urban Omnibus, among other publications, and he’s been a Writer-in-Residence at Millay Arts and Yaddo. He also serves as an organizer and editor for the multi-sited poetics working group and small press, the Organism for Poetic Research, and as a contributing editor for the climate-crisis-and-culture platform, The Distance Plan. Since 2012, he’s taught courses on literature, critical theory, and creative writing on the campuses of CUNY Brooklyn College, CUNY Queens College, and NYU. 

  • Toni Juncosa

Toni R. Juncosa is a PhD candidate at the University of Barcelona whose research approaches modern and contemporary US literature under the lens of Queer Theory and Critical Thought, with a special focus on American culture and identity. He obtained an MA in Modern and Contemporary Literature, Culture and Thought from the University of Sussex, and an MA in Creation and Representation of Cultural Identities from the University of Barcelona, where he is writing his thesis about 21st-century experiences of HIV in poetry. Juncosa is a “la Caixa” fellow and a member of the research project “(Un)Housing: Dwellings, Materiality, and the Self in American Literature.” He is currently on a research stay at the University of California, Berkeley, where he has been the recipient of a Black Studies Collaboratory grant. His latest publication is “‘My Proof of Life’: HIV as Reification of Black Metaphysics in Danez Smith’s Homie” in 452ºF Journal.

  • Daniel Katz

Daniel Katz is Professor of English and Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick, Founding Editor of Bloomsbury Studies in Critical Poetics, and author of many articles as well as three books on 20th and 21st century literature, of which the most recent is The Poetry of Jack Spicer (Edinburgh UP, 2013).  He has recent or forthcoming articles on Ben Lerner, Robert Duncan, and Jack Spicer in Textual Practice, Qui Parle, and Raritan, and is currently editing Be Brave to Things: The Uncollected Poetry and Plays of Jack Spicer (forthcoming, Wesleyan UP, 2021).

  • Shiv Kotecha

Shiv Kotecha writes across genres. The Switch (Wonder, 2018) makes a case for friendship over love using fiction and verse. His book EXTRIGUE novelizes Billy Wilder’s noir Double Indemnity shot-by-shot. He writes about art and film for publications like 4ColumnsAperture, BOMBTexte Zur Kunste, art-agenda, MUBI’s Notebook, and frieze, where he is a contributing editor. He is based in New York where he edits Cookie Jar, a pamphlet series produced by for the Andy Warhol Foundation’s Arts Writers Grant. He holds a PhD in English from New York University, and teaches a graduate poetry seminar for NYU’s XE: Experimental Humanities Department. He also teaches in the MFA program for the Department of Photography at the Rhode Island School of Design.

  • Charlot Lucien

Charlot Lucien, Directeur of the Haitian Artists Assembly of Massachusetts, is a Haitian storyteller, poet and visual art artist who resides in Massachusetts.  As a storyteller, he has released four storytelling CDs in Haitian Creole and French.  As a poet and writer his works have been released in various publications, newspapers, and anthologies.  His first book of poetry “La tentation de l’autre rive” was published in 2013 (Trilingual Press, Cambridge MA).

Lucien frequently offers lectures, poetry readings and conferences on Haiti in academic and cultural venues in the U.S., Canada, Haiti, Guadeloupe, and France, promoting a greater awareness of Haitian history and culture.  While his early poetry has primarily been influenced by 19th century French poets (Hugo, Baudelaire, Rimbaud…) and 20th century Haitian poets of the Indigenist School, his traveling abroad, his bearing witness of others’ culture, history, and struggles, have awakened cultural affinities and shifted his writing toward the meaning and the dimensions of “being” in other spaces and spheres.

Charlot Lucien is history lecturer at the University of Massachusetts’ OLLI Institute.  He is the father of two children, and resides with his wife Evangéline in Massachusetts,  USA.

  • Samantha Majhor

Samantha Majhor (Dakota and Assiniboine descendant) is an Assistant Professor of Native American Literature in English at Marquette University. Her current book project “We are All Related: Contemporary Native American Literature and the Nonhuman Turn” explores the portrayal of natural and cultural materials like beaded dresses, houses, books, cars, and rivers in prose and poetry by Native writers. The project underscores long-held indigenous philosophies about material life and makes visible the ways those concepts are both congruent with and divergent from recent theoretical turns toward materialism and object-oriented ontologies. She is also an advocate for Indigenous language revitalization efforts and a student of the Dakota language.

  • Maria Manning

Maria Manning is a 2nd Year PhD Candidate in the School of English, UCC, supervised by Professor Lee Jenkins. Her doctoral research investigates the links between performance poetry and e-poetics, focussing on contemporary iterations such as Instapoetry. She is the Postgraduate/Early Career Rep for the Irish Association of American Studies.

  • Peter Middleton

Peter Middleton is the author of Expanding Authorship: Transformations in American Poetry Since 1950 (University of New Mexico Press, 2021), Physics Envy: American Poetry and Science in the Cold War and After (Chicago, 2015), and other books and articles on modern literature. His essay “Unknowns” in the Chicago Review 61.2 (2018) sets out his current interests. He is Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Southampton, UK.

  • Joe Milutis

Joe Milutis is a writer, media artist and Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Arts and the MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics at the University of Washington-Bothell.  Work has appeared in FenceTriple CanopyCabinetPennSound AuthorsAmodernTagvverkGauss PDF, as well as a variety of performance and gallery venues.  He is the author of Failure, A Writer’s Life (Zer0 Books: 2013), Ether: The Nothing That Connects Everything (University of Minnesota Press: 2006), and Bright Arrogance, a column on experimental translation in Jacket2.  His translation of Roland Barthes’ all except you is forthcoming from Punctum Books.  Numerous chapbooks, media-literary hybrid works, videos and sound pieces can also be found at <www.joemilutis.com>

  • Evelyn Reilly

Evelyn Reilly is a New York-based poet, scholar, and environmentalist. Her books include Styrofoam, Apocalypso and Echolocation, all of which are published by Roof Books. Her poetry has appeared in many anthologies, among them The Arcadia Project: Postmodernism and the PastoralBig Energy Poets of the Anthropocene, The &NOW AWARDS 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and Poetics for a More-than-Human World. Her work is also included in the Feral Atlas: The More-than-Human Anthropocene, a multimedia compendium of work by scientists, thinkers, poets and artists. Recent essays have been published in Jacket2, The Supposium: Thought Experiments & Poethical Play in Difficult Times, and Fractured Ecologies. She is a member of the Steering Committee of the climate activist group 350NYC.

  • Lacy Rumsey

Lacy Rumsey is Associate Professor in the English department of the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon, where he teaches poetry and translation. His research focuses on the prosody of English-language poetry, particularly free verse, and he has published numerous articles and chapters on prosodic and other formal aspects of English-language poetry. These include a theoretical and critical account of the contribution of intonation to poetic form, studies of rhythm in the poetry of Whitman, Swinburne, Bishop, MacNeice and J.H. Prynne, an analysis of the history and nature of found poetry, and a consideration of the ways in which prosody is discussed in the Pound / Zukofsky, Williams / Zukofsky, Olson / Creeley and Bishop / Lowell correspondences.  Other essays have considered Jonathan Williams, Ronald Johnson, R.F. Langley and Jeff Hilson. His chapter on free-verse and open-form poetry features in A Companion to British and Irish Poetry, 1965-2015 (Wiley-Blackwell, 2020), and a French-language analysis of the diverse rhythmic practices of English-language free-verse poets in the year 1922 is about to appear.

  • Sophie Seita

Sophie Seita is an artist, writer, and researcher whose work explores text in its various translations into book objects, performances, videos, or other languages and embodiments. She often works collaboratively and internationally on multiple projects; currently she’s developing a community-oriented project and queer gardening talk-show opera with her long-term collaborator Naomi Woo, funded by the British Council, Canada Council, Canada High Commission, and Farnham Maltings. She’s performed or exhibited her work at Café Oto, [ SPACE ], Hoxton253, La MaMa Galleria, Bold Tendencies, the Arnolfini, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Kettle’s Yard, Parasol Unit, Flat Time House, Art Night London, Kunsthalle Darmstadt, Taller Bloc (Santiago de Chile) and elsewhere, and has received funding and fellowships from Creative Scotland, Deutscher Übersetzungsfonds, a-n, Dover Prize at Darlington, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Cambridge, Boston University, PEN America, Hackney Council, among others. Her recent and upcoming publications include: a book of experimental performance writing, My Little Enlightenment Plays (Pamenar, 2020), a book of criticism, Provisional Avant-Gardes: Little Magazine Communities from Dada to Digital (Stanford University Press, 2019), a book of lyric essays, Lessons of Decal (87 Press, 2023, forthcoming), an article on lecture performances called ‘Playing with Knowledge’ (TDR, June 2022), and translations of Uljana Wolf work, Subsisters: Selected Poems (Belladonna, 2017) and Etymological Gossip: Essays and Lectures (Nightboat Books, 2023, forthcoming).

