Commentaries - August 2011

CFP: Poetry Communities and the Individual Talent

April 6-7, 2012 at Penn

Twentieth-century poetry is often taught through the lens of poetry communities: Imagists, Black Mountain, Language Poetry, etc. These poetry communities, for better or worse, also shape how scholars think about and write about poets and poetry in their research. Some poets are studied mainly to demonstrate their membership in a school or movement; others are treated in isolation to exaggerate their influence. Recent attempts to bridge these divergent approaches include focuses on friendships, collaborations, careers, and reception. This conference seeks papers that think about poets and poetry in given communities. Possible topics include:

- how schools and movements are identified
- poetry friendships and collaborations
- how publishers, editors, scholars, and the public create poetry communities
- editing and the production/marketing of careers
- the role of reception in entrenching or altering reputations
- identity politics and claims to representation
- local, national, and transnational communities
- eccentrics, loners, and individualists
- manifestos and group identity
- the relationship between poems and statements of poetics
- communities of reception
- alternative communities
- validity (or not) of certain community designations or labels

Please submit an abstract of 250 words and a brief CV to poetry.communities@gmail.com by October 15, 2011. Chosen speakers will be placed on panels and allotted 15-20 minutes to present their work. Selected papers will have the opportunity to be published in Jacket2. Please email Jonathan Fedors or Katie L. Price at the conference email if you have any questions or concerns.

Jonathan Fedors and Katie L. Price
Department of English, University of Pennsylvania
contact email:  poetry.communities@gmail.com

 

'I'm here to testify about the fangs of militarization ... '

A chronicle of Craig Santos Perez's metaphor

Kaia Sand

Until this spring, I assumed a chronology that was backward. I had thought that it was during his testimony before the United Nations that Craig Santos Perez developed his metaphor connecting the brown tree snake–an invasive species on Guam–to the military presence on Guam.

No, he explained as we chatted in Portland this past March during his poetry-reading stop-off, he had worked out the metaphor in his poetry, and then realized that it would be memorable in his testimony.

He brought his poetic skills to bear in his activist work.

I think I had him pour over the sequence of events--how the brown tree snake metaphor traveled into activist circles--twice during his visit, at least. Then he obliged my interest in archiving this by writing it down in what is now an unpublished essay, “Dispersal Pathways: Imagining, Circulating, and Recasting Political and Poetic Images.”

He describes how, as he finished from Unincorporated Territories [hacha] (Tinfish Press 2008), he added a page at the end with an allusion to a U.S. military build-up in Guam, printing an enormous "8000" on a page. This page followed his sequence "from Descending Plumeria," which, along the top, is an elegy for a beloved cousin, and, along the bottom, describes the invasion of the brown tree snake.

“In my imagination, I equated the incoming of U.S. military personnel with the snakes: both were invasive species,” writes Perez in “Dispersal Pathways.” “Analogy by juxtaposition.”

It was during the reading tour for his first poetry book that he prepared his testimony on the harmful environmental and cultural impacts of militarization on Guam to the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization. Given only five minutes to present, Perez turned to his  “training as poet … because [he] knew how to condense.” He knew he needed an image to make the facts memorable.

During one book reading on his simultaneous tour, he turned back to “from descending plumeria,” the poem in which the snakes appear, a poem he rarely read because he was “emotionally difficult” for him to do so. Looking back, he realizes “the poem called to me during that time.”

Now he had his image for the UN testimony: the brown tree snake.

Standing before the committee, Perez said “I’m here to testify about the fangs of militarization and colonialism destroying the Chamoru people of Guam.” Pause. “These fangs dig deep.”

Perez went on to describe how brown tree snakes entered Guam in US Naval Cargo ships during World War II, and then he extended the metaphor, describing the military as “a more familiar breed of predators.” He described how the military has polluted Guam’s environment, sickening people, by extending the metaphor more:  “Toxic chemicals have snaked into our bloodstream.” 

He ended the testimony this way: “And even though powerful snakes block our passage, we are willing to struggle for our rights—but we need your help.”

The metaphor was memorable. The UN highlighted it in its press release about the meetings. Perez’s testimony was compiled with others from Chamoru activists into a pamphlet called Hita Guahan and “distributed at various activist and cultural events in Guam, Hawaii, and the continental United States…. and distributed via email, listserves, and blogs.”

