Last June I sat looking at this “sampler” by Elizabeth Parker in the textile archives of the Victoria and Albert Museum. I put “sampler” in quotes because I do not think this piece really is one and neither do the curators and archivists. What is this object? What might it say toward a textile poetics? Similarly, the stitched works of Arthur Bispo do Rosário are called “outsider art” yet they were exhibited at the 2013 Venice Biennale.
I do not want to comment on the high art/craft divide or museum and art world ethics/politics—though textiles are often in the middle of those debates. And I have written about Parker’s sampler before.
Inexpert investigation in poetry opens a space: what is left open is left open. “The highly rewarded entrepreneurial strategy of forging ahead with an air of mastery no-matter-what spawns impatience for the point or gist,” Joan Retallack writes in The Poethical Wager. What get lost are “values that encourage the necessarily inefficient, methodically haphazard inquiry characteristic of actually living with ideas” (51).
Enter inexpert investigation. A poet can bring fanciful fortitude to her investigation without commandeering it. After all, the poem need not serve as the final word, but rather, as an opening up for others to engage. A poet might be attuned to unlikely connections. Situational rhymes. An alchemy of juxtapositions.
This inexpertise involves responsibility—via responding. Listening.