  • Jennifer Scappettone

Jennifer Scappettone works at the confluence of the literary, visual, and scholarly arts to rethink the way language shapes our relation to the built and natural environments. Her poetry collections include From Dame Quickly, The Republic of Exit 43: Outtakes & Scores from an Archaeology & Pop-Up Opera of the Corporate Dump, Belladonna Elders Series #5: Poetry, Landscape, Apocalypse (with Etel Adnan and Lyn Hejinian), and SMOKEPENNY LYRICHORD HEAVENBRED: 2 Acts, an e-libretto for “mixed-reality” performance. Her translations of the poet-refugee from Fascist Italy Amelia Rosselli were gathered in the award-winning collection Locomotrix. Her critical study Killing the Moonlight: Modernism in Venice investigated the undeath of an urban assemblage deemed past and was shortlisted for the Modernist Studies Association Book Prize. She has collaborated with dancers, architects, musicians, and code writers on performance works for sites ranging from Fresh Kills Landfill to Rome’s Janiculum Hill. Her work has been recognized by fellowships at the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, the Stanford Center for the Humanities, the Bogliasco Foundation, and the American Academy in Rome, among others. She is Associate Professor working across several programs at the University of Chicago and Visiting Professor at the Université Gustave Eiffel.

  • Joshua Schuster

Joshua Schuster is an associate professor of English at Western University in Canada. He is author of The Ecology of Modernism: American Environments and Avant-Garde Poetics (2015). A co-written book Three Critiques of Existential Risk is scheduled to appear in 2021 with University of Minnesota Press. Recent essays on ecopoetics have appeared in the journal Resilience and the edited volumes Literature and Sustainability (2017) and Ecopoetics: Essays from the Field (2018), as well as in a series of blog posts on Jacket 2.

  • Zoë Skoulding

Zoë Skoulding is a poet and literary critic interested in translation, sound and ecology. She is Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at Bangor University. Her collections of poetry (published by Seren Books) include The Mirror Trade (2004); Remains of a Future City (2008), shortlisted for Wales Book of the Year; The Museum of Disappearing Sounds (2013), shortlisted for Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry; and Footnotes to Water (2019), which was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and won the Wales Book of the Year Poetry Award 2020. In 2020 she also published The Celestial Set-Up (Oystercatcher) and A Revolutionary Calendar (Shearsman). She received the Cholmondeley Award from the Society of Authors in 2018 for her body of work in poetry, and is a Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales. Her critical work includes two monographs, Contemporary Women’s Poetry and Urban Space: Experimental Cities (2013), and Poetry & Listening: The Noise of Lyric (2020). Her current research project (which supports her participation here) is Transatlantic Translation: Poetry in Circulation and Practice Across Languages, funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council.

  • Danny Snelson

Danny Snelson is a writer, editor, and archivist working as an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at UCLA. His online editorial work can be found on PennSound, Eclipse, UbuWeb, and the EPC. He is the publisher of Edit Publications and founding editor of the Jacket2 Reissues project. His books include Full Bleed: A Mourning Letter for the Printed Page (Sync, 2019), Apocalypse Reliquary: 1984-2000 (Monoskop/Mediabus, 2018), Radios (Make Now, 2016), EXE TXT (Gauss PDF, 2015), Epic Lyric Poem (Troll Thread, 2014), and Inventory Arousal with James Hoff (Bedford Press/Architectural Association, 2011). With Mashinka Firunts Hakopian and Avi Alpert, he performs as one-third of the academic performance group Research Service. He is currently developing a manuscript exploring online collections of art and letters entitled The Little Database: A Poetics of Media Formats. See also: http://dss-edit.com

  • Zsófia Szatmári

Zsófia Szatmári wrote her PhD at Paris 8 University and Eötvös Loránd University on filmic poetics in contemporary French and North American poetry (on works by Pierre Alferi, Abigail Child, Caroline Dubois, Thalia Field, Jérôme Game, Liliane Giraudon, Kevin Killian, Lyn Hejinian, Emmanuel Hocquard, Cécile Mainardi, Cole Swensen). She translates from French and English to Hungarian (now working on Pleasures and Days by Marcel Proust and selected essays by George Orwell), and from Hungarian to French, especially Hungarian poetry in collaboration with Jean-François Puff. She participated to a collaborative translation of Samuel Beckett’s plays in Hungarian, and translated the essay How to Do Nothing by the US artist Jenny Odell. She is an editor and co-founder of Éditions L’Usage, a French publishing house specialized in poetry; and wrote film reviews at Filmtekercs.hu and Filmvilág, and publishes poems.

    • Chloé Thomas

    Chloé Thomas is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Angers, France. Her latest book, Les Excentrés: poètes modernistes américains, was published in 2021 by CNRS éditions and deals with the first generation of American modernist poets. She is also a translator, most recently of Lyn Hejinian’s The Unfollowing (L’Insuivant, joca seria, 2022).

    • Héloïse Thomas

    Heloise Thomas received her PhD in 2021 from Bordeaux Montaigne University and currently teaches at Lyon 3 University. Her dissertation explored the aesthetic and political possibilities of reparative histories and queer utopias in contemporary North American literature (especially poetry), and her most recent publications discuss lesbian identities, memorial politics, and queer counter-apocalypses. In addition to her research, she also writes and organizes creative writing workshops centered on poetry.

    • Naomi Toth

    Naomi Toth lectures in English literature at the Université Paris Nanterre. She is currently working on an IUF project entitled “Tragic documents”, which explores the way in which contemporary documentary aesthetics (poetry, the novel, non fiction, theatre and visual arts) incarnates the law in order to transform it.

    • Marta Werbanowska

    Dr. Marta Werbanowska is a Postdoctoral Assistant in American Literature and Culture at the University of Vienna, Austria. She obtained her Ph.D. from Howard University in 2019, and was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte in 2014-15. Her research and teaching interests include contemporary African American and Caribbean poetries, literatures of social and environmental justice, Black Studies, and Environmental Humanities. Her scholarship has been published in Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment (ISLE) and the College Language Association Journal (CLAJ), among others. She is currently completing her first book manuscript, tentatively titled Vital Necessity: Ecological Thinking in Contemporary Black Poetry.

    • Steven Zultanski

    Steven Zultanski is the author of several books of poetry, most recently Relief (2021), Honestly (2018), and Bribery (2014). He has also written two works of experimental criticism, On the Literary Means of Representing the Powerful as Powerless (2018) and Thirty-Odd Functions of Voice in the Poetry of Alice Notley (2020). His critical writing has appeared in FriezeArt in AmericaSpike Art Magazine, and elsewhere. With the artist Ed Atkins, he co-wrote and co-directed a new play, Sorcerer, which premiered in March 2022 at Revolver in Copenhagen.

    2022 Calendar & upcoming events

    SPRING 2022

    Inaugural meeting of the Network for New York School Studies (NNYSS), Wednesday 20 April 2022, Université Gustave Eiffel : Program

    Poets and Critics Symposium 2022 : Alice Notley, Thursday 21 and Friday 22 April, Université Gustave Eiffel

    >> Lunch registration April 20-22, 2022 (please register by April 8)

    SUMMER 2022

    “North American Poetry 2000-2020/2: Poetics, Aesthetics, Politics.” Conference, 29 June-2 July 2022, Paris

    FALL 2022

    International Conference T. S. Eliot in translation Paris, October 13-15, 2022, new deadline 30 April 2022, organized by Antoine Cazé and Pascale-Marie Deschamps (Université de Paris), new deadline 30 April 2022

    W. S. Merwin Across Borders, Université de Paris/ ENS Ulm, Octobre 20-21, 2022, organized by Thomas Dutoit (Université de Lille) et Cécile Roudeau (Université de Paris), new deadline 15 April 15 2022

    Inaugural meeting of the Network for New York School Studies (NNYSS) to be held on Wednesday 23 June 2021 at Université Gustave Eiffel.

    © Martin Spychal, 2019

    Paris 2021: What We Talk About When We Talk About The New York School

    The inaugural meeting of the Network for New York School Studies (NNYSS) will be held on Wednesday 23 June 2021 at Université Gustave Eiffel.

    The Alice Notley Poets & Critics Symposium will be held on Thursday 24 and Friday 25 June 2021 at Université Gustave Eiffel.

    What We Talk About When We Talk About The New York School

    The inaugural event of the Network for New York School Studies will feature short papers addressing a variety of aspects of New York School poetry, art, and writing. This event builds on the research network scholars and poets began to form during the illuminating New Work on the New York School symposium and poetry evening held at the University of Birmingham in 2018. We hope it will be the second international meeting of many. We have plans for follow-up events in New York and London in the coming years: watch this space…

    Talks, close-readings, interdisciplinary discussions, presentations of archival work, joint presentations, work-in-progress, artistic responses, and other conventional or unconventional responses to the New York School, broadly conceived, will explore the place of New York School poetry, both in its emergent moment, and since:

    • how did New York School poetry and art define itself in its moment?
    • what has it come to mean?
    • who are its artists and poets?
    • what “schools” or movements has it influenced?
    • how did / does it sit within broader New York / American / global writing and culture (including film, music, and art)?
    • what can be said of 3rd and 4th generation New York School writing?
    • what do we talk about, now, when we talk about the New York School?