 “Our testimonies began to circulate further through various online news networks in the Pacific and the United States,” writes Perez, including Scoop News, out of New Zealand, a decolonization weblog Perez sites in his first book, and the Chamorro activist magazine, Minagahet Zine.

Perez also points out an Oct 2010 article on the Time Magazine website, “Guam: An Early Casualty of U.S. China relations?” that begins by describing the introduction and damage of the Brown Tree Snake, and then moves to this sentence, “Now Guam is getting ready for a new invasive species to come ashore: the U.S. Marines. At least, that's how some of Guam's 178,000 residents see it.” 

The online encyclopedia Guampedia includes an entry on “Kulepbla: Snakes” written by Chamoru poet, activist, professor, and UN testifier, Michael Lujan Bevacqua, that also links the brown tree snake to the US military presence, and lists Perez’s UN testimony as “further reading.”  

“While my testimony has circulated in all these different spaces because of its political and rhetorical content, the source of one of its guiding metaphors was a moment of poetry,” writes Perez. “And while my first poetry book will likely not be referenced or cited in the same way, it is still the origin of that image in my imagination.”

My initial assumption that Perez first developed the metaphor in his testimony might be based in the fact that there is so much circulation between his activism and his poetry. He brought the testimony back into his poetry, handing out Hita Guahan at poetry readings, posting his UN testimony at the Harriet Blog, and, remixing the testimony into both his second and forthcoming third books.

Last year, the Konsehilon Tinaotao Guam (Guam Humanities Council) invited Perez to engage community conversations around the military build-up in his capacity as both poet and activist. In a week, he estimates he engaged “nearly 500 students and 300 community members” in addition to appearing on local media.

“I think back to the moment in 2006 when I typed “8,000?*” into my poem,” he writes. “I never would have imagined that four years later I would be flying home for the first time in fifteen years to explore ways that poetry can engage in civic and political conversations.”

 

works cited
Perez, Craig Santos. “Dispersal Pathways: Imagining, Circulating, and Recasting Political and Poetic Images.” Unpublished Essay, 2011.

Workshop, July 1973 mimeo mag (pdf)

Ed. Nick Piombino & Peter Stamos, with Bernadette Mayer

  WORKSHOP
edited by Nick Piombino and Peter Stamos
cover by Ed Bowes
©  July 1973 Bernadette Mayer 

PEPC Digital Edition August 2011
ed. Nick Piombino & Toni Simon
PDF of publication here

Bernadette Mayer—Experiments List............................................................2

NAME..............................................................................................................5
Introduction: Name.........................................................................................6
Bernadette Mayer—Eye and Brain .................................................................8
Paul Brown  ...................................................................................................10
Lynn Schneider—Sestina 1, Bobath.............................................................. 13
Peter Stamos—Red Harvest...........................................................................18
Michael Mandel..............................................................................................28
Nick Piombino—annexing glass ................................................................... 29
Peter Seaton —inside and outside, the shore, Software Implosion...............30

MOVIE I....................................................................................................... 41
Peter Stamos —work ....................................................................................42
Bernadette Mayer—B-Movie........................................................................44
Nick Piombino—move ease..........................................................................45
Lynn Schneider.............................................................................................46

MOVIE II......................................................................................................49
Bernadette Mayer—Movie Climb.................................................................50
Peter Stamos —story............................................... .....................................50
Jim Rader—film #2................................................. .....................................51
PROUST/JOYCE TAPE................................................................................53
Peter Seaton................................................... ..............................................53
Bernadette Mayer—No Depth......................................................................54
Peter Stamos—Untitled.. .............................................................................56
Bernadette Mayer—Am Shot........................................................................57
Mike Mandel........................................................ ........................................60
Jim Rader........................................................ .............................................61
Regina Beck................................................... ..............................................62
 
LETTER WORKS.........................................................................................63
Mike Mandel—Very Michaely Yours...........................................................64
Sheldon Cholst.............................................................................................67
Peter Stamos —establishing shots...............................................................68
Nick Piombino—i  t,  i chart     .....................................................................71
Paul  Brown—arbitrary stimulus..................................................................73
 
EXCHANGE.................................................................................................75
Bernadette Mayer—six groups of nine....................................................... 77
Paul Brown—Hat Myne Eyen May Nat Susteyne...................................... 78
 
BASIL'S IDEA/BASIL BUNTING................................................................83
Nick Piombino—Basil's Idea........................................................................84
Bernadette Mayer—Basil Bunting...............................................................85
Nick Piombino—Bunting Ideas...................................................................89
 
