Commentaries - July 2011

by Felix Bernstein with Charles Bernstein & Susan Bee

Stacy Doris's new book, The Cake Part, is being released with a set of video adaptions, avaialble on Vimeo. Here's the part that Felix made, with Susan Bee and me. Read more about the book via the Poetry Foundation.

Charles & Felix Bernstein, Susan Bee in Discourse on the Guillotine by Stacy Doris from Stacy Doris on Vimeo.

Video By Felix Bernstein

PennSound Cinema link

Working with Peter Seaton's brother, Thom, and Nick Piombino, I have put together this bio of Peter and, with the help of Steve McLaughlin, am slowly making available all Peter's published works, and an unpublished ms, at the Seaton EPC page.

Peter Seaton with Judy Lippa on their wedding day, July 31, 1977. This is the only known photo of Peter.

 Peter Seaton: Biographical Sketch

Peter David Seaton was born in New York City on December 18, 1942, the son of Maria Zoldesi and Antal (Anthony) Sarkadi, both Jewish. Maria and Antal had emigrated from Hungary by way of England in 1938.  Maria was trained as a concert pianist, studying with Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly.  Antal was an art dealer.  After arriving in the United States, Peter’s parents traveled the country selling artworks.  

They returned to New York, living in Queens. They later moved to Manhattan, renting an apartment at 1391 Madison Avenue between 96th and 97th Streets.  In 1944, soon after Peter’s birth, the family changed its last name to Seaton and Antal became Anthony. Peter’s brother Thomas (Thom) was born in June 1946. In the early 1950s, Maria and Anthony opened an art gallery, the Henri Antoville Gallery, located between 63rd and 64th Streets on Madison Avenue.

Peter’s life was adversely affected by several traumatic childhood events.  Soon after the end of World War II, Peter’s mother learned that the Germans had killed her mother, brother and half-brother. Two brothers had survived; one had been in a concentration camp, the other, a musician, had been interned in India while on a musical tour.  They both relocated to Australia. 

In 1951 or 1952 Peter’s parents separated; Peter, Thom and their mother remained in the Madison Avenue apartment.  Shortly thereafter, Peter’s parents believed that the children would benefit by attending school outside the city, and Peter and his brother were sent to Tarrytown School, a military school overlooking the Hudson River (now Castle on the Hudson).  The brothers also attended summer camp at the school. The property is now a well-known destination for weddings and other celebrations.

Although his parents had separated, Peter remained close to his father Anthony.   Anthony, however, suffered from a heart condition and, in 1954, following a lengthy illness, he died.  Peter was eleven years old. Peter’s mother changed the name of the art gallery to Maria Antoville Gallery.

Tarrytown School closed and Peter and his brother began attending Sanford, a boarding school located near Wilmington, Delaware, in 1955.  The boys attended Sanford for three years.  Peter played quarterback on the football team and made several friends with whom he would stay in contact for most of his life. 

After transferring to St. Paul’s, a boarding school near Baltimore, which the boys attended for one year, Peter and Thom returned to New York for Peter’s senior year of high school at Franklin School, located on West 89th Street, near Central Park West.  Following graduation, Peter enrolled in City College of NY.

In 1962, Peter’s mother married Samuel Greenfield, a retired physician.  In the summer of 1963, Maria, Samuel, and Thom moved to Florida, near Miami Beach.

After graduating City College in 1964, Seaton stayed in New York, lived on East 73rd Street and 2nd Avenue and worked as a copywriter for ad agencies and publishers, including John Wiley. In the early 1970s he was peripherally interested in some of the poets in and around St. Marks Poetry Project (Bernadette Mayer, Lewis Warsh, Clark Coolidge, Ed Friedman, Ted Berrigan). At that time, he was part of a one-shot mimeo magazine, Workshop, edited by Nick Piombino and Peter Stamos. By the mid-1970s, he became more directly involved, and central to, the poets in and around L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E magazine and ROOF books, where he published his work and through that connection with associated poets in Washington, D.C., and the Bay Area. His first book Agreement, was published by Charles Bernstein and Susan Bee’s Asylum’s Press in 1978; his second book, The Son Master, was published by James Sherry's ROOF books in1982, and his third book, Crisis Intervention, was published by Lyn Hejinian's Tuumba Press in 1983. Over the next decade, his circle of friends in New York included Piombino, with whom he had gone to City College; Bernstein, who is his literary executor; as well as Bruce Andrews, Diane Ward, Henry Hills, Alan Davies, Abigail Child, and Sherry.

