Sep 26, 2009

Advancing Feminist Poetics: Conference Highlights PART 3

Final notes: Two Friday Night Performances (September 25)

We concluded the conference with several multi-media "poetry" performances, and I will note two of them briefly here. Dancer and choreographer Sally Silvers performed an "Adam and Eve" choreography-in-process number, with electronic music layered by the improvised vocals of Julie Patton. Silvers often performs with the poet Bruce Andrews, and is considered a member of the poetry community because of her multi-media collaborations. Here, the "poetics of dance" was featured as an inquiry into the gendered arrangements of bodies in motion (as well as some provocative "media poses").

Carla Harryman in collaboration with three other reader-performers (including poet Rodrigo Toscano) offered a series of poetry-play excerpts -- the most polished taken from her work Mirror Play. Beautifully echoing and over-laying voices weave in an out of this stark political but also interior-reflecting linguistic play. As Harryman suggested in her introduction, the "space" would become the "script." As the play of voices became "the play," the play of language's possibility through Harryman's performance sensibility shattered the room. I think the audience was mesmerized and stunned, this piece, like so many glittering shards of mirror-like glass, cutting the air. An original and gorgeous piece.

NOTE: A special section on Harryman's performance poetics is upcoming in the next issue of How2 (edited by myself, with contributions from several poets and writers including Renee Gladman and Christine Hume as well as Harryman herself). We await the release of this issue very soon ...

PHOTOS: (Starting at top) Sally Silvers, Rodrigo Toscano, Carla Harryman in final-night performances -- by Laura Hinton

Advancing Feminist Poetics: Conference Highlights PART 2

Additional notes from the first evening Plenary…

Opening Keynote Performances -- In a large auditorium we gathered to hear Katheen Fraser, Erica Hunt, and Eileen Myles. Alas, I missed the latter piece by Myles, since the next day's rehearsal for my poetry-film production called me home early. As I left, one of my favorite contemporary poets was boxing the air. I teach Erica Hunt's collaborative work Arcade in my "Women's Experimental Writers" graduate seminar at City College (CUNY). Watching Hunt shadow-box in the persona of her mother -- “Fight, fight” -- was funny and yet grounding. Her point was well summed up in this line:

“The ground where we have retreated as feminists must be defended again and again.”

If Hunt’s boxing “performance” and creative essay eloquently articulated our “silence … with all of its ghostly traces,” encouraging us all to Speak Up in the on-going face of patriarchal capitalism's aggressive shape under today's formulation of U.S. global imperialism (and it isn't doing us much good at home either -- go figure the health-care so-called "debate"), and if Hunt warns us to “keep the tribes guessing … amidst all the tongues,” Kathleen Fraser gave us her equally moving conversational narrative that recounted her years as a young female poet in the 1960s, first moving through the New York poetry circles at that time filled with the presences of such luminaries as George Oppen and Frank O’Hara and Robert Creeley and Barbara Guest (and rejecting the then-mainstream poetry of a Sylvia Plath). She also talked about her move to a more affordable San Francisco, new baby in arms, to continue discovering “the body and breathing,” the “language on the page,” the notoriety of Charles Olsen’s treatment of women coupled with her recognition of his stunning and life-changing Projective Verse. (“I didn’t like the man. But I came to like 'Charles Olsen,' the work.”)

Fraser beautifully described her own process of growth as a young woman-poet who had “read De Beauvoir,” but “didn’t know the word misogynist.” (I, too, recall those days, from my own early graduate school, when a male professor in modernist studies poo-pooed Gertrude Stein as a “fat fraud” and I didn’t know what to call this remark; an older woman in the course used the M-word in the ladies room.) And Fraser described her times then in San Francisco then in conversation with other female experimental poets like Bev Dahlen and Norma Cole, as she then began to work “visual elements into my work” and, out of frustration as a budding feminist noticing how little women's work in experimental writing was attracting notice ("I was seething by then"), starting the now-legendary journal of women’s “innovative” poetry, How(ever) (available these days in its reincarnated form, on line as How2).

Kathleen Fraser, our modern Stein, you are Mother of Us All.

