This is not a writing workshop per se, but rather a look at some recent developments in writing & how they relate to (are driven by) the world we share, with an eye to looking at how we can use our own poetry to encourage, reflect, & engage change that is more than mere fashion.
1) Where “the boys” have been
Modernism, broadly viewed, might be defined as the poetics of capitalism. In English, it begins right at the moment when rural pre-industrial England gives way to a new urbanism that requires much population displacement, job displacement, and wide spread literacy that will make something new of literature itself. It’s no accident that most statements of modernist aesthetics focus on two principles: direct treatment of the thing, and – at least up to 1970 – “plain speech” as a linguistic model for direct treatment. The following manifestoes can ALL be read this way:
- William Wordsworth
– Preface to Lyrical Ballads – 1802
(first text to call poetry an “experiment”)
- Walt Whitman – Preface to Leaves of Grass – 1855
- Charles Baudelaire
– “To Arsène Houssaye” – 1862
(“discovering” the prose poem)
- Ezra Pound – A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste – 1913
- Charles Olson – Projective Verse – 1950
- Robert Creeley – To Define -- 1953
- Frank O’Hara – Personism – 1959
- Robert Grenier – On Speech – 1970
(third of the five essays here)
Even surrealism can be presented as an attempt of getting the gunk of the conscious mind out of the way of a deeper, “truer” content (John Cage before John Cage). So, for that matter, can conceptualism.
2) Rethinking (dethinking) capital
Late capital is never late enough. Capital’s desire for immediate gratification & short-term advantage threatens the planet itself and, not so coincidentally, all life upon it.
Why direct treatment of the thing plays into the enlightenment (and time-&-motion) logic of capital is not mysterious, tho the deeper drivers of this behavior might be. A (surprisingly) good depiction of world-systems analysis can be found on Wikipedia. For poets, now, an impulse is how to write beyond capital in a world that is so-not-beyond-capital yet. How to go about this?
One possibility is to start from a place where capital has always been very inadequate – gender. In France, the Tikkun Collective has built upon divergent leftist culture theories (Althusser’s ideology, Baudrillard et al on the role of signs & consumption) to propose, in Preliminary Materials for a Theory of a Young -Girl, an approach that puts gender at the center of a critique of capital. A complete translation of Young-Girl is available online here, although a better translation by Ariana Reines can be had in paperback here. An excerpt and (not otherwise published) introduction by Reines can be found at Triple Canopy here. The intro is terrific.
3) Poetry, post-capital, if ever
We are going to look at some poems that challenge the presumptions of poetry’s relation to capital. In particular we will look at Catherine Wagner’s “This is a Fucking Poem” plus some work associated with the non- or anti-movement that has called itself Gurlesque. Finally, we are going to look at work of our own that avoids, or goes beyond, or violates “direct treatment of the thing.”
Before the workshop
1. Check out the manifesti listed in the first section above. They’re all worth reading, but there won’t be a test.
2. Read as much of Preliminary Materials as you can, preferably in paperback (though online is okay), including the online intro. Check out the Wikipedia page on world systems analysis.
3. Read Cathy Wagner’s poem listed in the third section. Listen to her read the poem online here.
4. Listen to Rae Armantrout, Laura Elrick & Rachel Blau DuPlessis discuss the poem online here.
5. Listen to Nada Gordon’s reading at Kelly Writers House here.
6. Read this online interview with Gordon here.
7. Read Arielle Greenburg’s original talk On the Gurlesque here.
8. Read Laura Glenum’s intro to the anthology online here.
9. Read what you can find online by Greenburg, Gordon, Wagner, Lara Glenum, Ariana Reines, Brenda Coultas, Brenda Shaughnessy, Cathy Park Hong, Chelsea Minnis, Danielle Pafunda, Dorothea Lasky, Elizabeth Treadwell, Geraldine Kim, Kim Rosenfield, Matthea Harvey, Tina Brown Celona
10. Read for contrast what you can find by Kathy Acker, Sharon Mesmer, Katie Degentesh, Kimberly Lyons, Lynn Behrendt, Dodie Bellamy, Lisa Robertson, Amy King, Eileen Myles.
On the day of the workshop
· Bring a text, preferably of your own work, that avoids, or goes beyond, or violates “direct treatment of the thing.” Keep in mind Nada Gordon’s admonition that “TMI is part of the program.” Bring 15 copies. If you don’t have anything that fits this definition, bring something you’ve read that you might like to discuss.
· Bring a notepad and writing implement. The notepad can be electronic.