Seaton married Judy Lippa, a social worker, on July 31, 1977. They both moved to Maine but divorced after several years. Peter moved back to New York, where he had a relationship with poet George-Therese Dickenson. Subsequently, he had a long-term relationship with the painter Lee Sherry, though this ended before his death.

After returning to New York, Peter lived on the Upper West Side, moving in the early 1980s to an apartment on Riverside Drive between 78th and 79th street. For many years he worked at Coliseum Books near Columbus Circle. In the mid-1980s, he moved to East 25th Street., where he lived for the remainder of his life.

Peter Seaton died on May 28, 2010. The cause of death was arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease.

Compiled by Charles Bernstein in July 2011; early biography provided by Thomas Seaton. See Nick Piombino’s sketch for a more detailed account of Seaton’s life.

 For writings and bibliography, see Seaton EPC and PennSound pages.


Nick Piombino on Peter Seaton:

 Peter Seaton graduated from CCNY in 1964. Except for a very brief stint working for a publishing company, Peter worked in bookstores, mostly Coliseum Books on West 57 Street, which closed in 2007. From time to time I would stop in there and look for him if I hadn’t seen him for a while. The apartment Peter had for the longest time was on East 73rd Street and 2cd Avenue; it was rent-controlled (to something like $75 a month). In 1967 when he moved in with a girlfriend he generously let me stay in that apartment. This was the time when I first met Jackson Mac Low at the Whitehall Street Induction Center sit in, November 1967, when I was attending Ted Berrigan’s workshop, and shortly before I hitchhiked to Berkeley to burn my draft card with the Resistance group. Peter kept that apartment for years afterwards. It was a tiny bathroom in the kitchen setup, but pleasant and quiet, facing a back yard in the rear of the building. Peter had a couple of interesting friends in that building who I met and kept up with for a few years. When I came back from my trip to Italy and Morocco in 1969 to 1970  I stayed in that apartment for a while also. Joel Sloman and Lewis Warsh attended CCNY at the same time we did. Peter always liked Warsh’s writing and he did seem to keep in touch with Joel Sloman who said that he received a manuscript from Seaton in the late 90’s.

Some years after graduating Peter started writing poetry, but in his college years he wrote short stories and seemed to be heading in the direction of writing narrative fiction, influenced, for example, by Norman Mailer. When I was staying at Peter’s apartment in 1967, I remember coming home once to find a letter sent to me by Norman Mailer. I must have written to him because of Peter’s interest in him, also somewhat moved by Mailer’s book Why Are We In Vietnam. I came home (to the 73rd St. apartment) to find a letter from Mailer to me dangling from the string attached to the ceiling light bulb. The letter was brief and sardonic. I must have sent Mailer some writing because his only comment was to say “your writing is too elliptical for me to say whether you’re full of shit or not.” By the way, Peter was a fan of Paul McCartney, in particular Band on the Run. But Peter once explained that he went for long periods of time listening to no music at all, that the silence helped him to write. He once confided to me, as if he were telling me a major professional secret, that he liked to write in the dark.  Peter was always skeptical about my interest in Timothy Leary and the hippy movement in general. He used to say: “I have nowhere to drop out from.”