    Talks are expected to be 5-10 minutes in length. Like last time, the event will be informal, inclusive, conversational, interdisciplinary, and intersectional. It will conclude with a poetry reading in the evening (poets TBC).

    This event is organized by Rona Cran (University of Birmingham) and Yasmine Shamma (University of Reading) and hosted by Olivier Brossard (Université Gustave Eiffel.)

    If you would like to attend, please email nwonthenys@gmail.com.

    Further details about the event will follow in due course.

    “North American Poetry 2000-2020/1: Poetics, Aesthetics, Politics.” Conference, 14-16 Oct. 2021, Paris. Call for Papers.

    “North American Poetry 2000-2020/1: Poetics, Aesthetics, Politics.” 14-16 October 2021, Institut Universitaire de France, Paris.

    Organized by Vincent Broqua (Université Paris 8), Olivier Brossard (Université Gustave Eiffel / Institut Universitaire de France), Abigail Lang (Université de Paris).

    This is the closing conference of a 5-year research program on the history of US poetry and poetics, in relation with the Poets and Critics program in Paris.

    What has been happening on the US poetry scene over the past twenty years? According to what criteria and principles can the field of US poetry be read today? In the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, the scene was structured and defined by poetic, aesthetic, and political tensions: is this still the case today? Or should it be approached differently, by inventing new categories? How is poetry as a genre defined today, and particularly in relation to other genres, and other forms of art? How have the internet and digitization changed the production and distribution of poetry? Who or what authorities legitimize poetry? What relationships do poets develop with institutions? With academia? How is poetry taught? How does poetry redefine the uses of language? How does it incorporate languages other than English? How important is translation in North American poetry today? What privileged connections are being established between the poetry of the United States and the poetries of other countries, especially its North American neighbors (whether the Caribbean, Central America, or Canada)? Are the local and regional poetry scenes as active as in the 1960s? Or do poets tend to associate on a larger scale based on professed identities? How do gender, race, and class call for and enact redefinitions of the poetic spectrum? What are the sociological specificities of North American poetry today? What are the preferred forms for poetics and the critique of poetry? What forms does formal exploration assume?

    The ambition of this conference is to explore the field of contemporary poetry in North America over the past twenty years and to identify the relevant notions and concepts that will allow us to map its current configurations. We invite papers which focus on English-language poetry as well as bilingual or multilingual works including English as one of their languages. We welcome submissions that question and recontextualize the term “North American.” We are particularly interested in groups, poets, and works that stem from the modernist and experimental traditions even as they may question and overturn this legacy. We also invite submissions focusing on poems and poetics, groups and distribution networks, the geography and sociology of North American poetry, with the hope that they will contribute to sketching a recent history of North American poetry.  

    Proposals for papers (English only) should include a brief abstract (300 words) and a short biographical note and be addressed to northamericanpoetry2020@gmail.com by January 8, 2021.

    Ann Lauterbach. “Time Watching Itself”: Narrativity and the Ordinary Sublime in John Ashbery’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, Sorbonne Université, 14 Oct. 2019

    > Video recording

    00:00:07 Introduction, Clément Oudart, Sorbonne Université
    00:03:30 Lecture, Ann Lauterbach
    01:09:28 Q&A Session

    > Audio recording only

    > Full text

    1. PDF or 2. web-based text

    Ann Lauterbach, Time Watching Itself, Sorbonne Université, 14 Oct. 2019

     

    TIME WATCHING ITSELF:
    Narrativity and the Ordinary Sublime
    in John Ashbery’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror

    Ann Lauterbach
    Ruth and David Schwab II Professor of Languages and Literature, Bard College
    Sorbonne Université, 14 October 2019

    1.

    I did not foresee, when Olivier Brossard kindly invited me to speak about John Ashbery’s most celebrated book, that it would prove to be quite so recalcitrant; that speaking into the absence of my great friend would arouse so many disparate impulses; among them, the desire to be cogent and useful to you; the desire to say something fresh about this writer whose work has attracted so much commentary by poets and critics; the desire to register at least some of the ways in which Ashbery the poet and John the friend were guides to me for more than four decades, beginning in 1971, when I was living in London, and working at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. I had invited John Ashbery to be part of a series I curated on contemporary French, East European, and American poetry. It was a fortuitous moment, just enough beyond the furies of ‘68, but near enough to the counter- culture, to allow stuffy England to embrace this most cosmopolitan, elusive, and beguiling poet’s work. It was an encounter that proved to be enduring for me, about which I could say many things, but for now I will say simply that I loved him, his person, who is now in the past, and his work, which is in the present and the future. So perhaps it is not surprising that I chose to speak to you about one of its signal traits: its relation to  time, and how that affected the making, and unmaking, of narrative. So much can be said on this topic, I can only suggest the ways in which an awareness of time informs this book, perhaps most clearly in the title poem. It is one of many paradoxes, or contradictions, that a poem dedicated to a painting, to a visual experience, should elicit a profound meditation on time.

    Across much of John Ashbery’s work, temporal conditions, tenses and weathers and their variables, are often foregrounded, even as they act as a kind of backdrop, one that calls forth our, and his, continuous “attention.” But beyond these intrinsic reasons, I want to acknowledge that  Ashbery was writing at the terminus of the modernist project, and at the beginning of whatever it is that has followed. The radical energies of modernist form-making had subsided, but the muddy waters of the postmodern condition had not quite taken hold. The peculiarly American urge for a transcendent sublime had given way to what  Wallace Stevens called  an “an age of disbelief;” whatever wonder and amazement and awe might be discovered will arise from a state of disenchantment.

    So we might say that Ashbery’s acute awareness of time was both personal and historical, as he came into his mature years on the cusp of post-war optimism both at home and here, in Paris. Along with others in his immediate cohort, he turns the sound or diction of poetry away from grandeur and solemnity, toward the demotic and ordinary.  But  he was unwilling to sacrifice the ambition for a poetry that asks enduring questions about the nature of life, the limits of reality.  I recall, when first hearing him read, a sense of rare excitement; it was as if he were offering liberation from the constraints of the perfectly made poem; the tidy artifact of personal insight and perception.  Ah, I remember thinking, a poem can be capacious! Not because of  length, but because you can put pretty much anything into it.

    It can move within itself; it can be a strange, uncertain adventure, like life.

    Very broadly speaking,  Ashbery’s work variously addresses what I take to be the core quandaries of the modern period: what is the contemporary and how does it encounter history; what is the relation between the one and the many; how does art engage both the particular and abstract; what is the self in relation to an Other? To this list I would add : what separates the empirical real from the moral true?

    “But the truth has passed on, to divide all,” Ashbery would write in “The New Spirit.”

    The second part of my title, “the ordinary sublime” is a bit risky, as both the term “ordinary” and the term “sublime” are difficult for me to fully grasp. A friend, Richard Deming, at Yale, has written a book, The Art of the Ordinary; he asked me to contribute to an essay collection about the ordinary, and I could not. I didn’t know how to separate ideas of the normal from ideas of the ordinary. As for the sublime, it is here to indicate a certain tradition in American poetics and philosophy, from Dickinson and Emerson, through William James and Whitman, Santayana and Stevens, Richard Rorty and Susan Howe, which has had an uneasy but palpable relation to the transcendental sublime that animated the Romantic period; what my colleague at Bard, Matthew Mutter, has called “Restless Secularism.” This is what Harold Bloom writes about so convincingly in his 1976 book Figures of Capable Imagination, where he draws a line from Pater and Coleridge through to Stevens and Ashbery, whose work, he says, has “A skeptical honesty, self-reflexive, and an odd faith in a nearly inscrutable order .  ..”  which, Bloom elaborates, is to be found in Ashbery’s “largest aesthetic principle, the notion that every day the world consented to be shaped into a poem.” These two observations seem right, and are helpful in thinking about Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror; about Ashbery’s relation in general to time, and to the ordinary, as capable of giving up or out a specific kind of sublimity, call it a poem, one that constantly flirts with moments of amazement and awe, but swerves away on the willing wings of a supple — if sometimes exasperating — syntax. The Ashberian  poem hovers like a bird over its subjects, sometimes diving into focus, and sometimes staying just above, observing, circling, reflecting.  And so, early in the book, “Absolute Clearance,” he writes:

    And out over the ocean
    The wish persisted to be a dream at home
    Cloud or bird asleep in the trough
    Of discursive waters.