And we have many mothers -- like Erica's. Me, too. Always told me to hang in there in spite of the obstacles and odds.

-- LH

PHOTOS: 1. (from top) Nada Gordon, Bob Perelman, Kathleen Fraser, and Carla Harryman; 2. Rachel Blau Duplessis at the Plenary final night; Laura Elrick, Joan Retallack,and Kristin Prevallet; 3, 4, 5. Jill Magi and Jeanne Heuving asking questions at the final night Plenary -- Eileen Myles and Stephanie Strickland listening.-- by Laura Hinton

Advancing Feminist Poetics: Conference Highlights PART 1

Notes from the opening night (Thursday, Sept. 24):

Plenary 1, entitled, “Why You Talk Like That? Between Orature and Literature,” and chaired by the articulate Tonya Foster, offered economic-geopolitical-aesthetic insights into the most original edges of the contemporary Black Arts multi-media / poetic arts. Julie Patton, for example, described her Salon des Refusés project, an “installation” out of “waste” (I borrow that concept from Foster) in an abandoned public-space in this New York artist’s native Cleveland. Patton had made “place . . . a museum”: archival, eco-poetical – through this highly original conceptual-political piece expressing Patton’s public consciousness. (You can learn more about Patton’s project on the Oberlin College website.) Other participants included Meta DuEwa Jones, John Keene, and Evie Shockley, who spoke about writers as diverse as Zora Neale Hurston, Sonia Sanchez, and Jay Wright (whose paperback edition through the Callaloo Poetry Series is currently available through Amazon vendors for 1 cent – hurry for your copy because panelist John Keene described this 1980 work a brilliant American classic yet to receive its critical due).

Plenary 2, with another articulate poet-scholar as chair, Laura Elrick, was equally politically engaged, examining “Critical language Practices” in the context of “Imperial Event.” Ammiel Alcalay presented a very porous and provocative series of quotations from theorists of colonialism like Aime Caesar and Frantz Fanon; Rachel Zolf spoke to the problems of being a Jewish feminist writer confronting the Palestinian situation; Cathy Park Hong asked if “poetry can be an anathema against imperialism” in the context of discussing the new “English-loving” South Korea when she was there as a young journalist; and Ann Waldman brought down the house with her performance-essay in which she stated, “Poetry de-territorializes” – and also, “The body is radically non-Cartesian … it speaks to itself in a continuous feed,” and therefore body-mind-poetry-politic must never be separated.

SEE ALSO Tonya Foster's account of Night 1 of the conference on the Poetry Foundation blogsite.

Foster gives the stunning list of conference audience attendants and participants, all clustered at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York. Conversation among the feminists / writers / artists / poets was indeed "hot."

-- LH
PHOTOS: ADFEMPO organizers Rachel Levitsky, Tonya Foster, and Erica Kaufman (at final Friday night Plenary panel); multi-media artist Julie Patton during the final-night performance as she layers vocals onto a dance piece by Sally Silvers -- taken by Laura Hinton

Sep 25, 2009

In Honor of Today's ADVANCING FEMINIST POETICS conference: Seeing and the Image in Ann Lauterbach

(Some thoughts on Or to Begin Again as part of my introduction to Lauterbach's reading with Mei-mei Berssenbrugge and myself):

Speaking of poetic space, Gaston Bachelard has written:

“the visual image . . . invites a spectator, as ‘the reader of poems’ . . . to consider an image not as an object, and even less as the substitute for an object, but to seize its specific reality.”

It is this “specific reality” that I find so richly rewarding when I read Ann Lauterbach’s poetry – and which I have been doing, and also teaching, since the very early 19902, when I was a newly arrived Ph.D. from Stanford at the City College of New York and found the brilliant Ann to be my colleague. She kindly thrust a copy of her newly published book in my hand, entitled Clamour. In this book, I came to hear a new lyricism of competing melodies and sense, through vision as well as sound, that made me desire to reach more – and to plunge down into its clamouring depths. (Ann has long since left CCNY and CUNY Grad Center, of course, and is the Ruth and David E. Schwab Professor of Languages and Literature Professor at Bard.) Ann has ever since provided me with a model with a poetics that is a language about everything, but that draws its materials out of the proliferation of our smallest nothingnesses, our “vagrant contingencies,” to paraphrase from her artist statement, which resists, as she writes so beautifully in her Artist Statement for Women Poets of the 21st Century, those

“categorical imperatives that obscure and resist the actual conditions, possibilities, and complexities in which we find ourselves.”