As for other poetry connections, or friendships, although most people who met him were very charmed by Peter, he was the most reclusive person I have ever known. On a pretty much chance basis I once met Peter’s mother, who, according to him, ran an art gallery. When Peter explained I was becoming a social worker his mother strangely said: “Why don’t you do that?” This was strange for two reasons: one, because anybody who knew Peter Seaton would realize this was nowhere in the realm of possibilities. Second, that she would say this in front of someone she had never met before who was obviously a close friend seemed inconsiderate, even a bit rude and humiliating. He did train as a librarian for short time. By the way, I recently received a note from Katie Lippa, Judy Lippa’s niece, who said that she was so surprised to hear the Peter had passed, that he was one of those people who you always think of as remaining eternally themselves.

 July 2011

The corridors in The Rose Concordance by Angela Carr open onto the linguistic fountains of the Roman de la rose. The Roman de la rose (Romance of the Rose) was an extremely popular medieval French poem, whose initial variant was attributed to a writer de Lorris. A scholar, named Joseph R. Danos, then used this variant to create a concordance, that is a key word index, to the poem. The keywords are arranged in alphabetical order and under each keyword heading is a list of lines containing that keyword. Throughout the medieval age, the Roman de la rose was also copied many times by many scribes, and with each copy would have been altered, expanded, re-assembled, deleted, etc., bearing the marks of each copyist. The word copy comes from the Latin copia which means abundance, so one might say that the copyist doesn’t create simulacra but writes out of the spirit of abundance.

I shall now copy “of the font to the fountain no avail” by Angela Carr.

of the fount a font

of avail fonts to

of no font fountains

of to the no the

of fount avails font

A concordance is a medieval search engine, based on principles of assembly and organization, amassed not through mechanical means but through the systematic means of a human hand. In writing from a concordance, using her human hand to forge English lines out of the medieval French, Carr does not obfuscate or cloud the dynamic of writing and translating, but rather enacts how they might each be part of the other, showing some of the ways a corridor of writing is a translation and how a translation is a corridor of writing. The Rose Concordance is a rubbing of languages and a conflation of time.

The concordance’s indexical nature also leads to a compositional process in poetry that is indexical, infinitely generative, fountain-like. Fountains are corridors; water flows out in plumes, then collects, remixes and flows out in new plumes. It is always the same water, yet never exactly the same plume. “of the font to left haunting no avail” (Angela Carr) The Rose Concordance does not narrate; it generates.

Giorgio Agamben, in the short essay Qu’est-ce que le contemporain? writes that to be contemporary with one’s time, one needs to be somewhat anachronistic to it; one only begins to see the contemporary from a point of difference or disjunct. “Le poète, en tant que contemporain, est cette fracture, il est celui qui empêche le temps de se rassembler et, en même temps, le sang qui doit souder la brisure.” For him, the poet is simultaneously a fracture that hinders time from coalescing and the blood that must solder this breach. The Rose Concordance stands anachronistically beside the concordance to the Roman de la rose, breaching time and languages, bodily/textually/erotically fusing a new linguistic fount.


Poet and translator, Angela Carr, lives in Montreal. She has published two poetry collections, The Rose Concordance (BookThug, 2009) and Ropewalk (Snare Books, 2006). Her translation of Quebecoise artist Chantal Neveu's Coït is forthcoming from BookThug in 2012.

Curated specificities

Rodrigo Araujo: parede, cachoeira, nascente
Rodrigo Araujo, Saõ Paolo artist and member of the collective Grupo BijaRi

What we experience—the information that impacts our consciousness—frames how and what we are able to think. How we frame and understand what we experience influences our approach to the world, opens (or closes) us to new experiences, new frames.

Rodrigo Araujo: chão, seguradores, fogo esquecido

It is through a strange and often delightful confluence of accident, synchronicity, bumble, attentiveness, purpose, determination, chance, intuition and research that we locate the work we feel moved to do—or it locates us, places us, makes space for us.

In these “affinities, affections and elections” posts—of which this will be the last, for now—I’m trying to articulate how it is I find the work I read and/or translate from cultural contexts that are very different from my own. This post documents some of the conversations I had as I began to tell people I was writing these commentaries for Jacket2. It is partial, incomplete, subjective, and limited by my own knowledge and ways of moving through the world. It is an invitation to you, dear reader, to do more, think more, read more, have more conversations, and expand your knowledge through your own ways of moving through the world.