     

    * * *
    Teasing the blowing light
    With its ultimate assurance
    Severity of its curved smile
    ‘Like the eagle
    That hangs and hangs, then drops.                                          pp. 11-12

    The familiar Ashberian tone is convivial, relaxed, mildly detached, free of emotional urgency, neither as chatty and personal as his friend Frank O’Hara’s, nor as elegant and stately as Wallace Stevens. The poems unfold at their own pace, in their own time. The casual diction is one of someone speaking, even when it moves toward abstruse thoughts. But to whom?

     

    I have sometimes thought that the experience of reading a poem by John Ashbery is akin to riding in an airplane. The engine goes smoothly on, its drone uninterrupted and invariable, while the air outside is by turns turbulent or calm, the view a vast blue, or obscured by pressing clouds; the light brilliant, mottled, or ink dark, punctuated by floating stars. Inside the cabin things happen; the cabin is crammed with persons and their belongings and with various devices that make us think we are still in touch with the other, outer, world. It is not always clear we have bought the right ticket; we thought we were heading for Miami but the plane has veered off to Iceland. We thought we were inside a tidy compartment (a poem) but it is suddenly wet and cold and there are strangers flying beside us like a flock of seagulls. Time is in relation to other time.

    As he writes:

    The times when a slow horse along
    A canal bank seems irrelevant and the truth:
    The best is its best sample
    Of time in relation to other time.

    I hate to fly, as did John. When I asked him in 1971 to come to London to read, he said no, because he didn’t want to fly. Well, he said, perhaps I could come if I can stay at the Ritz. We managed to find the necessary funding, and indeed, he stayed, with the very young David Kermani, at the Ritz. It is in their room that he read to a small group of us, one evening after dinner, from a manuscript of new work.

     

    2.

    As is well known, Ashbery also had an aversion to explaining his poems; he thought they were their own best explanation, and he was no doubt correct. So, in the opening pages of the 1989-90 Charles Eliot Norton lectures at Harvard, he remarked “I’m not very good at ‘explaining’ my work.… I am unable to do so because I feel that my poetry is the explanation. The explanation of what? Of my thought, whatever that is. As I see it, my thought is both poetry and the attempt to explain that poetry; the two cannot be disentangled. . . . On occasions when I have tried to discuss the meanings of my poems, I have found that I was inventing plausible-sounding ones which I knew to be untrue.” He dwells a bit more on this conundrum, and then resumes, “For me, poetry has its beginning and ending outside thought. Thought is certainly involved in the process; indeed, there are times when my work seems to me to be merely a recording of my thought processes without regard to what they are thinking about. If  this is true, then I would like to acknowledge my intention of somehow turning these processes into poetic objects, a position perhaps kin to Dr. Williams’s ‘No ideas but in things,’ but with the caveat that, for me, Ideas are also things.”

    What, we might ask, does he mean when he says that “poetry has its beginnings and endings outside of thought.” This outside, this otherness, this beyond, is at the core of his poetics.

    For John Ashbery, poems and thoughts, or ideas, are things; I would add that for him, language was also a kind of thing, if we mean that it has certain material qualities that we commonly associate with things : weight, color, density, shape. Writing moves in tandem with our consciousness of language;  words cross and re-cross the horizon of the page or the screen as it moves vertically down; they create a kind of fabric, weaving thought patterns across temporal paths. The word and its referent are in a shadow play rather than a transparent window. This isn’t metaphysical, but it does touch on some of the philosophical ideas around language that were circulating in the 1970s.

    Ashbery lived in Paris, from 1955-57 on a Fulbright, and then again from 1958-1965, and I have wondered how deeply he was engaged with the philosophical and poetic conversations in those times. As you know, his translations from French authors, both in prose and poetry, are voluminous and they range from Alfred Jarry, Raymond Roussel, Henri Michaux and Marcelin Pleynet in prose to Mallarme, Rimbaud, Rene Char, Pierre Martory and Franck André Jamme, among the many poets. I wish my French were not rudimentary, so I could speak a little about this profound engagement with your writers, but I am conscious of how little he seemed to be drawn to the philosophical thinkers who we so present when he was writing Self-Portrait.

    I never heard him mention Derrida or Barthes or Deleuze. I don’t think he cared for theory, but at the same time “theory” was everywhere when he lived here, and when he returned to New York: the hyper-theoretical journal October was founded in 1976. He found his poetic footing in experience itself, including of course the experience of reading, looking at art, listening to music, and he wished his work to be a record of his continuous engagement with the materials and processes of living, where “living” is a plurality, an inclusivity, a wide horizon of thought, perception and incident, unfettered by notions of linear cause and effect, what Gertrude Stein — whose work he greatly admired (he called it “a hymn to possibility”) — had dismissed as puerile ideas of “beginnings, middles and endings.” How does one convert empty time into the life of time? Well, one way is to write; this is one way to observe “time watching itself.” As he writes in Scheherezade:

    The light in the old house, the secret way
    The rooms fed into each other, but all
    Was wariness of time watching itself
    For nothing in the complex story grew outside:
    The greatness of the moment of telling stayed unresolved
    Until its wealth of incident, pain mixed with pleasure,
    Faded in the precise moment of bursting
    Into bloom, its growth a static lament.

    The poems in Self-Portrait  mention time so frequently that it may seem redundant to even bring it up; time as both subject and object, the poems are “about” time while simultaneously enacting its performance within poetic structures. Here, for example, in the odd poem, whose lines are set without capitals on the first words, “As you Came from the Holy Land”

    it is finally as though that thing of monstrous interest
    were happening in the sky
    but the sun is setting and prevents you from seeing it

    out of night the token emerges
    it leaves like birds alighting all at once under a tree
    taken up and shaken again
    put down in weak rage
    knowing as the brain does it can never come about
    not here not yesterday in the past
    only in the gap of today filling itself
    as emptiness is distributed
    in the idea of what time it is
    when that time is already past

    p. 7

    It is probably not an accident that Deleuze and Guattari, in Anti-Oedipus, were thinking about “a basis for a production that was at once social and desiring in a logic of flows” at more or less at the same time as John Ashbery was reinventing the poem for our time. A poetics of what Deleuze would later call pure immanence.  As Gertrude Stein remarked, “Nothing changes from generation except the thing seen, and that makes a composition.”

    What was the thing seen for Ashbery and how did it compose itself? I would say that he saw that the world is not divided into oppositions and dualities, but is fluid, a flow chart, made up of countless images and events that generate forms of disparate inclusivity. He made the syntactical membrane between subject and object moot, or at least blurred, so that what might be considered internal or subjective fuses with the external or objective. In fact, he seems to have wholly rejected the harsh dualities that are so obdurate in post-enlightenment thought: good, evil; true-false; man-woman and so forth. Not surprisingly, we find ourselves often in the liminal world of dream, but dreams free from their psychological, Freudian baggage. Sentences, in English, begin with the subject which, in the predicate, finds its object. This is what we are taught in school, or what we were once taught in school. But in an Ashbery poem, this separation is often confounded. The “Self”; that is, the “I” is not going to lead directly to its “am,” or “is,” so that how it thinks or knows itself will be as an encounter with the things of and in the world, to such a degree that the whole question of the “self” becomes seen, or understood, as contingent, perspectival, aspectual. Ashbery undertakes to explore the self as a sequence of responses to the world; the poems are fields of attention that unwind or unfurl along paths of astounding variety; paths that lead nowhere in particular, except into the next path. The poems in Self-Portrait could be construed as a series of questions about the relation of the self to the other that constitutes a self.

    This is announced on the very first page of Self-Portrait:

    A look of glass stops you
    And you walk on shaken: was I the perceived?
    Did they notice me, this time, as I am,
    Or is it postponed again?                                                            p. 1

     

    Some day I’ll claim to you how all used up
    I am because of you but in the meantime the ride
    Continues. Everyone is along for the ride,
    It seems. Besides, what else is there?
    The annual games?                                                                      p. 3

    Questions occur in nearly all the poems; they act as friction to keep things going; to interrupt or assuage or evade intensities. In “Grand Galop,” we find a protracted meditation on time as passive, a waiting game. He writes:

    Only waiting, the waiting: what fills up the time between?
    It is another kind of wait, waiting for the wait to be ended.
    Nothing takes up its fair share of time,
    The wait is built into the things just coming into their own.
    Nothing is partially incomplete, but the wait
    Invests everything like a climate.
    What time of day is it?
    Does anything matter?
    Yes, for you must wait to see what it is really like,
    This event rounding the corner
    Which will be unlike anything else and really
    Cause no surprise : it’s too ample.                                                           p. 14

    This ample “ thing of monstrous interest” that will be unlike anything else, what is it?

    3.