CONCLUSION..............................................................................................93
Bernadette Mayer—Index.............................................................................94
Jim Rader.....................................................................................................103
Lynn Schneider............................................................................................103
Mike Mandel.................................................................................................104
Bernadette Mayer........................................................................................ 104
Nick Piombino..............................................................................................105
Peter Seaton..................................................................................................105
Paul Brown....................................................................................................107
Leonard Schwartz.........................................................................................108
Bernadette Mayer—Remembering
(explanation of previous section Imp of the Perverse)................................108


DREAM WORK..........................................................................................109
Nick Piombino.. .........................................................................................110
Jim Rader....................................................................................................112
Lynn Schneider............................................. .............................................114
Peter Stamos...............................................................................................115
Bernadette Mayer.. .....................................................................................116
Peter Stamos................................ ...............................................................119
Nick Piombino............................................................................................120
Jim Rader.....................................................................................................121
Bernadette Mayer........................................................................................122
Nick Piombino.............................................................................................123

‘Ear Loads’: Neologisms and sound poetry in Maggie O’Sullivan’s Palace Of Reptiles

by Peter Middleton

 This essay was first published in Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry, vol. 2, no 1 (2010), ed. Robert Sheppard and Scott Thurston. It was collected in The Salt Companion to Maggie O'Sullivan (2011). Reprinted with the permission of  Peter Middleton.
PDF of full essay here.

EAR LOADS

- I SING –

THEY CAME TO ME –

OCCIPUTAL DISTENTIONS

LINGERED, CHISMERIC, CHISMIC,
SCAR
CUMES,
CON-
CONDY-
CREO-
KAKA-
CATE-
CUA-
COOT-
E-
COB-
OD-
CL-
CR-
SWISH OF

( - WRENS CROSS MY PATH - )

TREMORING BUSTLE & MUTE 

                        Maggie O’Sullivan, from ‘Doubtless’

To read ‘Doubtless’ and the book where it appears, Palace of Reptiles, is to be filled with ‘ear loads’ of clongy, phonempathic language songs, creating whisdomensional rituals cut with the unknown. Maggie O’Sullivan’s spondeeeling non-lexical vocables have such wonderful sonic associations that one wants to break out into one’s own creashining, arkhaptic neologisms (and trying to do so I realise how subtle and wide-ranging hers are compared to my efforts). Charles Bernstein’s preface to a collection of her earlier books, Body of Work, applauds ‘dialogic extravagance in the articulated, dithrombotic, honeycomb pluriperversity. He calls her style ‘clinamacaronic’ (playing on clinamen, macaronic, and the German kleine), an especially apt neologism; the sequence repeatedly swerves away from expected syntactic or syllogistic climaxes, and employs so many strange words or recognisable words made foreign by unexpected prefixes and suffixes, that it might well be borrowing its macaronics from an unknown language just emerging into perception, like the Borgesian language of Tlön. The passage above reflexively describes its use of liminal phonemic inventions as the fruit of ‘occiputal distentions’, which one can take to mean intentional distortions of the rules of language by the back brain. What form of sound poetry is this? It accommodates familiar lexical items, short bursts of regular syntax, and intimates both lexical and syntactic placement for many of the non-lexical sounds. It is both phonemic and non-phonemic, both purely sensuous sound and semantically active lexis. How therefore might readers (and listeners—O’ Sullivan is a consummate performer of her work) respond to those ‘ear loads’ of ‘chismeric’ sounds of Tlönic language?