When I was in Mexico doing the research for Sin puertas visibles, the anthology of contemporary poetry by Mexican women for which I did the selections and translations, I found it enormously frustrating to encounter people who would immediately assume they knew the table of contents of my book in advance, based only on hearing about the premise of the project—of course I’d be including this or that poet, as whoever-it-was had already been widely anthologized in Mexico, and were clearly part of the legitimated who’s who of Mexican poetry. Of course not. I’m not interested in being told what to do, or in being spoon-fed answers to questions whose only answers are further questions. Yet my resistance to the presumption of value conferred by the selections of other editors was balanced—seesaw style, perhaps—by my grateful reliance on other, more local readers whose perspectives I appreciated and trusted, who might lead me to journals, presses or writers I might not have encountered otherwise. In the same way that we might accept advice, tips or instigations from a friend, teacher, librarian or writer/artist we respect at home, we might purposefully seek the somewhat random yet not random threads of suggestion that come from people in other contexts and cultures.

For example:

On a visit to Tijuana, Gaby Torres Olivares might give you some copies of the gorgeously-designed poster-style visual-poetic magazine Metrópolis, produced in editions of 3000 in Guadalajara and distributed free throughout Mexico with the support of government-sponsored cultural institutions. She and Jenny Donovan (who together edit and explode La Derramadora Press) might take you to the Librería Sor Juana, the bookstore that hosted this year’s Feria del libro independiente (Independent Book Fair) where you might discover a number of exciting small press projects—like Quimera Ediciones, the first openly queer press in Mexico. Or like Lenguaraz, which publishes a magazine called Lenguaraz (“literatura para no leer”—“literature not to be read” or “literature for not reading”) and produces lovely books as well. Or like MaNgOs de HaChA, which aims to expand expressive possibilities by publishing innovative texts in Spanish and translations in bilingual edition. Or like Editorial nortEstación, dedicated to non-conventional narrative structures in writing. You might wander uber-hip (but amazingly not annoyingly so) Pasaje Rodríguez where the tiny but huge-hearted bookstore el grafógrafo, co-host of the Feria del Libro Usado (Used Book Fair) provides a home base for many autonomous literary projects, including Colectivo Intransigente, a collective that publishes a bimonthly literary journal and generally raises poetic hell in local bars and performance spaces and on the streets.

Or Omar Pimienta might put a copy of the hand-sewn (thanks to Karen Plata) journal poemas intervenidos in your hands; the round-robin response/intervention sequence has no internet presence that I could discern, but Peródico de Poesía, one of the most expansive and dynamic spaces for Mexican poetry (edited by poet and translator Pedro Serrano) published a superb interview with the project’s editor, Luis Alberto Arellano and fellow poet Julián Herbert. poemas intervenidos calls to mind the wonderful (and now lapsed) project Pom2—both projects invite conversation-through-poetry, encouraging writers to get inside each other’s work, to write from within someone else’s structures or frameworks. 

Or for example:

You might write a friend in a faraway place—in this case, I wrote to Virginia Lucas, whose poems you can read in Aufgabe #9, to ask her which writers or independent small press projects she might recommend in Montevideo specifically, or Uruguay generally. She responded by sending a link to the online journal/blog .txt (also known as puntotxt), which features recent Uruguayan writing, and some notes about La propia cartonera, the Uruguayan iteration of the cartonera projects I wrote about a few posts back. She mentioned that La propia cartonera is a not-for-profit press that works with a community center for kids: “They make the books using recycled cardboard and the kids paint the covers, so in that sense, each book is a unique object—no two are the same.” She also highlighted RIEPA, which stands for Red Internacional de Editores y Proyectos Alternativos (International Network of Alternative Presses and Projects), whose tag line is "plowing the fields of bibliodiversity" (and indeed the site is so diverse as to be a bit dizzying), and Libro a la carta, not a small-press or literarily innovative project necessarily, but fascinating as a Spanish-language version of Bookmobile or Lulu. Virginia noted: “It’s difficult here, what’s considered independent... There’s no distribution of independent projects in the media...” I’d be excited to see someone (not me) do a study comparing two cultures that are relatively close (geographically and in some other ways)—Argentina and Uruguay, for instance—where one has experienced an enormous flourishing of DIY culture and the other has not. What are the conditions that transform agency and sass and persistence (present in most if not all cultures, I’d imagine) into autonomous tiny press projects and homemade reading series and anti-authoritarian art in the streets?