    That Ashbery wrote about visual art for many years has affected our sense of his poetics; his attention to the visual was acute, informed and informing. But he knew, also, a great deal about music, in particular the dissonant music of radical modernity — Berg, Webern, Schoenberg, – as well as more lyrical composers — Satie, Berio, Delius. I have long believed that it is this aspect of his knowledge gave his poems their peculiar pacing, tone and narrative complexity. (His biographer, Karin Roffman, tells me that he was listening a lot to the Schoenberg string quartets during the time he was writing the poems in Self-Portrait; the inspiration for Litany, which he and I read together on a number of occasions, was inspired by Elliot Carter’s duo for violin and piano).   Just as there are few intact stories in his poems, there are few pictorial scenes; rather, there are glances, fragments, some more lasting than others, but mostly we feel we are always moving toward or away from something, just as in a piece of music; and as we move along the past, or previous, notes are joined by other notes; at times, as in chamber or orchestral music, we hear many notes simultaneously. In the title poem of Self-Portrait, this musical sense is everywhere evident, especially in the way a particular word and its variants will be sounded through a whole sequence of lines: “dream,”  “possible” “promises” “today.”  The musical analogy may be one way of thinking about Ashbery’s frequent use of such modifying adverbs as “meanwhile.” Things are happening while other things are also happening; time is dynamic, spatial, layered.  Ashbery’s poems are invariably a record of this phenomenon, only in his case, what is happening is the poem, and the poem is a recording of its own happening: again, “time watching itself.”

    In the opening poem of the collection, “As One Put Drunk into the Packet-Boat,” the relation between, or rather the simultaneous existence of, the one and the many, singular and plural, is an aspect of his poetics of inclusion, in which there is a constant effort to balance the single episode, or the single person, against the ongoing expansive panoply, what is called, a few lines later, “the promise of that fullness.”

    New sentences were starting up. But the summer
    Was well along, not yet past the mid-point
    But full and dark with the promise of that fullness.
    That time when one can no longer wander away
    And even the least attentive fall silent
    To watch the thing that is prepared to happen.

    We will not, or course, be told what that thing is; this is the magical if sometimes infuriating trait of Ashbery’s chronic swerve away from declarations or statements, let’s  call them conclusions or consequences, understood as the result of a prior experience. Over and over, we are invited to anticipate or await an unnamed, never arriving, momentous something. This perpetual habit was undoubtedly informed by his earlier reading and translating of Mallarme’s Igitur, figured into his own 1965 work “Fragment,” where he explicitly engages or tests the continuity of experience against the supreme fiction, the visionary Idea. The fragment haunts late modernity as a trope of disintegration and ruin; for Ashbery, it begins to transform into a kind of humility, an acceptance of the partial as sufficient, if one pays sufficient attention to it.

    In our poem, summer is well along. Ashbery’s birthday was the 28th of July; and so we might conclude that the “one” to whom he is referring is himself. The earliest poems in Self-Portrait were published in 1972, when Ashbery, born in 1927, was 45. As it happens, this was exactly the middle of his life’s journey. We are in a kind of a dark wood, — “full and dark with the promise of that darkness”  and we are uncertain about the path, the straight road, ahead. But, as we all know, Ashbery was not interested in writing about himself. Indeed, I once heard him say: “Ashbery writes the poems. I am John.” I think he made this comment in accepting one of his many awards, and it was on this occasion also that I first heard him quote the now famous remark by Rimbaud, “Je est un autre.” The other that is I,  Ashbery took to heart, as it allowed him to move with his now famous promiscuity across the pronominal landscape.

    The poem continues:

    The children
    Still at their games, clouds that arise with a swift
    Impatience in the afternoon sky, then dissipate
    As limped, dense twilight comes.

    Shifts in the atmosphere, weather and light, provide Ashbery with a continuous awareness of both setting and a change in that setting. Are the children still at their games in the same place we were at the beginning of the poem? It is the same sun, but is it the same place? We were, in the beginning, waiting for someone to come. Here, the waiting has moved to the action of the clouds that “arise with a swift impatience.” The temporal and spatial exigences of the poem are layered in undecidable relation, a typical Ashberian combining of local incident with the vagaries of ordinary set conventions: children, sky, twilight, clouds meet up with impatience, postponement, perception.

    The third stanza gathers itself into a new tonal register, brought to us by “the tooting of a horn,” which could be either a car, or a musical instrument, or both. This tooting brings on a crescendo:

    Only in that tooting of a horn
    Down there, for a moment, I thought
    The great, formal affair was beginning, orchestrated,
    Its colors concentrated in a glance, a ballade
    That takes in the whole world, now, but lightly,
    Still lightly, but with wide authority and tact.

    As so often, the poem tells us about itself, about its desire to enact the great formal affair which is both concentrated and glancing, orchestrated, capable of taking in “the whole world” with a light touch but also with, indeed, wide authority and tact. Here again, there is a suggestion of a great, important event that never fully arrives.

    Ashbery likes to rise to a sonorous or melodic consonance, and then to begin again in a new, unexpectedly dissonant key; a new mood. The grandeur of the phrase  wide authority and tact is followed by a question, which in turn brings us back, or forward, to the setting sun and to yet another scenic moment, one where “You” have fallen asleep, and “I” reappears, and a “her” “come to ask once more / If I was coming in, and not to hurry in case I wasn’t.  This return to a glimpse of the vernacular, this outtake from a scene, grounds the poem, keeps it from losing touch with the ordinary, even as it flirts with the extraordinary.

    The final stanza of this first poem in Self-Portrait ends with yet another tone, one in which, I want to say, Ashbery gathers many of his most enduring and endearing characteristics: the pleasure of the catalogue or list, a diction that employs both simple and arcane words, an ability to say something profound without sounding profound – lightly, lightly –, all combined to register something like an ordinary sublime:

    The night sheen takes over. A moon of cistercian pallor
    Has climbed in the corner of heaven, installed,
    Finally involved with the business of darkness.
    And a sigh heaves from all the small things on earth,
    The books, the papers, the old garters and union-suit buttons
    Kept in a white cardboard box somewhere, and all the lower
    Versions of cities flattened under the equalizing night.
    The summer demands and takes away too much,
    But night, the reserved, the reticent, gives more than it takes.

    Here we get a sense of Ashbery’s habitual receptivity. I often had a sense that his mind was constantly scanning for new materials. He loved reading the local papers for the oddness of the normative. He was curious, and he liked facts, especially little-known, overlooked, or arcane facts; he was drawn to the minor, “The Other Tradition.” Many years ago I was told that Marcel Duchanp had said that he never did anything unless it amused him. I feel this was true also of John. He liked to be amused, and he liked to amuse.

    I told Olivier that I would not speak about the title poem but then I found myself lost inside of it, as if I had inadvertently wandered into a room in a museum I had no intention of visiting and found it was closing time when I finally left. So I shall spend the remaining time with you thinking about this most engrossing and kinetic ekphrastic meditation.

    Accepting the Robert Frost Medal in 1995, Ashbery remarked:  “It . . . seemed perfectly natural that the subject of my remarks would be myself, or my poetry, since they — we — are what is getting honored here, though normally I go to extreme lengths not to talk about either of us, because I don’t really know that much about us.”

    A self-portrait, even one in a convex mirror, is a kind of reckoning; an assessment. Ashbery’s choice of the Parmigianino painting as his poem’s subject, as well as the title of the whole collection, creates a doubling effect, so we are invited to contemplate simultaneously Ashbery’s description of the painting “As Parmigianino did it,” and his own way of doing it, “it” being his own self-portrait, even as “ we were hoping to keep (it) hidden.” Here the temporal relations we have been noting are rendered literal, if extremely complex, or convex.

    The first observation in the poem is that the painting distorts, making the “right hand / bigger than the head,” thrusting out toward the viewer and then “swerving easily away” “as though to protect / What it advertises.”

    These words resonant: swerving, advertises. The first reminds us of Lucretius and the swerve of atoms that suggested to the philosopher the possibility of free will; and the many ways the idea of the clinamen has informed some thinking about writing since. It also announces what we already know, that the poem itself will also protectively swerve. The second word,  “advertises” has of course a distinctly American flavor, even as it is an old word meaning to draw attention to something. It is a typical Ashberian gesture to choose words that are both ordinary and unexpectedly fresh in their usage.

    The time of day or the density of the light
    Adhering to the face keeps it
    Lively and intact in a recurring wave
    Of arrival. The soul establishes itself.

    We sense that at some level Ashbery is here once again describing his own way of establishing his own poetics, as  a recurring wave / Of arrival if we can say that the lines of this poem behave like waves – earlier I said a textile — that are in a continuum, a sequence, of arrivals, or a continuous presentness.. Later in the poem, we return to the wave, comparing the “forms of ideal beauty” to “ a wave breaking on a rock, giving up / Its shape in a gesture which expresses that shape.” This recursive doubling refutes an account of past, present and future as a sequence of events and their consequences, since,  “ .  . . one / Is always cresting into one’s present.”

