Societies of American Poetry: Dissenting Practices

Posted in Symposia

Whatever it is that motivates writing, it’s safe to say that poetry has some definite relation–of critique, indifference, support, reflection, determination–to the society in which the writer lives. Over time this relation will be thought in any number of ways, at one focus, to put it crudely, the notion of the private subject writing for ends that remain private or unknowable and autonomous from designs of utility, and at the other an explicit programmatic intention to influence the reader?s own political commitments and conduct. “You’re the only one who’s earning any money and yet you think that you can afford to have opinions.” So then, in the spirit of Brecht, this symposium will seek to prompt opinion & reflection from poets on the sociality of art. The tacit problem could be phrased in this way: what entanglements, collusions, collisions, reverberations may be said to exist between poetic practice and the states of America, in this era? Thinking America broadly as the site of imperium and fluctuation–fissures–in the meaning of “our”: poetry in our America. That’s the general drift and bearing perhaps upon the areas below, each one meant to test poetry 2003, what it is or might be.


Mark Nowak
Tom Orange
Elizabeth Robinson
Rod Smith
Juliana Spahr
Sharan Strange
Cole Swenson
Ward Tietz
Edwin Torres
Rodrigo Toscano
Mark Wallace
Elizabeth Willis

Schedule of Events

Field Work
The archive: written, read, preserved, circulated, lost, retrieved, suppressed. Field work initiates a dialogue between practice and its contexts. How might one understand editorial, publishing, archival, or documentary work in relation to “art’s social presence?” (Adrienne Rich) What does this sort of work imagine for contemporary or future writing? With Peter Gizzi, Lisa Jarnot, Mark Nowak, Tom Orange, Cole Swenson, and Mark Wallace.

Border Zones
There are borders within the United States–between languages, races, neighborhoods, categories in the census. Religions. A culture unsettled, impure, double-crossed, bastardized–“another bastard in a world of bastards” (W.C. Williams)–by flows in and out of bordered spaces–people with their memories and speech–that fit in, that do not fit in. The complex situation of border zones–how to talk about poetry from such spaces, or poetry as such spaces made legible? With Mark McMorris, Harryette Mullen, Rod Smith, Juliana Spahr, and Rodrigo Toscano.

Performance Media
The move away from the orthodoxy of the book and printed page–towards what? Poetry in the age of Story Space and Disney. Orality, digital environments, body, image: a vigor, an expansion in the codes for legitimate expression? An investigation into codes? Other sites for poetry but with what cultural capacity, what interference into the general cultural static? With Buck Downs, Bill Howe, Tracie Morris, Ward Tietz, and Edwin Torres.

Social / Lyric
An inquiry into agnosticism. How much does one know, does one need to know, about effects? About intentions? Poetry is an individual affair–expressive, subjective, fat with personality, aesthetic form. What does lyric poetry do? Can one think of poetry as useful? With a social function? If social, how is this function manifested? How to talk about the relation between “social” and “lyric?” Where is the intersection meaningful? With Beth Anderson, David Gewanter, Myung Mi Kim, Jennifer Moxley, Elizabeth Robinson, and Elizabeth Willis.


February 21, 2003 | Field Work

February 21, 2003 | Border Zones

February 21, 2003 | Performance Media

February 22, 2003 | Social / Lyric

March 10, 2003 | Ward Tietz, Rod Smith, and Mark McMorris Symposium Response