Or for example:

You might draw on the knowledge of someone who is already clearly committed to open-sourcing his thinking about literary worlds generally and his own cultural contexts specifically. I wrote to Guillermo Parra, whose superfab blog venepoetics is one of the best sources I know for thinking about literature, translation, and what’s going on elsewhere (not exclusively in Venezuela, but significantly there). He wrote:

I wanted to send you along some links to various projects I think are interesting right now in Venezuela. There's a lot to sort through. The first four are state-run publishing houses, and while they're relatively big and funded by the Venezuelan government (not at all DIY affairs), they've been publishing excellent books recently.

Monte Ávila Editores Latinoamericana
Monte Ávila Editores was founded in 1968 and they've been crucial to Venezuelan literature since then, publishing all sorts of important work, including poetry, fiction, history, theory, etc. by Venezuelan and international writers. During the last decade, they've sponsored the Concurso Para Obras de Autores Inéditos  (Contest for Works by Unpublished Writers), which has been an avenue for many younger writers to get their first book published. Monte Ávila also runs year-long writing workshops in fiction, poetry and essay writing that have served as places where many young writers have been able to develop their work. Monte Ávila is currently run by the novelist Carlos Noguera.

Biblioteca Ayacucho
Biblioteca Ayacucho only publishes a few books a year, and they focus on Latin American classics and stuff by established writers. However, much of their catalog is available in free PDF editions at their website. They've been around since 1974.

Fondo Editorial El perro y la rana

El perro y la rana is very young, they were established in 2006 and they publish a lot every year, some of it amazing, some of it mediocre. But they've got great designs for their collections and serve as a place where younger writers might have a chance at getting their work published. Their web site can be hard to navigate. El perro y la rana is currently run by the poet William Osuna.

Casa Nacional de las Letras Andrés Bello
Foundation that publishes a few books and organizes readings, workshops and poetry festivals. This  summer, they put on the 8th Festival Mundial de Poesía. Run by the poet Luis Alberto Crespo, whose poems I've been translating recently.

Ficción Breve Venezolana
For the moment, Ficción Breve is undergoing a renovation, so the page barely has anything. But it's usually a great source of information about Venezuelan fiction, with interviews, reviews, short stories and other great features. It's been run by Héctor Torres and Lennis Rojas since 1999.

El Apéndice de Pablo
This is a collective blog, curated by the novelist Mario Morenza. It's also a collective of poets & fiction writers that have organized readings throughout Caracas during the last three or four years. They've been less active in the last year or so, and the quality of what gets published in the collective blog can vary. But they've got great stuff in the 7 issues they've published so far. It's kind of like a blog magazine.

El Salmón – Revista de Poesía
This is a magazine run by two poets in Caracas, Santiago Acosta and Willy McKey. The goal of the magazine is to highlight and rescue work by Venezuelan poets that has been overlooked by readers and critics in recent years. Some of the issues are available on a link to the issuu site on their sidebar. El Salmón also organizes readings and presentations in Caracas.

Editorial Memorias de Altagracia
This is a very small press run by the novelist Israel Centeno and his wife the poet Graciela Bonnet. The press began in the mid-1990s, as a branch of the activities of the literary group Eclepsidra, which was a collective of fiction writers and poets. Especially in the 90s, Memorias de Altagracia published some excellent stuff. They've been less active in recent years, as Israel and Graciela are in the process of leaving Venezuela.