    The narrator dwells on the idea of the “soul,” which is kept in captive suspension, awaiting “your look” as it “intercepts the picture.” The soul, somehow perceptible, longs “to be free;” we do not receive a description of the face itself, but only of its expression, its gaze

    Of tenderness, amusement and regret, so powerful
    In its restraint that one cannot look for long.
    The secret is too plain. The pity of it smarts,
    Makes hot tears spurt: that the soul is not a soul,
    Has no secret, is small and fits
    Its hollow perfectly: its room, our moment of attention.

    The swiftness of the shifts in these lines is unnerving, as we move from the affective register of tenderness, amusement and regret to the sudden, anguished contraction. This is one of the very few moments in my reading of Ashbery when the calamity of recognition occasions bleak sorrow : hot tears spurt. The entire spiritual realm collapses into the small hollow of a room. A fleet, agonized, reduced, containment. It has the feeling of a confession, or the dropping of a mask; rescued only by “our moment of attention.” This is the very definition of the ordinary sublime as a negative space: a contracted . There is a sense of attenuation, as if suddenly there is only one instrument playing its meagre tune; perhaps an etude by Eric Satie. The poem continues:

    That is the tune but there are no words.
    The words are only speculation
    (From the Latin, speculum, mirror):
    They seek and cannot find the meaning of the music.

    As the doubt about the possibility of finding meaning arises, so too the image of the globe is introduced: But it is life englobed. We could trace from here the many references to circularity and roundnesses that ensue: sphere, ping-pong ball, balloon, curved hand, round mirror, carousel, circle, bubble-chamber, eggs; much later in the poem, “a crystal ball.” Circularity is posited against linearity; throughout Ashbery’s work, the circadian rhythms of day and night are constant temporal markers. In Self-Portrait, the fact of Parmigiano’s “mirror portrait” , his “rendering / The veilleities of the rounded reflecting surface,” gives Ashbery a way to think about the relation of a given self to the inhabited world, and to ask how much that self and that world can ever be conveyed, captured, realized in any medium: words, pictures, music. Here, as elsewhere, these questions revolve around singularity – a self, fragment, or sample, and wholes, or sums. The globe or circle, extracted and elaborated from the Portrait’s rounded mirror, is the trope for entirety, inclusivity, and the poem turns through partial arcs that imply the necessary givenness of incomplete knowledge. So, toward the end of the poem:

    Each person
    Has one big theory to explain the universe
    But it doesn’t tell the whole story
    And in the end it is what is outside him
    That matters, to him and especially to us
    Who have been given no help whatever
    In decoding our own man-size quotient and must rely
    On second-hand knowledge.

    And, earlier:

    And the vase is always full
    Because there is only just so much room
    And it accommodates everything. The sample
    One sees is not to be taken as
    Merely that, but as everything as it
    May be imagined outside time — not as a gesture
    But as all, in the refined, assimilable state.

    What does it mean to imagine “outside time” and how does the vase represent the “all” or “everything” “in the refined assimilable state”? My sense is that here Ashbery is resisting the temptation to reach for the transcendent register, and settles instead for the vase, the local container of the refined and knowable, so that whatever is imagined “outside of time” is contained within it. This material image (no ideas but in things) suggests that objects indeed are the locale of what I am calling the “ordinary sublime,” where everything is contained in a “refined, assimilable state,” something between the distillations of a still life, nature mort, or self-portrait, and the presence of  living beings; a bouquet.

    The brilliant collusion or collision of the visual and aural, the cerebral and the material, the mirror and the music, speculation and its uncertainties, is central to this poem and to my sense that all of Ashbery’s work is an inquiry into the ways acts of perception fuse with acts of saying or knowing, in the search of a reality that cannot ever be contained; a very exacting kind of epistemological undertaking, in which ideas of the real and ideas of the true are in tantalizing tandem relation: empirical reality and beliefs about reality in an intimate dance. I am reminded here of William James’ remark that “truth is what happens to an idea,” which is about as succinct a definition of Ashbery’s poetics as I can imagine. The visual world of scenes and pictures, of objects in space, of colors and light, all are under the illuminating spell of the mind listening to itself at its “moment of attention.” This brings to mind another of William James’ descriptions, that thought happens, not as a stream of consciousness, but rather like a bird, with its flights and perchings.

    As darkness encroaches — “a perverse light whose / Imperative of subtlety dooms in advance its conceit to light up” we encounter a “pinpoint of a smile,” “a spark” “a star” and, finally, “a dozing whale on the sea bottom / In relation to the tiny, self-important ship / On the surface.” Ashbery gathers us toward sites of illumination, and then draws attention to the unillumined darkness (which seems always to be a place of an unknown and profound possibility), and to new thoughts about scale – the relation of one thing to another in space —and to the surface.

    We might note here that Ashbery elides not only the subject-object divide, but he avoids most of the harsh dualities of our divided and divisive world. He likes the in-between, the almost, the not quite, the twilight. He saw, I think, that in the ambiguities of the undecided there is most freedom; in the  plural is the chance for demotic inclusion. So in his poem’s next sequence of waves of arrival we  enter a prolonged contemplation of the fact of the sphere, or globe, of convex mirror, and the  variable scale, or spatial relations, they suggest. It arrives as a kind of aria or soliloquy, in which a  constellation of related terms, starting with the “globe” and ending with a return to an  instantiation of the original gesture in the painting:

    Your gesture which is neither embrace nor warning
    But which holds something of both in pure
    Affirmation that doesn’t affirm anything.

    On his way to this inconclusive paradox, Ashbery contemplates both the spherical “globe like ours” and the depiction of the room, in which there is “A sliver of window or mirror” that reflects the weather which, he remarks,

    in French is
    Le temps, the word for time, and which
    Follows a course wherein changes are merely
    Features of the whole.

    In Ashbery, as in Stevens, there is a continual juggling of the materials of the sensorium – what we encounter in the world of objects — as they meet the objects of mental interiority on the surface of the poem. “The surface is what’s there / And nothing can exist except what’s there.”

    Forgive me for quoting so much. You all have read this poem and do not need me to keep reciting from it. But one of the problems of writing about Ashbery, as we have commented, is that his work describes itself better than anything I might say; everything I say is by way of postscript.

    Now the tone shifts as “the balloon pops,” and “the attention / Turns dully away.” There ensues a confusion of person , an “I” , a “he,” and a “you” appear, along with “many people” , speaking

    through the foggy chiaroscuro of memory, who become “part of you” “until no part remains that is surely you.”   I is another.

    Things become turbulent, with thoughts being torn, as the round mirror becomes a carousel, speeding into chaos,  “Around the polestar of your eyes which are empty, / Know nothing, dream but reveal nothing.” The world of objects, the “magma of interiors” is suddenly reduced to a neutral band, a silver blur, a blind leveling. This passage of the poem presents us with a thicket of confusion, as we contemplate how the portrait “rules out the extraneous / Forever” attesting only to the “enchantment of self with self.” We are in the crux of a narcissistic moment, a kind of trap proposed perhaps by art’s will to seek perfection through available materials: Eyebeams, muslin, coral, but only by eliminating the “extraneous” which, for Ashbery, is often the source of greatest interest. Our narrator concludes:

    It doesn’t matter
    Because these are things as they are today
    Before one’s shadow ever grew
    Out of the field into thoughts of tomorrow.

    Once again, the temporal cord twists into a knot.

    5.

    The next section takes up ideas of the possible, of promise, and of dreams. Variants of these words recur, threaded across a “Landscape sweeping out from us to disappear / On the horizon.”

    “Of course some things / Are possible”
    “we will try / To do as many things as are possible”
    “Even stronger possibilities can remain”
    “what is promised today”
    “To keep the supposition of promises together”

    One cannot read through these passages without being reminded of Stevens’ Notes toward A Supreme Fiction, with its litany of anxious possibles, as he entreats the poem to discover the order of the real. Stevens was of course beset by the very dualities that Ashbery refuses to embrace.  Whatever ultimate questions the two poets share, their ways of approaching them are as different in tone as Bach is from Berg. Stevens wants “the real” to emerge as the order of “major weather” from the discoveries of the imagination which, for Ashbery, is sourced in the play between dreams and the artifactual. Stevens’ meditation calls up an Angel of the Absolute; Ashbery never permits such a figuration to arrive. But the Parmiganino Portrait does allow an angel to make a mediated appearance. Indeed, what I am calling the ordinary sublime comes as the “ unfamiliar stereotype” of the face in the Portrait, which, the narrator tells us, Vasari has called “rather angel than man.” The narrator then muses,

    Perhaps an angel looks like everything
    We have forgotten. I mean forgotten
    Things that don’t seem familiar when
    We meet them again, lost beyond telling,
    Which were ours once.

