Shortly after North of Invention, I had the opportunity to ask M. NourbeSe Philip a question following her public reading here in St. Catharines, Ontario. She read exclusively from Zong!, outlining for a group of mostly students (the same students featured in the chapbook she holds up towards the end of the video) the difficulty of writing about eighteenth century African slaves who were murdered for the sake of an insurance payout.
My question, drawing upon her repeated desire to “tell the story that cannot be told,” was simple: “Are you ‘against expression’?”
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.