Afinidades Electivas Venezuela
A collective blog based on others in Latin America and which I imagine you've seen, there's one for the U.S., too. But they haven't updated it since last August, not sure if it'll continue.

500 ejemplares
Web magazine/blog edited from Mérida by the fiction writer Carolina Lozada and her husband the poet Luis Moreno Villamediana.

Web site run by Luis Yslas and Rodrigo Blanco Calderón (an excellent fiction writer, whose two books Una larga fila de hombres (Monte Ávila Editores, 2005) and Los invencibles (Mondadori, 2008) I highly recommend, although they're difficult to find outside Venezuela.) ReLectura's web site can be difficult to navigate, but it's got some great short stories, interviews and reviews. Check out the comments on this excellent short story by Carlos Ávila.

Los Hermanos Chang
Web magazine that publishes new poetry and fiction. Edited by the fiction writers José Urriola and Fedosy Santaella.

Domingos de Ficción @ Prodavinci
Web magazine Prodavinci started about  two years ago and they have this great section of short stories published every Sunday. The section is on hiatus right now, hopefully will start up again soon.

Web magazine edited by Jorge Gómez Jiménez since 1999, which covers world and Venezuelan literature. Gómez Jiménez also keeps a personal blog.

El Cautivo
Web magazine edited by the poet María Antonieta Flores.

Literary collective based out of Maracaibo. They organize readings and events around Maracaibo.

Letras (Ciudad CCS)
Weekly literary supplement published on Saturdays by the free newspaper Ciudad CCS, which is funded by the Alcaldía de Caracas. This supplement only started a few months ago, but has published some excellent work.

Derrelictos (Ana Julia García)
Personal blog written by a fiction writer whose excellent first book, Cancelado por lluvia, won the 2005 edition of the Premio de Narrativa para Escritores Inéditos de Monte Ávila Editores.

Lezámico (Néstor Mendoza)
Personal blog written by young poet in Maracay.

Vademécum (Natasha Tiniacos)
Personal blog of a poet whose first book Mujer a fuego lento (Editorial Equinoccio, 2007) received the Premio Nacional Universitario de Literatura. Natasha occasionally translates American poets into Spanish, and has recently opened the blog The Verbatim Project which aims to do something similar to my Venepoetics, translating Venezuelan poets into English.

Blog Caribe (Gabriel Payares)
Personal blog of fiction writer Gabriel Payares, whose fantastic first book Cuando bajaron las aguas won the Premio Para Autores Inéditos de Monte Ávila Editores in 2008.

Nocturna, mas no funesta (Eleonora Requena)
Personal blog of the Caracas poet Eleonora Requena.

Cartel de Caracas (Yaneth Rivas)
Personal blog of visual artist and muralist whose work can be seen on the streets of Caracas.


Rodrigo Araujo: controle, seguranca do controle, sem controle

I realize it sounds hokey, but part of what I’m trying to say here—in addition to encouraging folks (myself included) to continue to read beyond our boundaries and borders—is don’t be shy! Indulge your curiosities enthusiastically! Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Part of dismantling systems of privilege, undoing the dominance of the dominant and remaking the world as we imagine it to be at its best is being willing to admit what we don’t know and to seek out knowledge in any way we can.  It’s not up to others—whoever those “others” might be—to explain their existence or perspective to us (whoever “we” may be); rather, it’s up to us to find ways into experiences, cosmologies and knowledges that are distinct from our own. One way to do that is to be open to conversation in all its varied forms. In all its varied formlessness.