    This moment strikes me as having the strange quality I am trying to evoke: the utterly unexpected alliance of  how an  “angel” looks, with forgetting and reencountering things “which were ours once.” The sublime is sublimated into acts of forgetting the familiar and then meeting them again— making the familiar strange —, this time “lost beyond telling.” For Ashbery, the act of telling is what constitutes life. He is not able to speak about that which is lost, outside of time, or thought, but nevertheless he is willing here, as elsewhere, to acknowledge it. You could pass over this moment without noticing it, as the narrator does, as he continues on to a deft exploration of later portraits, before returning to the titular picture, which begins to converge into the narrative present, hinging on the repeated words “surprise” and “reflection.”

    What is novel is the extreme care in rendering
    The velleities of the rounded reflecting surface
    (It is the first mirror portrait),
    So that you could be fooled for a moment
    Before you realize the reflection
    Isn’t yours.

    These convergences, the painting with the “you,” the self, the angel with forgotten things, notions of surprise and reflection, all insinuate a possible transcendent moment, when an actual, high-end, auratic sublimity might occur, but the passage devolves into the ordinary, if exquisite, vision of snowfall:

    The picture is almost finished,
    The surprise almost over, as when one looks out,
    Startled by a snowfall which even now is
    Ending in specks and sparkles of snow.

    Ashbery’s need to keep his poems within the navigations of the ordinary while providing hints of the extraordinary is what has kept so many of his readers on high alert; the habit of the poems, like the Parmiganino portrait, is to constantly swerve away from “the momentum of a conviction that had been building.”

    But we know it cannot be sandwiched
    Between two adjacent moments, that its windings
    Lead nowhere except to further tributaries
    And that these empty themselves into a vague
    Sense of something that can never be known
    Even though it seems likely that each of us
    Knows what it is and is capable of
    Communicating it to the other.

    The initial subject of the “it” in this passage is “love,” but the meandering syntax is such that it is difficult to recall; it gets “lost” in that unknown, nameless thing, one that can be communicated but perhaps not in words.  A displaced Eros, hiding far from the bodies in which this unknown known resides.

    6.

    As we have seen, across the poems in Self-Portrait, specificity is sacrificed, and an indefinite, hovering articulation arouses and thwarts our need for stabiiity ; we are kept in an animated continuum of linguistic play that almost never adds up; it’s a poetics of heightened contingencies, temporal signals, ciphers for eventfulness. References to time and to its numerous tropes — days, nights, weathers, light; tomorrows, yesterdays, meanwhiles, the past, moments, the hours, waiting, pauses, forgettings and tellings  are so abundant they seem to be a kind of invisible substrate or matrix onto which Ashbery can hang his various objects. Proust may be the only other writer for whom time was such an insistent subject, but Ashbery is not concerned with retrieval or even with memory as such;  as we have noted, the work is constant in its desire to inscribe its own present, the making of its present into the “emptiness distributed” across time. Time is a construction that allows him to move in and out, forward and back, around, behind, all in the service of “this painful freshness of each thing being exactly itself.” The method is one of continuance through deflection ; anticipatory moments devolve away from their fruition. The affective result hovers between the pleasurable mystery of a secret and the frustration of the forever postponed.

    The self-portrait of the artist as a poet thinking about a painter’s self-portrait. The poem crests and retreats, crests and retreats on its “smooth, perhaps even bland ( but so enigmatic) finish.” Painting and poem converge into each other and separate, like uncomfortable, estranged lovers.

    Is there anything
    To be serious about beyond this otherness
    That gets included in the most ordinary
    Forms of daily activity, changing everything
    Slightly and profoundly, and tearing the matter
    Of creation, any creation, not just artistic creation
    Out of our hands, to install it on some monstrous, near
    Peak, too close to ignore, to far
    For one to intervene?

     

    This otherness, this
    “Not-being-us” is all there is to look at
    In the mirror, though no one can say
    How it came to be this way.

    And then, finally, or at last, we are all released from the mesmeric “shield of a greeting” that the Portrait has caused the poet, and his readers, to endure:

    The hand holds no chalk
    And each part of the whole falls off
    And cannot know it knew, except
    Here and there, in cold pockets
    Of remembrance, whispers out of time.

     

    CODA

    At some point I began to think of John  Ashbery as a great bird. I thought that all his poems occurred in air, on the breath, in the spirit, but also, as I suggested at the beginning, almost literally slightly above the landscapes over which they hover and glide. He looked a bit like a bird, with his starting eyes and his pronounced, elegant nose. It was a vision that never dissipated, even as it was a form of magical thinking. On the morning of his death, on the 3rd of September, 2017, David Kermani phoned to let me know. I went outside and wandered a bit on my back lawn. Then, suddenly, a large bird flew directly overhead and toward the Hudson river. Ah, I thought, there you are, and there you go. I wrote a short poem, which became the epigraph of my latest book, Spell:
     

    And then you sail past in your effortless bravado, the sky
    A blue wind of ease, wings outstretched on a continuous
    whim, as if there were no time, and there isn’t,
    but the rest of us pause, watching as you go, you go on by.

    Bibliography:
    Ashbery, John. Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror. [1975]. Text redesigned in collaboration with the author in 2009. Penguin Books, 2009.

    Poets and Critics Symposium 2019.1 : Dawn Lundy Martin, Thursday 17 and Friday 18 January

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    Photo credit: Max Freeman – from http://www.dawnlundymartin.com

    The next Poets and Critics Symposium will be devoted to the work of Dawn Lundy Martin.

    Thursday 17 and Friday 18 January, 2019.

    Université Paris 7 Denis Diderot, Bâtiment Olympe de Gouges
    8 rue Albert Einstein, 75013 Paris

    9:45am-5pm, room 830 (8th floor of the Olympe de Gouges Building).

    Howimage doigt petit to get there?
    For detailed instructions and directions, click HERE.
     &

    Poetry reading with Dawn Lundy Martin, Marie de Quatrebarbes, and Maël Guesdon

    Thursday 17 January, 7pm, atelier Michael Woolworth, 2 rue de la RoquettePassage du Cheval Blanc, Cour Février, 75011 Paris France – M° Bastille. How to get there? For detailed instructions and directions, click HERE.

    If you would like to attend the symposium and are not already in touch with us, please contact us and we will send you information, instructions about and directions to the symposium:

    Thus far, we have focused on the writer’s own (creative and critical) work on the first day of the P&C symposiums and on broader issues of poetics and practice-based criticism on the second day. But there’s no specific preconceived program for the 2 days of the symposium: as the previous sessions of the program have shown, it seems important to let the conversation take its own course.

    Please note that the morning session of the first day is devoted to preparing the conversation with Dawn Lundy Martin which will take place during the afternoon session and the second day. Dawn Lundy Martin will be joining the group at 2pm on Thursday 17 January.

    As usual, we intend to address all aspects of our guest’s work as poet, prose writer, critic, and editor. Please feel free to make suggestions as to particular books that you would like to discuss during the symposium.

    Our Monday afternoon session with Dawn Lundy Martin should end by 6 pm, which will leave ample time for everybody to get to the poetry reading.

    BIO, from www.dawnlundymartin.com

    Dawn Lundy Martin is Professor of English in the Writing Program at the University of Pittsburgh. She is the author of several books and chapbooks including: A Gathering of Matter / A Matter of Gathering (University of Georgia Press, 2007), selected by Carl Phillips for the Cave Canem Prize; DISCIPLINE (Nightboat Books, 2011), which was selected by Fanny Howe for the Nightboat Books Poetry Prize and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; Candy, a limited edition letterpress chapbook (Albion Books, 2011); The Main Cause of the Exodus (O’clock Press 2014); and The Morning Hour, selected by C.D. Wright for the 2003 Poetry Society of America’s National Chapbook Fellowship. Life in a Box is a Pretty Life, was published by Nightboat Books in 2015 and won the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Poetry. Her latest collection, Good Stock / Strange Blood was published by Coffee House Press in 2017. Her creative nonfiction can be found in The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazinen+1, and boundary 2. She is currently at work on a memoir.

    In 2016, Martin co-founded, with poet Terrance Hayes, the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics (CAAPP) at the University of Pittsburgh. She serves as the center’s Director. A creative think tank for African American and African diasporic poetry and poetics, CAAPP brings together a diversity of poets, writers, scholars, artists, and community members who are thinking through black poetics as a field that investigates the contemporary moment as it is impacted by historical artistic and social repressions and their respondent social justice movements.

    With Vivien Labaton, Martin also co-edited The Fire This Time: Young Activists and the New Feminism (Anchor Books, 2004), which uses a gender lens to describe and theorize young activist work in the U.S. She is the co-founder of the Third Wave Foundation (New York), an organization, which was for 15 years the only young activist feminist foundation in the U.S. Martin continues her activist work in collaboration with foundations and activist organizations to research and strategize about protecting the lives and freedoms of women and girls. Using a intersectional lenses that bring together feminism with racial justice and LGBT rights, Martin works to provide analytical frameworks that assist philanthropic organizations in strategic philanthropy to level the playing field and animate social justice reforms.