Lauterbach’s newest work from Penguin Poets, Or To Begin Again, reveals that our smallest “habits of congruence, continuity, and context” (again from the Artist Statement) exist only in relationship: a poetic perceiver-viewer-subject directs her look upon not an “otherness” in this writing but throughout a oneness (I borrow from conversation with Berssenbrugge on this concept) that simultaneously join and deflect her creative materials – vis a vis “the fragment.” In Or to Begin Again, we read those disparate and yet always intersecting “lines.” (I think again about Berssenbrugge and my analysis of that reading from May). These record our reality’s logic, of vision and non-vision, in a piece like Lauterbach’s “Dear Blank.” A letter? An attempt at writing a letter? A letter-writer writing about watching herself “being” a letter writer? We read:

“And so the unobserved passes through its glass / twilight. Hitched to its seam….”

Always just “hitched” – together -- and at “the seam,” at and within (at the same time) the mysterious interstices of a symbolic “twilight” or meaning-space in language.

I do think Lauterbach’s writing is similar to Berssenbrugge’s in that “the woman see/ er” provides a poet’s space (and “poetics of space”) evocatively empty, yet replete with empathy (but non-sentimental): and therefore “it” never intervenes in “the real” left so very personnel to ourselves, as individual-group “see /ers.” “She” is not afraid of disclaiming possession in her use of poetic image. Yes, “she” collects.“ But “she” is not afraid of “contingency,” to quote Lauterbach’s Artist Statement again – not afraid of our very randomness. As the human / woman “being” gives way to the wider truth of so many possible worlds in existence for all at the same time, worlds that collide and cross or never cross, a different kind of authentic – and yes, I will call this “feminist” -- “vision” is created. It is a “vision” that invites the “reader/listener” in -- as her Artist Statement so aptly articulates: “Not by filling in the gaps and elisions” –necessarily the function of reality, whatever we know it to be at a given moment – “but by appropriating whatever fragment is ‘useful’ to her.”

In another poem that seeks out those interstices of “twilight” from this recent book, entitled, “Nothing to Say,” Lauterbach exhibits just how much she has “to say” about “nothing to say” – borrowing that phrase from the John Cage epigram that starts the poem: “I have nothing to say and I am saying it.” We move from the disjuncture of non-competing “sides” (“What? The other side? Now?” -- as the poem begins) to the “Not exactly” of the next line, to the “This one for example” of the next paragraph-like “verse,” all within in a prose-poem that catches us in the linguistic act as readers of “hurrying across the path, now stymied,” completely depending upon “which way the wind blows” at the moment of reading a phrase, a line, a word, and “with the arrival at the circle at it curves outward / split open / to reveal.”

I cannot replicate this visual page “field poem” with the technology afforded me of Blogspot.” The “split open” literally splits open the page, “to reveal” (in a separate and also split line) something absent, something “nothing,” taking place – all as if “the excess of a dream,” as we read in the following paragraph-verse. And we are always looking, for example, at “glamour, toned muscles of the arm, cleft above the thigh”; yet were are also

"unable to find a glass
to peer
into or at the glassy contradiction, infinite regress . . . "

Again, I cannot replicate vis a vis my technological screen here. Somehow, while the “field” is precise and important, the poem itself is about a forgiving, a knowing, that we can never know what we think we know through vision – or speech. This is a poem about reading, and about “hindered speech … condoned as appropriate,” what Lauterbach again in her Artist Statement calls “the fragment.” It is through the sliver – and the slide in between – that we “appropriate” the reality “Over there / slight / nothing to say.

Nothing and everything at all. The miracle of the subject of the writing of Ann Lauterbach.

-- LH