What constitutes poetry, and how might it serve as a vital, even undeniably necessary act of citizenship? In her address to the North of Invention audience, Lisa Robertson eloquently addresses these questions while discussing the inextricability of subjectivity, social relations, and language. Her talk, one incarnation of a still-evolving paper initially presented at a conference on citizenship, invokes the ideas of French linguist Emile Benveniste.
I first saw Adeena Karasick read at The Idler Pub in Toronto in the nineties, when I was somewhere in my early twenties. It’s a bit embarrassing to remember because I had no clue what she was talking about or what she was doing. As someone whose experience did not yet include experimental or conceptual poetry, I felt strangely threatened and a little dubious. But I also felt exhilarated. I realized little by little, word by un-word, that she was doing something wild with — and to — language. She was actually dismantling words and reconstructing them in new ways.
After swift exchanges at a University of Pennsylvania conference on April 13–14, 2012, Maria Damon, with a practice of weaving and cross-stitch embroidery, and Rachel Blau DuPlessis, with a practice of collage and collage poems, decided to ask each other some questions about this work, their desires to do it and its rationale, given the full-scale scholarly careers that they both have.
Breadcrumbs would violate library rules, so I tore up notebook paper to leave my trail. I was in the Poetry Collection in the library of the University at Buffalo reading CAMBRIDGE M’ASS, a book-length poetry broadside, 49 by 40 ¾ inches, with about 275 poems by Robert Grenier scattered across it.
Williams has remained a foundational poet for me for decades: the exuberance, variety, and transparency of his formal experimentation; the surprising eloquence amid his sometimes bumptious democratic stylistic affirmations; the complexity of the political-formal negotiations throughout Paterson; his unflagging honesty — there are many ways his writing remains of the greatest interest. However, during the decades I’ve been reading and rereading his work, there have always been the lesser moments in poems I value very highly, the not particularly notable pieces, and even some downright clunkers like “Tract”: “I will teach you my townspeople / how to conduct a funeral —” My intuition is that the problems are quite closely bound up with the strengths.