    Martin’s current creative-scholarly work operates in the intersecting fields of experimental poetics, video installation, and performance. Letters to the Future: BLACK WOMEN / Radical WRITING, co-edited with Erica Hunt, was published in 2018 by Kore Press. Her video installation work has been featured at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. In 2016 she was awarded an Investing in Professional Artists Grant from the Pittsburgh Foundation and the Heinz Endowments. Martin has also written a libretto for a video installation opera, titled “Good Stock on the Dimension Floor,” featured in the 2014 Whitney Biennial, and collaborated with architect Mitch McEwen on Detroit Opera House, a conceptual architecture project. She is the recipient of a 2018 NEA grant for Creative Writing. She is also a co-founder of the Black Took Collective, an experimental performance art/poetry group of three.

    ***

    Critical work

    by Dawn Lundy Martin

    “A Black Poetics: Against Mastery.” Boundary 2: An International Journal of Literature and Culture 44.3 (2017): 159–163.

    “Black Took Collective: On Intimacy & Origin.” Among Friends: Engendering the Social Site of Poetry. Eds. Anne Dewey and Libbie Rifkin, Libbie. Iowa City, IA: U of Iowa P, 2013. 211-237.

    “Alien Eggs, or, the Poet as Mad Scientist.” Poets on Teaching: A Sourcebook. Ed. Joshua M. Wilkinson. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 2010. 26-28.

    Hayes, Terrance, et al. “African American Experimental Poetry Forum.” Jubilat 16 (2009): 115–154.

    Martin, Dawn Lundy. “Saying ‘I Am’ Experimentalism and Subjectivity in Contemporary Poetry by Claudia Rankine, M. Nourbese Philip, and Myung Mi Kim.” Dissertation Abstracts International, Section A: The Humanities and Social SciencesU of Massachusetts, 20090101, p. 4679.

     

    on Dawn Lundy Martin:

    De’Ath, Amy. Decolonize or Destroy: New Feminist Poetry in the United States and Canada. Women: A Cultural Review 26.3 (2015): 285-305.

    Thursday 21 September, Roundtable on Fire!!, Ypsilon éditeur, followed by reading, Fondation des Etats-Unis, Paris

    Affiche_Double Change

    À l’occasion de la publication de Fire!! (Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Gwendolyn Bennett, Aaron Douglas, Richard Bruce & Wallace Thurman) traduit par Étienne Dobenesque avec une postface de Claire Joubert chez Ypsilon éditeur,

    La Fondation des États-Unis, l’Université Paris Est Marne-la-Vallée et l’association double change vous invitent à une présentation du livre et une table ronde sur la revue Fire!! et la Renaissance de Harlem, suivies d’une lecture de textes

    avec Elisa Cecchinato (UPEM), Isabella Checcaglini (Ypsilon éditeur), Claire Joubert (U. Paris 8), Yohann Lucas (UPEM), Claudine Raynaud (U. Montpellier 3), Jean-Paul Rocchi (UPEM) et Frédéric Sylvanise (U. Paris 13).

    Le jeudi 21 septembre à 18h
    Fondation des États-Unis
    15 Boulevard Jourdan,
    75014 Paris

    (RER Cité Université / Tram Cité Universitaire)

    Entrée libre.

    Soirée organisée avec le soutien de l’Institut Universitaire de France.

    BIOS

    ELISA CECCHINATO est doctorante en littérature américaine à l’ED Cultures et Sociétés de l’Université Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée, sous la direction de Jean Paul Rocchi. Son projet de thèse s’intitule « Les identités culturelles dans la Renaissance de Harlem : enjeux politiques, intersections épistémologiques et agentivités littéraires et artistiques », et porte sur les écritures et les arts noires-américaines qui se sont produites aux années 1920 à Harlem, New York.

    ISABELLA CHECCAGLINI est éditeur. Née en 1975 à Foligno en Italie, elle s’installe à Paris en 1994. En même temps qu’elle termine sa thèse sur l’œuvre de Mallarmé à l’université de Paris8, elle fonde Ypsilon Éditeur pour continuer à faire de la recherche en littérature autrement.

    CLAIRE JOUBERT est professeur de littérature anglaise à l’Université Paris 8. Ses travaux visent une poétique de l’étranger : ils examinent les effets théoriques et politiques de la différence des langues, et ses enjeux critiques dans l’histoire des discours sur le langage, la littérature et la culture. Auteur d’études sur l’épistémologie du comparatisme (Comparer l’étranger. Enjeux du comparatisme en littérature, co-dir. avec E. Baneth-Nouailhetas, 2006) et la poétique du multilinguisme (S. Beckett et le théâtre de l’étranger, co-dir. avec A. Bernadet, 2008), sur la postcolonialité et la traduction, elle travaille actuellement à trois terrains riches en différentiels de l’anglais : histoire littéraire indienne, histoire des mondialités noires, histoire des disciplines du mondial. Derniers ouvrages : Problèmes d’histoire littéraire indienne (co-dir. avec L. Zecchini, Revue de littérature comparée, numéro spécial, oct-déc. 2015), Le Postcolonial comparé : anglophonie, francophonie (dir., 2015) et Critiques de l’anglais. Poétique et politique d’une langue mondialisée (2015).

    YOHANN LUCAS est doctorant à l’Université Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée et sa recherche porte sur les magazines littéraires africains-américains de la Renaissance de Harlem et du Black Arts Movement, en particulier leur importance dans les processus de canonisation de la littérature Africaine-Américaine.

    CLAUDINE RAYNAUD, Professeur d’études américaines à l’université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3, a enseigné en Angleterre (Birmingham et Liverpool) et aux Etats-Unis (Michigan, Northwestern et Oberlin). Membre du Du Bois Institute (Harvard, automne 2005), elle était vice-présidente du CEA (présidé par Michel Fabre), a dirigé le GRAAT et la JE EAA à Tours et travaille au CNRS (ITEM). Elle est l’auteur de Toni Morrison: L’Esthétique de la survie (1995) et de nombreux articles sur l’autobiographie noire (Hurston, Wright, Baldwin, Lorde, Angelou), sur Joyce et les théories féministes. Ses publications les plus marquantes sont : deux contributions aux Cambridge Companions: ‘Coming of Age in the African American Novel’ (2004) et ‘Beloved or the Shifting Shapes of Memory’ (2007), la co-direction d’un recueil d’essais sur  Gloria Naylor (l’Harmattan, 2012)  et un chapitre sur Tell my Horse de Hurston dans Afromodernisms (Edinburgh UP, 2013). Elle vient de co-diriger deux volumes de Diasporas, Cultures of Mobilities, ‘Race’ (PULM, 2014, 2016) et l’ouvrage Troubled Legacies: Heritage/Inheritance in Minority American Literatures (avec Michel Feith, CSP, 2015).  Sa traduction, avec une introduction critique, du récit de Sojourner Truth (PURH, 2016) vient de paraître.

    JEAN-PAUL ROCCHI est Professeur de Littératures et Cultures Américaines à l’Université Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée, membre du Laboratoire LISAA (UPEM) et Directeur adjoint de l’Ecole Doctorale « Cultures et Sociétés » d’Université Paris-Est. Spécialiste en études africaines américaines et en études de genres et sur les sexualités, il a consacré plusieurs articles sur James Baldwin. Il a récemment codirigé les trois ouvrages collectifs suivants : Understanding Blackness through Performance—Contemporary Arts and the Representation of Identity (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2013); Black IntersectionalitiesA Critique for the 21st Century (Liverpool University Press, 2014); Black Europe: Subjects, Struggles, and Shifting Perceptions (Palimpsest, A Journal on Women, Gender, and the Black International, SUNY Press, 2015). En 2016, il a publié dans la revue électronique américaine d’arts visuel et sur la performance Liminalities (http://liminalities.net/12-2/) un essai d’auto-ethnographie psychanalytique portant sur l’art et les identités et intitulé Ce qui compte (http://liminalities.net/12-2/cequicompte.html) ainsi que le numéro 3 de la revue électronique multilingue et transdisciplinaire Quaderna quil a dirigé sur le thème « Lart de la discipline : disciples, disciplines, transdisciplinarité » (http://quaderna.org/3/). Il prépare actuellement une anthologie de ses essais intitulée The Desiring Modes of Being Black: Essays in Literature & Critical Theory à paraître aux éditions Rowman & Littlefied International en 2017/8.

    FREDERIC SYLVANISE enseigne la littérature américaine et la traduction en tant que maître de conférences à l’université Paris 13. Il est spécialiste de la poésie de Langston Hughes et de la période de la Renaissance de Harlem. Ses travaux récents ont porté sur le rapport entre poésie et musique et sur la cantologie. Il prépare actuellement une habilitation à diriger des recherches centrée sur la vision de l’histoire des Africains-Américains dans l’oeuvre poétique de Robert Hayden.