The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada

A much-photographed, controversial mural by artist Jesse Corcoran at the Crying Room Gallery in Vancouver

Jules Boykoff

 As a youngster I had unequivocally positive feelings about the Olympics. In part this was because I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin where winter sports were bigger than Jesus. During the 1980 Winter Olympics, which took place in Lake Placid, New York, I cheered mightily for fellow Madisonian Eric Heiden as he won five gold medals in speed skating, yelping at the tv screen as he swirled elegantly around the rink. This brought the poet out of ABC’s Keith Jackson who later described him as “a spring breeze off the top of the Rockies.” My parents even got me a stylish Eric-Heiden-esque rainbow hat, which I wore with great pride. (Later I attended Madison West High School where Heiden also went). That same Olympics the US hockey team won the so-called “miracle on ice.” The moment the hockey team won the gold-medal game is etched in the chalk and bones of my then-10-year-old mind. I remember the unbridled exhilaration pumping through my little body.

Eric Heiden and his stylish hat

My admiration for Olympics was rooted in an appreciation of athletic prowess, sangfroid under pressure, and the grit and determination to do one’s best under the media spotlight. At the time I knew nothing about the burgeoning commercialization of the Olympics, where television firms jockeyed behind the scenes with Olympic bigwigs for the best fiscal deal, where crony capitalists wined and dined each other in order to curry Olympic favor. During the 1980s and 1990s, under the leadership of Juan Antonio Samaranch, the Olympics were full-on commercialized. As Robert K. Barney, Stephen R. Wenn, and Scott G. Martyn note in their excellent book Selling the Five Rings: The International Olympic Committee and the Rise of Olympic Commercialism, the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles “ushered in the formalization of relations between the world of business and the Modern Olympic Movement” (p. 160). In May 1990 I got my own personal taste of the Olympic movement when I represented the US Olympic Soccer Team (U-23 National Team) in an international tournament in France. We played the Olympic teams from Brazil, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union. Again, at the time I was oblivious to the political and economic machinations that undergirded the Games. I was just playing soccer, and, I must say, quite enjoying it.

Fast-forward two decades to 2010 when Vancouver, Canada hosted the Winter Olympics. In the months preceding the Games, Kaia Sand and I had the good fortune of heading north to Vancouver a couple times to do poetry readings and performances with the Kootenay School of Writing. For me, the poetry communities in Vancouver are as exciting as they come: innovative, open, and engaged with the world. In fact, when I read in San Francisco at the 21 Grand Series in March 2010 and was asked to fill out a Spicerian “map of influence” I made it a north-of-the-border affair and I needed to add circles to include the many Canadian poets who have affected my outlook on poetry (and looking at my map, posted below, I could have used a bunch more circles!). 

Spicerian map of influence for 21 Grand

When Kaia and I were in Vancouver in late 2009 and early 2010 everyone was talking about the upcoming 2010 Winter Olympics. Poets were organizing against the Games, or at least against the idea of holding the Games in Vancouver. Leading up to and during the Games, poet-activists ramped up their dissent around three areas: indigenous rights, civil liberties, and the boondogglicious public financing of the Games. I ended up returning to Vancouver numerous times to interview activists and write articles about what they were up to (for example, see here and here and here). In an essay I wrote for New Left Review, I described the many endeavors poet-activists and their allies were engaged in during the Olympic moment. For instance, Cecily Nicholson, Nicholas Perrin, and Am Johal created the “Safe Assembly Project” at the VIVO Media Arts Centre where the “Evening News” program took place every other night. This forum blended the work of video activists who screened protest footage, artists who responded to and critiqued the Games, and panels that focused on specific themes that brought activists and scholars into conversation. Poetry played a key role in how the events unfolded, with Roger Farr and Steve Collis (whose work Oana Avasilichioaei wrote about recently at Jacket2) hosting the pirate-radio program “Short-Range Poetic Device.” These shows played periodically throughout the Olympics, featuring numerous innovative poets who readers of Jacket2 will be familiar with, people like Cecily Nicholson, Naava Smolash, Clint Burnham, Kim Duff, Donato Mancini, Rita Wong, and Jeff Derksen.

What was striking is that poets and poetry played a key role in anti-Olympics resistance. In my next few posts I’ll engage in conversation with poets who were involved in anti-Olympics activism, reflecting on what they did and why.