‘What is the function of sound poetry today’? asks Stephen Voyce in an interview with Christian Bök, and then qualifies the question by adding that he is interested in how things have changed since ‘the groundbreaking work of the 1970s by poets such as the Four Horsemen, Henry Chopin, or Bob Cobbing’. This is a question that might equally be put to Maggie O’Sullivan, who was mentored in Cobbing’s poetry workshops, and whose poetry and performance, though very different to Bök’s, similarly dances along the borders of sound, sense and disorientation. Bök’s response to the leading question’s inadvertent functionalism and its invitation to dogmatic generalisation is to shift ground to the poetics of sound poetry. Earlier generations of sound poets, he says, ‘justified their work by saying that such poetry allows the practitioner to revert to a more primitive, if not more infantile, variety of humanism.’ Bök proposes instead that we think in terms of the achievements of civilisation and adopt a cyborg poetics: ‘I think that most of the theories about sound poems are too “phono-philic” or too “quasi-mystic” for my own tastes as an intellectual, and I think that modern poetry may have to adopt other updated, musical theories to express the hectic tempos of our electrified environment.’ Salience of the acoustic in Maggie O’Sullivan’s poetry, especially her use of non-lexical word-like assemblages of recognisable phonemes, readily elicits characterisation as a primarily sound-based poetry that courts animist, bodily, zoomorphic spirits to express themselves in raw, passional sounds that can be reductively explained as primitivist (as can the work of an artist on whom O’Sullivan researched for the BBC, and who could also be mistakenly taken for no more than a primitivist, Joseph Beuys). As an alternative to grounding the phonic in a pre-rational culture, Bök follows what he calls a ‘techno’ standpoint towards the practice of sound poetry.  Techno probably wouldn’t help us understand O’Sullivan’s practice,  but I think Bök’s emphasis on the value of a rationalist poetics for sound poetry is well  worth pursuing when considering her poetry’s use of sound. One way of doing this is to consider the history and concept of neologisms as a backdrop for her use of words that are on the margins of language or even entirely outwith semantic range.

As the passage above shows, the neologisms have a special context that requires acknowledgement even before considering the individual words themselves. These poems take time, time to happen, sound out, reveal thought, and they respond best to immersive reading and attentive listening. Nothing remains the same long enough to enable a truth claim to assert strong rights over the reader. Each line, each word, and sometimes each phoneme, mark shifts of being, changes of perspective, transformations of feeling, altered understanding, hits of new perception. She can be a good modernist and doesn’t explain this process as a stream of mental event, or provide a capacious subject whose identity might be the locus for all these verbalising moments. More radically still, her poems don’t unfold in evenly spaced verbal moments. Typographical and visual use of the space of the page, as well as painterly marks in some books, stretch and slow elapsed time, and the changing intensities of expression create wide differences in the scale of the poem’s instants. The poetry can feel very small or terrifying large, imminently integrable or a rubble dump where horrors lurk (I can think of no other poetry that has learned as much from the contemporary genre of horror fiction and film). Even the words ‘slip, slide and sometimes perish’ in a manner alarmingly literal, so that words seem familiar, old, new and damaged, keeping the element of surprise on their side. It’s within this altered sense of time and spacing that the neologisms occur, so many that the poetry might be called Adamic, although the power of naming often seems less a gift and more a desperate ruse in the face of unknowable and unsayable forces, entities and events. 

READ MORE (PDF)

Maggie O'Sullivan Salt Companion

The Salt Companion to Maggie O'Sullivan

This is a terrific collection about one of my favorite contemporary British poets. Useful both for detailed studies of O'Sullivan's poetry and poetics and as an opening into U.K. innovative poetry and the expanded field of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E. Overall, one of the most illuminating recent compendiums on contemporary poetics.

Maggie O'Sullivan and I will be reading together at the Poetry Project at St. Mark's, New York, on Weds.. Oct. 5.

Ken Edwards:  Introduction (pdf)
Charles Bernstein: Colliderings: O’Sullivan’s Medleyed Verse (html)
Peter Middleton: ‘Ear Loads’: Neologisms and Sound (Jacket2 pdf)

Mandy Bloomfield: Maggie O’Sullivan’s Material Poeticsof Salvaging in red shifts and murmur
Romana Huk: Maggie O’Sullivan and the story of
metaphysics
Peter Manson: A Natural History in 3 Incomplete Parts
Nicky Marsh: Agonal States: Maggie O’Sullivan and
a feminist politics of visual poetics
Poetry in Maggie O’Sullivan’s Palace of Reptiles
Marjorie Perloff: “The Saturated Language of Red”:
Maggie O’Sullivan and the Artist’s Book
Will Rowe: Preface to In the House of the Shaman
Robert Sheppard: Talk: The Poetics of Maggie O’Sullivan
Scott Thurston: States of Transformation: Maggie O’Sullivan’s ‘Busk, Pierce’ and Excla
Redell Olsen: Writing / Conversation with Maggie O’Sullivan
Nerys Williams: “My tend sees errant, Vulnerable Chanceways”: Maggie O’Sullivan’s House of Reptiles and recent American Poetics
Maggie O’Sullivan and Scott Thurston
cover photo by Charles Bernstein


Maggie O'Sullivan on PennSound

Author home page